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Sunday, September 17, 2023

Lament and Forgiveness

Good Sunday morning, good people of the Sabbath. Happy New Year to all who observe and celebrate.

It's another bright-bright, sun-shiny day here on the Delmarva Peninsula. It's been a cool morning, temperature-wise. Fifty-six degrees when I woke up, but it promises to soar to the high 70s later today.

It's September in the Midlantic. This is just how we roll.

It's been a Very Interesting weekend in the news. Turns out, a senior staff advisor to The Former Guy and the Governor of South Dakota, a "God-Fearing Family Woman", who is married, have been having a years-long affair.

The Representative from the State of Colorado, another "good Christian woman," was also thrown out of the theater during a performance of Beetlejuice for vaping and mutual groping. She explained her current situation by saying that there's "no roadmap to work your way through a divorce" (BTW, from a husband who was in prison for flashing his penis in a public place at two young women, in the presence of his wife.)

I can hear that super low baritone voice of Bowser from Sha-Na-Na, singing in the background, "How low can you go?" Of course, he we singing about doing The Limbo but lately, it seems to be the theme song of a particular political party.

Over at the Lectionary Page, Jesus - that guy some preachers say, "may not come when you want him, but he's always right on time" - has done it again. Or, his scriptwriters have (I suppose when you write scripts for Jesus, you don't need a union so you don't need to be on strike).

Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times."

I don't think that gives us a license to go out and sin again because, well, apparently we are compelled to forgive over and over and over again.

I mean, even Luther said, "Sin boldly, but love more boldly still."

I just re-read an essay written 5 years after the event, entitled, "I don’t forgive the man who murdered my cousin DePayne at Mother Emanuel," in Christian Century magazine by Waltrina N. Middleton.

I do have to repeat something she related: As her cousin and the others lay dead in pools of their own blood on the floor of the room where they had previously welcomed that young White man who had just studied scripture, prayed with them before opening fire and shooting them dead, the White police were driving him to the prison but first stopped off at the ("Have it your way") Burger King to buy him a hamburger and fries.

She writes:

"Imagine being beaten, raped, stolen away from your land, subjected to agonizing suffering—and then having your captors christen you in a chapel inside a slave castle. Five years ago, when domestic terror traumatized a church, culture, and community, the resonance of America’s past was exposed like strange fruit. The insistence on a narrative of “the family forgives” created a missed opportunity for a time of deeper truth-telling, reconciliation, and healing. How do you promote a narrative of forgiveness while ignoring the very roots of racism that perpetuated such horror?

We can be committed to love and radical hospitality, to welcoming the stranger into our midst, to extending a seat to join us at the table—while also maintaining our right to be angry and to righteously resist the violence against our humanity. To insist on a narrative of forgiveness is dehumanizing and violent, and it goes against the very nature of lament. As Christians we celebrate the donning of ashes and sackcloth as a priestly act of lamentation and mourning. Why deny families, in a watershed moment of grief, this right to lament?"

Five years before that, Roxane Gay wrote an Op-Ed in the NY Times entitled, "Why I Can’t Forgive Dylann Roof." She wrote:

"My unwillingness to forgive this man does not give him any kind of power. I am not filled with hate for this man because he is beneath my contempt. I do not believe in the death penalty so I don’t wish to see him dead. My lack of forgiveness serves as a reminder that there are some acts that are so terrible that we should recognize them as such. We should recognize them as beyond forgiving."

Seven times? asks Peter.

Seventy-times seven says Jesus.

I don't hear those words from Jesus as I once did; Jesus isn't talking about the value of forgiveness as much as He is talking about the process of forgiveness.

I think Jesus is placing more of a value on our lament as a process of forgiveness, opening the possibility that our lament may well be the only form of forgiveness we can offer.

Not only are there some crimes that are too horrific and hideous to be forgiven - especially the betrayal of hospitality and trust while reading scripture and praying - but also when the commitment to forgiveness is used as an excuse to continue to perpetrate violence on a particular race, or gender, or sexual orientation.

Seventy-times seven?

Maybe even that's not enough for some crimes.

Maybe our lament is the best we can do until the only forgiveness we can offer is simply to let it go so that carrying it around is more of a burden to us than the original pain.

But, not before serving notice that you will work with all your heart and mind and strength to make certain that it doesn't happen ever again to anyone of any color or gender identity, creed or ethnicity, age or sexual orientation.

And, on that note, I'm going to take my leave for the day. It's off to church for me where I am privileged to preside over the sacred mysteries.

Yes, there are many mysteries in life that are sacred, including lament and forgiveness, but this one has to do with how God offers spiritual food and nourishment to us all - saint and sinner. It's what we do with that mystery of faith that makes all the difference in the world.


Off I go, then, to "practice" the mystery of forgiveness.

Make it a great day. Shana Tova!

Bom dia!

Christian Century article:

NY Times article:

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