Sunday, August 31, 2014

Forgiveness: Does Offense Equal Injury?

August 31, 2014

Dear Friends,

Last week’s story of the Lunch-Lady’s traffic adventures raised questions about the basic nature of the forgiveness process.

In the story, the Cut-in-Front Lady and the Angry Gesturing Man both behaved in less than desirable ways. In thinking through forgiveness issues we will certainly return to their behaviors for consideration at a later time. Today, however, I want to reconsider the issue raised by the Lunch-Lady’s response. 

In a magnanimous fashion Lunch-Lady declared both the Cut-in-Front Lady and the Angry Gesturing Man “forgiven,” making her forgiveness something I labelled a judicial decision. Despite the Lunch-Lady’s good intentions, her behavior (in my opinion) raised a question about the appropriateness of her “forgiving” response. 
Think again with me about the story.

The Cut-in-Front Lady certainly caused the Lunch-Lady to exercise some quick defensive driving tactics in order to avoid accident and potential injury to both herself and others. At this point we are likely to agree with the Lunch Lady: the Cut-in-Front Lady demonstrated poor driving skills and (possibly) a careless attitude—not good. 

But not so quick. Seriously considered, do poor driving skills and carelessness require forgiveness? 

Certainly these behaviors offended and aggravated the Lunch Lady. What is less clear is the matter of injury. Had the Cut-in-Front Lady injured the Lunch Lady? The answer to that question, of course, depends on a number of things, beginning with the belief system of the Lunch Lady.  

Suppose that the Lunch Lady believed that the law entitled her to drive I-25 without risk or sense of discomfort. If that were true, then (from the Lunch Lady’s point of view) both the Cut-in-Front Lady and the Angry Gesturing Man were guilty of violating this law and needed forgiveness for their infraction of the law. In this case, forgiveness granted appropriately, and brownie points to the Lunch Lady. 

But there are at least two serious snags in this tidy scenario. 

First, the Lunch Lady made no distinction between offense and injury. Is there a significant difference between offense and injury? Could the Lunch Lady rightfully say, “I was offended so this means I was injured.”? Does the forgiveness process apply to offense in the same manner forgiveness is relevant to injury?

And further, THE LAW to which the Lunch Lady non-verbally appealed merits a second look. Under careful examination, this version of  “law” incorporates something suspiciously similar to a sense of personal entitlement.  Does the “law” actually require all drivers on I-25 to drive at all times in such a manner that the Lunch-Lady’s comfort and sense of well-being remain unchallenged?

If we take forgiveness as a significant obligation of mature living, then no matter how commonplace the traffic story, we are faced with two serious issues.

Are offense and injury indistinguishable in the context of forgiveness? When I am offended, does the person who offended me need my forgiveness? When I offend, then must I seek forgiveness of the person I have offended? What is the relationship between offense and injury? An how does my personal sense of entitlement obligate others with whom I relate?

In growing up—or at least in growing older—most of us have been forced to come to grips with two aspects of reality: life is not always fair; people are often not nice. 

Thinking with you that forgiveness is not easily defined in the context of life the way it is.

See you next week.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

That Spider--Yet Again!

August 17, 2014

Dear friends,

The last two weeks have brought much joy and many things to think about. Writing about these new things must wait, however, for another day. Today’s space belongs to unfinished business with that spider that I watched take down a web, and—Patience, please! Don’t go away!—a postscript to the Chicken Little Story.

That early morning as I watched the spider, I was intrigued at what I was seeing—in a business-like fashion the spider was disassembling a web. This was a new experience--I hadn’t seen a spider unweave a web before. As I thought about the experience, I concluded that the small brown spider I had observed was a neat and tidy soul (perhaps a bit OCD, spider-fashion) and was demolishing an old web that was no longer useful. 

What I experienced was real—the spider and the web and the spider’s behavior were not figments of an aging imagination. Lack of a sense of reality was not the problem. Nevertheless, like Chicken Little, the initial meaning I attached to my experience was incorrect. I eventually discovered my mistake although this required considerable thinking and a great many questions.

When I thought about the unweaving spider in the context of my life experiences, the questions began to rise. In years of housekeeping, why had there been so many cobwebs to remove from ceilings and light fixtures? Why was it that, inevitably, on a trip to the attic or the cellar, at some place on the journey I would find myself wiping my face to remove traces of a spider web that, unnoticed, I had walked into? I had regularly come into contact with spider webs on trips to the well house and the barn. In the garden I had often seen diamonds of dew caught in their fragile nets. In my rather long history there had truly been countless numbers of spiders and spider webs. How did this fact fit into my understanding of the unweaving spider? 

On that morning on the porch had I observed a rare event, an anomaly—had I actually seen the only tidy spider in the universe, the only recorded case of spider OCD? Were all those other webs I had encountered the abandoned webs of ecologically irresponsible spiders who had simply moved on and left their trash behind?

Put that way, my first conclusion seemed highly doubtful. Something certainly had happened—I had indeed seen that spider sever three of the anchoring threads to that sorry-looking web between the porch and the barberry bush.  But was my conclusion valid—was that spider cleaning up the place, picking up web trash, removing an old building from an old lot? Or was there another explanation?

And, to reconsider the spider: it was a very small spider, brown and totally unremarkable in every way.

And suppose I reconsidered that ragged, irregular, shabby-looking web?

What if this was not a garbage collection story after all?

What if the unattractive appearance of that web was the result of an inadequate first effort at spinning? What if I had seen a spider dealing with a failed first effort?
What if I had seen a story about learning, a story in which the pattern did not come right the first time, a story in which not only did the pattern fail to come right the first time but the sorry first effort at spinning was not anchored in a safe place?

It is possible that I saw a spider disassembling the results of a poor first choice, then setting off to find a safer place in which to weave again.

Comforted today to think—again—with you about the gift of choice. 

Finding an acorn instead of a piece of fallen sky can leave us feeling foolish. However, like that small brown spider, we can accept the loss of bad beginnings and chose to weave again. To do so sometimes requires that we detach unstable anchors and clean up the debris in order to move on to build better in a safer place.

I wonder: were some of the most intricate, beautiful spider webs I’ve seen a second effort at spinning? 

I know that some of the most beautiful lives I’ve seen are the result of people who with great courage have begun again—and again—and, for some, yet again. 

See you next week.