Pitfalls of Forgiveness: Part One

As most of  you know, I am of a genetic heritage (Sicilian) that is noted for resisting the notion of forgiveness.   Some of us seem to have an alarming capacity to take our grudges to our graves.   However, because I am a Christian, and I take the Bible seriously, I would like to make sure that I forgive those whom I still begrudge.   Yet I frankly find forgiveness of these people to be next to impossible. 

But I’ve got to forgive them!   Even if I didn’t identify as a Christian, I’d probably still feel a need to forgive them, if for no other reason than that a lingering resentment doesn’t feel good.   Resentments against others eat away at one’s mental health.   If I weren’t a Christian, I would want to let go of these grudges for my sake.   But because I am a Christian, it is not only for my own sake that I must forgive.  It is for God’s sake — for the sake of all that is good and just and kind in this world.  Look what Jesus said:

Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions.  But if you do not forgive, neither will your Father who is in heaven forgive your transgressions.
–Mark 11:25-26

So if we want to be forgiven, then we need to forgive.   That much seems simple and sound.   But whether or not you are conversant with Scripture, these words of Jesus are likely to strike a puzzling note.   Aren’t we Christians the ones who believe that we simply are forgiven?   As in, no matter what we do?

forgiveWell, yes and no.   There are Christians and there are Christians.  A Calvinist might believe this.  An Arminian might not.   We could get into Romans Six and all that, but this single Scripture definitely appears to contradict numerous biblical references to the security of the believer. Have our names not been written on the Book of Life since “before the foundation of the world?”  If I am a Christian, and I believe that God has already forgiven me, then why would I need to forgive anyone else in order to secure His forgiveness?   

Although I’ve read numerous studies on the matter, they seem by and large to be rationalizations.   One suggested that Jesus speaks in this context not to “believers” but to “people in the world.”   But that doesn’t hold water.   Jesus is simply speaking to everybody — to whoever has ears to hear — whether they believe Him or not.

So I pondered this apparent contradiction for a long time.  Finally, I arrived at a reconciliation within myself, as a result of performing the following dialectic:

Q. What’s bugging you?

A. I think I might be going to hell.

Q. Why?

A. There are three people in my life whom I have not forgiven.  

Q. But aren’t you a Christian?

A. That depends upon what you mean by “Christian.”

Q. What do you mean by Christian?

A. A Christian (according to me) is a person who is in the process of being saved.

Q. Saved from what?

A. From the just consequences of our many misdeeds.

Q. Can you document this scripturally?

A. I can try.   Romans 10:9 states:  “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and you believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”  According to this Scripture, these are the two prerequisites for salvation.

Q. Do you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord?

A. Sometimes.

Q. Do you believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead?

A. Always.

Q. Then why would you not be saved?

A. Because I haven’t forgiven these three people, and God says I have to forgive them if I want to go to heaven.

Q. Do you want to forgive them?

A. Oh yes!

Q. Then why don’t you?

A. I keep trying, but I keep winding up going back to the grudges.   It’s not that I don’t want to forgive them, it’s that I don’t feel I have the power to do so.

Q. But as a Christian, doesn’t your power come from God?

A. Well, if it doesn’t, then it ought to.

Q. Then why not ask God to empower you to forgive them?

A. Good idea.   I will do so immediately.

Q. Anything else?

A. Yes.

Q. What?

A. As I asked God to empower me to forgive the triumvirate whom I begrudge, a thought came to mind.  Something I’d never thought before.

Q. Really?  What thought is that?

A. Since God knows all things, maybe God knows that ultimately, at some time in my life, I am going to forgive all three of them.   Therefore, though I haven’t forgiven them yet — and would certainly go to hell were I to die on this very day — I am still nonetheless going to go to heaven on some future day, because by the time that future day rolls around, I will have forgiven them.   And God knows this!  I may not have forgiven them yet, but I will forgive them.  I will then be free to depart gracefully from the present planet, and take up my throne in heaven.

