Posts Tagged ‘Forgiveness’

Drops Into the Rainbow

Drop a pebble in the water:
just a splash, and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples
Circling on and on and on,
Spreading, spreading from the center,
flowing on out to the sea.
And there is no way of telling
where the end is going to be.

Drop a pebble in the water:
in a minute you forget,
But there’s little waves a-flowing,
and there’s ripples circling yet,
And those little waves a-flowing
to a great big wave have grown;
You’ve disturbed a mighty river
just by dropping in a stone.

Drop an unkind word, or careless:
in a minute it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples
circling on and on and on.
They keep spreading, spreading, spreading
from the center as they go,
And there is no way to stop them,
once you’ve started them to flow.

Drop an unkind word, or careless:
in a minute you forget;
But there’s little waves a-flowing,
and there’s ripples circling yet,
And perhaps in some sad heart
a mighty wave of tears you’ve stirred,
And disturbed a life was happy
ere you dropped that unkind word.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness:
just a flash and it is gone;
But there’s half-a-hundred ripples
circling on and on and on,
Bearing hope and joy and comfort
on each splashing, dashing wave
Till you wouldn’t believe the volume
of the one kind word you gave.

Drop a word of cheer and kindness:
in a minute you forget;
But there’s gladness still a-swelling,
and there’s joy circling yet,
And you’ve rolled a wave of comfort
whose sweet music can be heard
Over miles and miles of water
just by dropping one kind word.

~By James W. Foley~ from The Best Loved Poems of the American People


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David Kelsey’s chapter “Sin as Living Death in a Distorted Personal Identity” from his larger work, Eccentric Existence:  A Theological Anthropology provides a helpful anthropological assessment for approaching forgiveness.  As fundamental as forgiveness is for the Christian faith, it can be difficult to orient ourselves to think critically about it.  Too often we feel we “should forgive”.  Therein, we realize that forgiveness is a Christian fundamental that faces profound challenges.  In Kelsey’s larger work, he explicates God’s reconciling energy toward humanity and also formulates an ultimate question for the human community who is challenged to respond appropriately to the reconciling energy.

Appropriate response to reconciling God is a humanity that can engage forgiveness.  But there are things about our anthropology that challenge our ability to be forgiving or to forgive. Thus, we find ourselves living alienated from the only appropriate response to a reconciling God…. forgiveness.  And Kelsey defines forgiveness as “the interhuman reconciliation that is the necessary social context of acts seeking the rectification of unjust patterns of human action.” (878)

I will crudely summarize his three scenarios in which human beings are unable to approach forgiveness:

Humanity so ordered by culture that there is no room for forgiveness.

Personal identities that find their worth in power (the ability to command) or adherence to a moral order leave no real room for forgiveness.  Because one is only worthy insomuch as one is able to continue to exert power or adherence to a moral order, there is a cyclical need to return to power initiatives or rules of the moral order in order to find oneself as an individual of power.  This cyclical need puts us on a treadmill of spiritual righteousness.  We understand ourselves to be superior to those who cannot behave to the moral order or command an influence over their environment.   Kelsey asserts that identity in power and moral order provide no space for forgiveness. We cannot forgive others for not adhering to a moral order, nor can we forgive them for not exercising more power and influence in their own lives.  Because we understand our worth as coming from a perpetual cycle of power and order (inequality), forgiveness becomes a nuance-like interruption or inconvenience.

Waiting for the best time to forgiven.

As limited as power and moral order end up being, they do begin as best intents within the human heart.  In the second option, Kelsey reminds us that sinful behavior also obstructs our approach to the Christian essential of forgiveness.  While this seems obvious, Kelsey describes the dual-blockade of sinful behavior that is at once interpersonal and intrapersonal.  Not only do we find ourselves in relationships where we diminish others and they diminish us, additionally, we find (intrapersonal) a cognitive function  that denies our existence in such diminishing relationships.  Because we are involved in a structural bind, forgiveness is not an option. Kelsey draws upon the scriptural use of the word Hypocrite as one who is self-deceived.  Abiding in insulated armor, we imagine that when the world straightens up, we will then forgive.

