Friday, October 2, 2020

Concerning Forgiveness

 Addicted as I am to both binge-watching and foreign language programming, I have been slowly making my way through a Danish production called "Herrens Veje" or "Ride Upon the Storm". This is essentially a family drama in which the father is the latest of a centuries long dynasty of ministers in the Danish Church. He is a very, very flawed man, a husband and father to two grown sons, one of whom has followed him into the ministry, the other having dropped out of seminary before ordination. The relationship between the father and sons is fraught, and both sons deal with it in their own ways.

The one who dropped out of seminary eventually finds himself in Nepal, and he is taken in by a group of Buddhist monks after falling from a steep trail upon which he was traveling. In the course of his time, he is befriended by one of the monks who serves to help him confront the anger he carries, most of which is aimed at his father. The monk is particularly wise, and I suspect the dialogue is influenced by real Buddhist teaching, but having no background therein, I cannot be sure. 

The monk at one point talks with the recovering man, and talks about anger and forgiveness. While I have always understood the essential message he conveys, it is one I have been unable consistently to practice. He tells the man to let go of the anger. That the only person he is punishing by holding onto it, is himself. That only he is carrying the burden of his anger. He should learn to forgive his father, to let go of the anger.

Cut to this morning. On many quiet pre-sunrise days, when I arrive on station at my computer to begin my labors, I start by calling up an app on my phone called "Calm". It is a wonderful resource, with relaxing music, stories to put you to sleep, and the thing I use it for the most, which is "The Daily Calm", a ten-minute guided meditation conducted by one of the stars of this realm, Tamara Leavitt. Since I am very unlikely both by demeanor and activity level to be in this Zen state again during the day, I tend to value this ten minutes of reflection to start things out. Today's meditation was on "Forgiveness", and the message conveyed was pretty much the same as what the Buddhist monk passed along during my binge-watching.

This concept of forgiveness, at least this Buddhist conception of it, is something I've been wrestling with. You see, I carry a lot of anger around with me, anger created and sustained by the Trump presidency. And I'm having a really hard time "letting go" of the anger, and I think it is because of my understanding (or perhaps misunderstanding) of forgiveness in the Christian sense of the word. Now I am not a fundamentalist, or even a very serious Christian. I am however, shaped by the Catholic Church, its teachings, and my own sense of connection to that which there is no greater than. 

I am angry with a lot of people. Some of them know it. Some of them don't. Most don't care, far as I can tell. But I'm angry with them nevertheless. I am angry at them for supporting the President and embracing his divisive, lawless, uncivil, unconstitutional, embarrassing, and dangerous approach to his awesome responsibilities. I am angry at them for appearing to have an ideological base and then exchanging it for power, fame, or something as prosaic as the belittling of those on "the other side". I am angry with them for not maintaining the level of moral and ethical standards and basic humanity that is the baseline for my friendship. Many of the people with whom I am angry were beside me in the GOP foxhole for years. Many were close friends. And then there are the family members. 

The Daily Calm and my TV Buddhist monk would tell me, let go of the anger. Forgive. You (me) are the only one suffering with this burden, so let go of it. 

I see people on social media writing about how they don't let politics get in the way of their friendships/relationships. I'm sure they believe this. I suspect they are also virtue signaling, as most of the time they are very much fans of the President and are potentially rationalizing their choices.

But here is my problem with all of this. Where is the atonement? If I am to forgive, for some odd reason, I have this sense that there should be atonement. I have the strange idea that the ledger should balance. Given that the likelihood of these people ever seeking forgiveness or atoning for their behavior approaches zero (more likely they will double down even as the consequences mount), this (perhaps misinformed) application of Christian forgiveness fates me to the burden of this anger. 

It is obvious that the burden of carrying this anger is entirely my choice. Or at least that part of my conscious being over which I exercise dominion. But deep down, I am having trouble taking the (eminently wise, kind, and clearly therapeutic) Buddhist approach. 

I guess we'll see how it turns out. 


Dave Brown said...


I admire you for your dedication to the Navy and the Nation. Thank you for being brave enough to go public and unmask a little. A Christian journey known as Alpha may be worth your investment. You can discover it by the Bible App Plan "Read the Bible in a Year" led by Nicky Gumbel, the Vicar of Holy Trinity Brompton in the Diocese of London, Church of England. Look at 1 Corinthians 5:21. Learn who we are in Christ!