Q. Your throne?   Isn’t God the one on the throne?

A. 2 Timothy 2:12 & Revelation 20:6, dude.  We’re all gonna be reigning in heaven.   Remember: you are dealing with a person who actually reads the Bible.   I’m not a person who blindly swallows every lie that comes out of the mouth of the preacher on the pulpit.  Nor am I of the camp who absolutely refuse to open the Book, for fear of its contents.   Nor am I —

Q. Excuse me!! What about 1 Corinthians 8:1?

A. Oops — I forgot.  You actually read the Bible, too.

Q. Well, what about it?

A. What about what?

Q. Don’t dodge the question — what about 1 Cor 8:1?   Paul clearly states that the pursuit of knowledge leads to arrogance, whereas the pursuit of love leads to encouragement and spiritual growth.

A. All right, I’ll admit it.  My problem is that I’m too hung up on learning, reading, absorbing, acquiring information, and gaining knowledge.   And despite all of that intellectual focus, the plain fact is that I just don’t have enough love in my heart.   

Q. And Who is Love?

A. You know the answer to that.   Luke 15:9 & John 4:8 come to mind.   God is Love.

Q. Then Whom shall you seek, if you are to learn how to love?

A. Deuteronomy 4:29 & Jeremiah 29:13 hold the answer to that one.

Q. Wasn’t that a bit indirect of you?

A. Was Jesus always direct?

The Questioner is silent.  

Obviously, I’ve arrived at a resolution that is quite pleasant, if tenuous.   It would seem that my next move along these lines should be to forgive the three people whom I continue to begrudge.   So, in Parts 2-4 of this series (if I ever get around to writing them),  please expect me to go through great efforts to forgive the triad of traitors who so treacherously trapped, tricked, and traumatized me.   I’m not going to mention them by name — of course.   But I’m definitely going to delve into it.

Why?  Because I must.  It’s not just being Sicilian.   It’s that I spent way too much time on the streets.   There, the concept of achieving peace of mind over a troubling individual was virtually synonymous with the notion of getting even with them.   If I wanted there to be peace between me and someone with whom I was quarreling,  I didn’t even think about forgiving them.  I thought about intimidating them until they were too scared to mess with me.   It was only then that I would breathe my long-awaited — though highly temporary — sigh of relief.

Let’s put it this way.   I may have Mafioso blood, but I sure didn’t have anything against any of these people before I had to spend twelve years on the streets.

TO BE CONTINUED

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By Nature

Note: I tried several times to post this on my facebook timeline (where it belongs) but they wouldn’t let me do so — for some reason.   So here goes.

BY NATURE (an excerpt from my personal diary)

It seems I often awaken in a depressed state these days.  But the depressed state usually is based on extreme black-and-white perceptions about what others think of me.  These perceptions soften within the first ten minutes of the day, as I gradually realize that everything can or should be viewed in black-and-white terms.  While it is true that I often feel extremely misunderstood, it is not the case that everybody misunderstands me.  I can think of four people who understand me right off the top: Norman, Kathy, Danielle, and Jack.  And I’m sure there are others — or at least there can be, if I branch out and start meeting the right people.  

Yesterday morning was a case in point.  black and whiteI awoke depressed as usual, but was able to transform the depression into a sense of quietude. In that quietude, I prayed for all the people who had been troubling me. Then I sipped my coffee, and it was the best coffee I had ever tasted. I felt blessed, for having done the right thing. I even felt I could go back to bed, and I had the time to do so, to catch more sleep before Writer’s Guild.

Instead, I logged on to Facebook. It wasn’t long before the sense of over-stimulation, combined with loss of control, me becoming rattled, my nerves being strip-mined, my balance off-set by all the notifications, buzzes, comments, etc. was too much for me. Trying to order my responses seeming next-to-impossible, while imposing chat windows pop up in the way of my efforts to moderate the new Lincoln Summer Theatre group, and all kinds of other stressors, gradually put me into battle mode, feeling as though I was a soldier in battle needing to fire at the nearest, most dangerous approaching tank.

