Several years ago my wife and I moved into a quiet neighborhood in Lee’s Summit. Well, it was quiet until we got there! We had lived there a couple of years and all was well – we got along with all of our neighbors and it was a quiet place to live and raise our kids. One Saturday night our oldest daughter had a sleepover. What we did not know was that one of the boys who lived two blocks over was also having a sleepover that night. (You can probably imagine where this is headed!) In the middle of the night the two groups began running back and forth between houses chasing each other and doing what tweens do! Then they began an assault on each others houses. Now you might be asking, ‘where were you and your wife?’ We were asleep – we literally slept through the whole thing!
The next morning was interesting to say the least. I woke up to find that the front of our house had eggs, ketchup, mustard, BBQ sauce and just about every other condiment that was in the boy’s parents fridge. And on our roof were several plastic Wal-Mart bags with stuff in them. So I did what I needed to do – I got out the hose and a ladder. I washed off the front of the house – I think the neighbors thought I was crazy for hosing down the house. And then I climbed onto the roof and retrieved the bags. As I did I vaguely remembered that I had seen these bags before but couldn’t quite place them. I got down off of the roof and looked inside of the bags to discover that each of them had daily lily plants in them. Then it dawned on me where I had seen them; in the flower beds of a neighbor who lived catty corner across the street.
The dilemma – what to do? I called together our daughter and the boy from a couple of blocks over and we went across the street to return the bags and plants. The neighbor lady was visibly upset and rightly so – the plants were a gift to her from a dying cancer patient that she had nursed while on her ward at the hospital. The day lilies had a special meaning to her. After profuse apologies from all three of us she did grant forgiveness but she always kept a watchful eye on the teens from then on.
Forgiveness is a hard to practice – it is even harder to practice with an acquaintance, neighbor let alone a complete stranger.
Last summer we had a three car crash in front of our house. 2am in the morning we were awakened by the sounds of colliding metal. A “stolen” mini-van hit the back-end of my wife’s SUV forcing it into the back-end of my daughter’s little Acura CL. Three cars totaled and my insurance had to foot the bill for one of ours because the driver fled the scene. Personally I don’t want to forgive the knucklehead who crashed into our cars; actually I’d like to ring their neck and make them pay for the damage. Isn’t that what I’m suppose to want? Isn’t this the way things are handled?
Isn’t this our value system as a society? Retribution through financial and legal means – make them pay with everything you can get! Vengeance through social groups and pressures – “mean” them into feeling bad about themselves and what they did. And strong rhetoric – defame, shame and beat them down because civil discourse won’t help you to get even, be made whole, or feel good.
I do believe in accountability for our actions and I believe where possible that we should also extend forgiveness. That is counter-cultural and goes against what is our natural response. But that is who God wants me to be and you as well – counter-cultural.
In one of the conversations that Jesus had with his disciples he instructed them to forgive any person who repented and sought forgiveness. Actually he told them to do it 7 times a day; every time they repent and ask – you must forgive. In another gospel Peter asked Jesus how many times he must forgive someone. Peter suggested 7 times; Jesus responded 77 times. The hard truth that Jesus expresses is that we need to be generous with our forgiveness. Again something that goes against our nature.
Paul in his letter to the Ephesians talks about a change that must happen within the heart of every believer. A change in our nature. The old nature is very much like our culture today – bitterness, anger, rage, slander, and harsh words. These are the tools for dealing with people who hurt or offend us. But Paul says that any person who has been forgiven by God will be changed into a different person – a person that acts with kindness, forgiveness, mercy – a person that imitates God’s actions toward us. A counter-cultural, unnatural response.
Several years ago I worked with an ordained United Methodist deacon; we were on staff together at a local church. Several years before I had arrived she had lost her husband to a tragic event. He was in the field one day working on his bulldozer. He was approached by two young men who were desperate. They killed him for the few dollars he had in his pockets; his tools were worth a lot more but they didn’t go after them. Both of them were arrested, tried and convicted of murder and are now serving life sentences. My friend actually spoke at their sentencing hearings and she denounced the death penalty and asked for life in prison instead. She could have responded like most of us would – wishing that the two assailants spent the rest of their days in misery, but she didn’t respond that way. She responded with the love and kindness of God – she reached out to both of the boys in an effort to reconcile through forgiveness. One of them responded to her overtures and last I knew she was still communicating regularly with him; the other one hasn’t come around yet. My friend imitates God’s forgiveness – I hope I can.
I recently read on PBS about a movie that they released back in April of 2011. It was titled “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate” written, produced and directed by Helen Whitney. In the movie she explored compelling stories of tragedy and forgiveness. She covered the Amish community of Nickel Mines, PA and their journey to forgive after the 2006 shooting of some of their children. She researched and recorded the journey of 1960’s radicals and the serious consequences of their violent protests. She documented the shattering story of a family after the mother had abandoned her husband and children. She recounted the legacy of apartheid, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, modern Germany confronting the horrific acts of the holocaust, and survivors of the brutal genocide in Rwanda. But there was one statement on the PBS website that struck me hard. They said:
“People across the globe, from all cultures and traditions, embrace love and forgiveness in daily life. These values are universally viewed as central to the fabric of humanity. Yet, the emerging global community has few institutions dedicated to deepening the understanding and spreading the application of these values.”
REALLY? Uh, what about the church of Jesus Christ? That is our mission; our mandate! We are tasked with being the institution that deepens the understanding and the spread of love and forgiveness. But what this statement tells me is that we’ve fallen asleep at the wheel; people no longer see us as the bearers of the good news of God’s love and forgiveness made known in Jesus Christ.
Maybe it is time for us to wake up! First we need to experience a heart transplant as God’s love and mercy wipes away our bitterness, anger, rage, harsh words, and slander replacing them with kindness and forgiveness. Second we need to start imitating God by sharing compassion and forgiveness with everyone!
Because what the world needs now is love and forgiveness and more examples of it!
Blessings for the journey.