Sunday, February 22, 2015

Forgiveness: a Meditation

Matthew 18: 21-35

Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”  Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants.  As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold was brought to him.  Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt. “At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go. “But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded. “His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’ “But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.  “Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’  In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.  “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

This passage in scripture shows how serious forgiveness is, and how it is a requirement from God. In this particular parable, the whole point is to show our obligation to forgive other brothers and sisters in Christ. This is to remind us of the discipline of forgiveness; our forgiveness of others who have wronged us in any way: by either their words or deeds. If you think about the seriousness of the Jesus prayer, more commonly known as “the Lord’s Prayer” remember the words in it: Forgive us our sins (trespasses, debts) as we forgive those who sin against us.

In church liturgy, there is a moment for all of us to ask God for the forgiveness of our sins; we know that we are incapable, even in our redeemed and regenerate status, to not sin.  This is the problem of our broken-ness before a Holy God. We can only come into the presence of God through the Atoning blood of Jesus Christ, and asking corporally for forgiveness, especially before the Eucharist, is a reminder of the fact of our fallenness and the amazing gift of God’s grace towards us whenever we ask him.

Matthew 6:12 reads, "But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” And Mark 11:25 says, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.”

The main point I think we need to remember, is the magnitude of God’s saving grace towards us; this is the proper model for forgiveness of those who wrong us.

As we think about what our spiritual practice should look like, as we now have entered Lent, and however we walk through this season, in preparation for Easter; We should be asking God, who is it that we need to forgive? A fellow Christian, coworker or friend, family member or stranger? Can we take the time to allow God to bring to our minds all those that we need to ask God’s help to forgive?

And in this process of the spiritual discipline of Forgiveness, there will be one more person you will need to forgive.

And that is yourself.

God loves you, and has forgiven you; now forgive yourself. Forgive yourself for not following through on a promise. Forgive yourself for that mistake you made 10 years ago, or, for saying the wrong thing this morning or yesterday. Forgive yourself for not loving enough, caring enough, for not being the perfect parent or spouse, for all the times you let down friends, family and yourself, and for not being able to follow God in the way you believe you are supposed to, however that looks or works out.

James wrote that Mercy always triumphs over justice. Why not take time to give yourself mercy, to give yourself grace.  God loves you. God has forgiven you. And God will guide and make possible the real change He wants to see in you.

Finally, I want to share this quote is from H.R. Mackintosh, from his book The Christian Experience of Forgiveness”

He writes:

The most crushing evil under which [people] suffer is the guilt of sin. When we speak of redemption, therefore, we are able to say in advance that nothing can possibly be of such cardinal importance as that we should be redeemed from the fatal load of guilt, from that sense of felt distance from God, of dread and concern, of dull, helpless resentment by which the guilty are plagued…the heart must be thrown open by the welcomed certainty of forgiveness before the long process of what has usually been called sanctification can begin, and what evil promptings of our lower nature be gradually subdued. There lies the secret of the profoundest moral catharsis and of revulsion from evil. Forgiveness is the experience by which we pass from Christian truth to Christian duty.

We must now seek to understand how new resources for increasing moral victory flow, naturally and intelligibly through none the less spiritually and supernaturally, from a [person’s] reception of pardon through the love of God in Christ…[T]o the moralist it must always have a sound of folly to say, in the sense of the New Testament, that the only good [person] is in point of fact the [person] whose heart has been made tender, and [their]conscience sensitive, by submitting to have [their]sins forgiven…The sense of [forgiveness], far from being a barren and inert emotion, running its course idly within the mind, is a fruitful and energetic conviction, charged with explosive power to change lives and destroy social wrong. There is no intention to deny the mystery of grace, and the saving personal influence of God, when we say that the connection between pardon and right character can be made psychologically luminous, and…the life-giving knowledge that God is our friend…It is demonstrable that from the new consciousness of the Father engendered by a wonderful experience there flows, with a moral inevitability, a new attitude to life and its tasks, inward blessedness, confidence, love, obedience and courage.

H.R. Mackintosh The Christian Experience of Forgiveness (1961, London, Fontana Books) 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Implicit Bias: What it is, and What it impacts

I want to try something a bit different for this post: I want to introduce you all to the concept of Implicit Bias.

We all have biases. These biases could be over the food we eat or the clothes we like to wear. But when we deal with other people, most all of us, (including me,) have “blind-spots” or biases embedded in our psyches.

These are things that we were taught as children, ingested through television and movies, and are learned through the books and magazines we have read through the years. In ancient times this was the skill of how quickly a person could be “categorize” to see if they were “friend or foe.”

Implicit bias is something that we all can become aware of, and change: for this impacts the lives of millions of people of all ethnicities, genders and religions. Implicit bias impacts women in the work-place, students of all genders and races in the class room, it impacts how our legal systems function, and how law enforcement deals day-to-day with the general public.

Implicit bias leads to a lack of diversity in our work-forces, drives much of the gender-gap in leadership; both business and churches, and sadly is impressed on children in schools in all grades.

Implicit bias is the picture in your mind when you hear the word "CEO", "teacher," "doctor," "pastor," and "janitor." 

Quick self-check: What was the gender/ethnicity of the person you pictured for each of the jobs titles I wrote? 

I have faced bias and discrimination in my life, observed the problems of bias in business and classroom settings, and experienced displays of aggressive/passive aggressive behavior over my attaining a leadership role in a church. But our ability to learn and grow never stops in our lifetime, and perhaps with self-awareness and training these negative behaviors will slowly become a thing of the past.

So here is a little test, if you want to participate in a research testing site for Harvard go here:

And follow the link below to read a short informational PDF on some examples of the negative effects of implicit bias in the work place, here:

Implicit Bias is something that I have begun to educate myself on, and something that we all should learn: what are our blind spots? How are we all contributing to bias in the work-place and classroom?

As a Christian, I am called to build the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven, and that includes reaching out to men and women, all races, tribes and traditions, not just the ones I feel comfortable with.