Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Things That Suck (Post 2)

Thanks for all your advice and encouragement. I think I'm starting to figure this out. I wasn't really even sure which questions to ask before, but I think I'm gonna be naked by the end of this song.


Sorry. Rogue meme. I meant, I think I'm gonna be able to ask some better questions by the end of this post.

Let's return to my previous "Things that Suck" post and consider your advice.


    Seems like a healthy, Christ-like, rebuke is always scriptural.
    Bryan, Kyle, The Sis, Emilyjane, Stu

    But don't try to get revenge.

    Throw in some scripture for good measure.

    Consider whether your actions are likely to make a difference.

    Don't lose your cool.

    Let them know you are sincerely struggling with how to come to terms with the situation and their motives

    Forgive the elders and let God do the work.
    Irina and The Wife

    Keep peace in the church.
    The Wife

    Consider what forgiveness should look like in this situation.
    The Dad

    Aggravate their sexual prejudices.

    Send them poop in a box.
    The Sis

All reasonable advice. But I'm starting to notice something interesting about it. In general, those of you who call for rebuke do not call for forgiveness; those of you who call for forgiveness do not call for rebuke.

Maybe, as Emilyjane suggests, the two aren't mutually exclusive.

As a disciple of Christ, I have an obligation to consider the teachings and character of Jesus as I decide my course of action. And as I consider things, It seems that Jesus rebuked AND forgave. Jesus smacked those darn Pharisees up one side and down the other ("whitewashed tombs, snakes, blind guides") but if our theology is anywhere near correct, he also forgave them.

Rebuke without forgiveness is unacceptable: as Irina and my wife point out, Jesus was nothing if not forgiving. One of the Big Ideas in the Christian faith is that somehow, the life and death of Christ engaged the forgiveness of God.

On the other hand, forgiveness without rebuke is irresponsible. Let's consider what Jesus is doing when he rebukes the Pharisees: He's laying into the religious leaders who are destroying the faith of God's children. The Pharisees have a responsibility to nurture and love the people they serve; instead they're stomping them into the ground.

Splash Damage

The Dad (k-rewx) points out that it is often harder for spouse and family than it is for the "victim.". This is precisely why both forgiveness and rebuke are necessary.

I think this is a good (simple) Christian model of conflict management:

1. The victim's job is to forgive those who hurt him.
2. The church's job is to rebuke those who hurt the victim.

This keeps the victim from pursuing revenge, and also provides an avenue for the correction of the wrongdoer. However, in this situation, I occupy the roles of both Victim and Church. As the son of the victim, I am indirectly harmed: the victim of "splash damage", so to speak. And because of this damage to me, I have a responsibility to forgive. In fact, if there were no damage done to me, there wouldn't be anything for me to forgive. But as the son of the victim, I am not also the victim himself. Therefore, I also have a responsibility to say something about the injustice being perpetrated upon the victim.

This is a very important concept, one that has huge implications for whether we go about pursuing social justice. Sally can forgive Biff for beating her up, but it makes no sense to say that I can forgive Biff for beating Sally up. That was a wrong done by Biff to Sally, and only Sally can forgive it. Rather than forgiving Biff, my job is first of all to protect Sally from any more victimization, and secondly to help Biff see the error of his ways.

In other words, I have a responsibility to turn my own cheek, but never to turn someone else's cheek.

Doing Something

So now I need to try and figure out what this forgivness should look like and what this rebuke should look like. Paul's suggestions are helpful here: don't be pitiful, and try to do something that will be effective.

Regarding a rebuke, I wonder: What makes for an effective rebuke? And what sort of action is a rebuke intended to cause?

Regarding forgiveness, I wonder: How do I know when I have sucessfully forgiven someone? What sorts of things can help me forgive? And, to encourage me to do this hard thing, what good is forgiveness? Can't I just be angry? What purpose does it serve?


Your Mom said...

Here's what I'm thinkin'. Forgiveness benefits you. (I don't think those elders will know whether you have forgiven them or not.) And rebuke benefits them. I really don't think it is your job to decide whether or not the rebuke will "work." All you can do is your part, in obedience, and let God and the "rebukee's" conscience do the rest. The one you have rebuked may not learn the lesson for many years or he may never learn it, but that is not under your control.

life_of_bryan said...

To me, a rebuke is simply calling someone out for acting under their own [selfish] intentions rather than God's intentions. That's at least what it looks like in my simplistic perspective.

