Wars will go on as long as memory is not modified by forgiveness. 

In his book, “In Praise of Forgetting” American journalist David Rieff tells of his visit with a Serbian politician in 1993.  As he was leaving the interview one of the politicians assistants pressed a piece of paper in his and it was blank except for the date: 1453. This is the year that Orthodox Constantinople was defeated by the Muslim Ottomans. The implication was that the 20th century war in the Balkans was rooted in the wounds inflicted centuries earlier.

We know from the news how centuries-old conflicts are continuing to play out in the Middle East, Rwanda, the Ukraine, and many other places. Mr Rieff suggests in his book that it is the memory of the victims of ancient wars that feed the fires of conflicts today.  He also suggests that the way to move forward with harmony is to learn to forget the violence of the past.

But, I find that forgetting the past, while it is helpful (we would lose our minds if they were filled with all the memories of thing that had happened), it is not easy to do. Life lived lingers within the heart, the bones, the mind. Both blessing and curse gets lodged in the soul. And to forget what has happened in the past is to forget what has shaped our identity—what has influenced our self-understanding.

For this reason, I don’t think forgetting is the best strategy for finding harmony in the future. I believe that forgiving is a more helpful way of getting out of the vicious cycle of revenge. Forgiving another is not forgetting what has happened. It is freedom from the need to be controlled by what has happened. It is freedom to act in a way that can create a future where people who were once enemies might become companions in the shaping of a better world for each. Our memories must be modified by a forgiving spirit if we are to discover hope for a safer world for our children.

I live with the hope that the world will find a way to forgive.


I recently read one of those books that is hard to read—but worth it. It wasn’t hard to read because of the way it was written, but because of the topic. “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End” (Atul Gawande) is a sensitive doctor’s perspective on the issues that arise in aging in America.

In this book, Dr. Gawande suggests that “at least 2 kinds of courage are required in aging and sickness. The first is the courage to confront the reality of mortality—the courage to seek out the truth of what is to be feared and what is to be hoped. Such courage is difficult enough. We have many reasons to shrink from it. But even more daunting is the second kind of courage—the courage to act on the truth we find. The problem is that the wise course is so frequently unclear. For a long while, I thought that this was simply because of uncertainty. When it is hard to know what will happen, it is hard to know what to do. But the challenge, I have come to see, is more fundamental than that. One has to decide whether one’s fears or one’s hopes are what should matter most.” (232)

As I consider the struggles of aging, I am aware that fear has significant power. In fact, when I think about the lives of most people, fear can be a fundamental driving force. We fear for our jobs, our children’s  well-being, our parents’ health. We fear that the political decisions of a few will make life worse for the many. We fear for the safety of the planet. There are many things to fear and that fear can paralyze us.

But courage is deciding that, in the midst of uncertainty, hope matters more than fear. Courage is looking at the reality and realizing that there is risk. But rather than giving into fear, we have to decide that we will act on what we hope and love. We can choose to act to realize the hope that makes life good rather than to cower in fear of what might happen. Living that way may bring more joy to our days.


Sun is shining. Cool spring air embraces me. Suddenly sirens all around. “Oh, it’s Friday at 11 a.m. A weekly test of the tornado alert system.”

This is what Sunday worship is for me. A weekly test. It is a heart check. To determine its strength so I can count on it in stormy weather.  This isn’t the heart test several of my friends have taken—getting numbers to indicate heart disease. It is a test to of my courage—my heart’s capacity to do what I believe.

We do four things to test our courage in worship. First we gather with all. We greet friends. We meet strangers. We run into enemies. But we are all there—those who nourish us and those who threaten us. And I gather with them to see if I have the heart to welcome into my life all the creatures created by the divine hand. Sometimes I pass. Too often I balk at the presence of all.

And when we worship, we also listen. We listen to words from tradition, words from the world, words from the hearts of others on the journey of discovery.  And we test our ears. Can we listen well enough to hear a divine word in the words we hear? If so, maybe we can hear the divine spirit in the words we hear everyday. After all, the divine pulses through creation. Do I have the patience to hear? Sometimes I do, but often I don’t take time to listen for love in the others’ voice.

