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I'm not sure if the following is anything particularly profound, or even novel, from a spiritual standpoint. Honestly, for all I know, this could be Intro to Theology 101 at Bible college. Which I never attended.

It's kind of interesting to me, though. I mean, how I learned that it is, in fact, quite possible to trap yourself in Hell by actively trying to be a good Christian.


Then Peter came up and said to him: “Lord, how many times is my brother to sin against me and am I to forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him: “I say to you, not, Up to seven times, but, Up to seventy-seven times.
--Matthew 18:21, 22

Which is by Godly default perfectly reasonable, loving advice, designed to rescue us from ourselves. The best of people, with the best of intentions, do screw up. The people they screw up in turn have to be protected from, first of all, constantly being horribly shocked at this, and then from allowing it to damage their own humanity.

Then, one day this summer, I read a Watchtower magazine article on marital betrayal, and it contained the example of a Witness sister who stayed with her physically abusive husband for years... because he apologised for the beatings, every time. She thought it would be un-Christian not to forgive him! Also, un-loving, to betray him to the elders or anyone else.

Granted, the article wasn't condoning this, far from it. (In the Witness context, unchecked violent outbursts are grounds for expulsion from the congregation). Still terrified the ever-loving hell out of me. Quite frankly, it provoked a mini-crisis of faith. Because what I was reading was a perfectly logical Scriptural justification for patiently enduring years of physical abuse. And I knew beyond a doubt that there would be at least some of my fellow Witnesses who would miss the point entirely and admire this sister's resignation, and her spiritual fortitude.

I needed to deal with this before I went any further -- and right quick, because abruptly we were were just a couple weeks away from Shoesis' wedding as per the entry below, and the decision whether or not to attend.

The years haven't been filled by inexcusable line-crossing; at least, not most of the time, and not calculated. Mostly just the myriad insensitivities and small bullyings that are scattered in the wake of extreme self-absorption. Then, the ever-ready apologies, as if printed on a spiritual 'Get Out of Jail Free' card: "Gotta forgive me! Can't hold a grudge, it's un-Christian! Nobody's perfect, y'know!!"

You can't let her get to you, your trusted others have told you all your life. She's right, this is the way she is, just laugh it off. You have to be the better person.

So... you are. For years. After all, you aren't being abused, like that poor sister -- except that once you're looking at it from that POV, you are forced to realise that this is not thanks to anything you have done about it. Somewhere along the way, repentance after the fact has become more acceptable than consideration before. You are enacting a sort of emotional Death by a Thousand Cuts, and you are so dedicated to making it work that you are still genuinely surprised when that final grain of salt is poured into the wound.

The inevitable conclusion is that by not forgiving this person you would have done them, yourself, the entire situation incalculably more good. And unless you rise up now and behave exactly contrary to everything you understand as 'being the better person', in God's eyes as well as man's, you are definitively betraying yourself.

So... I rose up accordingly. Drew a line in the sand and held it there, against all comers. Held it for Shoemom, who had suffered the same things only much more so, because informed by maternal guilt and hope, and likewise found the idea of demanding self-respect that much more of a revelation, then a liberation, then pure exhilaration. I got exhilarated myself just watching her go at it, really.
Which is where things got really exciting, because suddenly not only was I the family rebel but the family cult leader, seducing the weak and soft-hearted away from the path of convention. (The really funny part is, as I've said, in the midst of all this I just happen to be having the undisputed triumph of my writing career. Unfortunately, there wasn't any money involved, so it was kind of useless as a triumphant rebuttal. Worked wonders as a spine-stiffener, though.)

I'm not sure what the moral of this story is, just yet; when you can't lie to yourself, management of the conscience becomes a fearsome responsibility. At what point, exactly, does self-love become selfishness? If you have good and moral reason to demand better treatment -- because, after all, to do otherwise would be to condone the wrong -- is it totally negated because you are also frankly rather pleased to have the chance so to demand?

On the one hand I can't see what else I could have done; on the other, there is the nagging conviction that God of course must know what I could have done, and didn't.  Should I have relied more on Him to sort it all out? Or was this His way of sorting it, after all?

