Forgiveness & Accountability CAN go HAND-in-Hand

Some THEOLOGY FOR TODAY: Regarding how FORGIVENESS & ACCOUNTABILITY can go hand-in-hand:
It is always good that we WRESTLE with the dynamics of both, just as Jacob wrestled with God (Genesis 32) the night before he took the chance to return to his homeland and be greeted by his brother Esau (the one from whom he took the birthright and blessing of the firstborn). Already we see that Jacob had to take the consequences of his actions (flee his homeland, live under the authoritarian rule of Uncle Laban for over 14 years, etc.) There is a strong Biblical sense that God allows the consequences of our actions to play themselves out–assuring us that God is with us in these undertakings and strengthens us, helping us to mature and grow while still forgiving us. The magnanimity of Esau when he greets and hugs Jacob is quite astonishing but not at all unrelated to Esau being fully aware of Jacob’s years of exile. Similarly, Jesus forgave Peter for denying him, yet Jesus did not respond immediately to Peter’s tears but allowed Peter to experience the grief and self-scrutiny he needed before the Resurrection proclamation of PEACE BE WITH YOU. Of course, there is a time to completely “wipe the slate clean,” as the saying goes, but this requires prayerful discernment in relation to the offense and the harm to self and others, and the personalities and age of the persons involved. The Prodigal Son, for example, is forgiven and embraced, but the Father’s property is not going to be divided once again for the prodigal’s benefit. His brother’s portion remains intact and the prodigal will be indebted to the Father’s and ultimately his brother’s mercy until which time he is able to go out on his own with a sense of responsibility and dignity–if ever.
In the Sermon on the Plain, when Jesus says, “‘From the one who takes what is yours, do not demand it back,” I think Jesus is referring to our usual rage and insecurities that someone has taken advantage of us. He invites us to move from the bitter anger we feel and instead, find our dignity and worth with confidence in God’s love so that when we address the “robber,” there is a sense of God’s justice, not ours–i.e., some accountability but not as if our life and dignity depended upon it (in which case the punishments often do not fit the crime). Rather, “The Kingdom of God” invites us to always be about growing in wisdom, forbearance and Hope–for the offender just as much as for ourselves.
This issue is a large one with many levels and applications — including, for example, our prison systems that are far more punitive than redemptive. It doesn’t mean killers go free to kill again but it does mean that they are treated with dignity throughout their life in prison to the extent that their souls and spirits through “tough love,” if you will, are given opportunities toward remorse, empowering them to accept the consequences of their actions, take responsibility for them, and prepare for heaven– mental and emotional illnesses notwithstanding. Not everyone, not every Christian agrees with this but I believe we are compelled to wrestle with these concepts.

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7 Steps toward Forgiveness

Sunday 17 September 2017: Scripture Readings for the Day:

http://www.usccb.org/bible/readings/091717.cfm

We can almost grow weary by the biblical order “to forgive.”   Clearly, Judaism emphasized it–those are strong words we heard from the Book of Sirach–and Jesus insisted upon it repeatedly in words and striking parables like this one.

Don’t we realize that when we refuse to forgive, we are breaking the first and foremost Commandment: I am the Lord your God you shall have no false gods before me?

Friends, we put ourselves above God and God’s mercy when we refuse to forgive! When we refuse to enter into the process of forgiveness, we fully disengage ourselves from the Two Great Commandments: Deuteronomy 6: 4 ff: Hear, O Israel![b] The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being, and with your whole strength.  And we hear in Leviticus   19:18 “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

In Matthew, Mark and Luke: Paul’s Letters to the Romans and Galatians, the Epistle of James repeat and repeat the phrase.  “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”

Moreover, Jesus makes clear in today’s parable and many others that forgiveness is an extension of love. It is the essential ingredient to love, for as soon as LOVE stops being “Love-Forgiveness,” how can we trust we’re participating in the fullness of love? Friends, Dating Couples, Engaged Couples, Married Couples: Beware!  If your friend or romance interest or fiancé or spouse refuses to forgive someone, something—however warranted the righteous indignation—YOU, dear friend, dear spouse will be next on the list!  We participate in Love-Forgiveness (I preach this now as ONE WORD) or we do not.  We must cultivate Love-Forgiveness in our hearts and invite loved ones to do the same.

What’s needed for love-forgiveness to reign? Here’s the short list:

  1. Vent, Rage and Cry to the Only Fully Objective Loved One — GOD; Jesus Himself prayed psalms of lament, disappointment.
  2. Secure that God loves you in your anger, your hurt, your betrayal –that God’s love for you is the foundation of your life—pray that you are moved to PITY the one who hurt you. See in him or her a fellow human being who has fallen from grace, given into temptation of selfishness, greed, violence

 

  1. Take TIME OUT, awaiting grace to move you from hurt, and/ or rage to pity and, finally, to tenderness

 

  1. Pray Pity be transformed to TENDERNESS as you would offer tenderness to a disobedient child; everyone has a right to live, to learn, to improve, to encounter God through Love-Forgiveness – In this world of ours, it is one of the primary ways to encounter God.