I agree with the advice of your wise mother regarding the part you play vs. what's not in your control.
And does forgiveness necessarily mean that you can never again feel the slightest disappointment at the thought of these actions? I don't see that. I don't think it means that you must react with warm & fuzzies at the thought of the old farts in question here.
Instead, I think it means you let go of the bitterness and resentment -- no small task. Or another way of looking at it might be to let go of the need to be repaid or made whole...like in the context of a loan needing repayment, but instead is forgiven. In that example, the original expectation for restitution to where everyone is reset to equal is washed away. Maybe you feel a little sucker punched or knocked off your feet, and you want to be made whole again. Or maybe you want to knock them off their high horse. Gotta let those desires go.

Paul said...

I think the style of the rebuke is important. If it's a nasty kind of thing, they won't get it or take it in for sure. So even if you're not totally calm and forgiving, if you're going to rebuke, you need to ACT centered!

Hypocritical? I don't know. Maybe acting centered can help us start to feel that way more. But certainly the only possibly effective approach.

As to forgiveness, I frankly have some problems in that area... too long a story for here, just to say that I could use some advice. I know what your mom said is true: forgiveness can only help the forgiver, since staying upset only affects ourselves... But that can be easier said than done.

irina said...

Bur forgiveness can incredibly help the forgiven too! There are a lot of examples which show that the forgiven ones turned to God after that because they were so impressed by that kind of love. I also remember the Pope John-Paul II forgiving the man who tried to kill him. The guy was speechless...
I know there are people who would only take advantage of your forgiveness (wow, we got it peacefully, good for us!)... And I totally agree with life of bryan, forgiveness does not mean behaving like nothing happened.
I guess it is important to let them know you have seen their mistake but also that you forgive them also... I know this is no easy task... But it is the way of God.

Matthew said...

Madre, Bryan, think you're right about the rebukee having the ultimate responsibility for his response to the rebuke.

But as Paul points out, the style (and even the content) of the rebuke definitely influences how the rebukee reacts. What I'm going for is a rebuke in which the style and content contribute to - rather than detract from - the rebukee's ability to accept and respond to the rebuke.

Your definitions of forgiveness are also helpful, particularly the metaphor about "the expectiation for everyone being reset to equal is washed away". But I'm still having a hard time getting my brain around the particulars. I mean, if I were holding a screwdriver, and you said "you should drop the screwdriver", I would know how to do it and when the dropping was accomplished. Not so when the instruction is "let go of bitterness and resentment."

Also, it's kind of interesting that your endorsements of forgiveness (it benefits you, it benefits the forgiven) depend on how well I forgive and how the forgiven person reacts. In other words, forgiveness isn't guaranteed to benefit either me or the forgiven person. According to this (utilitarian) reasoning, I should only forgive if it's likely that my forgiveness will "work" in either of these two ways.

However, in addition to her utilitarian argument, Irina also presents a deontological argument: you should forgive because it is the way of God. While I'm not fully convinced that this blanket statement is true, it does seem helpful to have some reason that's not dependent on how good a forgiver I am.

So. Anybody got arguments to support or contradict the assertion that "forgiveness is the way of God?" (The jihadists certainly don't think so.) Or does anyone have good examples of successful rebukes?

naivescott said...

No better rebuke that I know of, biblically speaking, than when Nathan confronted David, and the reason it was so effective was because David decided for himself that the action was wrong; Nathan only pointed out that David was the perpetrator.

I haven't read everything you've posted on this, Matt, but what's the perspective of the elders? How would they describe the situation, presumably in such a way that their actions are justified?

It seems to me the best confrontations are the ones that begin with lots of questions, so that in the course of the conversation you are able to state your grievances very clearly without exaggerating or misrepresenting facts. You also come to understand the rebukee better, always a goal in Christian relationships. While of course I know you're right and your dad's appraisal of the situation is accurate (because, after all, you're my friend), the elders have their own perspective which they will probably not give up in the face of a rebuke if they don't feel they have been understood as well.

If it were me (and perhaps you've done this already), I might ask for a meeting with the elders, and slowly review what happend by asking clarifying questions. See what they admit to having done, try to understand why they believe they did it, and then you can tell them what you believe was wrong based on what you both agree they did, rather than on your description of what happened, which they might pick to pieces, distracting both of you from the issue at hand. Before the conversation, you need to find out very clearly from your father what his perception of the situation was, so that if they offer contradictory facts you don't have to back down.

The ultimate goal of all this is that, assuming what they did was indeed wrong, the truth of that wrongness will become clear to them much as David's unjust action became clear to him when he talked to Nathan. At the same time you *must* consider the possibility that they have some legitimate reasons for what they did.

If they deny the facts as you understand them, then it's a whole different issue. Presumably, even if they don't back down on why they pushed your dad out, you can tell them firmly that you believe the way they handled their disagreement was unjust and un-Chistlike.

Either that, or flip over the meeting table, murmur something about a den of thieves, and let them draw their own conclusions.