My sense of peace shot up to high anxiety within an hour or so, as my sense of inability to control the Power Greater Than Myself that is Facebook expanded beyond all reasonable proportion. I enjoy being connected with wonderful people from the “past” (?) in the “present” (?), but isn’t this all a but unnatural? If there were a meeting in quote-un-quote “real life,” where there were twenty people in the group, and I didn’t like one of them, I would either stay in the group, or drop out of the group. I wouldn’t have the unnatural social power to simply “block” the person I didn’t like, not see him or hear any of his statements, and yet still interact with the other nineteen. This is unnatural.

It is unnatural, and is what is unnatural healthy for us? I begin to doubt it.

What is natural is that life runs its course from birth to death; we move from job to job, town to town, and in some cases, from marriage to marriage. I’m a Sicilian who has a hard time letting go of people, places and things. By nature, I am never done with anyone. By genetic nature, I either stay friends with them, or if they dump me, I am still not done with them, because I will track them down to the ends of the earth. By nature, I reward loyalty and punish betrayal. That’s my nature, and I struggle to overcome the extremism thereof by exercising restraint and observing traditional standards of morality and etiquette. For another person, this may not be so much of a struggle, because it is not their nature, and their nature may provide them with other struggles – as well as other strengths – naturally.

So is it healthy that I, who already is struggling against my nature telling me not to move on, not to let go of people, places, and things that haven’t worked out for me, to be enveloped in an atmosphere that continues to flash the very people in my face that I am already struggling to let go of? Twice now — and I am not faulting anyone for doing this out of utter innocence and good nature — I have had to see the face of a person whom I thought was a very good friend of mine, flashed in my face (so to speak) on Facebook Messenger, knowing that this person had told me never to talk to him again and that any further contact from me would be considered harassment.

This is not natural. It doesn’t happen in what we used to call “real life.” I would have never reconnected with that individual (on Facebook) to begin with. He would have been somebody I’d have stopped seeing whenever we first parted ways — by nature — back in the seventies or so.

I have enough trouble “moving on” and “letting go” as it is. Does anybody feel me?

Here’s what happened to me personally after I had been rattled yesterday morning by making the dumb decision to log on to Facebook at a moment of idle down time. I became progressively more uptight, and finally drained. I had only slept three hours anyway, and I figured I had about an hour to kill before Writer’s Guild, so I went down for more rest. But did I rest? No way.

Me personally, I was almost instantly assaulted by what seemed like a demon spirit from hell, grabbing ahold of my neck and my back, thrusting his/her arm around my waist, and taunting me with the words: “Okay, Mr. Wonderful – how does *that* grab you?”

Now I’m glad I no longer live in the State of California or a densely populated urban area, where even making that admission might cause somebody to dial 9-1-1 and I find all my artistic progress further delayed by yet another pointless stay in a psychiatric facility. Just for speaking my truth.

The point is, had I not logged onto Facebook, had I followed my gut and gone back to bed while in a rested state, I would not have become so uptight that I would have risked entering into an hour’s worth of hell in sleep paralysis, fully conscious of my surroundings, knowing that I was dreaming and having a specific sort of nightmare, and unable to move my body for an entire hour, except for rare intervals when I came to, through the use of a couple techniques I learned through research, and then descending into sleep paralysis again. It is not fun.

Nor is it caused by Facebook. But if that’s the kind of height of anxiety that Facebook can trigger (not *cause*) in me, (not *you*), then what the heck am I doing here? This is the 5th Facebook I’ve had in ten years. Every other one of them imploded. Who am I trying to fool? Will I be any better able to handle this Facebook than any of the others?

rotary telephoneOf course not.

