Tag Archives: forgiveness

Debts, Trespasses, Entanglements, Forgiveness

Debts, Trespasses, Entanglements, Forgiveness…    by Jinny Batterson

The household I grew up in spoke several dialects of Protestant religious traditions, so I was alternately exposed to variations of a basic prayer that asked forgiveness either of “debts” or of “trespasses.”  Not being a scholar of ancient languages, I’m not sure whether either term is close to the meaning of whatever word appeared in the earliest Biblical texts. Certainly, in modern times we’ve accreted lots of baggage to the words “debt” and “trespasses” both. 

While our national and global economies reel from the impact of a viral pandemic on systems of commerce and taxation that have relied heavily on buying more and more goods and services on credit, the notion of forgiving debts has a lot of appeal. Debt forgiveness, or “debt relief” as Wikipedia puts it, has a long and checkered history, with so far no great system for honoring both the forgivers and the forgivees of past debts (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Debt_relief).  

According to one Biblical scholar, the notion of “forgiving trespasses” came to prominence in England around 1600 as the enclosure movement gained momentum: “…the enclosure and privatization of formerly open farmland… left the aristocracy richer and commoners with nowhere to grow food. Prosecutions against commoners for trespassing on newly enclosed land … were a frequent activity by the wealthy and a tragedy for the lower classes, many of whom were sent to prison or the gallows.” (https://livingchurch.org/2017/03/14/forgive-us-our-trespasses/)  For the wealthy and prominent of their day, forgiving trespasses was both a worthy act and a way to express some contrition and solidarity with those less fortunate. 

A while ago, a friend sent me another prayer variation that spoke of releasing us from the entanglement of past mistakes. I liked the general tenor of the prayer, invoking at its beginning a “cosmic birther of all radiance and vibration,” rather than the “our Father” that I’d too often visualized as a vindictive older white male. It’s not clear to me where this prayer came from. It seems likely that it’s a “New Age” variation of the more traditional prayer rather than a more-literal translation of an ancient text (https://www.nas.org/blogs/article/o_cosmic_birther_the_lords_prayer_meets_the_american_college_textbook). Still, in my current circumstances, I resonate more easily with entanglements than with either debts or trespasses. 

What seems most pressing to me as our societies struggle to deal with past debts/trespasses/entanglements due to systemic racism, classism, sexism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, and a host of other “isms,” is that all of us are in need of forgiveness. To ask forgiveness requires that we acknowledge our brokenness and risk trying to do better. Defining forgiveness can be harder than working on debt or trespass or entanglement. It is easier to tick off what forgiveness is not: easy, quick, or painless. Nor does forgiveness mean forgetting the harm or relieving the debtor/trespasser of accountability. One touchstone for me in the process of seeking forgiveness and of forgiving others and myself has become a sequence outlined in Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s 2014 book, The Book of Forgiving: 1) Admitting the wrong and acknowledging the harm; 2) Telling one’s story and witnessing the anguish; 3) Asking for forgiveness and granting forgiveness; and 4) Renewing or releasing the relationship. 

May we seek forgiveness, may we forgive, may we do better. 

God, Father (a Meditation on Forgiveness)

God, Father  (A Meditation on Forgiveness) 

Some church people
Really have a nerve–
Trying to persuade me
That I should talk with you
As if it’s I that need forgiveness.
Do they take me for a total fool?

Arguably, you’re no great shakes
As a god or as a father.
For centuries, you harassed
Your chosen people, Israel,
Enslaving them in Egypt, then
Leading them into a desert wilderness,
Afterwards sending them to settle a land
Already claimed by tribes
Just as aggressive as they became.

You handled your anointed
Prophets roughly, too–
Disdain, isolation, ostracism,
Mental and physical abuse.
The crowning insult came when
You decided you should redeem
The world (not that it had
Asked for your help right then.) 

You imagined sending a child
Would provide just the right touch.
So you knocked up an
Innocent girl, then bolted,
Leaving Joseph to take up
A whole shitload of slack.

As your earthly son grew
In stature and wisdom,
You encouraged him
To develop his powers
Of teaching and preaching
And healing.

Separately, each of these
Talents would eventually
Have caused him trouble
With worldly authorities.
In combination,
They could only prove lethal.

When the expected betrayal
Came at last, and your only
Begotten son was writhing
In agony, impaled to die
As a common criminal,
What did you do?
Abandoned him,
Just like you’d earlier
Skipped out on his mother.

And I should ask for your forgiveness?
Yeah, right!
Yet in desperate moments
I confess
That I need to experience
Deep forgiveness
Before I can share
Its wonders with others,
That it takes
An overriding power to
Squelch the stern, unlovely
Authority I’ve internalized–
Demanding perfection,
The first time, every time,

I know, too, that the
Power of earthly fathers,
Lovingly exercised,
Mirrors that forgiving strength.
I know that sufferers of
Earthly oppression
Often pray to father
Gods for release.

So I strive to pardon
Both you and myself,
To become a better parent
To the child who at times
Still cringes inside of me.

I need to leave you while I work through
Misconceptions that have fermented
In our faiths for centuries.
Time and effort will be needed to
Mature my doubts into a worthy vintage.

I’m sure I’ll want to talk with you
Again, after a while.
Until then, please take good care of yourself. 