Inability to forgive within the self:

Whereas the previous two options are interpersonal, this third option is really an intrapersonal experience.    Whereas the two previous options have human beings primarily concerned with social order or relational complexities, in the third option, human beings want to avoid “discovering themselves inwardly guilty of failure to do their duty and live consistently across time”.   While forgiving others may be an option or an interest they pursue, Kelsey notes that individuals are unable to forgive themselves.  They are unable to forgive themselves because they have a sense that they have fallen short of living consistently and to the standard of what is their duty.  This duty may be social constructed, humanistically defined or divinely ordained.  In any case, it is a standard that is never satisfied and the human being lives a partial life, guilt ridden.

Kelsey goes to great pains to explicate why forgiveness is so difficult. I think brilliantly.  However, in the end, we are in despair.  What Kelsey does not seem to acknowledge are brief moments in which forgiveness is attempted, respected and hoped for as sufficient responses by human beings to a reconciling God.  What if within adherence to power, moral order, complexities of relationships and our own intrapersonal world, our spiritual discipline of forgiveness is a ripple, sparkle or flash that leads or lights the way to our next significant moment wherein we behave with increasing faithfulness?

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approaching considerations of  forgiveness with DH Lawrence’s help….







How nice it is to be superior!

Because really, it’s no use pretending, one is superior, isn’t one?

I mean people like you and me.–


Quite! I quite agree.

The trouble is, everybody thinks they’re just as superior

as we are; just as superior.—


That’s what’s so boring!  people are so boring.

But they can’t really think it, do you think?

At the bottom, they must know we are really superior

don’t you think?

don’t you think, really, they know we’re their superiors?—

I couldn’t say,

I’ve never got to the bottom of superiority.

I should like to.

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I was talking with someone the other day who declared that they felt caged by their rage and resentment.  They expressed a desire to be able to forgive.

Forgiveness is a difficult subject for any of us.  We are challenged to forgive institutions, individuals, ourselves, maybe even God.  Forgiveness can be confused with forgetting.  Most of us feel like forgiving is not our strongest suit.  The reason maybe that forgiveness has often been characterized as something that we do for other people.  This traditional characterization may be where we are hung up.

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki (a bird lover by the way) has a more compelling and even persuasive understanding of forgiveness.  This is fully explained in her book The Fall to Violence:  Original Sin in Relational Theology.      In the work she details three dimensions of forgiveness and two misconceptions:

  • Three dimensions of forgiveness
    • the action of willing well-being
    • the relationship between victim and violator
    • and the courage of knowledge and remembrance
  • Two misconceptions of forgiveness
    • that forgiveness entails feelings of love
    • that forgiveness entails an acceptance of the other person

Suchocki asserts that violence in its lesser and greater forms will demand that the person of faith engage forgiveness.  The lesser forms of violence might be cutting remarks, gossip, or lack of follow through. The greater forms of violence include loss of live or vitality.  Whatever the case, violence, Suchocki says, “…does not end with the completion of its occurrence;  it insinuates itself into the ongoing experience of the victim.  Violation amounts to the robbery of future time by forcing what should be new experiences to conform to the contours of the old.  A person is robbed at gunpoint;  the robbery happens in an instant.  But does it?  Does not the person live and relive the experience of the robbery, repeating the fear and anger in every unguarded moment? ” (147)

Initially the violator is responsible for the violence but who keeps the violence perpetuated?  That is within the mind of the victim.  This does not blame the victim but it does describe the process and trajectory of violence at whatever level. As the victim internalizes the violence, the violator and the victim become one in the same.

Forgiveness invites the victim to come a strength of mind and a freedom to take flight into life.  Forgetting is not an option for those who have experienced violence.  It is, indeed, remembering in a specific way that is an option.  Allowing our experiences of violence to give us a contextualized knowledge is the first step to strength of mind.  For example, someone gossips about us and we find out.  We are hurt. We feel the violent effect and our mind begins to cycle around the infraction against us. In order to stop the cycling we might say something like this….”Ahh.  I have learned something important about my friend.  I will know better how to interact with this person in the future.”  A discovery allows us to have specific knowledge.  This prevents an anxious generalization which might sound like, “You can’t trust anyone anymore!”

The real reason to forgive is so that our mind, heart and self are genuinely open to the new experiences of life which are coming to us all the time.   If our mind is distracted and cycling on previous experiences of violence, we are already missing new life and opportunity.  The real reason to FORGIVE is so that we can really LIVE.

Marjorie also ties forgiveness into sin and transformation in her book’s conclusion…a most interesting read!  A personal note about Suchocki is that I have heard that she allows the birds she cares for to fly free within her home.  A practice that might be symbolic of her argument that we should not cage our life experiences for that is where the greatest violence can happen.

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