March 2020

                         Forgiveness is an act of vulnerability – both from the one seeking
                         forgiveness and the one offering it – as it reveals the risks of trying to love in an imperfect world.

                                                                                                                       Reverend Gretchen Haley

 If I have wronged you and we both know it, my apology is an act of vulnerability, of taking down my guard and confessing my fault, of risking my unacknowledged sense that I am a perfectly kind and compassionate, even infallible, person. For most of us, when we wrong someone we also violate our own standards of how we want to relate to them. Asking for forgiveness means being aware and humble enough to name our failure and request repair.

But what about all the ways we wrong others without their knowing it? Wrong that comes in unbidden, automatic and unstated assumptions about a person based on their race or background or remarks they have made? Or the harm we do through gossip or complaining about someone behind their back?

If you never do any of that, you are assured a prime spot in the for-real Good Place, wherever it may be. Most of us have work to do.

I was raised in a liberal Protestant church. I loved the music, the stories, the ritual, the prayers. But some of the things that I learned Jesus said made me feel I could never be good enough: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; … And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. …Be perfect, … as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5) As I child, those verses terrified me.

In the same sermon, Jesus also says, “If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6) Some evangelical Bibles translate “trespasses” as “sins.” The most accurate translation, I learned much later, is financial obligations, or “debts.” So I’m not sure that passage helps, although there are other places where God is revealed as loving and forgiving. Worth a sermon or two someday, perhaps.

We cannot possibly be perfect. Usually, we would do more harm by voicing our unwanted assumptions and judgments and or by sharing ill-considered criticisms with people we judge. So we can’t ask for forgiveness directly. We can, however, ask it of others who hold us in community, and we can ask it of ourselves.

Forgiveness is our March topic, one that will be the subject in our Small Group Circles program, our monthly writing workshop, and at least one worship service. It’s a topic that has begun to arise in the programs of the racial justice task force. Most of us have work to do.

I am blessed and honored to be doing it with you.Janets signature