Sunday, January 18, 2009

Why forgive George?

Stephen Giem and I made as an experiment in encouraging thought and discussion about forgiveness and its role in moving us forward.

We live in Portland, Oregon, so there's a lot of visible anger about Bush. Like most people, I've experienced a lot of righteous anger in my life. It's never felt good, and I have always felt better when I have forgiven.

In the God-centered culture of the American South, where I grew up and lived for many years, this is not a particularly radical concept, the idea of forgiveness. Most southerners are familiar with this exchange from the Gospel of Matthew:

Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”

“No!” Jesus replied, “seventy times seven!”

In Portland it has the opposite effect to use the Bible as basis of support for a concept, so instead I'd point to Barack Obama. As he said yesterday in Baltimore, on his whistle-stop trip to his inauguration:

What's required is a new declaration of independence, not just in our nation, but in our own lives, our own hearts - from ideology and small thinking, prejudice and bigotry and narrow interests - an appeal not to our easy instincts but to our better angels.

...if we could just recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together - Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, north, south, east and west, black, white, Latino, Asian, and Native American, gay, straight, disabled, not - then not only would we restore opportunity in places that yearned for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process.

I'm just so tired of hating the other side, whatever side that happens to be. I know we will only make progress as a country when we come together and reach a shared consensus on what's important to us.

Before the string-music begins, let me tell you that Stephen and I found ample evidence that we have a ways to go before we are all together on this. We launched the site during Christmas week, thinking it would be a good time for reflection on these issues. The site spread quickly, with thousands of visitors from all over the world. In addition to many thoughtful acts of forgiveness, there was a constant stream of unrepentant anger.

And, as the posts on this blog show, many people felt that forgiveness implied letting President Bush off the hook for all that he's done. Others felt too victimized or raw to be able to forgive yet. Perhaps we need something like a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, like they had in South Africa to deal with the crimes perpetrated under the Apartheid regime?

Thanks for your participation and interest in this project. Stephen and I welcome your comments, either on this blog or by email.



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  2. Ohhhh.... not a chance. At least not anytime soon. Well, perhaps. Perhaps when I can find another advertsing job (fat chance) and I can pay my mortgage again (fat chance) and I can live and work without fear of the bottom falling out at any moment... then, perhaps then I can begin to consider forgiving GW for destroying the world I have to live in.

  3. Before forgiveness becomes a realistic option, I think it's essential that everyone involved have an understanding of WHAT is being forgiven. (I believe this is one of the most important lessons of the reconciliation commissions of South Africa.)

    The most glaring obstacle, to me, is the farce of an "investigation" that was imposed on the public following 9/11 (and which a majority of commission members have since found fault with.) But there are any number of other things.

    The Justice Department is probably still reeling from the damage done to its credibility over politically-motivated firings. I believe Don Siegelman is out of jail, but there is a conviction on his record, and a trail of unanswered questions. People are still dying all over Asia as a result of George Bush's actions, and we still don't have a clear understanding of why.

    Forgiveness is an admirable goal, but it's not a project to be undertaken lightly, and I don't think it's productive to presume it's possible before taking a full accounting of the acts involved. Or, perhaps more importantly, without the good faith participation of the person to be forgiven.

  4. Having been guilty myself, I've learned is that not forgiving is a way to protect the ego, because we feel better about ourselves when we point out how wrong others are.

    I've learned most of us mistake forgiveness as being an act done for the forgiven,when the benefit ends up being for the forgiver.

    Related to this topic is the idea of being against vs. for something. Many years ago I came across the story of Mother Theresa who was asked why she wasn't participating in protests AGAINST the Vietnam war. She responded that when they held a gathering FOR peace she'd be first in line. My takeaway was that it is much more productive to be FOR something. That wisdom has been helpful to me. Hope any readers also benefit from it.