Archive for the 'Repentance' Category

05
Nov
10

what sense does it make?

I am an Anabaptist/Mennonite, not by birth as many are, but by God’s leading and my choice. The Anabaptists were so named in the 16th century for their preference for believer’s baptism over infant baptism, but that is only one of the stances taken by these brave souls. Central to the faith are the teachings of Jesus and discipleship. Jesus spoke in love and taught peace and reconciliation. This is one of the core values of the Anabaptist belief. It is not a core value of the social system in which you and I live. The tension is obvious. Search the gospels. You will not find a word from his lips that support violence or retribution of any kind, nor do we.

This morning when I opened my email I found this letter from one of the members of my little church at the edge of the city. He is one of several in the church who are members of our denomination’s Christian Peacemakers Teams. He and his wife believe people can change. So do I. So did Jesus. So does God. That is what Grace is all about. If it were not so, how do we find ourselves still here, chugging along trying to be better people despite our many continued failings? I am not talking about leaving the toothpaste cap off the tube or grumbling about things. I am talking about attitudes, behaviors and actions that wound the spirit in other persons—abuse in all it’s many forms. I have done this many, many times.  I once was blind, but now I see….

Here is the letter that came by email to my congregation this morning:

Alabama killed Phil tonight, November 4, 2010, to my church…

Tonight the state of Alabama killed Phil who was on death row at the prison where our friend Glenn is also awaiting execution.

Earlier this year Glenn was originally scheduled to receive a ruling mid-October which would have set his execution date, possibly as early as mid-November.   And then in August, Phil was assigned a death-date of November 4, and Glenn knew he would live to see another Christmas and New Year, because Alabama only kills one inmate each month (Phil in November) and they don’t kill people in December (too close to Christmas — after all, it would be un-Christian to kill someone so close to Jesus’ birth.  Best to have a little distance…..).   And then, in addition, Glenn’s court ruling was postponed until later this month (at which time he will get an execution date).   But if things had fallen differently, Phil’s execution could have been Glenn’s.

I Googled Phil, and this is what I found.  Phil has been on death row for over two decades.  The information focuses on what he did many years ago; who knows who he is today.  I have learned from my conversations with Glenn that people can change in amazing ways while on death row.   The death penalty is wrong because it denies the possibility of God’s transforming love for victim and perpetrator.   More on that in a later email or other sharing in church.

I talked to Glenn tonight, he was somber, as were the rest of those on death row.

After I hung up with Glenn, I went to sing Eli songs as part of his good-night routine, and Eli asked to sing “Alleluia, the Great Storm is over.”

The thunder and lightning gave voice to the night;
the little lame child cried aloud in her fright. .
“Hush, little baby, a story I’ll tell,
of a love that has vanquished the powers of hell.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Sweetness in the air, and justice on the wind,
laughter in the house where the mourners had been.
The deaf shall have music, the blind have new eyes,
the standards of death taken down by surprise.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Release for the captives, an end to the wars,
new streams in the desert, new hope for the poor.
The little lame children will dance as they sing,
and play with the bears and the lions in spring.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

09
Aug
10

another word to ponder

Today I am turning over the word, betray. What does it mean to betray? The word is colorful and has variant usages. I’m partial to this set of definitions from Free Dictionary.com:

be·tray  [bih-trey]

–verb (used with object)

1. to deliver or expose to an enemy by treachery or disloyalty: Benedict Arnold betrayed his country.

2. to be unfaithful in guarding, maintaining, or fulfilling: to betray a trust

3. to disappoint the hopes or expectations of; be disloyal to: to betray one’s friends.

4. to reveal or disclose in violation of confidence: to betray a secret.  (synonyms: bare, expose,  tell, divulge / antonyms: hide, conceal)

5. to reveal unconsciously (something one would preferably conceal): Her nervousness betrays her insecurity.

6. to show or exhibit; reveal; disclose: an unfeeling remark that betrays his lack of concern. (synonyms: display,  manifest, expose, uncover / antonyms: hide, conceal)

7. to deceive, misguide, or corrupt: a young lawyer betrayed by political ambitions into irreparable folly.

8. to seduce and desert.

I think we all have committed at least one of the states of betrayal on this list at one time or another. I do not like to think of myself as having done so, but the truth is that I have, sometimes purposefully, sometimes unwittingly, as in not allowing conscious recognition of my purpose. I am far from good…as Jesus said in Luke 18:19 “Why do you call me good?…No one is good except God alone.”

Except for the Benedict Arnold type of action in usage #1, betrayal is a slippery thing that hides out in the outer reaches of our human selves. It is beguiling and seductive. Betraying ourselves as in usage #5 is a private matter—of lesser impact than usage #2 or #7—these generally having some personal gain attached to them. We all do this. Some one shares a bit of information with the caveat not to tell anyone. Sometimes that person really expects confidence, sometimes not. In any case, many of us find ways to pass the information on. I find it morally useful to ask if I may tell my partner. I do not like the tension involved in having to keep a solitary confidence and am grateful if told I may share with my partner. For this reason, I rarely ask a confidante to keep information completely hidden from a partner. I pretty much expect it will be shared, so giving permission keeps me in charge of at least a small part of what can become a daisy chain of information and mis-information.

