Active forgiveness: how to intentionally practice love

Today, as I look with great sadness at the anger erupting in communities in the United States, I realise that Christian leaders need to stand up and overturn a few more tables within the temple! Obviously, we haven’t overturned the tables of oppression!

Oppression can take so many forms: whether it’s the orphans (or children who are being trafficked), the widows (or human trafficking), the poor, the sojourners/immigrants/foreigners, or someone who you haven’t even recognised as your equal (race, education or any other standard).

The first table that needs to be overturned is the alter on which our individual egos sit.

Ego – that part of us that fails to understand that illness would become wellness if we would replace “I” with “WE”.

The illness of division could be the wellness of unity and cooperation, if we are willing to start within: with an awareness of our own feelings, anger, hatred and division. It is my ego that tells me that I am separate from those in pain.

When I saw the first posts about the events, questions came to mind – even along the lines of “is this another false flag operation” to get people to focus their attention onto something divisive, rather than awakening to creating the world and society in which we wish to live.

But the reality is that these events show the brokenness of the “normal” to which we wish to return.

How is it possibly okay for a white man (just because he has a uniform) to kneel on the neck of another man, already cuffed and in custody, until he stops breathing? Even if this was “created” to divert attention from something else: this requires our collective attention and healing! It is no less oppression, irrespective of the purpose which it serves.

My arrogance: daring to think that I am somehow above these events, says “not my problem”. But that’s not true.

It is exactly my privilege that is the problem!

It’s the fact that this would NOT happen to me that makes me the ideal person to say “something needs to change”. Deep within, I know that it’s time to heal within me the coldness and apathy that say “not my injustice”!

The collective pain

What springs to view with these events is the pain that many are suffering, sight unseen.

Today I read about the father that goes for a walk with his young daughter and the dog because he’s fearful of walking around his neighbourhood alone. I read about the young man being the only person of colour in his school, and constantly being pulled over by the cops, while his friends never received the same treatment.

And I realise that we are called to overturn the tables that allow some to be down-trodden, while others continue to live with privilege.

I’m not saying that I should “lose” my privileges, but rather that they should be the same privileges afforded to every person, regardless of race, creed, or economic strata.

Perhaps we need to learn a little more about restorative justice: the process where entire communities taking responsibility for restoring balance, harmony and the practice of forgiveness.

I’m talking about Ho’oponopono.

“Restorative justice is a philosophy that embraces a wide range of human emotions including healing, mediation, compassion, forgiveness, mercy, reconciliation as well as sanction when appropriate. It also recognizes a world view that says we are all interconnected and that what we do be it for good or evil has an impact on others.”

— “Restorative Justice – The Pacific Way” Paper presented at the 7th International Conference on Prison Abolition; Barcelona, Spain, 17 – 19 May 1995;  by Jim Consedine (see link at the end of this post)

I first learnt about restorative justice in law school in Waikato University, Hamilton, New Zealand.  Thankfully, I was at a very culturally connected law school, where we openly spoke about community justice systems and how the Pākehā system failed to take into account restoration of balance within the community.  It simply punished the offender (like a criminal justice system). 

But the community continued to suffer and hurt: with the criminal justice system, nothing is actually done to restore balance within the community.

Most people only know Ho’oponopono as 4 lines:

  • I love you
  • I’m sorry
  • Please forgive me
  • Thank you

But it’s more than just repeating the mantras… It’s opening up our awareness and emotions.

Ho’oponopono Practice: The Practice of Forgiveness

The origins of the Huna practice known as Ho’oponopono are a community reconciliation process. It is very similar to other Pacific Island restorative processes – which involved entire communities taking responsibility for restoring balance, harmony and the practice of forgiveness when harmony in the community has been broken.

Coming to Ho’oponopono from a lawyers perspective of community justice, I knew that it was so much more than simply 4 lines:

  • I love you
  • I’m sorry
  • Please forgive me
  • Thank you 

Not because I knew anything about the Hawaiian Huna practice itself, but simply because I recognized that there was so much more to restoration than simply saying “sorry”!  It’s much more than sending the “offender” to jail.

