Forgiveness is not an idea. Though, yes, I can venture to define what forgiveness is and to describe varied hypothetical circumstances so to convey what forgiveness looks like when we’re doing it. But that, especially the latter, doing it, is the point. Forgiveness, again, is not an idea. It is not theoretical. Forgiveness is an action; the necessity of which resides precisely and only in the reality of the existence of a trespass or a debt, indeed, a trespasser or a debtor to be forgiven.
On Personal Reputation
The esteem in which we are held by others, a sage soul once remarked, “is the fruit of the silence of our families and friends.”(1) To this wise word, I add “enemies.” For our enemies, because of their animus toward us, often see us less charitably than our families and friends and, thus, potentially, more clearly. They, when, for whatever reasons, reticent in the communal airing of their views of us, ironically, join with our families and friends in maintaining our public honor.
There are three kinds of preachers and two kinds of sermons…
Preacher 1 preaches at people from a stance of superiority in knowledge and preparation, summoning the people to listen to the sermon as an unquestionably authoritative (and not to be questioned) word.
Preacher 2 preaches to people, which is akin to preaching at people; the sermon remaining an unquestionably authoritative word, but presented with a kinder affect and a gentler tone.
Preacher 3 preaches with people; the sermon being another installment in an ongoing conversation between the preacher and the people and, even more, an invitation for both preacher and people to continue in communal dialogue with the Bible, indeed, the God of the Bible.
I’ve always wanted and striven to be Preacher 3.
On Guilt and Shame
I experience guilt when I have done that which I ought not to have done or when I have not done that which I ought to have done.
I experience shame when I recognize afresh that I am one who, by my nature and in my character, does what he ought not to do and does not do what he ought to do.
Therefore, guilt involves my recognition that I have failed to fulfill (fallen short of) an accepted standard of behavior, whether cultural/communal or personal (or both). Shame involves my recognition that I have failed to fulfill (fallen short of) the expectations of another, whether an authority figure (alive or dead) or my best sense of myself.
I know of no one who does not know the experiences of guilt and shame. Perhaps this, in part, explains why we humans more easily recall complaints and criticisms others make of us and find it harder to accept compliments others offer to us.
Over many years of ordained ministry, being an active preparer and participant in public, corporate worship, I have an intuitive sense that many (most?) congregations perceive themselves (maybe unconsciously and if not always, then much of the time) as audiences gathering to watch the performances of the preacher, the organist, and choir and, perhaps, at a greater degree of communal consciousness, to witness God’s work of instruction and revelation through Word and Sacrament.
I wonder. What if all of us who gather for worship, people and preachers, musicians and choirs, everybody, saw ourselves as the performers and God as our audience of One?
In this, I recall the words of the psalmist, “(My God,) you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.”(2) This is a striking image of the people’s praises being the throne on which God sits. Perhaps, then, when we worship, God pulls up a seat and delights in our offering.
(1) Spoken by the Right Reverend John Thomas Walker (1925-1989), Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington (1977-1989) on Tuesday, January 10, 1989, the occasion of my installation as rector of Trinity Episcopal Church, Washington, DC.
(2) Psalm 22.3