Thursday, January 8, 2009

Morning meditation - Restoring right relationship

Entering into covenant with others implies ethical responsibilities for right relationship. An important ingredient in "right relationship" is a sense of justice, a sense of fairness.

This idea of fairness or justice in right relationship is always bilaterally or multilaterally defined by the parties involved. It can't be effectively imposed on the those in relationship by an external source although we try to do this all the time.

What happens when there is an offense to one of the parties sense of fairness in relationship is anger, hurt, resentment and a deep desire to want to rectify the sense of injustice. This leads to either withdrawal, retribution, or an attempt to engage in clarification and rectification. Sometimes people move too quickly to "forgiveness", placating, or avoidance trying to avoid further conflict.

Forgiveness cannot be granted unless the sin is named, and in an effort to save face and avoid shame either the perpetrator becomes defensive and refuses to engage honestly in the naming process or the victim decides, in the interest of restoring the status quo, to avoid clarification and naming the injury, the offense, the sin.

An important ethical skill is the ability to name our sins, to accept responsibility for our part in ethical breaches. We live in a society which prizes its right to avoid responsibility. Our whole criminal justice system is based on an adversarial model wherein the perpetrator is given the right to not incriminate him/herself. While there may be some value in this for a criminal justice system, it is a corrosive idea from an ethical perspective. Taking responsibility is not only necessary for true justice to occur, but it is necessary for the restoration of right relationship.

Spiritual growth requires honesty, integrity, and the assumption of ethical responsibility. There are huge personal and social forces which oppose this value. The second principle of Unitarian Universalism is "justice, equity, and compassion in human relations," and it is one of the most difficult to implement and live by.

In the recent conflict in the church I used to belong to there was an attempt at clarification and reconciliation, but it left me bereft because the effort was to help people save face, gloss over the ethical breaches, in an attempt to dispel the bad feelings, and help people "feel better" and "love one another" but we have not named the sins and without an assessment of the harm done it is difficult to successfully repair it.

Reconciliation is not about helping the distressed parties to feel good, but to identify the harm which has occurred and generate ideas about how to repair it. This sadly did not occur and this church family is DOA, dead on arrival.

When injustice has occurred, it is important to call a spade a spade, take the bull by the horns, and get things straightened out. Whitewashing to spare people their feelings usually doesn't work. However, having the courage to be honest and take responsibility is the elixir of human integrity. Without that, relationships cannot continue with any meaningful genuineness which provide the context, the soil, for vibrant spiritual growth.


  1. Very well said David. There is a particular Archbishop Desmond Tutu quote that I like which addresses these issues however a Google search failed to find the exact quote on the internet and I do not remember it all. It was a fairly long quote. Thankfully Archbishop Tutu has said pretty much the same thing in somewhat different words than that quote and my Google search found these variations on the theme -

    How could anyone really think that true reconciliation could avoid a proper confrontation? When a husband and wife or two friends have quarreled, if they merely seek to gloss over their differences or metaphorically paper over the cracks, they must not be surprised that in next to no time they are at it again, hammer and tongs, perhaps more violently than before because they have tried to heal their ailment lightly.

    True reconciliation is based on forgiveness, and forgiveness is based on true confession, and confession is based on penitence, on contrition, on sorrow for what you have done. We know that when a husband and wife have quarreled, one of them must be ready to say the most difficult words in any language, "I'm sorry" and other must be ready to forgive for there to be a future for their relationship. This is true between parents and children, between siblings, between neighbors and between friends. Equally, confession, forgiveness and reconciliation in the lives of nations are not just airy-fairy religious and spiritual things, nebulous and unrealistic. They are the stuff of practical politics.

    Those who forget the past, as many have pointed out, are doomed to repeat it. Just in terms of human psychology, we in South Africa knew that to have blanket amnesty where no disclosure is made would not deal with our past. It is not dealing with the past to say glibly, "Let bygones be bygones," for then they will never be bygones. How can you forgive if you do not know what or whom to forgive? When you do know what or whom to forgive, the process of requesting and receiving forgiveness is healing and transformative for all involved.

    Even for the perpetrators, an easy and light cure will not be effective in going into the roots, into the depths of their psyches. It is actually how human beings operate when we say that guilt, even unacknowledged guilt, has a negative effect on the guilty. One day it will come out in some form or another. We must be radical. We must go to the root, remove that which is festering, cleanse and cauterized, and then a new beginning is a possibility.


    end quote

    We should not be scared with being confrontational, of facing people with the wrong that they have done. Forgiving doesn’t mean turning yourself into a doormat for people to wipe their boots on. Our Lord was very forgiving. But he faced up to those he thought were self-righteous, who were behaving in a ghastly fashion, and called them "a generation of vipers."