After the Shooting Stops

After the Shooting Stops  —by Jinny Batterson

After the shooting stops,
We mourn the dead,
Tend the wounded,
Grieve with those who’ve
Lost family or friends.

After the shooting stops,
We wring our hands and wonder:
Better gun laws? Tighter borders?
Better mental health care?
Better communication? Less alienation?

After the shooting stops,
We take a deep breath,
Hug someone close,
And remember how good
It is to be alive.

After the shooting stops,
We do our best to be kinder,
To appreciate the little things
That add up to so much.

After the shooting stops,
If we finally let compassion outstrip
Our need for revenge,
Our sorrows can shade into forgiveness,
Giving us a way forward.


An Inconvenient Spotlight–Tiananmen 1989

An Inconvenient Spotlight: Tiananmen 1989   —by Jinny Batterson

A somewhat blurry video of an unarmed Chinese civilian approaching a line of military tanks near Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989 has become iconic for Western China-watchers. The man wore a white shirt and dark trousers. He carried a small sack in either hand, as if in the midst of a shopping trip. He emerged from a large crowd and at first stood before the lead tank, then maneuvered to stay in front of it as it swung right or left. Finally, the tank stopped. The civilian climbed up onto the tank and tapped on its turret. For a minute or two, he then conversed with its driver, presumably asking him to alter course and turn back. After that, “tank man” climbed back down and disappeared into the crowd. Before long, the tanks began rolling again. Few are sure what happened to tank man after that.

Parts of what many Westerners know about events at Tiananmen in spring, 1989, exist because the photojournalists who shot the tank man video footage were in Beijing to cover a historic diplomatic event—a meeting between the heads of state of China and the then-U.S.S.R.  These journalists also shone a spotlight on the other events that transpired that tumultuous spring. Events from central Beijing in May and June of 1989 have been in an inconvenient spotlight in the West ever since. Whenever I’ve traveled to China post-1989, I’ve been cautioned to avoid mentioning Tiananmen 1989. I comply. I’ve heard that security at Tiananmen Square is especially tight around the anniversary of the military crackdown there.

The one at-length Tiananmen discussion I’ve had with someone from China occurred around our American kitchen table one night in autumn, 1994.  Then, our house’s  bedrooms were filled with my husband and me, our high school aged son, plus a high school exchange student from France and an international exchange teacher from southern China. I’ll call him Mr. Huang. During the period from 1984 to early 1989, we’d had nearly a dozen short and long-term visitors from China, but Huang was our first Chinese long-term visitor since.

The evening’s exchange of views was probably prompted by a televised American news clip about the debate over annual renewal of the U.S.’s “most favored nation” trading status with China.  U.S. media coverage nearly always included archived footage of June, 1989 events in Beijing. Huang paid careful attention to the footage and the TV commentary. So did the rest of our temporary international family.

Once the news clip ended, our French visitor commented, “It’s a shame that so many of the surviving protesters had to flee to Hong Kong or overseas. They could have helped a lot with economic development if they’d been allowed to stay and contribute without being threatened or jailed.”

Huang at first said nothing.

“From what we saw on television, there must have been a lot of casualties,” our high school aged son chimed in.

“What did you hear about the protests, Huang?” I wondered, hoping to tamp down the teenagers’ rhetoric a notch.

“Not many people died,” Huang informed us. “Most of the ones who were killed were soldiers trying to put down a counterrevolutionary mob.”

“But most of the demonstrators were students or ordinary citizens,” our son retorted. “And we saw people who weren’t soldiers lying bleeding on the streets. We saw ambulances and stretchers. We heard gunfire.”

“How can you tell what happened?” demanded Huang. “You were thousands of miles away. I was at home in China. What I read in the newspapers confirmed that the soldiers were the brave ones. They were the main casualties. I’m glad not more of them were killed.”

“Your newspapers tell you only what they want you to hear,” responded the young Frenchman. “We saw the tanks and tracer bullets on television in France. We heard the explosions. How can we doubt what we saw and heard with our own eyes and ears? Were you in Beijing?”

“I’ve never been in Beijing,” Huang admitted, “but my father served in the People’s Liberation Army (China’s military) during the 1950’s. He was a brave soldier. He fought hard for our country. Our military would never harm another Chinese unless they were trying to destroy the revolution. Our military serves the people—in Beijing in 1989 they were only doing their duty to restrain counterrevolutionaries who wanted to bring down the government.”

After a few more exchanges, we realized that we would never convince each other. The media reports of the protests and any subsequent crackdowns by our respective communications outlets were selective and diametrically opposed. So were our respective backgrounds. By the end of the evening, all we could agree on was one underlying theme: good governance requires considerable self-restraint on the part of both governments and their citizens.

As media in both the U.S. and China become more omnipresent and more invasive, I wonder where the next inconvenient spotlight will shine. Periodic violence continues to erupt in both the U.S. and in China. Both our cultures continue to search for better ways to defuse violent potentials and to resolve differences. Tiananmen happened. It had and has consequences.  It haunts those of us who were alive and paying attention when it occurred. However, the incidents leading up to tank man in 1989 are no more all of China than footage of gun murders or police riots in U.S. cities are all of the U.S.  May all of us find ways to forgive each other and to forgive ourselves.