Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: forgiveness

Looking in empty places

In John’s gospel (chapter 20), within 2 paragraphs of Mary Magdalene finding an empty tomb, Jesus’ first words to the group of the disciples.

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

Why in my 37 years of Easter morning services have I never known what specific directions Jesus gave the disciples? I got the “go and make disciples” messages, and the running to the empty grave and even some stories about not recognizing Jesus on the road. Never once did I know that we had this Forgiveness Mandate put upon our lives.

Previous to Jesus’ announcement, forgiving only happened at the Temple. (Remember that passage where the religious leaders accused Jesus of heresy because he forgave the sins of the man on the mat? “Only God can forgive sins,” they yelled.) To achieve forgiveness status, you showed up at the temple with the appropriate size of bird or mammal, along with a tithe (and remember, the Pharisees were tacking on a tenth of mint and thyme because they were High Achievers). You paid your dues for having Psoriasis to the Temple system and moved on about your life.

And what about when you kept having to give and give to the Temple System because bad things kept happening to you? Like when you spent 3 months locked in your house because your 4 small children caught every bug and virus known to the local school system? The message was clear: You’re not blessed. You’re not on God’s good side, so give a little more.

Those without had even less. Unless you count the heaps of guilt and shame they carried around with them.

Jesus’ message of new life: We the People can forgive. You’re not tied to a suffocating system anymore.

God gave the temple as a means to serve the people. God gave processes, not because he needed the smell of burning heifer to create happiness in heaven. God didn’t need another dead dove or spotless ram from your field. God did, however, need people to walk in a sense of freedom.

And in the absence of a system which restored people to fullness of life, Jesus handed the task to the people. Regular old carpenters and farmers and guys who liked to fish on Sunday.

This passage resonated deeply with me, not just because of the weight and the task ahead of us (ahem: me. I cannot tell you the last time I went around sprinkling forgiveness into my conversation. Who am I to forgive you? That shall remain for another blog.)

My circles include plenty of people who have no use for church. And it turns out, Jesus gets that. It’s no secret the way religion can – and has, or does – participate in the power structures of society.

Now, I’ll stand by the local church. And, I know that if there’s any means of forgiveness and restoration coming from these walls, it’s not because God favors the building or the system: it’s because I’ve happened upon a group of people who love God and are participating in the great command of issuing grace to one another from a great bounty of love.

If you’re home on Easter Sunday morning, perhaps feeling a tad guilty for choosing chocolate bunnies and hard boiled eggs over organ hymns or even rock guitar versions of songs of jubilee, then I see you. I get it. And it’s okay. If the system has failed to bring you peace and forgiveness, then that’s the fault of the system. And more accurately, it’s the fault of the people who proclaim a message and then fail to offer it’s generous benefits to everyone.

What we’re all looking for doesn’t come from a system, it comes from The Spirit – which resides in the people. We fail the world when we try to systematize that which can only come from contact with the living God.

I’m walking away from this passage this morning less with a mandate to “invite someone to church” and more to walk alongside those who need to see and hear and know and feel what it is to live in forgiveness and freedom. They will not find what they’re looking for in a church if they cannot find it in the person who invites them.

Visit me elsewhere:

Forgiveness for Whom?

I try extremely hard to not speak on behalf of God. Instead, I’m inclined to report on what God didn’t say. The ways that holy scripture can be twisted for personal benefit is endless, especially to an audience who has such little understanding of the culture to which it was originally written (a BFD, in my opinion).

So when prominent Christian leaders make big public statements, I hold my breath. On the one hand, we need their wisdom. I have my own personal favorites and when she or he speaks, I listen and absorb. I try to filter and use my own wisdom, but I know I’m never perfect in that regard. Sometimes I trust because I’m not at the point of being able to sort it for myself. And that’s okay. But Big Christian Leaders may not always keep this in mind. In fact, sometimes it is exploited.

Now that several Big Names have asked the Christian public to forgive Trump, I feel compelled to offer a warning; a reminder about what forgiveness involves.

