Does Forgiving Demand Restoring Relationship?

Over the years I’ve forgiven some rather unforgivable things. I hope you have as well. . . Wait – that didn’t come out right. Hopefully you’re one of those rare birds who have never had anything particularly unforgivable happen to you. But if you have had someone do something unforgivable, I hope that you have been able to forgive them.*

One of the problems that people commonly struggle with when it comes to forgiveness is the issue of the restoration of relationships. Can you really say you’ve forgiven someone if you are unwilling to be in relationship with them? Does forgiveness demand that your relationship be restored? Or can you forgive but refuse to engage in relationship with the person who wronged you?

Part of why I am such a big fan of forgiveness is that it’s a very empowering act. I cannot often control the way other people behave towards me, but I can control how I respond to it. Forgiving allows me to take back my power from someone who has injected pain, suffering and turmoil into my life against my will. I get to declare in the heavenlies when a person is bound or loosed from their sins. And forgiveness also props opens the door to healing from harm done.

On the other hand, insisting that forgiveness must be accompanied by restoration of a relationship is just the opposite; it’s dis-empowering. It doesn’t allow for choice. It doesn’t allow for self-love or self-protection. It makes my own pain and struggle and needs completely irrelevant. And all too often, this insistence that forgiveness must go hand in hand with restoration of relationship is a tool of control which gets used against people who are already in a weak position.

Being in relationship with other people always opens us up to being hurt. And if we refuse relationship with anyone who is dysfunctional or hurtful, we will be lonely indeed. Most acts of forgiveness should not be accompanied by a reconsideration of the relationship as a whole. Generally, we ought to forgive and move on freely. But there are those times when what is being forgiven does call the entire relationship into question. So how can we maintain our default openness for relationship while also being realistic about which relationships are simply too dangerous, unhealthy or dysfunctional to continue? Continue reading “Does Forgiving Demand Restoring Relationship?”

Manhunt for Peace in the Dark Heart of Africa

You know my thing about Africa that I’ve mentioned a couple of times lately? Well, allow me to share a story out of the Congo and Uganda. Now, in Western minds, this part of Africa was long considered “the dark heart” of Africa. And unfortunately in the last few decades, there have been times when anyone who was paying attention would wonder if there wasn’t some sort of curse on that area.

The details of the back and forth that got and kept the conflict going are long and boring. But the basic outline of what happened is this:

A political uprising originally brought on, in 1986 and 1987, by genuine oppression (and thus serving objectives justified in the eyes of those who took up arms), so quickly mutated—by the end of the 1980s already—into a practice of radical violence, with no other aim, at the end, than its own perpetuation, beyond even the effective survival of the group.

(This quote and all others used from the excellent story Sign Warfare, by journalist Jonathan Little, Asymptote Journal, April 2014)

The way the conflict was fought was the sort of stuff you don’t say out loud when the kids are around and only in whispers in private. You don’t want it in their head that such things could exist. You wish it wasn’t in yours. So this conflict is the stuff of nightmares here. This is the conflict that gave us Kony 2012 and boy soldiers, the lost boys that some churches took in.

Today, the government, which triggered the original conflict by refusing to allow freedom for an oppressed, mistreated minority, is engaged in a manhunt to find the last 150 or so soldiers still fighting. 150. That’s it. They can’t just ignore them because they are so violent. 150 is so few, but they still have the power to kill thousands. And I’ll tell you what? If you ever have to make a bet on a face-off between a Navy Seal and one of the Congolese soldiers involved in hunting them down, I wouldn’t be too quick to write off the Congolese soldier. I’m just saying. They’re kind of bad asses.

But anyways, this isn’t your typical manhunt. What they really want is for the soldiers to desert and surrender:

[The combatants] who surrender are well-treated, they are interrogated but without violence, it isn’t necessary, once out of the bush they have nothing to hide; then they’re sent back to Uganda, where they’re granted amnesty, go through a program of psycho-social reinsertion and sometimes get some professional training, before being sent back home with a little money and a few household supplies, or joining the army, more or less voluntarily. 

The biggest reason for the ongoing conflict at this point is that the combatants don’t trust the government. They think offers of help are a trick. Because it’s been that kind of war. But this time, it’s real.

That is amazing. This is not how human beings deal with their enemies. Especially enemies who are driven by a logic no higher thanwe just kill for the sake of killing. It humiliates the government, that’s good enough for us.” Those are the enemies you kill. The ones that you and your people and generations to follow never forgive. The people who, at the very least, must be held accountable for their crimes. 

What is going on in the Congo has never been done before. We’ve never ended our conflicts by forgiving and helping our enemy get well. Never. I am not saying that the government is now perfect or that this particular policy is the be all and end all. But this is something amazing which uses the logic of God’s Kingdom to defeat the power of the enemy’s kingdom. Continue reading “Manhunt for Peace in the Dark Heart of Africa”

Forgiving Is Hard, Not Impossible

One of my many idiosyncratic beliefs is that Africa has a special role to play in God’s upside down kingdom. For so long, Africa has been last which according to Jesus’ words, means that the day is coming when they will be first. I suspect that we will be looking to them in order to understand God’s kingdom rather than assuming that it is our job as westerners to hand out the kingdom like a goody bag to the rest of the world.

I bring this up because, as you might know, it is the 20th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide in which 1,000,000 people were killed in 100 days. It was a remarkable spasm of violence and hatred such as the world has never seen before. Truly unspeakable things happened during those 100 days. Rarely has humanity’s capacity for evil been put on such lurid display.

One startling and fascinating thing about the Rwandan genocide is that in the early 80s, there were a series of Marian apparitions which took place in Rwanda. Three different youth were given horrific visions of the genocide which took place in 1994. The apparition of Mary in Rwanda is one of only three Marian apparitions which has been given approval by the Roman Catholic Church.