 

  1. With patience, discern forms of accountability you may eventually offer your assailant or adversary—just as a priest offers penance to sinners in the confessional. As penance offers actions and prayers to help the penitent to both show remorse AND accept accountability for his or actions in praise of God, so, too, must we be “priests to one another,” offer opportunities for change – as you would with a child.

 

  1. Allow for Time to Pass, i.e., GOD’s Time, not “our time,”, for a person to come to a place of reviewing the situation and his or her actions calmly and honestly. Here we must trust in Jesus’ and the Psalms’ constant reminder that God allows the sun to shine on the just and unjust, good and the wicked precisely to allow people to choose to evaluate the harm they’ve done to themselves and others.

 

  1. Even if your health and safety require the relationship to be severed, distant, or irreconcilable– Forgive in your heart, so you are FREE from reliving the hurt, the pain; free to move onward toward a wiser, humbler, more hopeful future.

 

 

As we move through these stages and come to the love-forgiveness act, we are truly FREE. Forgiving another in this way frees us as much, or perhaps even more, than the ones to whom we offer forgiveness.  Not everyone appreciates cosmic grace after all.  There are people who will never admit that they’ve done something wrong. Then, let them be!  You still are free!  Ground your relationship with them on other aspects that you may have in common, change your expectations of them (be more cautious around them if you must) but move on!

This is the invitation of our Christian faith, this is the cross of responsibility in charity and true discipleship. Of course, we don’t often feel like forgiving another, but faith is and must always be more than a feeling.  It’s a decision. It’s a commitment.

Remember: it’s only love-forgiveness” that opens up the future. Through Love-Forgiveness, YOU are the future extending the mercy of God and the promises of Christ: The glorious freedom of being children of God.

 

 

On the Tragedy in Orlando, FL

There appears to be significant self-loathing in the emerging portrait of the murderer at the gay-oriented Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL.  The best thing religious leaders can do for their constit…

Source: On the Tragedy in Orlando, FL

Fun and Insight with Disney/Pixar’s INSIDE OUT – a movie review and spiritual reflection

the-first-look-of-pixar-s-new-film-inside-out-left-to-right-fear-sadness-joy-anger-disgust

Disney/Pixar’s INSIDE OUT is a joyous ride through Psychology 101 fitting for children of all ages.  Well, I’ll qualify that: 8 or older.  I think it is a little too complex for the Pre-School and Kindergarten set, although it is colorful to an eye-popping degree  The heart of the story concerns an 11 year old girl adjusting from a family move from Minnesota to San Francisco.   Encouraged to be the family’s “happy girl,” as an anchor for her parents’ anxieties, Riley has nowhere to go with her feelings of loss of place, friendships, school and those deeper ones evoked as she tries to renegotiate her relationship with her parents and her new surroundings.

Enter the film’s central conceit: Riley’s” Interior Self” is personified by characters representing primal feelings: Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger and Fear.  Empowered by Riley’s parents and our cultural compulsions to be “Happy, Happy, Happy,” the effervescent Joy works overtime in limiting the impact of the others–all to Riley and her families’ detriment.  Sadness in particular demonstrates through heightened dramatic conflict a truth that Joy tries desperately never to acknowledge:  all feelings need to be acknowledged.  Meanwhile, audiences can enjoy the affirmation of our interior feelings being exposed along with all their associated thoughts and impulses in such a playful, conflicted arena as the human heart and brain.  I give INSIDE OUT an A + for originality, cleverness and success in accomplishing its noble goals.  Indeed, INSIDE OUT is a wonderful movie that will surely evoke laughter and tears most readily in most viewers.

As for the spiritual dimensions of the film, I invite you to consider the many ways psychology and spirituality intersect.  The tremendous benefits of psychology and the advances in the behavioral sciences notwithstanding, there are deep spiritual roots in the value of tears.  After all, the phrase “It’s alright to cry” didn’t have its origin in the 1960’s.   Jesus conveyed this 2,000 years ago in his admonition “Blessed are those who mourn.”  For those who take the scriptures beyond their face value (I hope we all do), it is clear Jesus is highlighting here far more than basic grieving of the death of our loved ones, important though that is.  Building on his Jewish heritage as recorded in the PSALMS, Jesus acknowledges the benefits of lament, complaint and frustration over all kinds of “deaths” – failures, tragedies, disappointments.  His statement makes evident that tears, in fact, are prayers.  Tears also are indications of healthy bodies and healthy relationships—two essential LIFE criteria!

