Saturday, August 29, 2015

Six ways to love people who are really, really wrong

People around me do things or say things that are wrong. I know they're wrong. They're embarrassing, dangerous, hurtful, and if they keep it up, I'm going to have to move to Canada.

Some of them are politicians, and they're on television. Lots of them are on Facebook. It's like I can't escape. No matter where I turn, people are wrong.

How do I live with these people? Here are six possible moves.

Get a grip on the actual shape of forgiveness. There are a number of things forgiveness isn't. Forgiveness is not victims letting the offender off the hook. Forgiveness is not a hegemony of harmony. Forgiveness is not forgetting, regaining automatic trust, ignoring the offense, restoring the same relationship, or removal of consequences. Perhaps one reason we have trouble loving people who are wrong or have wronged us are false assumptions about how forgiveness and reconciliation work in our relationship with others.

Forgiveness is a choice, moving forward, dropping resentment and judgment, the removal of an emotional burden for the person forgiving, a step towards healing for the forgiver, and letting go of revenge. Moving forwards towards justice and repair is different from revenge. Justice more than getting even; it's the rebuilding of right relationship and community.

Realize that our moral commitments are like flavor sensors. If the current presidential campaign illustrates nothing else, it illustrates the extent to which different people can take the exact set of data and experiences and come to radically different conclusions. It's as if we live in two worlds, two Americas. At least in part, this may be because we literally sense the world morally in different ways. Although awareness of this will not change our tastes, it will raise our empathy, realizing that others are tasting the moral universe differently than we are. There are ways to disagree more constructively.

Practice rationality. This may seem overly trite or pedantic, but all of us could do better, constantly, at logic. Many of the conversations that fall apart in person or online fall apart as we increasingly resort to irrationality and logical fallacies. So, review some, and start avoiding them. You will be surprised how freeing this is. Oh, and remember, the best move is to avoid them yourself. It doesn't always go that well to point out specifically logical fallacies others are making while they make them.

Sometimes silos make good neighbors. You know that thing you do where you just look away, or block posts from that person, or decide you just aren't going to debate partisan politics with your zealous uncle? Sometimes, that's a good move. Talk about the weather instead. Read stuff that doesn't make steam come out of your ears. Focus on the good, and the positive you share in common with many.

Do it anyway. Everything inside you is screaming, "I can't forgive this person. I can't even love them, and that sign or flag they have in their front yard, I want to tear it down and burn it in a giant pyrrhic inferno. Well, that will feel satisfying for about ten minutes, until you're arrested. So instead, just do what seems impossible. Remember, God specializes in impossibilities, anyway. Christ encouraged things like praying for our enemies. So just go for it.

Anyway (from Zero Church by Suzy and Maggie Roche)

People are often unreasonable, illogical,
and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, People may accuse you
of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some
false friends and some true enemies;
Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone
could destroy overnight;
Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness,
they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.

The good you do today,
people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have,
and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis,
it is between you and God;
It was never between you and them anyway

Author unknown, music by Maggie and Suzzy

Finally, just watch this movie. It's a documentary, I know, not quite as exciting as The Avengers. But I watched it a few years ago with my congregation, and plan to do so again, because it changed my life. The stories are powerful. Even more powerful than the stories, forgiveness is a psychological process that has a specific shape, and being intentional about practice forgiveness is powerful and healing, not just mentally, but physically and socially. Apparently Jesus was on to something when he put forgiveness at the center of his ministry of healing and shalom.

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