Systems of forgiveness

Last Thursday I was rather thrilled with the release of Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si,” which speaks an eloquent and urgent pastoral word regarding climate change.  Rather than addressing just his fellow Catholics, or even fellow Christians, the document opens by saying, “Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet.”  Early on the Pope cites his namesake, Francis of Assisi, who taught that “Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.”

I was only able to read the first number of pages before learning of the news from Charleston, South Carolina regarding the murder of nine churchgoers at the Emanuel AME Church.  Such hopeful and brave words from one corner of the religious word, accompanied with such painful and destructive actions in another.

One could argue that the same spirit of fear, and the impulse to dominate and subjugate, is behind both situations.  The ideology of white supremacy has been at work for centuries, leaving a trail of tears and violence in its wake.  It is far older than the social construction of “white” and has also played itself out in humans’ over-zealousness to subjugate the natural world to our wishes.  This spirit or impulse is what the Apostle Paul had in mind when he spoke of “the principalities and powers.”

In the days that followed I glimpsed a couple of the videos of Charleston family members expressing both their anger and their forgiveness to the killer, calling on him to repent.  The path of forgiveness will no doubt take a lifetime, but, as many survivors of abuse and violence have testified, forgiveness is just as much about one’s own survival than it is a selfless act toward the perpetrator.  There’s a sense in which forgiveness enables one to both absorb the evil of an act into one’s own person, while also letting it go in a transformed state.  Certainly outrage and forgiveness must go hand in hand in order to be genuine.

Sustainable farming pioneer Joel Salatin speaks about his philosophy of building systems of forgiveness into his farm (HERE, starts at 5:00).  Healthy grass and soil and animals help shield against inevitable drought and flood and disease by absorbing the potentially harmful extremes.  Forgiving food systems are not completely subject to the whims of political legislating and global markets.

For millennia our earth has been resilient and forgiving of so much of what we have done to it.  It has absorbed and released so much violence, and renewed itself and us in its abundance.  I wonder how much more capacity the earth has to forgive, and how much rage and wrath await us if we do not repent and radically change our ways.