Cathy-Hird-ForgivenessIn 1986, the United Church of Canada made an apology to the aboriginal peoples of this land. The moderator at the time said in part, "We confused western ways and culture with the depth and breadth and length and height of the gospel of Christ....We tried to make to make you like us and in so doing we helped to destroy the vision that made you what you were...We ask you to forgive us and to walk together with us in the Spirit of Christ so that our peoples may be blessed and God's creation healed."

The apology was received by a representative group of First Nations people. Two years later when the church's general council met again, an elder said that the apology was acknowledged but not accepted. She said that aboriginal people within the church "hope and pray that the apology is not symbolic but that these are the words of action and sincerity...."

This response was hard for the church. The council had deliberated long and hard, struggled to find the right words. Some expected immediate forgiveness. Instead, the whole church had to learn how to accept the consequences of the actions mentioned in the apology and address the damage that had been done.

In our personal relationships, when we apologize we expect to be forgiven. We want the other person to tell us that it's okay. That expectation may be fine if we trip and knock their arm, spilling their juice. But if we trip because we are not paying attention and spill hot coffee on their hand, "Sorry" is not enough. We at least have to get cold water for the burn. We need to realize that we would not have hurt them if we had been watching where we walked.

Few actions are completely accidental. They arise from our assumptions, our pattern of living, our real feelings. When we do something that hurts someone else, they are right to expect us to figure out why we did it, what we need to change.

The United Church had to recognize the built in cultural assumptions, the way training for ministers was structured for example. In a family, we need to notice what happens when we are too busy, realize that we filled our calendar ourselves, choose to open up space for those who depend on us. In a workplace, we need to see the way our ambition makes us ignore the skills of another person. In any group, we need to notice the way our need to be heard, to contribute, to be noticed takes space away from someone who is quieter than we are.

It is hard for another to forgive us if we do not recognize why we did what we did. Without seeing the causes, we are not likely to change.

When we hurt someone deeply by what we do, they may be tempted to hurt us back. That is understandable. Anger is a natural and sometimes appropriate reaction. Lashing out and hurting back, however, is not helpful. The situation escalates.

Some Christian atonement theology argues that God requires payment for what we do wrong. This seems to me a mistaken interpretation of temple sacrifice: offerings to God were gifts of gratitude or signs of repentance not payment for errors. The Hebrew psalms and prophetic writings say over and over that God calls for a change of heart, movement toward justice and mercy.

In our relationships with other people, a symbol of our intention to live differently can be helpful. Not a bouquet of flowers that says, forgive me quickly. Instead, a small action that moves toward the goal of healing. If part of the issue in a home is over commitment, then dropping one thing off the calendar and staying home is better than a box of chocolates left on the table.

What the aboriginal people of the United Church did by acknowledging the apology rather than accepting it was to hold the church accountable. I think that we can learn from this practice. We need to notice the request for forgiveness, not ignore it, but then we ask the person to live into their apology. When we ask someone to forgive us, we need to take time and take stock, and then walk the path toward the person we are claiming to be.

Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.
Photo Credit: CC Jhong Dizon | Photography


CopyRight ©2015, ©2016, ©2017 of Hub Content
is held by content creators