I am learning to take seriously the health warnings I ignored for years—about cholesterol, blood pressure, and heart disease. It happens to all of us, I suppose, when sickness, age or the second law of thermodynamics grabs one’s attention. For me, it started with back surgery last June. After a rather sedentary summer, my body weight, shall we say, blossomed? My blood pressure soared on wings of eagles. By autumn, I was October.
To forgive is to stop holding a wrong against someone who has hurt you. Forgiveness states, “I will no longer hold this against you.” For most people, forgiveness is something you do after someone demonstrates sorrow for their actions and requests forgiveness. But in our story, Em offers a different perspective. For Em, forgiveness is a gift you can choose to give even if the person who wronged you does not ask of it or even want it. In fact, in our story, forgiveness is an unconditional response of the heart. Why? Because forgiveness toward others springs from “The Good One’s forgiveness toward us.” In this way, forgiveness toward others reveals more about our relationship to God than our relationship to those who hurt us. Forgiveness is a choice to release oneself and the other from the grip of separation and bitterness.
In our story, Willie, Ethan and Peter write out their confession to Em. The discipline of writing a confession helps one be clear, specific and humble -- so you say exactly what you want to say in the way it should be said (and avoid saying all that should not be said.)
Exercise for dialog and contemplation:
Choose a specific event -- words or actions -- when you wronged or sinned against someone that requires a confession. In the right hand column, write a confession for this wrong, following the directions at left:
In our story Em outlines a process for authentic confession, using the four virtues as a guide. A summary of that outline might look like this:
To be authentic in confession one must practice the following virtues:
One of the most important, yet least practiced discipline for healthy relationships is speaking the truth in love. Some speak truth, but in unloving ways. Others avoid truth in the name of love. Communal trust and growth requires speech that is both truthful and loving; courageous and humble; direct and full of grace. How does one do this?
All truth filled and loving conversation involves five steps:
Justice is the outward work of mercy, compassion and moral rightness toward others. It is the quality of heart and action to serve and honor the well being of the poor, weak and disenfranchised. Justice embodies the mission and ministry of Jesus who came to serve the poor, the prisoner and oppressed.
The concept of justice in the Western world is often related to fairness, balancing two sides in an issue. In our legal system this is symbolized by the picture of a virgin who is blindfolded, holding a scale. Thus our culture understands justice as the unbiased process of weighing differences. In the Hebrew Scriptures, by contrast, the prophetic roll of justice is a mighty force. So the prophet Amos declares, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)
The English word for “integrity” comes from the word “integer” referring to a “whole number,” a “complete entity,” or something “undivided.” Integrity is oneness, a collective commitment to serving and upholding the needs, values and ideals of a community against selfishness and self-deception.
To have integrity is to be complete or whole. Like all the virtues in the story, integrity is not something one can possess alone. Integrity requires others. In fact, integrity is being undivided in our relationship with others. Thus, any thought or act that places one’s own interests above the interests of others breaks oneness with others and causes separation. Separation is a lack of integrity.
If humility is awareness of one’s limitations in order to become whole, courage is the awareness of what is possible through faith. Courage is a boldness of heart and mind that enables a person to encounter danger and difficulty with confidence and conviction. It is taking faith-filled risk, grounded in a hope and a trust that God is greater than obstacles or circumstances. Spiritual courage is locating one’s thought, action, and outcome in God’s promises.
In the story, Em illustrates brokenness by pointing to the barn door, with Jack giving the definition, “brokenness is when your wheels come off.” Brokenness is contrition, a kind of faith in the heart, the constant awareness, attitude, and life practice that all I am and all I do is nothing apart from God’s grace. Brokenness can come from failure, hardship, testing, discipline or suffering.
Questions for dialog and contemplation:
Em speaks of brokenness as a virtue, as a benefit, not a deficiency. Brokenness is not the lack of wholeness. In fact, the story implies that only as one is broken can one become fully whole. Faith turns weakness to strength. How does this happen?
How have you experienced hardship, suffering or failure in your life? Did this bring healing and maturity to refine your character? If so, how? If not, why not?
In the story, Em introduces four virtues to his sheep. Throughout history, philosophers and theologians have proposed various lists of virtues upon which all moral discernment depends. These are called “cardinal virtues.” Cardinal virtues take their name from the Latin word cardo, meaning hinge. All moral reasoning is said to turn on primary virtues, such as:
“Thank you so very much for the countless hours of prayer and diligent work you performed that went into planning, preparing, and executing the assessment of our church. You all exemplified Christ’s Spirit and His Love in the work you performed so professionally.”