“To err is human; to forgive, divine.” This old saying nails a core human issue (as old sayings often do!) Amidst more fashionable issues like global warming, social justice, and gay marriage, I fear plain ol’ forgiveness is an afterthought. Yet our old saying captures two things about forgiveness: 1) It is fundamentally important; 2) Climbing Mount Everest seems easier in most cases.
Unforgiveness is a formidable enemy. What makes it so insidious is that it hides behind wounds. We defend wounds with eveything we have. Probing them is out of the question. The fault of the one who injured us roars and paces in our minds. We scarcely notice unforgiveness sliding up from behind and coiling around our necks. Once coiled, it clamps down saying, “Don’t tread on me.” We think our release lies in attacking the monster in front of us; we fixate on our offender changing their behavior and making things right. What we really need is to uncoil the snake around our necks. Dealing with unforgiveness frees us to breathe again.
As I’ve written elsewhere, I’m concerned about how unforgiveness manifests in society. Certain populations exist in shrines of victimization. These populations have suffered real tragedies. They are justifiably wounded and angry. At the same time, there’s little room for differences of opinion or discussion of issues affecting these groups. We have culturally encircled the wagons around these wounded ones. We’ve socially positioned ourselves to face any threats–real or perceived. This means we aren’t looking at our victims, nor are we aware of any spiritual threat from that quarter.
The Confederate Flag has been a lightning rod example of what I’m saying. This flag represented the Southern United States about 150 years ago. The economy of the South was largely dependent on slave-labor so the Confederate Flag is associated with slavery.
The atrocities committed against African Americans under slavery are well documented and beyond dispute. (What is trumpeted far less often is this: Africans captured and sold each other to slave traders. Without the participation of Africans, the slave trade couldn’t have functioned. Blacks and whites were both guilty of sin in this shared enterprise).
Recently, a ground swell of negative public opinion against the Confederate Flag has led to a sweep of cultural censorship: Merchandise bearing the flag has been yanked from shelves; a golfer painted over an image of the flag on his car; the long-running TV show, “The Dukes of Hazzard” was taken off the air because it features a car with the flag on top.
I understand that to many in our country the Confederate Flag is nothing but a symbol of racism. Given that I wonder: How much of the flag’s power comes from the present effects of racism, and how much comes from unforgiveness? Not being African-American I can’t answer that question. But the question needs to be asked. Attacking racism while unforgiveness stabs us in the back won’t help anyone.
To be continued…