Sunday, April 20, 2008

This I Believe

Andres asked me a while ago to write a "This I Believe" essay. "This I Believe" is a project by sponsored by NPR, based on a 1950s series where ordinary Americans were asked to give short statements of their core beliefs. It's been going on for a while and they've published a book (cover pictured on the right). (You can find more about it at http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4538138) Andres wrote one of them himself and it was really beautiful. I told him I was having trouble thinking of things to write about and he gave me this as an assignment.

I remember a conversation back in 2002 with Corrie and Matt and Andrew at the Indonesian restaurant in Silver Spring where I said I'd figured I'd better come up with a creed, because a) I was becoming quite a theological mutt with all my wanderings from church to church and b) because there was a reason I was moving from church to church and I needed to get the belief system that was leading me to keep searching down on paper.

I finally started today. I'm not finished, nowhere close... what I've written wouldn't really qualify for the NPR project... I don't tell a story and it's too preachy and not focused... but I'm putting it here because it's a start.


This I Believe

I believe that life is a gift.

I believe in God.

I believe that my whole faith is summed up in “Love God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” and that it will take my whole life to get anywhere close to understanding what that really means.

I believe that anything truly good takes time and patience to achieve, and that there will be as many or more moments of doubting as there are of certainty that you are doing the right thing. That’s just how life is.

I believe that God guides us through our love, shapes and defines us through it. When we choose not to love, we choose to be deformed, to be shaped by our hatred. In my own life, every time that I’ve chosen to forgive, the issued that caused offense tended to fade and I moved forward, and I was more blessed by the forgiveness that the person I forgave was. When I’ve chosen not to forgive, my anger grows like a cancer inside of me, and the incident that causes offense grows greater and greater and greater, until it dwarfs both of us… myself and the offender. I see myself grow bent underneath the weight of my unforgiveness, but that doesn’t make it easier to get rid of it and move on. Better just to forgive in the first place and move on.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe in cheap and easy solutions to big problems and I don’t believe in being a doormat. I haven’t really learned how to simultaneously protect myself from further abuse and forgive the perpetrator. I also suspect that I occasionally play the victim. More often than not my bitterness --when I choose to hold onto it-- is a shield, but it’s a very bad one, because it means that that person’s offenses continue to hurt me long after they actually commit them, and hurt me more than they would have otherwise. There are people whom I’ve intentionally distanced myself from and often I think I did the right thing, but if I continue to feel intense anger when I think of them, then they are still hurting me and my distancing doesn’t help at all.

I believe that forgiveness is one of the most powerful things we can ever do. I believe that I HAVE to forgive because I want to be forgiven for what I do, too, and because it is better for my own mental, spiritual, and even physical health to forgive than to continue to be angry. I believe that forgiveness is what makes it possible to continue to love --or maybe even to love in the first place-- and lack of forgiveness is how hate always starts. In situations where I have forgiven and been able to move on, most of the time I’ve found those relationships to be the most lasting. Something about moving past hurt with someone, particularly if they make some effort to try to redeem themselves, gives depth and strength to relationships.

All that being said, one of the things that makes me saddest is thinking of those relationships where I’ve been hurt, or hurt someone, so much that we really can’t move on. I’m a person of silence, mostly, and when I’m angry I create silences so deep and oppressive that everyone around just gets the hell out of the way as soon as they can. They’re straitjackets, these silences. I can’t get free of them any more than the other person. Honestly, I’m more afraid of my anger than anyone I’ve been angry at… it’s this huge, dark thing. I don’t know if other people feel exactly as I do when they get angry. Maybe everyone does, and just doesn’t talk about it, because everyone is as afraid of their anger as I am of mine.

I don’t want to give myself up to it, though. I don’t want to be shaped by my anger and my hatred. I want to be shaped by my forgiveness and my love.

I believe that forgiveness is the most troubling, difficult, necessary and powerful thing I’ll ever struggle with… my ability or inability to do it shapes everything.

People who forgive are also easier for others to forgive. I know I say and do things all the time that require others to forgive me, and those who do are like fresh spring breezes in my life. I almost never get angry at these people, or if I do it just blows away after a very short time. I think this is what makes a friend, this constant day-to-day forgiveness for all the little selfish asshole things we do every day, all the little snarky looks we give each other when we think the other isn’t looking, all the times we pretend to listen and don’t, the strained smiles and sarcastic responses, all the little indignities we subject each other to all day, every day, because we’re selfish and tired and distressed and sometimes just mean.

....and that's as far as I got with the essay. So basically it's an essay about how important the choice is to be shaped by your love and not by your hate, and that the biggest part of love is forgiveness. Maybe forgiveness IS love, because our enchantments with one another always fade once we realize that underneath we're all battling the little 3 year old inside us screaming "MINE!!" and yanking the toy from the other kid and "NO!!!" everytime we're told to not to do something that would hurt us or to do something that would help us but would require some effort and sacrifice.

Some of us have to battle that little kid more than others, and some of us aren't terribly successful much of the time.

(My train of thought has been completely derailed by this stunning Thom Yorke bootleg I bought from this dude who sells CDs at GMU. If you've never heard the song "Like Spinning Plates" [as they perform it live, not the version from "Amnesiac"], you should. For all of his atheism, the man has a gift from God.)

I'm sure all my high and mighty thoughts on forgiveness will get bashed against the rocks this week as I deal with the countless storms-in-a-teacup that are my daily work life. Sometimes I'm overwhelmed by the absurdity of what people will get upset about, until I realize that I'm upset, too... and also that I'm being a condescending ass. lalala just another week clinging by my nails to the grace of God... and amazing grace it is.

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