Duking it out with forgiveness

April 03, 2010 by barbara

barbara writes

Passover. Easter. Spring.

A season for reflection and no small measure of gratitude. Kind of like Thanksgiving with jelly beans.

There’s a photo-essay making the rounds again on the web right now. The one with glorious full-color pix of cacti, complete with superimposed inspirational messages and peaceful music. Have you seen it? One of those life lessons thingies. This one snagged my attention because there are some essential truths in it, along with predictable clichés. But where is it written that clichés cannot double as truths sometimes? For instance, there's stuff in this clip about forgiveness.

The big question dogging my heels lately is how one discerns and then proceeds from the pivot point where consequences and forgiveness come together. Kind of the big, red X, “you are here” markers in our personal, professional and political lives. So what happens when those sometimes diametrically opposite things glide together or collide, depending on the particulars?

There’s a school of thought that holds we need not concern ourselves with figuring this out. That we are called to be vessels of redemptive love – folks who go with the flow and don’t keep score. Maybe so. It’s a lovely concept, really. Personally, I find it quite challenging sometimes. But I do keep plugging away at it.

The flip side is the philosophy that seems rooted in perpetual omni-targeted rage. The place where vengeance is the default setting. Read on, please.

Back in my Alanon days, we talked a lot about people who are addicted to chaos. If there’s nothing rumbling, they will stir things up until there is. This is at least part of what leads to mob mentality, IMO. That and gatherings of people who feel powerless in their personal lives.

Nowhere is this more apparent than the run-up to Golgotha. To the Bastille. To Watts. And yes, to the Republican-sanctioned tea parties in 2010. "Not sanctioned," you say? Let us remember that silence is assent. And it requires a mighty and courageous roar to be heard over all the sound and fury.

I didn’t know this is where this post would take me. But now that I’m here, let me be clear (to the extent possible for me).

I’m speaking in systemic rather than theological mode. Frankly, I see nothing even remotely sacred or spiritual in the most recent spate of mindless violence – both the verbal and physical. Violence in Congress and on the streets. And by the way, a working definition of mindlessness is this: “Having no intelligent purpose, meaning, or direction: e.g., mindless violence.” Note that this does not preclude purpose, meaning or direction. No. Rather, it specifies intelligent purpose, meaning or direction.

This is not to say that there are no intelligent Republicans on the streets or in Congress. I suspect there are. Away from the peculiar magnetic attraction of the collective fray, some of these folks might be bright and even situationally compassionate.

Do you remember the man in an earlier post here – the dude who furiously threw dollar bills into the lap of a man with Parkinson’s disease who was present at a health care reform rally? Here’s an excerpt from a follow-up article about that.

The man who berated and tossed dollar bills at a man with Parkinson's disease during a health care protest last week says he is remorseful and scared.

"I snapped. I absolutely snapped and I can't explain it any other way," said Chris Reichert of Victorian Village. (snip)

He said he's fearful for his family after reading comments about his actions on the Internet.

"I've been looking at the web sites," he said. "People are hunting for me." (snip)

"He's got every right to do what he did and some may say I did too, but what I did was shameful," Reichert said. "I haven't slept since that day."

"I made a donation (to a local Parkinson's disease group) and that starts the healing process." (snip)

Reichert, a registered Republican, said he is not politically active. He said he heard about the rally on the radio and a neighbor invited him to attend.

"That was my first time at any political rally and I'm never going to another one," Reichert said.

"I will never ever, ever go to another one."

In a dizzying example of post-hoc logic, I have concluded that apart from the mob, there indeed may be/are individuals who experience remorse for their participation. The first question, of course – at least in the case of Mr. Reichert – is whether conscience or fear precipitated his road to Damascus conversion and does it matter? Second question: Does back-tracking in fear count? Third question: Where does pre-meditated madness fit into the consequences/forgiveness dynamic? Fourth question: Is any of this my business?

Fourth question answer: Probably not. At least, the forgiveness part. Not mine to confer. But this brings me full circle to the consequences conundrum. There’s an old saying that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Indeed. And mob mentality seems to bear that out over and over again, though generally sans the forgiveness part. Mobs don't seem to want that until there are serious consequences. And for some, not even then.

It takes no courage to consort with a mob. It does take courage and no small amount of personal integrity to turn back before consequences dictate retreat. In other words, courage to reject the mob before the fact.

In the video of Reichert flinging verbal bile and dollar bills, I was struck by the on-camera presence of a man close to the action, holding a baby, watching and listening to the escalating ugliness, all the while gently patting the baby’s back. Cognitive dissonance, writ large. What was he thinking, I wonder, bringing that infant to a hate rally?

I'm acutely aware that I’m rambling. It’s what I do, particularly when I’m deeply conflicted about something. This is a topic (where do consequences and forgiveness intersect?) that has been gnawing at my innards for some time. And as noted earlier, silence is assent as it applies to me, to all of us.

Finally, I’m also aware that I’m far afield from the gratitude I cited at the beginning of this piece. Reflection reminds me that, in spite of all that rankles, my life right now is good. My brother is here with me, recovering nicely. My life is filled with the most amazing and loving people in general and person in particular. You know who you are. So yes, I am grateful.

Happy Easter. Joyful Passover. Beautiful springtime.

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