Category Archives: Forgiveness

What the language of apology can do

While the Washington Post reports that there is a surge in hate graffiti in my area and video of the confession of Dylann Roof, accused murderer of nine members of Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015, has been released to the public, I am praying that more stories like the ones emerging from the protest of the North Dakota pipeline are on the rise.  Below is proof that if we could all learn the language of apology, then we could talk reconciliation.

There is power in truth- telling, in stepping forward and raising our hands to say, “I did it.”  There is courage in the acknowledgement of fault and seeking accountability for wrong- doing.  It takes a strong person to say, “I have wronged you.”

Anyone can stand to take the credit but there are few who will step from the shadows and break the silence to take the blame.

More than a personal reflection, it is a survey of one’s character that reports all of our findings: “I have lied to you, tricked you, hurt and harassed you, oppressed you, stolen from you, cheated you, murdered you.”  No shuffling of feet, no blame- shifting but an eye- to- eye confession, we are not ashamed to show our faces and we look into the faces of those we have done harm.

Not a deathbed confession, our reputation will suffer.  We cannot close our eyes to see death, comforting in knowing that we will never have to face it again.  This is not for those who just need to get it off their chest.  Reconciliation is compelled by love.

Recently, military veterans went to Standing Rock to apologize and to ask for their forgiveness.  “We’ve hurt you in so many ways.  We’ve come to say we’re sorry.”





Think About It

ThinkAboutIt_-_OpeningGraphic01thumbThe ministry of reconciliation is not one for which our hands go up easily or quickly. There seems always to be a shortage of willing participants.  We are not standing in line to talk about the hurts and wounds, to have hard conversations, to pick away at our stony hearts.  And finding leaders is just as difficult (I wonder what a job description of ministers of reconciliation might entail).

We don’t have an end in mind and even if we do, we don’t believe that it exists.  Despite the fact that we don’t know the direction, the distance or the landmarks, we figure that it is impossible for us to make it there.  We figure, “It will never happen” so we sit down and fold our hands.  Things will never change.

We surmise that people will remain the same so we decide that it is not worth the effort.  We confuse their willingness with our own.  But, people change one person at a time and there is no shortage of work for those who desire for us dwell together in unity (Ps. 133.1).

Still, I am afraid that we are not informed as to the vision for reconciliation.  We simply do not know what those relationships looks like.  Because we have not seen what authentic unity is– at least not long enough to take a picture or to take notes on it.

Too often, we give persons laws that they must follow: “Do this and I will forgive you” and not the love that we should all strive for.  We have a to- do list and frankly, it is one that we have not completed ourselves.

So, today, I challenge us to prepare for relationship, to not just talk about what needs to happen but to make it happen.  This starts not with our mouths as anyone can repeat what has been said.  We do not begin after they have satisfied our need for revenge.  To be sure, it is never an even exchange.

Instead, we must think about it.  Our minds must change.  It is where transformation begins (Romans 12.2).

We must begin to give our thoughts to new ideas, new words and circumstances.  We must start thinking about how our relationships look not if but when we come together.  We must push our minds to think beyond what has been and to imagine what could be or we are not thinking at all.

Think about it.  What what would happen if we were reconciled to each other?  What would it look like?  What could we accomplish?  What if you became a minister of reconciliation?

Before we say, ‘I forgive you’

bng-logoI am in a place that I had not anticipated and certainly could not have prepared for. It is the same feeling that I had after the shooting of nine bowed heads at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., on June 17, 2015. Dylann Roof, the alleged shooter, had hoped to start a race war between socially colored black and white people. It is an old word and fight documented throughout American history. It is the fight for supremacy, the title of undisputed champion culture of the world and the very best that God created.

Before their funerals were planned, there was talk that their deaths could bring about some good. I was enraged. Who makes such a call? Did anyone ask the victims if they wanted to be a part of such work? And what of their dead bodies riddled with bullets, their helpless cries and their last breath shared with a deranged killer is required for the making of good? Who is in charge of the production of such good?

Mine is an all too familiar feeling. It was talked about in the past tense, the daily murder of African Americans unprotected by the law, of mob justice and lynching without due process of law. I had hoped to share it with my son in story form and based on books that I had read like At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Lynching of Black America or Without Sanctuary: Lynching Photography in America. But, I can’t now, as it is a part of the daily news. I need only turn on the television.

