forgive us our trespasses

I have a hard time forgiving. Not in the sense that I hold grudges; most of the time I am all too willing to let sleeping dogs lie and act as if hurts never happened. My problem, I think, lies in actually acknowledging that a problem occurred at all.

It's interesting. I think most people, if asked, would say that I'm combative or aggressive when it comes to arguments and debates, and to a point it's true. In writing it is, except for an unfortunate predilection for adverbs and an unabashed love of arcane vocabulary. Matters of simple, verifiable fact I don't hesitate to correct, though I gave up fisking the email forwards I get from my mom as a lost cause. And I doubt anyone at Teh Forum would believe me if I told them that I not only hesitated to enter certain threads at all, I deliberately pulled some of my punches on the ones I did enter (though someone who read the non-redacted posts that I vented on LJ mentioned that he now knows better than to piss me off). I was downright recruited for the high school debate team,* and I kicked ass, if I do say so myself. If I'm cornered, I don't fuck around.

But if I'm given the barest opportunity or the excuse, I will almost without exception avoid, and demur, and hide. I can feel an itch between my shoulderblades compelling me to run away. I would rather ignore something and pretend it's not happening than face it head-on. I have never been the dumper in either of my two previous relationships.** I am the Ennis del Mar of interpersonal relationships.

In a conversation with a friend earlier the concept of forgiveness was being discussed and honestly, despite the fact that my parents hurt me the most, I feel the angriest at Dymphna for outing me not only once, but twice, and for the flimsiest of pretexts. I don't know if it's possible to forgive someone when you can't even stand to be in the same room as them. She's getting married, and I specifically requested not to be in the wedding party, a request that was accepted. Mostly I've been telling people who ask why that I can think of few things more horrifying than the prospect of my sister picking out my clothing, which in accord with my principles about outright lying actually is true, if not completely honest.

I have a serious problem with forgiveness as it applies to people who haven't actually asked for it. Someone who's actually repentant and wants to be given a second chance to prove it I can deal with; I can understand that I should grant someone the same slack I would want granted to me, and even if I have a hard time rebuilding trust with someone I can recognize the rightness of trying to do so. But someone who's either totally unrepentant or doesn't even realize what it is that they did wrong at all? There's not only no guarantee that they won't turn around and repeat it, there's a practical certainty that they WILL. Belief without evidence is faith; belief in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary is denial. I can't believe that God asks us to be doormats; that doesn't serve justice at all, on an individual or social level. Even nonviolence and pacifism are intended to forestall further harm and pave way for restoration, not just to paper over the fact that wrong has been done.

Are we obligated to forgive people who deny that they have wronged us, whether through lack of compassion or comprehension? Even the granddaddy of forgiveness theories, substitutionary atonement, still posits that you have to want it as more than a get-out-of-jail-free card. It doesn't seem possible to force forgiveness on someone, inasmuch as forgiveness is intended to be a restoration of a relationship, or at least a cessation of hostilities, and it takes two to tango, as it were. The Buddhist conception appeals to me more in that it focuses more on letting go of the wrong than achieving justice with the wrong-er, but with that, I'm afraid it's appealing more to my preference for nonconfrontation than any actual desire to move forward. The concept makes perfect sense; the proper application, however, escapes me, because I am so direly willing to pretend things never happened that I'm afraid that it prevents any of the problems from being truly solved. It mostly seems like forgiveness of the forgetful kind just perpetuates the problem. You can't learn from something that you pretend never happened.

Does forgiveness require forgetting, or consent on the part of the forgiven?

*Interestingly enough, I discovered later through Facebook that I was not the only queer in Eastchester's debate team. I expected that from the drama team, but not the nerd herd.

**Iris and I have parted ways. Essentially it boiled down to her wanting to get started finding a long-term relationship and she wants kids and I don't, so that was just not going to work out for either of us. I was neither thrilled nor surprised, really. But we're still friends and all that, et cetera.

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thus saith Liadan at 6:44 AM


Blogger marauder saith at 1/02/2009 8:13 PM...  

If I'm the member of the forum cited in Graf 2, strike "knows better than to piss me of" and insert "is pathologically afraid for his safety if he pisses me off." :-)

No, seriously, this is a very honest post, straight from your heart, and i appreciate your willingness to share it. I think forgiveness is a difficult thing for all of us to extend when we have been hurt, especially by people or deities who should know better.

I think part of the conflict you're seeing is that we've conflated forgiveness and restoration into a single act; i.e., "If you've forgiven me, why am I still in the doghouse?" It's like when Bill Clinton apologized for his adultery, his denials and obfuscations and then his perjury. "I said I was sorry. Why are we still dealing with this?" Because while forgiveness may be extended and received, there is still an aftermath to the offense that includes damaged trust among the other more obvious consequences of the offense. (In your case with Dymphna, for instance, there's the oversize can of tsursis that was dumped on you not once, but twice, where you were left emotionally raw and bleeding by what you should not have had to endure.)

Even God's forgiveness is like this. He may have forgiven David for having Uriah set up to be killed, but consequences lingered. Joab had a hold over the king that helped lead one day to civil war.

Forgiveness can, and perhaps should, take place in an instant. But restoration can take years of someone demonstrating to the other person that they can be trusted with the power, authority and position they once had. I don't doubt that Swaggart received God's forgiveness for his scandal back in '87, or that Haggard could receive forgiveness for his escapades and scandal, but I think in both cases their advisers/supervisors were right to say "It's time for you to step down from this ministry."

So I don't fault you for being hurt by what your sister did, for being angry at some of the things people on the forum have said, nor even really for wondering if it's possible to forgive her.

All that said, I think there is a power in real forgiveness (as opposed to just "letting go," which, as you note is often a means of avoidance) since, as you note, christocentric forgiveness involves restoring a relationship that has been sundered. But that's also a forgiveness that can't be done in a vacuum, by yourself. It requires talking to the person who needs to be forgiven, and explaining why what they did was so fucking painful, so they can actually appreciate for themselves what they have done.

Of course, that's really easy to say, but it's much harder to accomplish. I've had some really good conversations with Natasha in the past where I was able to explain just how badly she had hurt me and why I didn't want it to stay there ... and I've had conversations with pastors, former co-congregants, friends and even a mother who just could not understand what I was on about, no matter how I explained it. In the former scenario, it's wonderful; you have salvaged a relationship that otherwise might have been dealt a fatal blow. In the latter, you at least have made the effort, taken the lead toward reconciliation, and can have a clean conscience that you have extended a true olive branch to someone else.

What I can say is that I have found Christ to be in that effort of reconciliation. In reaching out to people who have wronged me, I have found forgiveness myself for resentment I hadn't realized I was harboring; I've found the mystic communion with Christ that comes when two people make peace; and I've also known his suffering, since he often has extended forgiveness to people like me who rebuff him because they just don't see why they need it.

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