So here’s what I am going to do. I am going to go down and get a rotary telephone, like we had back in the Good Old Days, when the phone would ring, and we all would simply answer it. We weren’t afraid of each other in those days. We didn’t have the unnatural power to block out any and every person we didn’t happen to want to deal with from our lives. We didn’t burn bridges left and right. We built them — in ways that are natural. I’m going to plug it in my wall, and I am going to make sure there is no Call Waiting in any form attached, no touch tone, nothing.

Even when two of my Facebook friends were cool enough to actually indulge my natural neurosis and agree to talk with me on the phone, the very next day I had to contend with the phenomenon of Call Waiting, whereby I couldn’t even get through a conversation with before the little “bloop bloop” that tells me somebody else is calling kept continually interrupting my focus, as though this new person calling in was the “most immediate and threatening danger on the battlefield.”

I’m not saying that you guys necessarily encounter these same difficulties. But there’s a reason why I do, and just has to do with the way I’m wired. Call it ADHD or what-have-you. Every single time a Facbeook Messenger box pops up while I’m trying to do something else, my attention is *immediately* diverted to the Messenger, I ex it off, and then I return to whatever I was doing before, asking myself, “Now, where was I?” Sometimes I even forget completely what I was doing before. Sometimes I even forget that what I was doing was the only reason I had logged on to Facebook in the first place, like, for example, to find somebody’s phone number that they had given me in a Facebook comment, or to ask the previous tenant of my new apartment how to turn on the heater.

THIS IS NOT NATURAL. And correct me if I’m wrong. Am I the only person who is tired of having to tolerate all these unnatural social media weirdnesses? Probably not. And that’s part of the reason why this time I will not destroy my Facebook, I will not give up yet again, only to find that I miss everybody, wonder how they’re all doing, and start a Facebook again. I will take my lumps, I will take my chances, and I will bow before the monarch that is Facebook, while at the same time doing my best to give homage to my own King, whose name, by the way, is Jesus.

So – not upset, not defeated, not exasperated, not infuriated. Just a little miffed, and figured it was about time I spoke my piece, as cogently and clearly as I can.

But do me a favor. Let’s not make this entirely about my “mental health,” OK? I decided my mental health was either shot to smithereens and irredeemable, or else completely irrelevant when I first made the decision on August 8, 2006 to drop out completely from the Mainstream of Modern American Life and try to become the best Writer I could be. After all, every effort to become the best Musician or Teacher I could be was pretty much consumed in a confluence of losing one job after another due to things like absent-mindedness, tardiness, or general inability to keep up with the insanely fast pace of workaday urban life.  I’ve got a fast enough pace going on inside me as it is, without anybody else having to add to that velocity.

I’m a Writer. I wrote an entire musical about social dropouts, why we drop out, and what we can all do about it. To hell with my mental health! Click on the link below, and LET’S GET THIS SHOW ON THE ROAD.

Daylight’s burning. I’m not going to be around forever.

Please consider making an any amount donation to Eden in Babylon at this time.  The stuff that gets people interested in original musicals by unknown playwrights unfortunately does not grow on trees.   

can-do

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Please note.  As of October 30, 2017, all donations to this cause will be sent to my assistant, Danielle Stephens.  Further information as to this arrangement may be found here.   Donations in any amount may be made safely here.   

The Magic Words

(Note: If this post is a bit incomprehensible at first glance, the two links are to previous posts of mine that provide background information.   My hope today, as always, is that this is the last time I will have to write on this theme.)

A while back, the “professor” tried to get through to me through a third party, a wonderful man who was moved enough by my sorrow to try to “broker a temporary detente” between us, as he put it.   Through this third party (a mutual associate), the professor declared:

“I can have no contact with Andy whatsoever at this time.”

