The Unforgiven & Unforgiving


P1010492I was going back and forth on Twitter with someone who doesn’t agree with me, politically.  I brought up a GOP Congressman who has been caught for cocaine.  He brought up Barack Obama’s young and stupid youth.  It started me thinking about how darn unforgiving we are, as a society.  Evidently we have become that arrogant and almost narcissistic that we demand absolute purity from our elected ‘leaders’ starting in vitro to the undertaker.  No wonder kids are now stuck with zero tolerance policies in schools, where something that, ten years ago would get them a slap on the wrist, can now threaten to destroy their future.

When did our society become so unforgiving?

Once upon a time, the world was all about giving someone a break and a second change when they have been a screw-up in life.  There are remarkable stories of second chances, of lives profoundly messed-up, but, when given the opportunity to make a change, turned it around.  Take Simon Peter for instance.  He blew it when he denied even knowing Jesus of Nazareth.  He was given a chance to redeem himself.  He became the Rock upon which the Church was build.

How many people do we know in life who have been addicts or alcoholics who have turned their lives around, and made profound changes for the better?  Do they deserve having the door slammed on them because of something in their past?  Why does society demand perfection today?

When my father was a kid, when he was in the 2nd grade, he attended about 40 days of class, off an on.  He was not taken away from his parents, held back, or sent to a foster situation.  He hated school.  His mother told the teacher he hated school and to leave him alone.  She did.  He reformed and only missed half a year in the third grade.   He grew up, met his best pal, Herbie Johnston, and thereby entered upon a life of juvenile and teenage pranks that would land both of them in jail today.  My favorite is the one where they knocked over the outhouse of my father’s girlfriend.  It was Halloween.  Her father was in it at the time.  They were so bad that year, that someone they knew, who had been in trouble with the law, was picked up and held over-night for the pranks they committed.  They never told him he paid for their crimes!

Three years later my father was in the South Pacific and Herbie was on his way to Europe.  They were the lucky ones.  They came home, had a good time playing the ponies in Chicago, lost a pile of money, my father drove a cab for awhile, and had at least 20 jobs in one year.  About 1949 or so his older brother told him it was time for him to grow up and quit playing.  He grew up that year, married my mother, and end up doing very well for himself.  So did his best pal, Herbie.

One of my favorite stories of someone who just blew part of his life, then turned out quite remarkable is Merlin Carothers.  One of the things that still pleases me, so much, is the fact that, unlike so many ministers, he  has never sold out for the big bucks.  He’s real.  He once was a bum, then became a powerhouse for Christ.

One of the real problems in life is that we aren’t psychic.  How do we know what is going to happen in the future?  Do we plan accordingly, and live our lives as total and complete fakes, knowing that the background check is of ultimate importance or do we really live our lives?  Should a high school or college kid who does something profoundly stupid (but not profoundly criminal) be given a second chance in life, or must they go the way of zero tolerance.

I know of a young woman who was in the National Honor Society.  She had scholarship money out the wazoo. She also had two months left of school.  Long story short, her boyfriend dropped his pocket knife in her purse.  She was expelled, zero tolerance.  She lost her National Merritt Scholarship.  She was no longer a member of the National Honor Society.  She was allowed to study off campus, but not even walk with the class.  She walked off, ended up doing her GED, marrying some jerk, getting pregnant, divorcing, raising an adorable little girl on her own, struggling to go to college.  One little mistake ruined her entire future.  What’s worse, it was as though the administration of the school delighted in destroying her future.  They enjoyed it.   She didn’t even know he’d put his pocket knife in her purse. I believe her – she is not the kind of person who lies.

Perhaps the real problem is the fact that we’ve become a culture where we don’t like to forgive.  It’s hard to give a second chance if society is unwilling to forgive even the slightest mistake.  Evidently we are now so self-absorbed and so narcissistic that we demand perfection out of others while wanting absolution for ourselves.

We don’t want to forgive. Perhaps it is because we are so inadequate and petty, so miserable and incompetent, that not forgiving makes us think we are better than the unforgiven. Life is so much better if we can think we’re better than someone, right? It’s is like being superior in a very inferior sort of way.  The more we can feel superior to someone who we may consider a ‘better’ the more important we are, right?

The most fun is holding childhood indiscretions against successful politicians with whom we don’t agree.  In the world of politics the object is to destroy if one doesn’t agree with a person or agenda. No matter if that person was a teenager or in college.  It may have been something as innocuous as a smoking a joint.  Sorry, but I know too many people who have done this.  They don’t deserve to have their lives destroyed over it.

There are things that need to be forgiven.  Then there are crimes where an office holder is doing illegal drugs, after having taken an oath of office.  College is one thing, a seated Congressman is another.  One is breaking an oath of office.  The other is a stupid and boneheaded.

Then there are the crimes for which we don’t forgive as a society.  There’s a difference.  As individuals, as Christians, Christ requires us, in the Lord’s Prayer to forgive as we are forgiven. To me, that is absolutely terrifying.  I would rather err on the side of forgiveness. I’m not perfect.  Don’t expect me to throw that first stone.