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Locked HornsThis October offers a time of intentional reflection on the spiritual practice of forgiveness.

Forgiving, I gift myself the space to move into right relationship with the offense and the offender. Sometimes that right relationship is: “I am free to go about my life while you are (sometimes literally) incarcerated, and there you are free to improve your behavior albeit away from open society and far away from me!”

If I’m in right relationship, I no longer resent and rarely even think about the offender. If I do, it’s perhaps not fondly, but wistfully, remembering those intense resentments that have passed.

I’ve had the experience of expressing forgiveness to somebody close to me who replied, “I don’t think I did anything I need forgiveness for.” Admittedly, on some level I wanted him to realize that he had caused pain and hurt–even if it was just due to his own upbringing or emotional immaturity or ignorance or whatever. And yes, I thought he might recognize that intentionally or unintentionally causing another person pain offered an occasion to be forgiven. Yet in that instant I knew that it wasn’t really about him “getting it.” It didn’t even really matter that he was even there! It mattered that I had forgiven him. That I had moved through the pain. And no, the pain didn’t “teach me something” or “make me better,” but forgiving did.

In David Brooks recently wrote an opinion piece about Brian Williams (the sacked news anchor) and “rigorous forgiveness,” Brooks breaks down a healthy forgiveness process like this: 1) Pre-emptive Forgiveness: Forgiveness is offered whether or not the offender asks, sometimes leading that person to seek forgiveness). 2) Judgment: The offense is used as an occasion to re-evaluate. As Brooks puts it, “Should a period of stupidity eclipse a record of decency?” Each offense and each offender will be judged based on the whole of their being, not on the worst parts of who they are. 3) Confession and Penitence of, or for the offender. And finally 4) Reconciliation and Re-trust: In other words, healing the community. In Brook’s final words, “the larger question is… Would you rather become the sort of person who excludes, or one who offers tough but healing love?”

Is it ever encouraged to “exclude”? When the burden of forgiveness is too heavy; when we can’t let go of the need for the other to “take the blame” and they just can’t or won’t do so; the teaching is to transfer that debt, that burden of guilt, to something preferably impersonal–bad upbringing, mental incapacity, a tough economy– anything that can get “othered” by the community. The scapegoat then gets sent away beyond the pale.

It is for those incidents of unforgiveness that I especially have to engage spiritual practice, connect to healthy relationships, and build the beloved community of intentionally diverse people dedicated to the common good.

So if you’re in a place of unforgiveness, do take care of your heart. Maybe it’s not time to forgive. But be aware of the teachings. Be aware of the costs of unforgiveness. And if that cost is less than the not insignificant cost of forgiveness, then maybe you need to hold onto your anger and resentment. Just be careful that by punishing the other, you’re not perpetuating your own punishment. The unforgiving always have business with the unforgiven. If I’m going to keep somebody imprisoned, I have to be there, at the door, keeping it tightly closed, holding the key. If I’m going to keep somebody imprisoned, I am in prison, too.

Forgiving, I release my soul from bondage. Life is too precious to spend holding onto anger resentments.

Always love, Rev Dave