working out what life and call and prayer and silence are all about

Posts tagged ‘forgiveness’

to the anonymous bully

I’m thinking of you today, anonymous bully. You’ve hurt people I love, the young people I’m called to support and encourage as they grow and develop and mature into the amazing adults they’re called to be. You’ve posted things online that aren’t true, or maybe are true, but are hurtful, things you would never have the courage to say to their face. And that makes me angry.

I want to know who you are. I want to confront you, to accuse you, to find out why you did this. It’s so frustrating not being able to track you down.

But bully, it’s probably good that you’re anonymous, because knowing your name would make it too easy. We like for problems to have simple solutions. We like for evil to have a face, because then we can focus on just one person, or even one group of people, and place all the blame on them. And after we’ve blamed and shamed and punished and found our retribution, we go home and sit in our self-righteous recliners and pretend that we’re not still tangled up in the problem. We kick back and relax because there’s no need for further investigation into all the complicated forces at work in the world and in our lives. There’s no way that any of our actions, any of our inaction contributed to the problem. Because we know evil’s name.

So it’s good that you’re anonymous, because we can’t just blame you. We have to acknowledge that we all could be you. And in fact, we’ve all probably been you at some time – lashing out in anger because we’re hurting, not thinking of the consequences. And so your anonymity makes us all stop and think about our own responsibility to the community. What ways have we hurt people that we need to apologize for and ask for forgiveness? When have we turned a blind eye when we’ve seen someone hurting and not responded? How have we worked to build up the community by encouraging someone who’s down, supporting someone in need, helping someone who’s struggling?

But what if you weren’t anonymous? What if I found out who you are? What would I do, really, if I could sit down with you? I think I’d look compassionately into your pained eyes, and put my hand on your shoulder as I asked how you’re hurting. What wounds are you carrying that make you lash out at everyone else? What pain is making you view the world with such judgment and venom? I’d want to listen as you shared, as the stories poured out of you about how you’d been bullied and degraded and ridiculed. And I’d want to give you a word of hope – that you’re not alone, that you’re not as worthless as you feel, that you’re valued as a part of this community.

I’d pray for you, right then and there. Not because I believe that you need me to put in a good word for you with God, but because you need to hear that God is as close as your very breath. And I’d pray that you would have the strength to make changes in your life, and the courage to reach out to the people you’ve hurt and make amends. I’d pray for the community we share here, that we would all have the compassion to forgive you, and the faith that enables us to work together, bullies and victims, to build new relationships based on our value and worth in Jesus’ eyes. I’d pray for that because I know we can’t do it without the power of the Holy Spirit working in us and through us.

I’m thinking of you today, anonymous bully, knowing that you and I aren’t so different. We’re both beloved children of God. We’re both human and make mistakes. And we’re both part of this community. Let’s work together to build it up.

abundant life starts with release

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Last night in worship, we used sand to represent our confession. Bins of sand lined the walls of the sanctuary with signs describing character traits and experiences that get in the way of our relationship with God: selfishness, despair, greed, self-doubt. As we added sand to our personal bags of life, the heaviness was obvious: we carry around a lot of baggage. After hearing words of forgiveness, the people were invited to come forward to receive the ashes on their forehead, acknowledging their humanity. Afterward, they could take their bag of sand and pour it out at the foot of the large standing cross erected for the season of Lent.

And so I stood at the altar, dipping my thumb into the black, messy ashes, and carefully marking a cross on each person’s forehead. I looked into their eyes, connecting with their stories and our shared history, and together we acknowledged that life is short, and that we will one day become ashes ourselves. The moments were precious enough in themselves, each person receiving the experience in their own way. But in the background, there was something more. There was a sound, and a movement stirring. As people began to pour out their sand, there was a whoosh. The sound of the sand leaving the paper bags accompanied the ashes as one by one, people continued to come with their baggage in hand. And the sound was the sound of release, of letting go, of loosening our grip on old resentments and fears for the future. The whoosh was the sound of the Holy Spirit blowing through us, emptying us, and filling us all at once.

The sound of the sand pouring out was the sound of abundant life. We begin to live when we let go of all that binds us, that holds us back, that keeps us preoccupied. Christ calls us to receive new life, but how can we accept this great gift when our hands are already full of heartbreak and anxiety and envy? It is in the release that we are filled. It is in letting go that we are able to grasp real love, real life. Abundant life begins with the whoosh of pouring out ourselves and trusting that Christ will fill us with all good things.

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