Forgiveness is rarely about the offender. It’s about the offended. To be clear, Trump hasn’t asked for forgiveness. He doesn’t feel he did anything wrong. So we’re not offering reconciliation because his heart has softened and he realizes the error of his ways.

Often, forgiveness arises as a means of freedom for the one forgiving. It’s a weight you don’t have to carry anymore. Sometimes, we have to forgive and forgive and 10 years later you find you’ve picked up that same baggage and accidentally started toting it around with you again. It’s a conscious decision to set something aside for the sake of your own heart.

Jesus challenges to us to forgive in a limitless supply, because in forgiving others we lean into our own forgiven state – and vice versa. Often we feel more compelled to forgive once we realize our own forgiven-ness. Freedom begins to define us, rather than the smallness we feel with guilt and hatred. And the more you forgive, the easier it is to forgive again.

When you forgive someone, you’re freed from their actions defining you. This does not give license to the person to continue to hurt you. You can forgive someone, set that weight aside, while not inviting the behavior back into our lives.

The church has a terrible, nasty history of using forgiveness as a means of holding its people in situations that are unhealthy. “You need to forgive” – especially when in context of Jesus’ words that we will only be forgiven to the extent we forgive others – are weighty words. No one wants to feel un-forgiven, so the threat of a heavenly withholding can push people into corners.

Church leaders have used this logic to keep women in unhealthy and even dangerous relationships. Some pastors have been quick to tell the woman that her job “as a Christian” is to forgive – and while forgiveness is a godly goal, it is not synonymous with staying. Forgiving doesn’t give him a right to do it again. You can leave, and forgive. 

So when these leaders are pleading for a man’s forgiveness, let’s be clear: it’s for the sake of their own conscious. They’re looking to rectify their hearts with what they know to be wrong.  It is not synonymous with staying. It doesn’t require we go back.

If Trump followers want to forgive and move on, that’s the work of their own hearts. And it’s a good work. Forgive away, because the world needs more of it. But please don’t be convinced that such work requires you support the continued work of the forgiven, especially when the forgiven person has made no indication of change. There’s no evidence that it will be different next time.

Visit me elsewhere:

coffee cake forgiveness

New neighbors just moved in behind us this weekend, and during a slow drive-by, I spied small children’s toys. So I hurriedly 4 days later went home to make a dish to drop off. This afternoon I repeatedly grazed through my cookbooks to find a recipe. A casserole? Well, they’d been there for 3 days which is out of my unofficial timeframe for main courses. Cookies? But then you end up eating way more than needed. Then I dug out the trusty JSUMC cookbook. 

Solution: coffeecake. 
As I whipped up the batter, I reflected on the woman who offered the recipe. She was the mother of 3 very special students. The family was probably the first to drop by my office in my inaugural week. She donated countless dishes (probably at least one coffee cake) and supplies and hours to the church and the youth. I couldn’t have used a recipe from a more “neighborly” woman. 
Until she left. 
I tend to take on the states of being for the people for whom I care deeply. You know, the “laugh with those who laugh and mourn with those who mourn.” So I hurt when they were hurting. 
But tonight I allowed myself to remember her for the wonderful, thoughtful ways she cared. The prayers she uttered and the songs she sang. The cards she made by hand. Her fierce loyalty. 
I realized that a single decision she made a few years ago altered her relationships with countless people. But it didn’t delete, or even change, the numerous chapters of her life that preceded it. 
While still giving her family the space to wrestle and reconcile their situation, I realized it’s not my situation. Therefore, I’m given the freedom to define her by one decision or by a lifetime of meaningful gestures. Opting to leave will remain one of her cornerstone life events; it’s not the same as “coffee or tea” or which church to join. But to summarize a person’s life based upon the parts and not the whole just doesn’t fit. It somehow eliminates room for change, or hope and the space to rectify wrongs. 
It ends the story too soon. 
So while I blended the butter with the flour, I balanced a knowledge that things would never return to “as they were” with an appreciation of what they were. And for the first time in a long while, I allowed a sense of gratitude for her place in my life. And perhaps wished her the grace of good things in the future. After all, she’d set an example for me in raising children and in serving others. And she made a mean coffeecake. 
Visit me elsewhere:

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