I noted in the [rejected] article for The Banner that I found the book Unpacking Forgiveness unexpectedly challenging.
I picked it up, like others whose Amazon reviews I read, expecting to be validated in my definition of forgiveness. I was–but something else also happened. I felt convicted.
This is the message of the book that caught me off-guard: I ought to be seeking out those believers with whom I am now in damaged or severed (non)relationship, offering forgiveness and communicating clearly and graciously my desire to be reconciled to them. As part of the ‘transaction’ I mentioned in the first half of the last post, mirrored on Christ’s intervention and atoning sacrifice on our behalf, I have an obligation to initiate peace-making. Forgiveness from God Himself is not unconditional, but He took the initiative and paid the price. While forgiving brothers and sisters who have offended me, and being reconciled to them, requires repentance, the Bible does not allow me, the injured party, to sit back and wait for them to come to their senses and take the first step. Matthew 5 and 18 tell me to go to my brother.
While reading UF on the London coach, I often had to put the book down and look out the window, to mull over passages I’d just read, pray a little and ask the Spirit to bear witness to what the author was saying, and to give me a clear sense of how to apply his exegesis of these crucial Scriptures on Christian living and ‘conflict resolution’, for lack of a better phrase.
So now what? There are a couple of people who come to mind immediately when I think of those sundered ties that trouble me.
It is a curious situation, not only because of the time that has passed since I last saw and spoke to these people, but also because of the group nature of the offense, and the group-think involved, which in some cases has amounted to a spiritualized brainwashing. How do you approach someone to repair a relationship, when he or she has been inoculated against you?
I suppose nothing is a barrier to the Holy Spirit, but I do want to ‘do my bit’ in the wisest way possible. So here is a draft of a letter I haven’t yet decided to send:
It’s now been more than a year since we were in touch in any form, and more than 18 months since we last saw each other in person, sitting across a table and having what I thought at the time was a heart-to-heart. Even now I think it was, because I believe you were being honest with me, in spite of what happened afterward.
I am writing because what has obviously come between us troubles me. I thought we were friends. I trusted you, and looked up to you. Our relationship is not what it was before the Article 17 ‘happened’ in late 2015. The actions of other people–if I believe that it wasn’t you wanted, which I do–determined that, as with some others at A. Church, we were on opposite sides. There aren’t supposed to be sides in the church.
I suppose I should say that I could be wrong. Maybe I changed, or my perspective was what caused the rupture. Maybe I assumed we couldn’t be friends, or that our relationship was altered when you didn’t see it that way (and I never asked). And it’s true that I didn’t reply to your last email to me. But I did send you a card at the launching of my blog, and even included a reply to that email, without your name, at my blog in Exhibit W. I haven’t heard from you since.
In addition, you didn’t speak to me last September when I visited A. Perhaps you weren’t there–I can’t be sure. But if you were, like several others you avoided me. And again, since September I haven’t heard from you. That’s caused me to conclude that you either don’t care (which I don’t think is the case), or that you know things aren’t the same. They’re awkward and uncomfortable, and of course, I’ve been very upset. Very angry, even. And so I’d understand why anyone in your position would resist contacting me, if it ever occurred to you. Besides opening up myriad cans of worms, what could you do to change anything a year ago, anyway?
But I felt I had to break the ice with you because I’ve been delving into forgiveness–what it is, why it’s important, how to go about it. I want some resolution between you and me. I want to repair whatever’s been damaged, even if we never see each other again. That’s one of very few things over which either of us has any control, one of very few opportunities to model Christ.
Not knowing whether it would be right to call you a friend makes me sad, and is one of several barriers, several instances of ‘unfinished business’ in my walk with the Lord. So I’d like to offer to correspond, clear the air, work towards some meeting of the minds, some reconciliation, if you’re willing. I want to forgive you, and if there’s something for which I should repent and apologise, I both want you to be able to talk to me about it, and ask you to forgive me.
Please let me know if you’re open to corresponding.”
I’m not sure what I hope to accomplish with this. Perhaps it’s just a starting point. But things aren’t right–I feel it, the staleness of left-behind debris in the way of spiritual communion with other Christians, especially those with whom I felt a special bond (though I discovered last year that this perception was not always shared by those others). I’m not sure if that’s the case with ‘Rosa’. Yet I’m also not sure if she’ll think she did anything wrong. Like I said, I believe she was telling me the truth when she said she didn’t think the ‘answer’ (to what?), in October 2015, was to ‘get a new pastor’. But I do think that she was active in the complaints lobby, and looked the other way when the s*@t went down. She came close to making excuses for the ‘villains’, but not quite. I think she was more interested in explaining or justifying her own choice to remain without protesting injustice.
At any rate, I have this first step in slow-moving action plan. I will update this post after finalizing this note.