Restorative justice means righting the wrong that allows the crime to be committed in the first place. It addresses the question: “Why would four white men consider that it was okay, under any circumstances, to pin a man down under their knee until he stops breathing?”

True healing happens when we allow ourselves to experience what is happening in the community from every angle and clear the pain from every perspective:

  1. the perpetrator (Can I forgive him and his companions? Do I need to forgive myself for any hatred, anger or other feelings against them?);
  2. the victim (Can I forgive what others did to him? Do I need to forgive myself for any prejudice or feelings against him?)
  3. the bystanders (Is there any judgment in my heart against them? Do I feel that they failed in any way?)
  4. the family members (What forgiveness do I need to practice for the family of the victim or the perpetrators?)
  5. others in the community, including the protestors, police, first responders, or leaders (How do I consider that they have failed?)

It’s literally saying… I understand ALL of the pain and frustration – of every person involved and forgiving for each and every one of them for whatever I hold them at fault for. It is a process and quite possibly not something you can do in a single moment.

It begs the question: why were onlookers too afraid to intervene? It asks: “How did we create officers of the law that were so lacking in empathy and awareness, that they failed to hear this man begging and be moved by any compassion?”

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Where do we start?

Forgiveness always starts within.

If you’re a Christian and you are moved to pray, then I invite you to start asking to be shown within yourself everything that needs to come to the surface and be dealt with! Before you go praying for peace in Minnesota or Minneapolis, ask to be shown the plank in your own eye that should be removed!

What are the little ways that you are failing to stand up for justice in your community? Where are you unconsciously supporting “the status quo”, rather than overturning the tables of inequality?

It’s so much easier to think that there’s a problem in Minnesota than to acknowledge that there is a problem in my own heart!

Don’t righteously pray to forgive those who are rioting and angrily violent: pray to understand the underlying emotions of that anger and violence, so that it touches your heart. Pray for empathy and understanding.

Yourself.

Hooponopono practice is the practice of forgiveness based on the knowledge that anything that happens to you or that you perceive — the entire world where you live — is your creation.  Whatever you have become aware of that exists in the world, has become your responsibility to set to right.

Everything in your life is entirely your responsibility: 100%. No exceptions.

Please don’t misunderstand what I mean.  I did not say it was your fault.  I said it’s your responsibility

You are 100% responsible for:

  • healing yourself and breaking down the barriers within your beliefs, emotions and fears;
  • changing the relationship you have with any other person of another race, religion or background that you have not been able to fully understand and relate to; and
  • changing your perception of the world, making it possible for you to overturn the tables of injustice.

Before you try to put in order what is wrong “out there in the world”, have a deep look within and see what needs to be put right within your heart.

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Who needs to feel your love and acceptance?

Ho’oponopono practise is a journey to restore inner peace and balance.  It begins by changing my inner world in order to effect change in the exterior world.

Three steps PLUS gratitude

How can we heal this pain with Ho’oponopono?

I love you

Start simply reminding yourself, regularly and consistently of Divine Love – “I love you”.  “I love you” just as you are today, with mistaken views and perceptions of the world, with perceptions that have not allowed you to grow and change your community, and with all the baggage that you have chosen to carry around.  I love you in spite of your fears and weakness. And because I love you, “I recognise that whatever comes to me in this life is my creation.”

Can you expand the circle of “I love you” to your neighbours?

What about to your whole suburb? Or the suburb next to yours? Can you extend that “I love you” to your town or city? How comfortable are you putting a face on “I love you”? What resistance are you feeling when you say “I love you”? Acknowledge it, so that you can forgive yourself fully.

I’m sorry

Once you recognise love and even those areas of lack of love, you can tell yourself “Sorry”.  Sorry for the errors of thought, words and actions that created those memories and held onto that energy. Sorry for failing to love fully and completely. I’m sorry for not practising unconditional love.

  • What do you need to forgive yourself for?
  • What do you need to ask your neighbour forgiveness for? What are you sorry for?

Don’t just say it: allow yourself to connect with the emotions. Perhaps you feel shame as you say “I’m sorry that I looked the other way” or “I’m sorry when I laughed nervously when someone said something rude to you, because I was too weak to stand up to them for you.”