Perhaps it's mostly just the Story of How I Was Forced to Think Seriously About What I Believe and How It Impacts My Real Life, which is kind of embarrassing after twenty years' Kingdom Hall attendance, but there it is. Hey, what doesn't make you an atheist, makes you stronger, right? Ha ha? OK, sorry, it's been a long couple months.

tags everywhere!:


( 3 responses — respond )
Dec. 1st, 2010 01:03 pm (UTC)
I think a lot of this hinges on what you mean by "forgive". You can have an attitude of forgiveness toward someone, in that you do not intend to retaliate against them or harbor hatred against them in your heart, and yet not entrust yourself to them or put yourself back at their mercy. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for someone who's sinned against you and hurt you is to stand firm and not allow them to do it again.

So if somebody's hurt you and they come back to you asking for forgiveness (and even if it isn't mentioned in this particular passage in Matthew, it's mentioned in the other gospels that the person needs to repent and ask to be forgiven), then you shouldn't harden your heart against them and consider them your enemy -- but that doesn't mean you can't draw a line in the sand and say, "Your behaviour is unacceptable, and I will not stand here and allow you to treat me and others this way. If you try to do it again, there will be consequences."
Dec. 5th, 2010 11:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks much for this, it's appreciated. :)

This is all more or less the same conclusion we came to, regarding the concept of forgiveness -- especially Shoemom, who really got interested once she saw it as a belated attempt to instill respect into her daughters.

The trick was -- still is -- in deciding exactly where and when to draw the line regarding unacceptable behaviour. It's all very well to be able to instantly identify wrong-doing, but what happens when it's just common or garden-variety irritating behaviour -- sure, it hurts you, but in the grand scheme of things it's not precisely bringing the party to a dead halt.

Do you risk looking foolish and attempt to nip it in the bud, or do you wait awhile and risk your anger building up to the point where you might not be able do deal with it rationally?

And oh, by the way, does it make a difference if the unacceptable type seems to genuinely not understand what they've done wrong? Is it worth trying to illumine them, or is that best left to more Capable hands?

Edited at 2010-12-05 11:16 pm (UTC)
Dec. 10th, 2010 03:49 pm (UTC)
I think there's nothing wrong -- in fact I think there's a lot right -- with letting the other person know, politely but firmly, that what they are saying or doing is hurtful and inappropriate. (It's easier to do this when you're intervening on somebody else's behalf, but there's no reason you can't say it when she's being hurtful to you, either.)

It doesn't have to be a big speech, just a quiet, "Excuse me, but what you just said (or done) was quite hurtful/offensive to me, and I would rather not be part of this conversation any more." Then you walk away.

If it's a matter of having unreasonable expectations (like thinking you're going to drop everything and help her with some minor problem when you're already overtaxed), you may have to say, "I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm not free to help you with that because of I have other commitments."

Or if it's a matter of being socially inconsiderate, like showing up an hour late to a dinner invitation or some family outing, then you may have to set a reasonable time to wait (say 10-15 minutes) and then go on without her.

None of this is cruel or even unkind -- it's simply a matter of setting reasonable boundaries and letting her know that there are negative consequences for her if she doesn't respect them. You can still do all of this with a forgiving spirit, in that you are willing to give her another chance -- or even an infinite number of chances -- if she wants them. But you don't have to keep silent when she's being obnoxious and allow her to stomp all over you with hobnailed boots in order to prove what a loving and forgiving person you are.

Of course, that's easy to say when you're not the one actually in the situation. I have someone in my extended family who can be quite tactless and inconsiderate at times, and becomes defensive and upset if confronted about it. And it's not always possible to leave the situation or ask that person to leave. I've sometimes just had to end the conversation abruptly and walk away without explaining why, because I was going to lose my temper (a thing which HARDLY EVER HAPPENS, as Henry Higgins would say -- though in my case it's actually true) and I knew that wouldn't be a good response either. I sometimes wonder if this person will ever learn, ever realize, how destructive and offensive to others their conversation and behavior can be. But a whole lot of people have tried to gently instruct and correct this person, apparently to no avail. So really the best you can do in some cases is try to limit the damage and not get pulled into the drama yourself.
( 3 responses — respond )

i am

The sun is cold
And the misty hills bespeak me Of long-ago dreams;
Not lost, only waiting
Kept alive by those who might listen – And watch –
Over the hills to the sea.

This is the story of those dreams...with all-too-frequent detours into reality.

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