Archive for March, 2012

The Good Old School Days

OK, everyone, it is time to reflect on those good old school days of yore, those care-free days when everyone thought we did not have a care in the world. Yet, sometimes we carry burdens from those days and we do so in the silence of our own hearts. When was the last time that you, as an adult, had a discussion about your days in elementary, middle, or high school? When was the last time you had such a discussion with an emphasis on the emotional wounds you received back then? I am guessing that such discussion-times have been quite rare.

I wonder how many of you reading this still have some unresolved issues from the good-old-days. It is in school, within the peer group, at recess, on the sports team that our current sense of self is shaped, at least to a degree. Sometimes we are influenced by those days to a greater extent than we realize.

So, it is time for a little quiz. Please think about your days in school and see if you can identify one person who was unjust to you, so unjust that when you think about the person now, it hurts. This person is a candidate for your forgiveness. I have an important question for you: How has this person inadvertently influenced your own view of yourself? How has this person’s actions made you feel less than who you really are? Do you see that it is time to change that?

My challenge to you today is to take steps to forgive him or her for those behaviors long ago that have influenced you up to this very moment. It is time to take a better look at what happened, to forgive, and then to ask the question after you forgive: Who am I now as I admit to the injustice, admit to it negatively influencing how I have seen myself all these years, and who am I now as I stand in forgiveness?

Perhaps the good old days will seem a little brighter once you forgive. You will have lifted a silent burden.

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What is “false forgiveness.” I have seen that expression a few times, but I am not sure what it is.

This is the second time the issue of “false forgiveness” has emerged. We have given an answer on February 8, 2012, but we will expand on that answer here.

All virtues such as courage, justice, and forgiveness have what Thomas Aquinas called corresponding vices into which we can slip if we have too little or too much of this virtue, without it being in balance with the other virtues. Take courage as an example. In its proper place, alongside moderation or temperance, it is a way to stand against fear and to move forward for good even when fear is present. Yet, if there is too little courage (the vice of cowardice) when one should act, then the person might hide under the bed rather than act courageously. If there is too much courage (reckless bravado), without it being balanced with moderation, a “courageous” non-swimmer might jump in the ocean to save a drowning dog, and the non-swimmer ends up losing his life. Too much or too little of any virtue constitutes a “false” expression of the virtue.

In the case of forgiveness, what might “too little” of this virtue be? It seems to me that the person would have a distorted view of justice and conclude, “What the person did to me was not so bad. I think I will go back into this situation for more of the same.” The vice is acquiescence. The person, in other words, excuses the wrong itself and then too hastily reconciles without asking anything of the other person.

What might “too much” of forgiveness be? There really is no such thing as “too much” of the actual virtue of forgiveness because it is centered in agape love and one cannot have too much of that. The false variety (dominance) enters, again, as a distortion of justice, but this time, rather than caving in to the other person’s demands or requests, the “forgiver” uses the situation to dominate the other person. In other words, the “forgiver” does not see the other and the self as equal in their personhood and in their rights and obligations. The “forgiver” now takes every opportunity to remind the “forgiven” about how fortunate he is to be forgiven. It is a power play in which the “forgiver” uses forgiveness for self-interest rather than gives love away to the other person.

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Forgiveness is a virtue

I have seen two websites lately that have assumed that the expression, “Let it go,” typifies forgiveness. It is an unexamined assumption on both sites. Is it reasonable to assume that this statement represents forgiveness? Let us examine it and see.

Forgiveness is a virtue, as is justice, patience, kindness, and love. These moral qualities are meant to be directed from one’s own inner world outward to others for good. We give justice to other people and not to things. How can you be fair to a car or a hurricane, for example? How can you be kind to a door? Virtues are meant for good to other people. Forgiveness, being a virtue, is the same. As we forgive we reduce resentment specifically toward the person who was unjust. As we forgive we offer mercy specifically toward that same person.When we let something go, we are releasing a situation or a circumstance. Look carefully at the sentence. We are letting an “it” go, not a person. Can we let a situation go and still not forgive? I think we can all imagine examples of this. Suppose a boss asks you to work late five days in a row. You might “let this go” because you think the boss is morally incapable of doing what is right and good. You might “let it go” when a friend says something offensive to you, not to honor him or her as forgiveness does by being merciful, but out of expedience to keep the friendship. You might “let it go” if there is an external reward waiting for you, such as a raise or praise, as you remain annoyed or neutral toward the person-as-person. My point is that there are a lot of ways to “let it go” and either ignore or dismiss the person connected with “it.”

It seems that “let it go” and forgiveness are not necessarily the same thing. One is centered on the “its” of the world whereas the other is centered on persons.

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Forgiving and Remembering in New Ways

Forgiveness Talk Across the Continents

On March 23, Dr. Bob gave a presentation via Skype to 100 people at St. Jude the Apostle Church in Dublin, Ireland. There was a simultaneous webinar broadcast to anyone in the world, which included people from the Midwestern United States, Ireland, the Philippines, and other venues. The feedback was that Ireland is in need of forgiveness for the healing of wounds old and new. Other Skype sessions like this inaugural one are being considered.

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Reflection on the Previous Week

It is the weekend, a time for some renewal and reflection. This was a busy week, with forgiveness workshops touching lives in Verona, Wisconsin; Dublin, Ireland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; the Philippines; Italy, and other places.

I am left with a burning question: Will those who hear the message of The Forgiving Communities forget about it as quickly as they heard about it? We are in a sea of noise and each voice, each tone, each loud crash competes for our attention. How does one rise above it all to accomplish something as quiet and gentle and courageous as forgiveness in this context?

Sometimes the message is bound to fall flat, but when it does not, what are the crucial ingredients that have risen above the competition for one’s time and energy? For one and only one of those ingredients, I think it takes at least two very dedicated people to team together and never, ever give up. The teaming up has to involve the message, heard over and over, that forgiveness matters: in the individual heart, in families, and in communities.

As it says in the Hebrew Proverb (18), a brother helped is like a strong city. The key is to be unwavering together, especially when criticisms come or distractions tempt which in the long-run really do not matter.

I think we have found these two brothers, well, sisters actually, in Lynn and Noreen in Dublin. Each has the heart of a lion. Dublin and all of Ireland is collectively in need of forgiving, given the history of that region and the current economic struggles. Forgiveness is one piece to putting all of the pieces back together for a thriving Ireland.

My personal thanks to Lynn and Noreen. May we walk together for a long, long time in service to our brothers and sisters in need of forgiving and being forgiven.

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