Allow yourself simply to feel what needs to be felt. What you resist, persists in your life. If you fail to acknowledge what you are feeling, you cannot forgive yourself for it.

Please forgive me

It’s not just about asking for forgiveness: the miracle happens when you give yourself permission to release the burden you’ve been carrying. Forgiveness is about letting it go.

It’s impossible to turn over a new leaf unless we are willing to allow the old leaf to fall off the tree, decompose and become dust.

Take a moment to imagine a new relationship with yourself and with your neighbour. How will your view of the world change? How will you change your interaction with them?

Thank you

And then, of course, the practice of gratitude – gratitude for the freedom that this brings!  Gratitude for the change in my way of thinking, speaking and acting.  Thank you for the new opportunities this creates.  Thank you for the changes that will start happening in my relationships and how I relate to others.

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Coming together as a community

Once we have taken care of the sty in our own eyes, maybe we can come together in small community groups and begin to work on this collectively: slowly building the size of the groups that do this together, until we have rebuilt love and trust.

But if we aren’t willing to overturn the tables of the status quo – nothing will change.

I invite you to join me on this journey of discovery – where we can learn together what it means to heal the world and restore balance to hurting communities, by starting within.

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Sermon: Compassion

READINGS:

  • Romans 9: 1-15
  • Matthew 14:13-21
  • Psalm 145: 8-9, 14-21

Compassion:

These verses from Matthew & Romans 9 contain a common theme: the compassion of Jesus for the crowd and the compassion of Paul for his Jewish countrymen.  Paul is anguished that his Jewish countrymen cannot see the truth of Christ being the promised Messiah:

9:3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred … to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, …and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, …

He expresses himself as having great sorrow and unceasing anguish for these, his countrymen: how many of us could say we feel like this for our countrymen in Panama?

Where is our Christianity, if we have no compassion? For so many people, life is hard: every story of the gospels shows us Jesus moved to action.

Take a moment with me, to consider the following passages:

  1. Luke 7: 13 – When the Lord saw her (the widow from Nain whose only son had died), he had compassion on her and said to her “Do not weep.”
  2. Matthew 15: 32 – he had compassion on the crowd that came to him with their sick, lame, blind, crippled, mute and healed them. But more so than this, they were hungry and so he ordered the disciples to feed them, all 4,000 of them!
  3. Matthew 9: 35-38 – Jesus was travelling throughout the cities and villages, teaching, proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and affliction. And when he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
  4. Matthew 20: 29-34: As Jesus left Jericho, a great crowd was following him and 2 blind men were sitting by the roadside, calling out to him. And Jesus stopped and asked “What do you want me to do for you?”, and they said “Let our eyes be opened”. And moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes, and immediately they regained their sight.

Where have we, as Christians, gone wrong? I cannot imagine a Christ without compassion, but I see so-called Christians without compassion! Where has humanity gone wrong?

I want you to consider a 2, 3 or 4 year old child: if you drop something, they will scuttle to help you pick it up. If they see another child crying, they are anguished and want to make it better. They are anxious to help with the cleaning, the dishes and all those household chores. They are compassionate and caring, they notice the emotions and feelings of those around them.

But then, somewhere along the way, they lose that compassionate nature and they start to think only about self – “I want” and I don’t want to share. What happens to disconnect us from our compassionate nature? Why do we stop taking the time to say “what can I do to help this person”?  We’re living in an epidemic of incivility, disengagement, and despair – in politics, in the work place, in our homes, and even in our church.

What Is Compassion?

Compassion: put simply is empathy PLUS action. It is more than just kindness; it is sensitivity to the suffering of others with a commitment to do something about it. It is:

  • the smile we give to a stranger
  • the food we give to the homeless or our oldies in our AAAM missions program
  • giving someone the benefit of the doubt
  • it is listening to understand, rather than listening to answer back
  • it is making all conversations safe – even when we have a difficult conversation or feedback to give

We all need more compassion in our lives: a totally different perspective when it comes to how you perceive yourself and others. We start with compassion towards those we are in contact with every day in our homes, each week day in the office, or once a week in our Church.

