Two adages that I heard when I was about 7 or 8 advised: “Never make the same mistake twice, and “Always learn from your mistakes.”
Oh, how I wish I had been able to do that all the time! Unfortunately, I have to say I probably scored 50 percent on those tests. But, I did learn one thing; I learned to forgive myself.
So often when people continue to fail at things, they often become depressed and begin to feel worthless. Most of the time it’s because they feel they are a disappointment; a disappointment to parents, teachers, peers or God.
What everyone needs to learn is that you can’t disappoint God. You are God’s very own special creation. God knows you inside and out. He knows what your weaknesses and your strengths are. God’s love is made to order just for you. Our failure to know and embrace this keeps us from forgiving ourselves for our mistakes. If God could be sad, which he can’t, this would do it.
Love, which is God’s other name, wants only our happiness. He conveyed that through the prophet Jeremiah; “I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, to give you hope and a future. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”
Remember that song which goes “Pick yourself up. Dust yourself off. Start all over again”? That is pretty much what we are expected to do.
You always have God’s attention; but wait, that’s what you’re afraid of isn’t it? Then, think of God as your very best friend who will not criticize or mock, but just be in your corner all the time.
Remember the promise of Jesus; “Come to me all who are burdened and weary and I will give you rest”. His promises are real and can be trusted. So go ahead and live your life, mistakes and all. The One who loves you best, will be with you to help you pick yourself up.
Even though there is much frustration in the world today regarding political, economic, and social issues, there is reason for hope.
Your political ideology or your cultural background doesn’t matter. Our concerns are based on events we see all around us. Misinformation, lying, the curtailment of freedoms, the disregard for laws, our failing environment, tensions among cultures, race, gender and sexual orientation are all creating concerns worldwide. Issues such as these are being attacked or ignored. People of faith know, however, that God — although He challenges us constantly — never abandons us.
Our faith in God gives us the tools to be an example of Christ and to be part of the solution. It is incumbent upon us always to be the example that allows for change that respects personal freedoms, human rights, and a custodial approach to all of God’s creations.
We see that example demonstrated by young and old throughout the world; once obscure names — Malala Yousafzai; Greta Thunberg; and just this past week, Brandt Jean — are recent examples in the news. They show the world that every day examples of love and concern are not lost forever but exist in the hearts and souls of all of us. We simply need the courage, with God’s grace, to speak up and act.
None of these three young people were initially famous, rich, or promoted by commercial industry. Malala Yousafzai had the courage to stand up to radical fundamentalism within her faith. She put her life on the line advocating for the education of women and other human rights issues.
Greta Thunberg spoke out against the ignorance surrounding the deteriorating environment and the call for people and nations to begin now with changes to preserve the world from global warming.
Brandt Jean, the brother of a murdered black man mistaken to be an intruder, embraced his brother’s murderer, forgiving the former police officer after being convicted.
All three of these young people are examples of courage and determination to make changes in our world. Examples that we need to reflect on.
These acts of kindness and the courage to speak out occur daily in our world but not all of them make the news headlines.
In the Acts of the Apostles, we saw men and women moved by the resurrection of Jesus bring about change. Their courage in the 1st Century is an example of the courage we need today to make changes in our Church and the world around us. It all starts locally in our families, our communities, and our workplaces. Through faith that God is with us, we can all be agents of change.
I have really hesitated about engaging in a conversation about the murder of Botham Jean and the trial and sentencing of his murderer, Amber Guyger.
[Sidebar: I wanted to avoid the conversation because sometimes it just seems too difficult to be civil, when trying to navigate through an exhaustive conversation (about a 26-year-old black man, who happened to be an accountant and choir director at his church, who was murdered while sitting on his own sofa, in his own apartment, eating ice cream, by a white woman, who happened to be a Dallas police officer, who claims she mistook his apartment as her own and thought he was an intruder) with someone who will never really understand what “living in America while black” means.]
Then, news broke over the weekend that Joshua Brown — a key witness in the trial — was gunned down in the parking lot of the apartment complex where he lived.
Soon after, I saw this tweet:
Black woman who filmed Jean’s last moment, where he asked Amber Guyger, “Why did you shoot me?”: fired from job, film confiscated by police.
Black man who testified against Guyger: murdered, suspects still at large.
Botham Jean: dead.
National conversation: black forgiveness.
It was the last line that got me.
As I listened to and read the commentaries on the “act of forgiveness” — the hug that Botham Jean’s 18-year-old brother gave to the woman who murdered his brother, after the younger Jean finished his victim impact statement and the convicted murder was sentenced to 10 years in prison – I was conflicted.