The wonderful man sort of made it sound as though at some later time, when things were different, perhaps he could have contact with me.   So he told me: “We can try again later if you like.”  I suggested we wait six months.  Then, six months elapsed, and I asked the mutual friend to try again.  But he declined, saying that the initial message he’d gotten from the professor was actually this:

“I can have no contact with Andy at this time –
and I will not have contact with him at any time.
It will not be wise of you to try again.”

At that, I felt more than a bit ashamed of myself for even commandeering the assistance of this wonderful man in the first place.   He’s the only person I’ve encountered who agreed to try to get through to the professor on my behalf.   I certainly didn’t want to pressure the fellow any further.  I figure he either forgot what he had said the first time, because he really didn’t want to intervene a second time, or else he didn’t get it right in the first place.  But that’s what happens when you can’t get it from the “horse’s mouth.”

So I was left with this frustrated feeling that this kind of message should be coming from the horse’s mouth!   I can’t even imagine just blocking somebody on all these interfaces without explanation after having been friends for forty-five years!  So the Sicilian in me – that is to say, 50% of me and no doubt the dominant genes –  began to rear its head.  I had been angry long enough, and I was about to get even.  I began to devise ways to break through all the blocks that this professor has placed toward me on all his various interfaces.   It became a special challenge for me – something that actually energized me.   I would never let go!  I would keep finding ways to buzz this professor until he breaks down completely.

Off to a good start, I noticed that my new cell phone somehow mandated me to use my given name rather than my common name, and more-or-less forced me to start a new G-Mail account based on my given name.  So, all of a sudden the professor received two Facebook messages from a guy with my given name.   The second simply included my phone number.   I waited a while before assaying to send a third, more detailed and explanatory message.  To that, Facebook responded:

This user is not receiving messages from you at this time.

This caused me to suspect that he had probably received my new phone number.  “Aha!” I thought.  “I shall text him, and see if my number is blocked.”  Then I prayed.  Vengeful though I might have been, I nonetheless prayed to the God whose right it is to take vengeance.  But I prayed for reconciliation.   Did forty-five years of friendship have to go down the tubes all because of this?

The reason for my repeated request is because I will be able to cease to contact you once I hear from you directly that you wish not to hear from me.   Otherwise, my mind automatically keeps searching for the “magic words” that will somehow move you to acknowledge me and accept me as a friend once again.  I realize this is my own stuff, but it’s basically not healthy for me to keep buzzing you like this, and I know myself well enough to know that a simple statement from you will suffice, as did with Jerry and John D. and others from LHS who have chosen not to have contact with me.  I hope this is not too much to ask, and I certainly hope you are well.
Love, Andy

Success!  The message was not blocked!!  But wait a minute – couldn’t he simply have changed his phone number??

Fed up, I prayed: “Lord, if he’s never going to talk to me again, and if that kind of thing is fine with him, can he at least do us both the courtesy of telling me so directly?   You and I both know that if he simply lets me know, without confusion or mixed message, that he doesn’t want to hear from me until some such time as he chooses, I’ll be man enough to stop buzzing him.  Or better yet, can’t we reconcile?   Why is this forgiveness ball always in my court?”

It may seem strange,  but after that I honestly did let go.  For that moment, anyway – I let go completely.   There are no magic words.   There is nothing I can do in my power that will get this guy to talk to me again, either to tell me what it is that I did that caused him to suddenly diss me like this, or what it is that he did that makes him not want to face me.  He more-or-less knows his part in the whole affair; he obviously has chosen to disrespect me and I have to get over it.  I more-or-less know my own part in the whole affair; he has declined to “fill me in” with a more complete understanding, and I have to get over that too.  It’s done.  It’s over.  I’m through.  We’re through.  I have to accept the hard fact that forty-five years of friendship were shot down the tubes for reasons I will never fully understand.  Andy, that’s life.  Andy, get over it.  Andy —

Andy, take a valium?   A friend listened to all of this and said:

I hate to break it to you,
but it’s more important to God that you forgive this guy
than that you finish your script.

Damn – I sure wish it were the other way around!