    Forgiveness doesn’t mean pretending things aren’t as they really are. Forgiveness is the recognition that a ghastliness has happened. And forgiveness doesn’t mean trying to paper over the cracks, which is what people do when they say, "Let bygones be bygones." Because they will not. They have an incredible capacity for always returning to haunt you. Forgiveness means that the wronged and the culprits of those wrongs acknowledge that something happened. And there is necessarily a measure of confrontation. People sometimes think that you shouldn’t be abrasive. But sometimes you have to be to make someone acknowledge that they have done something wrong. Then once the culprit says, "I am sorry," the wronged person is under obligation, certainly if he or she is a Christian, to forgive. And forgiving means actually giving the opportunity of a new beginning.


    end quote

    My only quibble would be that simply saying "I'm sorry" is not always enough to deserve forgiveness and achieve true reconciliation. Some injustices require greater accountability than that and, where it is possible to do so, the implementation of genuine restorative justice that redresses and repairs the harm that has been done by the perpetrator(s) and perpetuator(s). I somewhat dubiously look forward to seeing what UUA President Bill Sinkford learned about truth and reconciliation in his recent trip to South Africa. Your input about my "less than diplomatic" open letter to him would be appreciated.

  2. Your post today brings to mind the non-apology apology, which goes like this: "I’m sorry if anything I’ve done/said has hurt you." Or worse: "I’m so sorry you feel that way." These are both close cousins of the political non-apology: "We regret that mistakes were made." None of these weasely constructions actually name the sin or accept responsibility, and tend to be more infuriating than helpful in their blatant refusal to honestly address the issue at hand.

  3. You said it Kelly. Being a "miracle worder" and all I call any such non-apology apology a sorry excuse for an apology. :-)

  4. Come to think of it David your "morning mediation" typo might have been quite appropriate for this particular blog post. Quite regrettably mediation and other responsible conflict resolution procedures have not been a U*U Way of Life in my own and other people's experience of U*Uism, hence the status quo. . . ;-)

  5. I hope people from your former church will reach out to you and admit the harm done. An 'I'm sorry' would be a nice beginning because I know your a forgiving man.

  6. Believe it or not Don, I am a quite forgiving man myself.

    I get a little unforgiving when people reject the forgiveness I offer them, obstinately refuse to admit harm done, and punish me for complaining about the harm done. I am still waiting for a sincere and comprehensive "I'm sorry" from my former "church" and the UUA.

    As it happens I did a little bit of fairly generous unsolicited forgiving within the last few hours.

  7. Hi Robin:

    I am so happy that James if finally allowing your words to be read on Monkey Mind. I like James' blog a lot, and you know I tremdously admire and respect you, so it is with great joy that I witness the collaboration and the waging of peace. It gives me great hope.

    Your post on Emerson Avenger is very witty. I would hope that James has the presence of mind to enjoy it as well.

    You are a funny, funny guy and I appreciate your attempts at humor but I suspect that not everyone appreciates it as much as moi.

    All the best,

    David Markham

  8. "You are a funny, funny guy and I appreciate your attempts at humor but I suspect that not everyone appreciates it as much as moi."

    So do I David, hopefully they at least *appreciate* it as in *understand* where I am coming from and what I am talking about. The last few days have been a smoking 16" Iowa Class battleship gun barrel of laughs for me a other people who do appreciate my waggish sense of humour in every sense of the word *appreciate*. I haven't laughed so hard in at least a week or two. :-) In fact, I burst out laughing when I saw your 'Will Robin Edgar, aka, Emerson Avenger, run for UUA President' post earlier today. As you have noted, sometimes you don't know whether to laugh or cry about some of this stuff and I definitely find that laughter is the best medicine, if not medication, for this allegedly crazy, psychotic, nutcase. ;-)

  9. I am too am very happy that Rev. James Ishmael Ford finally came around to being a Sensible and Sensitive Sensei, to say nothing of a "Less Than Silencing" Sensei by allowing your words to be read on his Monkey Mind. I consider this to be a significant breakthrough in more ways than one, especially inn terms of how it came about. There was Zero communication between me and Rev. Ford other than the occasional comments that I submitted to his Monkey Mind blog. For him to publish my not unjustified "name calling" was a sign of personal integrity on his part AFAIAC and when someone shows that kind of personal integrity and "owns" my strong personal criticism I can be very forgiving. I look forward to more waging of peace and collaboration with Rev. Ford and other U*U clergy who get finally around to displaying that kind of integrity. This breakthrough gives me a fair bit of hope that significant progress can be made between now and the UUA GA in June. OTOH I am not holding my breath. ;-)

  10. Obviously I meant to say "my words" at the end of the third line.

  11. One more thing. I probably would not be half as funny as I am if Google, if not God. . . was not very much on my side.

    U*Us gotta love it eh? :-)