It is painfully familiar because it sounds like the same incidents surrounding the civil rights movement. And it’s not history. The murders at Mother Emmanuel AME Church wounded me deeply because it reminded me of those four little girls murdered at 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala. What did they march for if we are marching again? What of signs held reading, “I am a man,” if we now must say, “Black lives matter?” What did they die for if African-American men and women are unlawfully dying again?

The words of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel rendered me silent. I thought that the release of the dash cam footage of the shocking murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald would have said enough. It is frightening, horrific and absurdly inhumane.

In a press conference after the shooting death of Laquan, Mayor Emmanuel said, “I believe this is a moment that can build bridges of understanding.” Why is the tragic loss of his life seen as good and quality material for such a bridge? And who wants to walk across a bridge made of the dead bodies of African-American men and women? Clearly, I have missed his understanding of the death of Laquan McDonald.

And we cannot move so quickly to building bridges when there is no understanding of the needed material required for its structural soundness and safety. Let’s take the appropriate steps toward walking together, toward mutual understanding and reconciliation. Let’s acknowledge and accept fully in our bodies what has happened to Laquan’s body. Let’s look at the medical examiner’s report and into the face of his family. Let’s look at least 16 times.

Before we make public statements, let’s go into public mourning. Is the period of mourning one news cycle? I mean, how long do we give ourselves to grieve? Is it for as long as the topic trends on Twitter? Let’s give it two, three or maybe 16 days.

Before we talk about “one bad apple,” let’s acknowledge that Officer Jason Van Dyke was a member of the police force and fellow officers stood by as he shot McDonald. Before we talk about what we will not allow after the release of the dash cam video — the breaking of windows and the destruction of public property — let’s talk about how we allow the public destruction of African-American bodies.

This has happened more times than I count, more times than fingers, more than two hands held up saying, “Don’t shoot.” This is too familiar. Eerily reminiscent of a group that terrorized African-American communities in cooperation with law enforcement and some times as members of law enforcement. Before we dismiss well-placed anger, fall back into the habit of blame-shifting or hurry to forgiveness, let’s talk about what happened to Laquan’s body.

Let’s walk in his shoes, running away, scraping concrete and then lying in the middle of the street, before we walk over said bridge of understanding. Let’s say his name, “Laquan McDonald.” Let’s talk about what happened to his 17-year-old body. Let’s talk about the dehumanization, devaluation and stereotyping of his body before we prep it to be used as building material.

To be sure, I am not angry, but I am really, really disappointed in a society that prides itself on being liberal but exerts little energy to change the relationships (not to be confused with the laws) that perpetuate this reality. I have been let down in ways unimaginable by a society that defines itself as progressive but feels very comfortable not making any progress on the race problem.

So, before we say, “I forgive you,” let’s talk about history’s repetition. Before we say, “I forgive you,” let’s acknowledge what’s wrong.

Before we say, “I forgive you,” let’s talk about this human condition called race. To be sure, it is a social construct that privileges some and oppresses others based on the social coloring of skin. Let’s really see each other and not what race suggests as there are no physically colored beige, black, brown, red, yellow or white people. Neither God nor our sciences agree with this cultural rating system.

Forgiveness begins with the awareness and the acknowledgement that something is wrong. Let’s talk about what’s wrong with our relationship before we say, “I forgive you.”

* This article was originally published by Baptist News Global under the same title on December 3, 2015.

The Gospel and Racial Reconcilation

This year’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission’s Leadership Summit featured author Trillia Newbell.  Her book United: Captured by God’s Vision for Diversity is discussed and she offers practical steps for reconciliation in relationship.

Christianity Today discusses racial microaggression

enhanced-buzz-19395-1386285370-28Racial microaggression is not a new term but has recently gained popularity as persons look for ways to discuss experiences of racism that are not overt or perhaps were unintended.  While America is not a post- racial country, many of its citizens certainly have come a long way in their thinking.  Or, have we?

Have we merely internalized racism, making its lens our vision of humanity?  There are those who think that our beliefs concerning race remain the same while the practices have changed.  Kristie Anyabwile describes racial microaggression and outlines how little comments and questions create problems in relationships.  But, she does not end the conversation there.  She offers ways in which to reconcile the matter in her work “No Offense: The Dilemma over Unintended Racism.”