To cry with and for others reflects the reality that we all belong to one race, one humanity.  When we cry with others, we may find gratitude in the fact that we have cultivated relationships of trust and that there are those with whom we can express ourselves freely. When trust brings forth a wellspring of tears, we have a little bit of heaven on earth, a deeper experience of God’s compassion for the human condition through one another.

When we cry alone we are in fact reverencing our bodies and the way God made us; tears shed in solitude invite us to embrace the outright loneliness that is a universal aspect of the human condition.  In the great paradox of being, even experiencing loneliness unites us to everyone on the planet.  To quote an ancient Native American proverb: “Each soul must meet the morning sun, the new sweet earth and the great silence alone.”  Ironically, accepting our aloneness can bring us to a place where we are more humble and more compassionate in the company of others.  Loneliness is not alienation unless we make it so.  Being alone offers opportunity to encounter God Himself/Herself.

However and wherever we find release of our emotions through tears, we increase our ultimate capacity for JOY.  As we and/ or others acknowledge our hurts, fears, angers and all of their composite sadness without judging or dismissing them, Joy is in the offing.   “May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of JOY.”  (Psalm 126: 5)  You will experience both watching INSIDE OUT.

To explore the film’s psychological dynamics further, read this excellent article in the NYTIMES SUNDAY REVIEW, July 3, 2015:

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/05/opinion/sunday/the-science-of-inside-out.html?rref=opinion&module=Ribbon&version=origin&region=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&pgtype=article

Love You As You Are

I must call your attention to David Brooks again. Every parent MUST read this! Plus every believing adult must know that true Faith offers a God with Unconditional LOVE that is NOT based on what we do but for the unique individuals that God created. Think of those times when you simply LOVE BEING YOU when you are not doing or achieving anything. Like waking up in the morning or having your coffee or comfortably drifting off to sleep at night. GOD LOVES YOU!

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/04/24/opinion/david-brooks-love-and-merit.html?rref=collection%2Fcolumn%2Fdavid-brooks&action=click&contentCollection=Opinion&module=Collection&region=Marginalia&src=me&pgtype=article

Jesus’ Humanity: A great thought for today and everyday

A beautiful reflection on Jesus’ humanity from Founder of the Paulist Fathers, Isaac Father Isaac Thomas Hecker, CSP . This comes from his Epiphany Sermon and featured in Hecker Reflections email subscriptions:

Our Lord is introduced to us as a true child of an earthly mother, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laying in a manger. He was not above participation in social amusements and gave his sanction to a marriage ceremony and to further the enjoyment of the guests, at the suggestion of his mother, he change water into wine. His eyes were open to the beauties of nature. He was charmed with the lilies, studied trees, read the meaning of clouds, watched the birds build their nests and listened with delight to their cheering song. The sowing of seed, the ripening harvest the plays and dancing in the marketplace; these and all the varied events of daily life and of human interest, attracted his attention and furnished illustrations for those parables s of his in which he conveyed to men his sublimist of lessons.

For more insights from Fr. Hecker and his cause for sainthood go to: https://www.facebook.com/FatherHecker

HOPE–How Christianity Can Play its Part on the World Stage Part 1

Inspired by watching Religion and Ethics on PBS this morning, I would like to begin a series of reflections on what part Christianity can play on the world stage today.  At its core, Christianity offers HOPE, a hope centered in– but not limited to– the promise of Resurrection and eternal life. In truth, what Christians call “the Easter mystery” must echo in daily life, giving evidence of its reality in all human dimensions.  When taken in the full scope of its Judaic foundation, the Resurrection’s import is not only future-directed but extends to the past, present and future equally.  Only when hope is afforded its complete multi-directional realities can its ultimate gift—the celebration of the “eternal now,” (some prefer the phrase “the perfect present”)—be realized.

Living in “the eternal now” imbues the present with transformative power.  The reality of Resurrection offers Christians the capacity to heal the fears, the hurts, regrets and resentments of the past and move forward in humility and truth.   Indeed, Christian hope grounds itself in humility, insisting that Christians cultivate knowledge of history with a spirit of truth, never denying its individual and collective wrongdoing but neither ignoring nor discounting its positive contributions.  This Hope-infused-truth allows present choices to be informed by the past so that with prayerful care, the past does not perpetuate its harm into the future.  Christianity can achieve its greatest human potential when Christians invite people grounded in other religions, philosophies and cultures to identify either the same or parallel expressions of hope with humility and truth, identifying and building upon a cultivated “Common Ground” in the present moving toward a more humane and compassionate future.

In the coming weeks I will explore exactly how the Christian story, its history and daily experience of Christians today supports this HOPE.  I invite Christian readers to share their insights so that together we may embrace Resurrection Hope most fully.  I also invite people of other faiths and backgrounds to share HOPE perspectives in their beliefs, concepts and/or faith experiences.  Together we just might be able to identify and apply common ground principles, evidencing hope through mutual respect and celebration of the best of our humanity.