Redistributing the onus for apologies and forgiveness

Dear President Trump,

There are two small things from recent letters I want to apologize for: 1) The other day I said the gun control sign in our window says “NO! To Gun Violence”. Well, that was incorrect. Although that is the sentiment and it is consistent with my desire for there to be an end to all gun violence, the sign actually says “Gun Responsibility ~ NOW!” Pretty similar idea, but not quite the same. 2) In yesterday’s letter when I was talking about how hard it can be to take on tough topics because I worry I might offend someone or put my foot in it, I left out the word “put” so it was probably hard to parse that sentence.

Like I said, these are small mistakes and although I am sorry I made them, normally I wouldn’t feel obliged to circle back to such inconsequential blips. Today, though, they are serving as vehicles to introduce the issues of the reflexive “I’m sorry” and of forgiveness, topics our senior pastor addressed yesterday in her sermon. Just to be clear, I am offering genuine apologies for not having taken more care with those two letters and these apologies are not like the ones I automatically say to the table leg when I stub my toe on it or, like my pastor, to the person who isn’t looking and bumps into me. It’s really those auto-pilot, over-trained, over-rehearsed apologies that she called out as being problematic, as the stuff of old survival tactics designed to keep the peace and maintain relationships no matter the cost to self (or really, the other person) that we need to address.

She used the recent situation where Amber Guyger was hugged and cried with and forgiven by various players in the awful tragedy of her murder of Botham Jean, all without Guyger having pled guilty or having fully acknowledged responsibility for killing Jean in his own home. Using the case as a backdrop, she called out The Church for having promulgated a system wherein those who are transgressed against, who are sinned against, are routinely strongly encouraged (if not coerced – my take, not necessarily hers) to forgive those who harmed them even when the transgressor fails to make a sincere apology or amends. The harmed ones are supposed to suck it up and turn the other cheek rather than insist they be treated with respect, and if respect is not forthcoming, cutting ties. It may be that these “rules” about forgiveness were laced through Christianity because the men who could write (and thus had influence and power) knew that without such day-in-day out cheek turning, they’d either have to seriously rethink who is deserving of respect and the dignity of a sincere apology or there would be no such thing as families and they’d all starve because the women would take their unharmed cheeks elsewhere.

Our pastor promised us that she won’t be reflexively apologizing anymore, that she will be lovingly holding her ground when people, including parishioners, disrespect her, when we say hurtful, racist, or sexist things to her, about her, or in her presence. In setting out this promise, she is informing us that things are changing. For the better. For everyone’s benefit, to most definitely include her own.

The last thing to tell you today hasn’t got to do with apologies or forgiveness at all, just something cool I don’t want to forget. After we turned out the light last night, the moon, which was setting in the West, was reflected and refracted on our bedroom window to the East three times – the largest one to the right was the regular creamy, milky moon-color, the next one over to the left was a deep orange color, and the third one was a deep turquoise color. There was a much smaller, far less distinct fourth fragment to the left of the turquoise moon, but since it didn’t register as moon-shaped I’m inclined to not count it. The three “moons” were absolutely exquisite and they happened to be the exact same colors in the exact same order as the stacked bar graph I’d made for a presentation an hour earlier. It was a “thank you universe” moment.

May we all be safe to save apologies for when we truly mean them.
May we all be willing to step up and apologize when it is warranted (including you).
May we recognize that a culture cannot be healthy if cheek-turning is prejudicially required.
May you not start a war or abandon allies.

Tracy Simpson

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