In one of her messages, Mary said, “Today, many people do not know any more how to ask forgiveness.” Now, on the anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, the people of Rwanda bring an astonishing testimony of forgiveness to the world.

I hope that we will take their witness seriously and allow their example to inspire us to seek forgiveness from those we have wronged and to forgive those who have wronged us. The witness of the Rwandan people shows us that whether we are dealing with conflicts between neighbors or between nations or groups, the seeking and giving of forgiveness are the only way forward for humanity.

Below are images and quotes from Rwandan perpetrators and their victims. You can find more pictures and quotes, along with an explanation in this New York Times story “Portraits of Reconciliation”: Continue reading “Forgiving Is Hard, Not Impossible”

Self Righteousness, Election and Healing

How’s this for the most pretentious opening line I’ve ever used for a blog post?

So, I was talking with my therapist yesterday . . . .

OK, maybe pretentious is too strong a word. But yes, really, I was talking with my therapist yesterday. Because when you’re going through so much and your support system is failing like a fat woman’s bra and you have a bunch of kids who might be adversely affected by watching their mother break into a million tiny shards, the responsible thing to do is to get a therapist. I’m just hoping I can get my shit straight before they start coming after me for all the co-pays, but that’s another story.

Anyhow, my therapist was going through the 8 types of emotional experiences/stressors which can end up being stored as unresolved issues in our autonomic nervous system. As she went through, I stopped her and said, “that one – unmet needs. That’s exactly what I’m hung up on right now.”

We talked a bit about some of these unmet needs – little things like the need for comfort, belonging, affirmation, knowing that someone gave a crap if I ended up as a self-sufficient adult or a hobo. Stuff like that. And for a moment, I started to feel that strangely narcotic thrill of self-righteousness. I’m sure every human knows just what I’m talking about – that simultaneous feeling of being superior and victimized. The one which allows us to use other’s wrongs to elevate ourselves while condemning them.

There’s something about feeling self-righteous which is so  . . . . satisfying. Ego boosting. Seductive, even. Over the years I’ve noticed that I can let go of many things pretty easily, but there’s something about this feeling of self-righteousness which feels almost like being in a warm embrace. Letting go of it feels like a loss in a way that letting go of anger or desire or frustration just doesn’t.

But as I sat there in the momentary thrall of this feeling of self-righteousness, my spirit whispered, “those people who didn’t comfort you, who comforted them when they were small and hurting?” Which brought me and my gloating pity-party up short.

The reason I think self-righteousness is so enticing is because it feeds on the knowledge that we’re right. We’re (at least in our own minds) innocent – or close enough to innocent to count. The other person is guilty. Not just guilty, but unjustified as well. What’s wrong with simply pointing out facts?

But the reality is that the other person has an identity that has nothing to do with what they did or did not do for me. No matter how satisfying it is to slap the name tag “Guilty, Unjustified” on their chest, their true identity is actually “Human, Image Bearer, a little bit broken”. Continue reading “Self Righteousness, Election and Healing”

Disbelieving Forgiveness

Sorry for the long silence. I’ve been dealing with some heavy stuff here. I think it’s getting better. Prayers are appreciated. Or if that’s not really your thing, cash is always an acceptable alternative. 😉

Today, I want to talk about what happens when we refuse to believe we are forgiven. Like everyone else, the people around me have sometimes treated me in ways that weren’t the best or even done outright awful things which I then needed to forgive. Fortunately for me, forgiveness has always come fairly easily. If nothing else, my self interest kicks in and I realize that the benefits of letting go of the wrong far outweigh whatever payoff I might get from hanging onto my hurt. In doing so, I’ve learned a lot of valuable lessons. That what other people do is about them and not me, for example. And that it’s easier to recover from being hurt than it is to recover from the way the fear of being hurt warps us.

However, I have often been befuddled and frankly, hurt, over the years that some of these same people who I have readily extended grace to for some pretty major things were often unwilling to extend grace to me for relatively minor faults and failings. For a while I thought that maybe the problem was that the sort of people who required extreme grace were also the sort of the people who were just kind of jerks anyways. However, over the last couple of years, I have discovered that there has been something entirely different at work.

What I’ve learned is that either because I didn’t communicate it well enough or they still felt guilty or the easy grace seemed too good to be true, a few of these people didn’t believe that I had really forgiven them. They believed that even if I had openly communicated forgiveness, in my heart, I was secretly angry, hostile and score keeping. Which made it easy for them to see my (numerous) faults and failings as evidence of hostility, passive-aggressive revenge or withholding. The truth of the matter is that I’m just far more flawed than these people may have realized. Continue reading “Disbelieving Forgiveness”

Forgiveness – VIDEO

‘K – something you need to know about me; I am freakishly un-photogenic. Seriously. Not that attractiveness is terribly important, but I am much better looking in person than on this video I’m going to share with y’all. Even my 13 y.o. when he was helping me format the video commented, “you don’t look anything like this in real life, mom. It’s really weird.” Which … Continue reading Forgiveness – VIDEO

Forgiving God*

We’ve all heard that we need God’s forgiveness, but rarely do you hear people speak of our need to forgive God. More’s the shame because anyone who has ever had or will ever have a real relationship with God will at some point struggle with the necessity of forgiving Him. It may not be theologically sound, but it’s true nonetheless.

We are hurting people. I don’t know anyone who isn’t. Or wasn’t. This world is filled with wonder and joy, but it’s also hard. People die when they shouldn’t. We’re born to parents who have no business being allowed in the same room with children. There are terrible, painful illnesses that cannot be cured. We are told to forgive, but who do we need to forgive when the floods come? Who do we offer absolution to when our best efforts do nothing to improve our lot in life? Continue reading “Forgiving God*”