Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Would I Be a Better Person If I Went to Church?--Forgiveness

Yesterday, on the Diane Rehm show, I heard an incredible story about a rape victim who identified the wrong man, and until DNA testing exonerated him (when the rape happened in the 80's, there was no DNA testing), he sat in prison.

I suspect this scenario plays out more often than we think. Memory is a tricky thing, especially as the brain deals with trauma, and our justice system is less just than we want to believe.

No, the amazing part of the story is that the falsely accused man forgave the woman (and the entire flawed system).

Diane Rehm asked him how he was able to do this, and he mentioned his Southern Baptist upbringing.

If we go to church every Sunday, many of us are periodically reminded of how important it is to forgive. My childhood brain did the multiplication of 70 times 7 to come up with the number that Jesus commanded, and gave up in frustration. I would have to forgive my sister that many times?

Yes, and maybe double or triple that.

The practice of forgiveness trains us to let go of our anger. This process may take some time, but most religious traditions assure us it will be worth it. Holding on to our hot, raging anger does not serve us well.

I've met people who are holding on to hurts from decades ago. They think they are protecting themselves, but they're really damaging themselves.

I'm not saying we can't learn our lessons, as we practice forgiveness. If someone hurts us maliciously time and time again, it may be wise to remove ourselves from relationship with them.

Another thing I noted about this story: the wronged man was able to forgive the raped woman because she came to him and asked for forgiveness.

That's another lesson that we learn in church. We must make amends if we've wronged someone. It's more important than showing up to worship--Jesus tells us that if we're in temple, and we remember that someone has a dispute with us, we are to leave that minute to seek reconciliation.

My atheist friends would remind me of all the people who sit through church services week after week who never learn these lessons. They say this as if it is somehow the fault of the church, and perhaps church communities could be better at calling people on their bad behavior.

But we are all flawed humans. Going to church doesn't change that. However, those of us who go to church are reminded that we are to strive to be better than our flawed selves. We hear the stories of Jesus, who came to show us all the potential that a human life contains. Maybe we'd get that message elsewhere, like in the stray Diane Rehm show (go here to get to the show--you'll need to scroll down). I look around me, and I'm not seeing that message projected very often in popular culture. Far better to find a spiritual community that will reinforce me in my pilgrim path towards being the human I yearn to become.

No comments: