When I was growing up, a “tool” was something you used to work in your garden; or to work on your car. But no more. Today, a “tool” is more often thought of as the ex who worked in your garden; or to the ex who worked on your car.
And when I was growing up, a “hook up” was something that happened by visiting the local telephone office. Why, everyone knew that the first thing you did for your new home was to go to the AT&T office on Brown Avenue and politely ask the lady for a hookup – preferably that afternoon. Sometimes she could. Sometimes she couldn’t. Most people were willing to wait a day or two for the hookup. There was always a line. But no more.
And when I was growing up, “gay” was something that happened to pretty much everybody from time to time. Why, it wasn’t unusual at all for one to find himself exceptionally gay at the approach of a three-day weekend, or the Christmas holidays, or the Super Bowl.
Why, back in the day, a person might find himself spontaneously gay for no reason whatsoever. “Why so gay today?” “No reason. Just having a gay day.”
Why, a lot of people even went to church to find that they left gayer than they arrived. But no more. Or maybe...
And when I was growing up, “bad” meant undesirable and “sick” meant ill and a “thong” was a fun, little shoe you wore to the beach. But no more.
And so it is with words. They are elusive, slippery, fluid things and religion is not immune to their ways.
The word “forgiveness” joins ranks with the words “love” and “prayer” and even God as elusive, slippery, fluid words which have morphed over years and across continents and through minds to join us, somewhat eager, perhaps, to be stripped of the veneers added by time, geography and humanity.
After all, Hollywood would have us believe that love is something of a reactive human emotion, that prayer is something of a cosmic shopping list and that God is something of a Santa/sadist hybrid who could benefit from the use of good mood stabilizers.
And left unexamined, that same race consciousness would have us believe that to forgive is to condone hurtful behaviors. That same race consciousness would have us believe that to forgive is to pardon some lower soul from a self-appointed throne of sadistic righteousness. That same race consciousness would have us believe that to forgive is to restore a relationship to its previous form.
In other words, that same race consciousness would have us believe that to forgive is to adopt, memorize and regurgitate a script that goes something like this, “What you did is okay. After all, you didn’t know better. Can we make up now?”
But I don’t really think this is what forgiveness meant to the writers of Judeo-Christian scriptures. And it’s most certainly not what it means to me.
In fact, when we turn to the Aramaic mind as the context for this forgiveness idea, we don’t find a mind that would have related to our modern interpretation of “forgive your brother. Forgive your enemy. Forgive your failure.” We don’t find a mind that would have related to our modern interpretation of forgiveness as a relational out-there practice at all.
We find a mind that would have understood something closer to “forgive as to your brother. Forgive as to your enemy. Forgive as to your failure.” We find a mind that would have understood forgiveness as a personal in-here practice.
Whatever you’ve got going on in here – as to that, forgive. That’s the Aramaic mind. You see, your forgiveness work doesn’t depend upon the presence of another in your life. Your forgiveness work doesn’t depend upon outer condition at all.
The Aramaic concept of forgiveness would have been understood as a process by which one navigates, elevates, even purifies the states of one’s own mind. It isn’t about getting your outer world in order. It’s about getting your inner world in order. It’s’ not about changing them. It’s about changing you. It’s not about a better out there. It’s about a better in here.
And the Aramaic practice of forgiveness would have been understood not as a practice by which one condones, or by which one pardons, or a practice by which one restores; but as a practice by which one “unties.”
It strikes me as a very eastern mind, really. It’s not unlike the Hindu mind or the Taoist mind or the Buddhist mind. Our spiritual work isn’t accomplished by attaching but by releasing.
It's counterintuitive, really. If we have an issue, we tend to think we have to get something. We have to accumulate something. We have to acquire something. We tend to think we have to learn something when what we’ve learned is often part of the problem. Forgiveness says that you have to untie! It seems to me that matters spiritual progress are often less about addition than they are about subtraction. There’s something eternal of you, there’s something fundamental and expansive to you that’s absolutely amazing. Matters spiritual progress are often about uncovering that something eternal; about revealing that something fundamental; about freeing that something expansive.
It’s in the Gospel account titled Luke that a teaching recounted a paralyzed man, lowered through the roof of a crowded home where Jesus was teaching.
And famously, the Rabbi started by saying, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
“Well, who can forgive but God?” came the question, to which he responded, “The Son of Man can forgive.” And then he said to the paralyzed man, “Get up and go,” and the man got up and went.
And the people are recorded as having said, “Man, we’ve seen some stuff today.”
So, when presented with a paralyzed man (and let me encourage you to read into the idea of paralysis, by the way. Take it in, make it personal, ask what it might mean to you, metaphysically speaking, to be paralyzed) when presented with a paralyzed man, Jesus introduced a theme which would saturate the entirety of his teaching/healing ministry and that theme goes something like this: if you would birth into a new way of being, you must die to an old way of being.