The third test of courage comes when worship calls us to make an offering. How generous is my heart? We come together to practice giving. Do I have the courage to sacrifice what I value for the greater value of divine love and justice in my world. Do I have the heart to risk some of my time and money for the well-being of others.  Sometimes I do. Often I hold back.

And the final test of Sunday worship challenges my resolve. We are sent from worship to be a presence of peace, a champion for the outcast. Do I have the courage, the heart to live my life daily as a loving companion for those around me? I have done that.  And at times I have not.

It is a good thing to test the tornado alert system in our city. Likewise, it is good for me to worship each Sunday to test my courage to live my faith well.


I watched President Obama deliver his final State of the Union speech last night. I was not only interested in what he had to say, but wondered about the divided house to whom he was speaking. On one side were people dressed in colorful clothes, standing and cheering, smiling and enjoying themselves as if they were at a wedding party. On the other side people were dressed in dark suits, some bored and some somber as if they were at a funeral. (In other years, the house could have been divided in just the opposite way, some partying and some restrained and reserved.)

I thought, “What would it be like to speak to such a divided house?”

And then I thought, “I know what that is like. I do that everyday, several times a day.” Sometimes I make decisions and one part of me celebrates the action. For example, Deb and I bought a new I pad. Part of my internal house celebrated as we moved from the darker ages. The other side of the house sat on its hands and questioned the actions as it wondered if we were being too extravagant. A divided house lives in me.

President Obama suggested that the divided house before him needed to figure out how to work together if the nations problems are going to be addressed. He suggested that each respect the other and that the two parties not accuse each other of being unpatriotic. All are working for the good of the whole even though they disagree with what is good.

I think that internal respect is what must be nurtured if an individual self doesn’t want to be paralyzed and unable to take action for its own physical and mental well-being. The divided parties need to hang out with each other when they are not trying to make decisions. They need to get to know each other as fellow members of the same household. In my internal house those who partied at the purchase of the I pad need to enjoy it, because on other occasions the reserved side of the house will win the day and I will hold on to my money.



When I read these three words they felt right. I read them in “An Exact Replica of a Figment of My Imagination: A Memoir” by Elizabeth McCracken. The book, a powerful and poignant portrayal of grief, reveals truth about tragic loss.  Elizabeth and her husband lost their first child at birth. Pudding never saw the light of day. The days, months and years that followed helped them discover that they are never the same.

When the ashes had been scattered in the North Sea off the coast of England, the two grieving parents were driving back to their home. The spotted a valley filled with deer, hundreds of them, does, fawns, stags. They had never seen such a sight and were deeply moved. Elizabeth wonders if the reader thinks this were some kind of closure.  To which she responds, “Closure is bullshit.”

I have often felt that the word “closure” was not the best word to describe what happens as one works through grief. Closure implies an ending, or the closing of a door. It suggests some kind of resolution or finality.  My experience in grief work has led me to think that the suffering which consumes us in a tragic loss does not get resolved. The intensity and frequency of it may, over time, moderate, but the aroma of it is always there. Closing a door to that part of your life doesn’t mean you don’t walk down the hallway and discover the scent of the pain wafting out from under the door, transporting you back to the place of pain.

And those who have suffered loss of love do not want closure. They do not want to forget the love they have known. They want the pain of loss to subside. They want an ending to the intolerable suffering of absence. But, closing a door on our memory of love is seldom what is desired.

What one hopes for in grieving is the weaving together the stories of love into the tapestry of our self understanding. And along with the love, weave the pain into the picture so what we become not only those who know the pleasure of love, but also know the pain it brings with it. When we do that, we live our future as persons who know the truth of loss and precious joy of love. When we live this way, we live more compassionately and empathically with those around us. We experience the rich texture of creation in the fullness of its pain and pleasure.