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Forgiving…

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Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

I’ve mentioned my friend, Ashley, before. It was she who brought THIS to our attention, a psychotherapist invoking Maya Angelou to offer advice on how to “Change Your Life in One Second Flat.”  It’s good stuff. We’re still thinking about it.

This time, Ashley offered a video about forgiveness. As sometimes happens with old, beloved friends, I resonated with what she was saying before I even “clicked here” because, well…. Those are among the heart strings that happen to bind us. I hold her dear because she often sings my soul.

So, I watched this video (which contains some rough language) about why we should forgive folks we’d generally call some pretty bad names; how it’s not an act of weakness, but of courage; a way of “taking bolt cutters” to more painful karmic ties; how it releases us at least as much as whatever we feel has done us wrong.

I decided to start where I was, and forgive the woman in the video. Why? It wasn’t so much about her course language, which as a mother I’ve found…unhelpful…It was that she was sitting in front of a bunch of stained glass wearing the collar of a Catholic Priest and that offended me. I felt pretty strongly that, regardless of how she or I may feel about the place of women in the Catholic Church, until the Pope says it’s ok and somebody granted that power ordains her, she has no right to be wearing that collar and effectively committing fraud.

It was kind of hard, because I had to separate feelings of being personally dinged from my feeling that she was doing something wrong. I had to remember that forgiveness is not an invitation to further pain; that acceptance is not condoning. Still, as things to forgive go, it was relatively small and impersonal. It didn’t take long before I felt I could move on to harder things.

I reflected on what I’ve heard about grudges being more damaging to ourselves than anyone. I thought about how hard it is to forgive, even when it’s just me and there’s no one else whom I would defend tied up in it. I remembered how, even when the pain is old, out of sight and conscious mind, dreams sometimes haunt me.

So, I went back to the lesson. I decided to look a little deeper into the woman, Nadia Bolz-Weber. It didn’t take long for me to realize something: She is not posing as a Catholic. She is, in fact, Lutheran. A quick Google search confirmed what my memory suddenly screamed – Lots of Protestants wear that same collar. It’s a good thing I hadn’t leapt on to Facebook with my righteous indignation because in this case it seemed very clear: I was the Ignorant Ass.  

Still, I thought to myself. I knew I meant well…and…well…the point of the whole thing was forgiveness.  Not only that the experience, small as it was, made me a little bit more sensitive to how people may feel when symbols that are dear to them are used carelessly. It made me consider how it might feel when someone emulates beloved aspects of a culture without giving credit or even while outright devaluing the actual human beings who created it.

I was feeling pretty patient and forgiving with myself; fairly confident, even, that I was a slightly better person than I’d been a moment before. Then it occurred to me: I was feeling pretty full of myself, maybe even vaguely equating in my head a metaphorical light bump with crushed souls.

It also dawned on me that I had never checked to see if Lutherans are among those who also wear the collar, nor whether they allowed woman pastors, much less whether this woman, in particular, was ever ordained herself. She is and they do. Still, I’d just…assumed…again…

So that was that. I decided that if I was going to look for “stupid people” or [insert your favorite expletives here] to forgive, I’d best stick to looking in the mirror. Even better, maybe I’d be best off avoiding such judgments entirely and realize that if I – a person whose philosophy hinges on endeavoring to be good – can’t get though a simple YouTube video without making a bunch of mistakes toward that end, maybe I should recognize that judgment is out of my realm entirely. I suspect it’s best to do what I can to reflect on and embody my own values, and to be discerning enough to evade and heal painful karmic chains whether or not other parties seem interested or capable. Still, when it comes to releasing those chains maybe I, as one more perfectly imperfect human being, should just focus on forgiving, and maybe even endeavoring to understand..