Thoughts on Forgiveness

Thoughts on Forgiveness May 3, 2007
Faith and Forgiveness
A night of theater and discussion

Must we forgive an unconscious evil deed? Does

redemption supersede the deliverance of justice? Are there some things that can never be forgiven?

Please join us on Thursday, May 10, 2007 as Rabbi Joui Hessel of

Washington Hebrew Congregation and Reverend Amy Butler of Calvary Baptist Church discuss the views of their respective religions on these and other questions. The discussion will follow a performance of “Renaissance,” a world premiere stage production based on the Project Greenlight Top 10 finalist screenplay by local writers Howard Walper and Steven Gottlieb.

“Renaissance” tells the story of Shalom, an elderly man with amnesia living in Tel Aviv, content to spend his remaining years with his loving wife, a concentration camp survivor. But his quiet days of playing chess and painting come to a sudden end when a Mossad agent accuses him of having been a Nazi. The problem: it might be true.

The play’s concepts of forgiveness and search for justice will set the stage for Rabbi Hessel’s and Reverend Butler’s discussion.

Thursday, May 10
7:30 pm (curtain up) – 9:30 pm

Landless Theatre
DC Arts Center (DCAC)
2438 18th St NW
Washington, DC 20002
So reads the press release I was asked to pass along yesterday.
I’m always happy to appear anywhere with my friend and colleague Rabbi Joui Hessel, but after reading this press release and today’s review of the play in the CityPaper, I am starting to think I might need to have something “clergy-ey” to say about forgiveness.
Hmmmm, off the top of my head I can think of Peter’s question to Jesus in Matthew 18 and come up with some pious words about that. But let’s be real: in the context of hard life situations . . . in the context of a Holocaust that almost obliterated an entire nation of people . . . perhaps two verses and a pat on the head may not be enough?
No, I start somewhere about here: “Acts of cruelty and evil cannot be condoned or forgiven . . . . When we are the victims of radical evil, we are not asked to forgive the evil act. We are asked to remember that the perpetrator, even though trapped for now in the evil, is nonetheless a child of God.” Flora Slosson Wuellner Yes, I’m down with Flora on that, and also Bill Countryman: “Forgiveness doesn’t consist of soft-headedness. It is not a way of denying, ignoring, condoning or tolerating wrong. It begins by recognizing and naming the wrongdoing and, if at all possible, bringing it to a halt.”

Still . . . in the face of institutional evil . . . or even just in the case of somebody doing you really, really wrong . . . being someone who practices radical forgiveness seems almost overwhelmingly unreasonable.

(Especially if you get to a point where you feel you’ve exceeded the 400-something mandate Jesus held out to Peter.)

Thank goodness forgiveness is not something we need to manufacture out of thin air–otherwise there wouldn’t be much to say on a panel like the one I’m on next week. Forgiveness, I am thinking, is not something we create. Rather it’s something we choose to enter into (I totally stole that idea from Flora Wuellner again).
The image that springs to my mind is Rembrandt’s beautiful painting, The Return of the Prodigal Son, where so much is communicated in the expressions and postures of the characters in the painting: deep pain, utter relief, grief for time lost and life destroyed and even tentative hope for healing.
The father in this story chose to enter into forgiveness every night as he walked down the dusty road to scan the horizon for the return of his son. The son chose to enter into forgiveness when he had the courage to come back and embrace change.

Wuellner says choosing to enter into forgiveness is neither creating the seemingly impossible or surrendering to evil. Instead, forgiveness is “the toughest, most enduring and transforming energy in the world–an empowered vulnerability that is not victimhood.”

It’s just getting through the pain of the hurt to feel the power of forgiveness that gets me stuck sometimes, you know?

Join us next Thursday night, May 10, to see a powerful play and talk some more!
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