In my lifetime (7 decades) I have experienced several life-changing, egregious, betrayals of trust. Each one has left its mark in the cells of my body, despite the forgiveness I’ve tried to practice. The most recent betrayal caused an enormous amount of damage to me, my family and friends. I dare not think of it, for when I do,  my breath becomes labored and my heart sinks in my chest. By God’s grace we forgive, but the cells of the body remember. The heart grieves to hear the spoken apology that is a balm for healing and reconciliation. Not my will, but yours Lord (Luke 22:42). These words sometimes stick in my throat. I am not good. Only God is good. I can only do as I am able…by Grace.

05
Aug
10

What’s in a word?

Words are units of language from which sentences are made… tools that we humans use to communicate thoughts and emotions. They function in a strange way as symbols of meaning and are not static. Their meanings have no particular permanence beyond their continued usefulness. When we hear such words as forsooth, meet, wist, we think them quaint and find little meaning outside of theater usage. But in their day, forsooth meant in truth or indeed; meet meant fitting or proper and wist meant to know. Today we have words that even a few decades ago would not have been understood. How about infomercial, cyberspace, blog, cisgender, meme, remix, podcast? Words convey the ideas and rhythms of our culture.

BTW…the spell checker on this blog site does not recognize the word cisgender, but I didn’t either until a few days ago. And just to add a note of color to all of this: BTW could have been an acronym for British Telecom Wholesale, or Behind the Wheel (driver’s ed.) prior to the popularization of the internet.

Words come and go, just as we and our bright new ideas come and go (wax and wane). My mother used to say that there was nothing new under the sun. She could say that because Ecclesiastes said it first in chapter 1, verse 9. That was eons ago, but some people still say it. Must be something to it…

I am sorry and I regret, are words expressing sentiments that I am currently turning over in my mind. What is meant by the use of these words? What do people mean when they say to another, “I regret”? Do they mean they are sorry? I don’t think they necessarily do, but those words can carry that meaning (sorrow-repentance) if the recipient understands them in that way. But what if they don’t? I think it may be cultural—some cultures being more reserved than others—more private. But even in such cultures we do not teach our children to say “I regret hitting you over the head, Tommy.” We ask them to say “I am sorry I hit you over the head.” We teach that and the kids learn to say it whether or not sorrow exists as repentance. Those children forced to offer that I’m sorry when they are not, or do not understand the value of the transaction, often grow up hoping never to have to say it because of the humiliation revisited. And so we have a culture that claims, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But I say being sorry for causing pain, discomfort, distress, etc. to a human or animal can only deeply be expressed with the words that most clearly express sorrow. Of course, if one feels only mild sorrow, then regret is the appropriate word.

Definition of regret from my Mac dictionary:

regret |riˈgret|
verb ( -gretted , -gretting ) [ trans. ]
feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, esp. a loss or missed opportunity) : she immediately regretted her words | [with clause ] I regretted that he did not see you.
• used in polite formulas to express apology for or sadness over something unfortunate or unpleasant : any inconvenience to readers is regretted | [with clause ] we regret that no tickets may be exchanged.
• archaic feel sorrow for the loss or absence of (something pleasant) : my home, when shall I cease to regret you!
noun
a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done : she expressed her regret at Virginia’s death | he had to decline, to his regret.
• (often regrets) an instance or cause of such a feeling : she had few regrets in leaving the house.
• (often one’s regrets) used in polite formulas to express apology for or sadness at an occurrence or an inability to accept an invitation : please give your grandmother my regrets.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French regreter ‘bewail (the dead),’ perhaps from the Germanic base of greet 2 .

I have been one who preferred the I regret option and really believed I was getting down to it. My cancer experience, followed by the 3 years of gut-wrenching pain I encountered in returning to the church has transformed me from I regret… to… I am sorry, please forgive me. And the reason for this is not my doing. God has seen fit to allow suffering to seep into my bones for reasons of God’s own. I’ve been Jonah and I’ve been Job, and to my chagrin, I still don’t seem to rest in the rainbow for any length of time. I get many opportunities to revisit the whale again and again with a Job gig not far behind. The only thing I can say about this is that experiencing deep hurt…holding it without great effort to conceal or discharge…I have come (unwittingly) into an expanded universe, so to speak. I cannot simply regret hitting Tommy over the head if his head is bleeding. And if he is rushed to the emergency room, I am truly sorry…deeply sorry for doing to another what I would not want done to me.

I am sorry for the pain and stress I/we have caused you. These words, so difficult for some to say to us would be so much honey on the wound that keeps opening up as  financial circumstances continue to tie us to the past, leaving marks of desperation. We can forgive, and we do, but it is a 70×7 situation. I do so wish it could all be behind us and we could start living the simple life we set out for 3 years ago.

From today’s Richard Rohr Meditation ( Center for Action and Contemplation), I see I have a very long way to go:

Our ultimate goal is to be able to think and behave like Jesus.  This is a journey toward great love, which invariably becomes a journey of great suffering.  This journey leads us to a divine love where we don’t just love those who love us.  We learn to participate in a larger love—where we experience Someone Else loving through us, in us, and for us.  If we remain autonomous, independent, self-sufficient, we cannot participate in this larger love.

Christian spirituality is a mystery of participation.  Thus the saints and mystics speak so much of surrender, abandonment, and even “falling” into God.




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