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. 

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