Think of this for a moment:
Let’s say you are very worried about your daughter’s health. You took her to the doctor and he decided to take tests in order to rule out a Dengue Fever. Later that day you are in Arrocha, buying some medicines, preoccupied with your daughter and an acquaintance passes you and says hello. You say hello in return but because you are so deep in thought you don’t stop to chat.
Later on you hear the acquaintance felt insulted because you “snubbed” her. Even though it was not your intention to snub this person, and you had a very good reason for your behavior-the acquaintance assumed the worst.

That is, simply, what most of us do. We assume the worst:

They were rude! They were harsh! They were judgmental! Did you hear the tone in their voice? Did you see the way she looked at me? She ignored me! She walked right past me!

Learning to have more compassion involves making the radical shift to assume the best in others.

What would Balboa Union Church look like if every person in this Church were truly compassionate in word & deed, as Christ was?

Where Do We Start?

First – we start with ourselves!

How good are you at being compassionate to yourself? Do you forgive yourself when you make mistakes? Do you love yourself and your body? Do you take time to ask your body how it’s feeling? If you haven’t identified what you are feeling, how are you going to be able to identify what other people are feeling?  How are you feeling right now? Do you have any aches or pains? Are you feeling nervous or uptight anywhere? Is there tightness in your stomach or a tension in your shoulders? Are you carrying any tension into today from the week that was – are you carrying the past with you? Are you brooding or concerned about the future: where are you holding it in your body?

We start with baby steps: practicing compassion each day. First, I want us to take a small step towards compassion for ourselves:

I want you to think about your body scan that you just finished and what you identified: that part of your body that is tense, tight, aching, whatever it was that you felt: and I want you to bless it. Right here, right now. I want you to pray mercy on yourself. I want you to show yourself some compassion – and instead of complaining about that part of your body, “oh, that knot in my neck”, or “that pain in my knee” or “that old injury that always plays up” – put your hands on it, and say “God bless you”.  Pray love to that part of your body that you always complain about! And every time you feel that ache, pain, tension: I want you to use it as your cue to pray for yourself. Remember God’s love for you, and surround that part of your body with love, acceptance and joy: and bless it. I am sure that you have cursed it enough times already – and I imagine that’s not working for you! So, why not try something different for the next 30 days? Whether it be a slipped disk in your back, a recurring pain in your shoulder, a tightening in your jaw, a sore ankle from when you fell over: let it be reminder to you to love yourself, bless yourself and show yourself and your body some compassion!

Then the second step is showing compassion for your neighbor:

It might be just that person you passed in the street: if you are out and about a lot, in your car, I want to suggest that you use red lights, stop signs or just the traffic jams, and allow them to be your “pause”. Every time you stop, take a deep breath, notice how YOU are feeling, remember you are God’s representative in this world, and then breath out a blessing on another person – maybe a pedestrian that is crossing the street, or the person sitting in the car next to yours, or the traffic cop that is directing the traffic. And each time your car stops, take a moment to pause, to breathe in God’s love, and to exhale a blessing on another person: to reach a point where the red light or stop sign becomes your cue to cultivate compassion, and it helps you establish a habit of compassion for your fellow man.

And then, I want you to bring compassion home, to your house – the place that it is most needed! Unfortunately, most of us treat the people that we live with, our families, with a certain level of disdain that we would not give to others! And it takes extra effort to treat them with compassion, because you really know them, flaws and all! Each morning, take a moment to ask yourself what act of kindness you can perform today in your home, however small.  If you really want a challenge – try the 40-day love dare for your spouse or a person that you live with in the same house!

The world needs Christians that actively practice compassion and caring for their fellow man.  Without compassion, our love towards God is meaningless!

Let’s pray:

Spirit of Life,
Thank you for the opportunities to love that present themselves in the turmoil of life!
When the light catches the tears in another’s eyes, in moments without words, let us be present.
Let us seek to make another’s wellbeing the object of our concern.
Give us compassion and humility in our hearts. Let us be kind, gentle, generous, loving, giving and forgiving wherever we may go. Allow us to be as compassionate as the air we breathe. Give us the strength to help our brother, to pick up those who have fallen. We declare and decree that we will follow the example Jesus has set before us, in his Mighty name we pray!
Amen