Many years before crows feet landed under my eyes, I read a book about forgiveness.
I had long thought that forgiveness meant you just sucked it up, whatever someone did to you and then tried to move on. Over time, this became unsustainable. I could not keep walking away, biting my tongue, or taking the hits. My feet hurt, my tongue bled, and my arms bruised from the practice.
Then I found this book.
(I can’t find it now. I’m sure I gave it to someone, and I think it was my father, who worked so hard to let things go and not be angry.
A few minutes of scanning Amazon and the wide web did not find it. I’ll be sure to post it if I ever do come across it.)
The book said things that made me question what I thought I knew about Christianity.
It explained that turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, and giving up your cloak–all things Jesus insisted we do–actually were forms of non-violent resistance.
If you turned the other cheek, for example, the Roman soldier hitting you would either have to punch you like an equal or give up slapping you as an inferior.
In other words, Jesus did not advise that we roll over and become doormats.
He did not advise that we turn away from injustice or the pain. Martin Luther King, Jr. also wrote of this third respond to violence-not returning the cruelty or passively accepting it but defying it in a way that values everyone involved.
At first I was sure my new understanding of turning my cheek was fabulous. Then I discovered how terrifying it is to creatively and compassionately stand up for what I believe is right while giving the other the chance to change.
It’s hardest, I discovered, when I want to protect my son or another loved one.
Last week, I listened to Rob Bell revisit these ideas about Jesus’ often misunderstood advice. Bell gives a much fuller picture of the historical context if you are thirsty for more.
And so I’m looking for more ways to do this and, because it works best, I am starting small.
How, for example, can I creatively address aggressive behavior in traffic?
How can I talk to people who disagree with me politically without shutting them down or withdrawing into my comfortable shell surrounded by people who only ever agree with me? (Okay. This is not small. Perhaps I’d better start with my son’s meltdowns over his brother’s teasing instead.)
When I am honest, doormat is my default. I’m grateful Martin Luther King pulls me up off the floor and chastises me for this, telling me that is only allowing violence to continue.
And so I keep at it in my small way, one act at a time, trusting that I’ll get better with wholehearted practice.
Do wish me luck, grace, peace, and all that jazz. I’ll need it.
Update! Beth the librarian extraordinaire found the book. She added ‘Jesus comics’ to the keywords. What didn’t I think of that? Here it is!