Jesus is the atonement....... and everything else.

David K Brown, former Sailor on CVN's and CGNs and a GS at NWDC who maintains the "Universal Naval Task List." And teaches a SUnday School class of folks older than I.

Anonymous said...

Nice. But don't let those Buddhists fool you, they get pissed off too. I think your point about forgiveness being a two way street is important, and analogous to a tree falling in the woods (if someone doesn't ask for forgiveness, are you really forgiving them?).

Unknown said...

The ancient spiritual teachings are correct.
My anger is my burden.
To my credit, I do not nurture it.
It is yet refreshed daily.
It does not vex my enemy, he warms himself at my anger, today.
I will get there, I will do the work I need to do, I will put this corrosive burden I carry down.
But today I am feeling very Old Testament righteous anger.
And I will smite my enemy and strike at them in their legions in one month.
And then no matter the effect of my blow, I will ask god to begin turning my heart.
For many things belong to a higher power that are beyond me.
But now is not the time.
For my sisters and brothers I am angry.
For those seeking succor, I am angry.
For those abused at the hands of the powerful, I am angry.
For my nation, I am angry.
For every friend and relative we didn’t need to bury, I am angry.
And today, I will stay that way.

Emperor Lew said...

Great essay. I think you're conflating two ideas: letting go of anger and forgiveness.

I agree 100% with the wisdom you quote. Whatever hurt happened to you did happen and nothing can ever change that. Letting the anger eat at you only hurts you. Accept that the past is over and try to let go of the anger. Easier said than done.

Forgivness is yours to freely give. If you think forgiveness is appropriate, forgive away! But in my mind, without remorse (or even better atonement) forgiveness is hollow. I think genuine remorse is a requirement for forgiveness.

Unknown said...

I appreciate your thoughts, as mine have been in much the same place -- though this Catholic comes from a more center-left view of the world.

The sense of morality we carry comes from someplace. Perhaps many centuries ago human beings began to sense an order to the world they inhabited and that sense influenced them to esteem values and beliefs that seemed consistent with it. We've developed a vocabulary to describe concepts such as justice. It's almost like a tuning fork, this sensitivity to what's fair and right.

I agree with you: we are invited to forgive and there is liberation in bestowing forgiveness, even when it's not requested. But our sense of justice carries with it belief that seeking forgiveness is not sufficient, that there must be more: at least a sincere effort to put things right.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous because I'm not sure I want the whole internet to know me! You can post or not post this as you like.

As a Christian who voted against Trump, I've been praying for Trump regularly, as my enemy, because no one else has ever made me so angry so frequently. (I pray for his recovery and for God not to let this illness impact the country any worse, because it's terrifying.)

It is frustrating to see so many people I respect falling into Trump's line, including family.

Making them atone isn't our job and I am thankful it won't ever be.

Our job is forgiving them. Hard enough! But it doesn't mean excusing them, not any of them.

To quote from C.S. Lewis's meditation "On Forgiveness:"

"Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it. That, and only that, is forgiveness, and that we can always have from God if we ask for it.

"...forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. They keep on replying, 'But I tell you the man broke a most solemn promise.' Exactly: that is precisely what you have to forgive. (This doesn't mean you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart--every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.)...

"To excuse what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means forgiving the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

"This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury...(as) to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life."

So, how do we stand up to hatred like Trump's without letting hate in to ruin our own hearts? How can we offer love across political divides without letting those we are trying to reach out for step on all our ideals?

Keep trying and keep praying, I can only say.

I'm not writing because I think I have all the answers, but as someone struggling with the same questions.

God bless you and your family!

"The Hammer" said...

You’ll feel a lot better when (and if) you come to realize, you just might be wrong.

Hammer said...

I think if you'll take an objective look at the record you'll see DJT has governed extremely well under extraordinary conditions. He's had to fight his enemies (and ours) on all fronts, and held his own. So tell me, are not Kavanaugh, Gorsuch and now Barrett excellent choices for SCOTUS? Has not Trump rebuilt our military and VA system? Didn't the trade deals need renegotiating? And finally is he not bringing peace to the Middle-East... finally?
I feel your pain, and I was once where you are. I thought I couldn't possibly be wrong on the big issues. However GWB's war in Iraq brought me to my senses. One you begin to understand you just may be wrong, that's the day you begin to heal.
Remember Plato's Allegory of the Cave, the truth can be overwhelming.

Newer Post Older Post Home