And when we reflect upon this writer’s story, where does this happen? It happens in us.
And when we reflect upon this writer’s story, who has the authority to do it? We do.
It’s not that Santa-God who holds us to our old ways of being. We hold us to our old ways of being. And it’s not that sadist-God who decides when we’ll die to our old ways of being. We decide when we’ll die to our old ways of being.
God is never the limitation we experience. God is always the potential that emancipates.
If you would birth into a new way of being, you must die to an old way of being.
It was two traveling monks who found themselves approaching a city corner following a rainstorm (our tale could be set in Seattle - spring, 2022) where they encountered an impatient young shopper who was so busy juggling and arranging her many packages that she needed help to navigate some pretty deep puddles, at which point the older of the two monks offered to help. Hoisting her onto his back, the older of the two monks carried her through those pretty deep puddles to the other corner that she might continue her shopping.
And continue her shopping she did – not by thanking her anonymous helper, but by shoving him from her path.
After a few more hours of traveling, the younger monk could contain his discomfort no longer.
“You helped that selfish shopper,” he blurted out, “and all you got for your kindness was a shove.”
Completely bewildered by the question, the older monk answered, “I stopped carrying that woman hours ago. Why are you still carrying her?”
This speaks to chapter four of the book I’ve been reading. It’s entitled What Are You? by Imelda Shanklin where she asserts that there is that of us which is temporary and that there is that of us which is eternal. And we tend to get fixated on that which is temporary. We tend to get fixated on that limited realm of the senses (which is fine enough for what it is, but it is incomplete at best). We tend to get fixated on experiences and fears and projections and opinions and circumstances and conditions and appearances and so forth.
We tend to get so fixated on our remembered pasts and on our imagined futures (both of which are temporary) that we miss the experience of life – life which is, of itself, present in every moment; life which is, of itself, eternal.
We tend to get so fixated on that which is temporary that we keep ourselves in a state of spiritual amnesia. And one remedy for this state of spiritual amnesia is forgiveness.
In thinking about our paralyzed man teaching story, it’s forgiveness that requires us to ask: might I be tied to something that would deny me a state of greater wholeness? Higher consciousness in the form of Jesus says, let’s start with that.
In thinking about our traveling monks teaching story, it’s forgiveness that requires us to ask: if we might be carrying something that would deny us a state of greater love? Higher consciousness in the form of our elder monk says, let’s start with that.
And when we ask, “Might I be tied to something that would deny me a state of greater wholeness,” it’s common to think about our resentments and our regrets. When we ask, “Might I be carrying something that would deny me a state of greater love,” it’s common to think about our mistakes and our betrayals.
But here’s the challenge for today: have you ever stopped to consider that it might be your greatest triumphs that keep you stuck?
Have you ever stopped to consider that it might be your grandest achievements, or your exalted status, on your glory days that keep you stuck?
For you see, the forgiveness of the Aramaic mind makes no distinction between our so-called-good experiences and our so-called-bad experiences. The forgiveness of the Aramaic mind speaks only to our attachments.
Said another way, the forgiveness of the Aramaic mind speaks only to your availability to be lived and to live forth. So, while your availability to be lived calls you to find a way to untie from an unpleasant past, your availability to live forth calls you to find a way to release your story about that last-minute hail-Mary catch you made in 1978 as well.
Everyone’s tired of hearing that story anyway. And, there are better stories waiting to be told through you.
This is why I’ve said so many times that the enemy of our growth isn’t our most difficult times. The enemy of our growth is our most mediocre times. Our most difficult times press us down to our knees where we can become available to higher ways of being. Our most mediocre times tend to hold us in that neverland just above enough pain to change but just below enough courage to live.
In this sense, it might be hard to forgive as to the difficult, but it’s harder to forgive as to the mediocre. I have to believe the great theologian, Jack Boland, spoke to this when he said, “Never let your good get in the way of your better.”
Untie. Release. That’s forgiveness to the Aramaic mind. In our trials, untie. In our triumphs, release.
Someone suggested that it’s a time for forgiveness at Unity in Lynnwood and I don’t disagree. It’s time to refresh our availability to be lived and to live forth. The creativity which has led us to this point is no less available than it’s ever been and our job is to make ourselves available to it. And where we might fail to make ourselves available through disappointment or disagreement – new life requires us to untie. And where we might fail to make ourselves available through nostalgia or history – new life requires us to release. It's forgiveness that requires us to return ourselves into the full flow of that that limitless creative field we call God that it can use us for something beautiful.
For in the same way that there are better stories waiting to be told through you as individuals, there are better stories waiting to be told through us as community, too.