I am not going to speculate about his reasons for hugging her, but will accept that it was something he needed to do to move forward.
What I am extremely disheartened by is this national conversation that is celebrating this “act of forgiveness” as some sort of proxy for racial reconciliation or some kind of example of how the oppressed should respond to the oppressor or some form of absolution from sin – in this case, the systemic racism that plaques our nation.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe in extending forgiveness.
But I also believe in seeking justice.
Therefore, I believe that any conversation about “black” forgiveness must include interactive communication about racial justice. Racial reconciliation is no easy task – it involves both forgiveness and justice.
My hope is that the embrace from Botham Jean’s brother does not distract us from his mother’s message, urging reforms to a (racially and culturally) biased system (during the trial, allegations surfaced of tampering with evidence and police misconduct):
“What you saw and what you heard in the courtroom really showed what your system is and you must seek to do something about it …You saw a contaminated crime scene, you saw deletion of evidence by persons in high offices. You saw turning off of body cams …You saw investigations that were marred with corruption … While we walk as Christians, we still have a responsibility to show that our city does what is right.”
As Christians, we are called to be ambassadors of reconciliation – reconciliation is the heart of the Gospel. So, while we must practice forgiveness, we must also seek justice. Forgiveness does not negate our obligation to seek justice.
Miroslav Volf warns us, in his award-winning book Exclusion and Embrace, “forgiveness is not a substitute for justice.”
Forgiveness without justice is not reconciliation. Genuine and lasting reconciliation is possible only when both forgiveness and reparation of wrongs are satisfied. Reconciliation has two locks to open – forgiveness and justice.
Forgiveness is the one half of reconciling work that a victim exercises, while justice is the other half of reconciling work that is reserved for the perpetrator. Only after having achieved both goals can true reconciliation occur.
There is still plenty of work to be done. We all have a role to fulfill. Are you willing to do your part?
I have experienced waves of gratitude during the past few weeks – much of it as the result of the prayers, thoughts, cards, love, and support offered to me and my family as we mourn the loss of one of my nephews.
I cannot find adequate words to thank my friends and family (including my Dominican Sisters of Peace and Associates community) for their acts of kindness and presence during a very difficult time in my life.
I have been reminded that gratitude is more than an emotional response. It is an affirmation of goodness – we affirm that there are good things in the world that are freely given to us. Gratitude helps us recognize the sources of goodness that are outside of ourselves – we acknowledge positive things that come our way that we did not actively work toward or ask for.
It reminds us to never take our gifts and blessings for granted.
Gratitude is an attitude. It is about more than saying “thank you.”
Gratitude completely transforms our vision because it is about being able to notice and appreciate the gifts that are given to us – from the smallest things of beauty to the grandest of our blessings (including the gift of life itself).
While having an attitude of gratitude does not mean we will never experience negative emotions, I believe that shifting our focus to consciously notice the positive can help us avoid being overwhelmed by day-to-day stressors and negative emotions.
Even during the most challenging times, gratitude makes us available to opportunities to learn and grow and to extend ourselves with care and compassion to others. Showing deep appreciation for acts of kindness can uplift us and make a difference for us and others.
What if gratitude became a perpetual, daily experience — for not just the big things but for the smallest gifts we receive?
Amid the destruction and devastation of Hurricane Dorian, were bright spots of human acts of kindness:
– neighbors helping neighbors shutter homes;
— people donating food and clothing;
— people and organizations providing shelter;
— an anonymous donor who bought generators;
— and Jermaine Bell, who emptied his piggy bank of the money he had been saving for more than a year for his birthday trip to Walt Disney World Resort and used the money to buy food for evacuees.
Jermaine, who has since turned seven years old, explained to the news media that his motto, “Live to Give,” was the reason for his actions.
As the hurricane approached the South Carolina coast, Jermaine used the money form his piggy bank to buy hundreds of hot dogs, bags of chips, and bottled water to serve (free of charge) to evacuees who passed through the South Carolina town where he was visiting his grandmother.
As I thought about Jermaine’s motto, I was reminded of the power of unconditional giving that comes from the heart – giving without expecting something in return.
I was reminded that you don’t have to move very far from where you are to make a difference or have a positive impact – people in need are all around us.
I was reminded that everyone has something to offer to others.
From my vantage point, selfless giving is the basis for living a meaningful life. It seems to me that when we find meaning in the lives of those in need and do something about it, we also find meaning in our own lives.
Jermaine models for us how to live life with purpose by making a meaningful difference in the lives of others. His motto encourages us to live by our beliefs and values. He is another one of my young heroes.
(Note: Officials at the Walt Disney Company gifted Jermaine, on his seventh birthday, with a trip to Disney World).