Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Forgiveness Challenge

When I was in seminary we read Desmond Tutu's book, No Future Without Forgiveness, in one of my theology classes.  It was one of my favorite books from my time in seminary.  Sadly, reading it showed what a poor global citizen I am/was because I knew so little about what had happened during apartheid in South Africa.  It was quite a learning for me.  What caught my attention and changed me, though, was reading about the work of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  My professor told me not to idealize the situation there and explained that all was not sweetness and light in the aftermath of the TRC process.  No process is without flaws.  What astounded me was that it was even tried at all and that some amount of healing came out of it. 

On Saturday as I was preparing to preach about Doubting Thomas, I saw a post on a friend's timeline on FaceBook about a 30-Day Forgiveness Challenge sponsored by Archbishop Tutu and his daughter, Mpho.  Together they have written a book called, The Book of Forgiving: the Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World.  I can't wait to read it.  The Tutus know about forgiveness and they have  wisdom to share.  As I understand it, people who sign up for the challenge will receive an email each of the 30 days with stories, exercises, interviews, etc.  I signed up.

This time when I preached the story from John's gospel about Jesus' appearance to his disciples sans Thomas, I paid close attention to what Jesus said to them.  "As the Father has sent me, so I send you...  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them.  If you retain the sins of any, they are retained."  Jesus sent them out to forgive.  That's what he did.  He forgave.  That's what he sent them to do.  That's what he calls his followers to do now. 

I struggle with forgiveness.  I love to talk about it, think about it, hear stories about it.  When I'm faced with actually engaging in it, though, I become uncomfortable, often preferring to nurse my wounds or resentments rather than do the hard work of letting them go.  I also struggle with forgiving too easily, before I've really done the hard work, saying that I've forgiven, but I haven't.  There's a decision to forgive and then there's the actual process of forgiving. 

I am hopeful that I will learn through this 30-day challenge.  I love that it's taking place during the Easter season.  Last year for Lent I chose to do a forgiveness practice in which I wrote down 40 names of people I needed to forgive on slips of paper.  Each morning I drew out a name and prayed for that person, examining my feelings of hurt or resentment and asking myself if I was ready to let them go.  This 30-day challenge seems to be the perfect follow up to the Lenten discipline, and an ideal practice for Easter when we remember that Jesus didn't rise from the dead to condemn the world but to forgive.  What would it be like to have a little less condemnation and judgment in the world and a whole lot more forgiveness?

I want to do my part.  Will you join me?

Monday, April 14, 2014

Holy Week Beginning

Yesterday was Palm Sunday.  The beginning of Holy Week.  The week we remember Jesus' journey to the cross and beyond.  This weekend my students and I helped serve lunch to neighbors in need at St. Paul's in Newport News.  Pictured is the altar there prepared for Palm Sunday.  Students and I then went on a retreat to Yorktown where we spent time being.  Walking outside, eating ice cream, talking, sitting around a fire, sharing a meal.  We went to the Palm Sunday service at Grace Church yesterday morning.  Connie Jones' homily was about noise, all the noise that Jesus must have heard as he entered Jerusalem and went through the week, the cheers that turned into jeers as he walked to his death.  And yet, Jesus got more and more centered even in the midst of the noisy turmoil.  Connie invited us to find a time each day this week to invite Jesus into our hearts, without expectation of what would happen when we did, and then to accept what Jesus brings us.

Last night, (because there can never be too much church, even this week!) I went back to Grace for their Celtic Service.  It's theme was contradictions or paradox.  The opening prayer was this poem by Malcolm Guite:
Now to the gate of my Jerusalem,
The seething holy city of my heart,
The saviour comes.  But will I welcome him?
Oh crowds of easy feelings make a start;
They raise their hands, get caught up in the singing,
And think the battle won.  Too soon they'll find
The challenge, the reversal he is bringing
Changes their tune.  I know what lies behind
The surface flourish that so quickly fades;
Self-interest, and fearful guardedness,
The hardness of the heart, its barricades,
And at the core, the dreadful emptiness
Of a perverted temple.  Jesus come
Break my resistance and make me your home.

Wow.  This poem really brought Holy Week home for me.  I know how mobs can change, can get caught up in the moment.  It's not far from cheering and praising to shouting, "Crucify him!"  You can watch it at a football game.  But I always struggle because I want to think that I wouldn't have been shouting, "Crucify him!"  I want to think that I would have been with the women at the foot of the cross and that I wouldn't have been turning against him.  This poem, though, brings the story into my own heart.  How many times do I start down the path of good intention - waking up, praying, readying myself for the day and heading out into the world to love God and my neighbor - only to find that my resolve is shaken the first time I get behind a slow driver or someone says a sharp word to me or something doesn't go my way?  Then all that good will flies out the window and I start fussing at the driver or speaking shortly to other people or grumpily complaining in my head about the way things have turned out.

It's hard.  To love our neighbors.  It sounds easy in my house.  But it is hard. 

Will I welcome Jesus when he asks me to love those who differ from me over topics that I care about deeply?  Will I welcome Jesus when he asks me to keep walking through all the noise?   Will I welcome Jesus when he asks me to stop doing things I want to do and start doing things that are much less easy and convenient?  It's so much easier to love the world from within my quiet house.  But Jesus keeps calling me out into the world, into the pain and noise and daily minor irritations that add up.  It is easy to love my neighbor when I'm singing hosanna.  It is hard to love my neighbor when my neighbor wishes me dead.  Or wishes someone I love dead.  Or when my neighbor criticizes and judges me or my loved ones.

My week started with retreat time, time for being, with God, with creation, with students.  I'm filled with the easy feelings, caught up in the singing, "All glory laud and honor, to thee redeemer king."  Come, Jesus.  Come into the "seething holy city of my heart."  Help me to stay faithful as you did.  Help me to find my center as I walk through this week.  Soften my heart to those around me.  "Break my resistance and make me your home."