Dance of Forgiveness

forgiving CoverTeaching Segment Notes by Randell Neudorf
Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Please note: This talk was based on the book “Forgiving As We’ve Been Forgiven, Community Practices for Making Peace” by L. Gregory Jones and Célestin Musekura. All Quotes (unless other wised note are from L. Gregory Jones and are taken from Chapter 2 of the book.

The last few weeks we have been hearing a teaching series that we thought was a rough focus on Economics & Lifestyle. We heard about Gentrification 2 weeks ago from our friend Jeff Nevin, and Susan talked last week about the Sabbath. Susan joked that her talk was more of a book report then a teaching because most of her thoughts were taken from a book called “Sabbath” by Dan Allender. I think Book Reports might actually be closer to the theme this month. We have been sharing what we have learned from the books we have been reading. Really Jeff’s talk on Gentrification came from his reflections on writings by John Perkins.

So this book report series was going to continue today with me talking today about Simplicity. I have been reading a book called FREE: Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most but Mark & Lisa Scandrette, and they have some great thoughts on Simplicity, but there has been a change in plans. We will talk about simplicity another time because it is so important, but not today.

Most of you know that this last month and a half have been really crazy and stressful for Susan and I, and it has been anything but Simple. We have been going through, layoffs, pay cuts, job changes (I’m actually working 3 jobs right now), I’ve started school in the middle of all this, and we are moving towards adopting a child. Simplicity doesn’t seem to be in the cards for the Neudorf’s right now.

On Tuesday I was updating the Cohort on all this stuff and I was telling them about my class on Peacemaking and how I wasn’t quite prepared for the amount of reading involved. The last time I was in school I was mostly painting pictures.  I went on to tell them that I do like the class and that I’m reading this really cool book on forgiveness, and how a lot of what I’m learning would have been useful for us in past situations. Later in the night we started talking about gathering (and how there would be some extra visitors here tonight) and I let the Cohort know that I didn’t know how much time I could spend on getting ready for my Simplicity Talk with so much going on in general and specifically because of the paper on Forgiveness that is due very soon.

Miranda (being the smart person she is) offhandedly suggested “Why don’t you do the Simple thing and talk about what you have been learning about Forgiveness.” At first I just wanted to push through and do the Simplicity talk like I had planned but I kept hearing Miranda’s sarcastic voice rolling around in my head saying “Why don’t you do the simple thing?” “Why don’t you do the simple thing Randy?” “Randy, Why don’t you do the simple thing…?”

OK Miranda!!!!, you can stop it now!!! I’ll do the simple thing!!!!!

So in the spirit of simplicity I’m going to do my book report on Forgiveness. Everything that I’ll be talking about today comes from the book “Forgiving As We’ve Been Forgiven: Community Practices for Making Peace” by L. Gregory Jones and Célestin Musekura.

Célestin is a pastor from Rwanda, and has lived through the Genocide and all the after math of that situation, and has started an organization called ALARM (African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministries). Greg is an academic at Duke University who’s research focuses on systems of Forgiveness and Reconciliation.

There are a lot of painful and miraculous stories in this book of Forgiveness, and we don’t have time to go into them (you’ll have to borrow the book when my class is done). But I did find a short video so you could get to meet Pastor Célestin.

Now stories are great and inspiring, but we aren’t going to focus on those today. Talking about Forgiveness may have been the simpler thing to do today, but there is nothing “simple” about Forgiveness. The Reason Célestin sought out Greg to partner with, was that Célestin wanted to find a system or frame work for Christian Forgiveness that wasn’t just based on God forgiving us as individuals (vertical forgiveness), but also a frame work model for community forgiveness (horizontal forgiveness).

This idea of Vertical & Horizontal Forgiveness is really rooted in a Prayer that Jesus taught to his followers, and it is where we get the book title “Forgiving As We’ve Been Forgiven.”

The Lord’s Prayer – Matthew 6: 9-15 (CEV)

You should pray like this:

Our Father in heaven, help us to honor your name.
10 Come and set up your kingdom, so that everyone on earth will obey you, as you are obeyed
in heaven.
11 Give us our food for today.
12 Forgive us for doing wrong, as we forgive others.
13 Keep us from being tempted and protect us from evil.[b]

14 If you forgive others for the wrongs they do to you, your Father in heaven will forgive you. 15 But if you don’t forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.

It is this basic teaching (and one of the church’s first liturgies) where we are confronted with both a vertical and horizontal component to forgiveness. Simple to say, but not simple to live out. In the book Greg says

“If we are to embody forgiveness in our time, we must first name the double temptation of cheap forgiveness and costly despair” (pg 43)

Simply limiting forgiveness to just words spoken with no effect on our Hearts, Minds and Actions is just cheap forgiveness that doesn’t last, and leads to the perpetuation of despair and darkness.

Tinity GuitarIn Chapter 2 of “Forgiving as We’ve Been Forgiven” I read about 6 steps needed for Forgiveness to take root. As a foundation for these steps we need to think about something the author calls The Big Dance. The Basis for this Dance is found in the Trinity.

“One of the ways Christian theologians have described the relationship between Father Son and Holy Spirit is as a dance in which three persons, always giving themselves to one another in perfect loveThe love of the Trinity spills over into their love for us, people who are created by God for communion. Because forgiveness is at the heart of the God whom we worship as Trinity, we are swept up into that movement of God’s love when, by the power of the Spirit through the redemptive  work of Jesus Christ, we join the divine dance of being forgiven so we can also forgive”  (pg 45)

Now on to the Six Steps:

Step 1: Truth Telling
“We become willing to speak truthfully and patiently about the conflicts that have arisen.

“We must, rather, take the time to talk to one another about the things that divide us. This is an urgent task, Jesus insists – more important, even than our offerings to God: “So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).” (pg 47-48)

I think this idea plays well into the BFC process that we are going through as part of Mennonite Church Canada.

Step 2: Acknowledge Anger
“We Acknowledge both the existence of anger and bitterness, and a desire to overcome them.”

“…anger can be a sign of life. We should be more troubled by those whose passion is hidden or, worse, extinguished.”  (pg 48)

It is OK to be angry at what has hurt us, at what is screwed up in the world. We can’t pretend anger doesn’t exist.

Step 3: Concern for the Other
We summon up a concern for the well-being of others as a child of God.

This idea of everyone being a child of God goes back to creation. If we are all made in the image of God then we are all reflections of God, and we need to internalize this so that we use this to fuel our concern for our fellow children of God whom all reflect a piece of their maker.

Step 4: Recognizing, Remembering, Repenting
Step 4: We recognize our own complicity in conflict, remember that we have been forgiven in the past and take the step of repentance.

“This does not mean ignoring the difference between victims and victimizers. People need to be held accountable for their actions. Wrongdoers need to repent and ask for forgiveness, even as those who have been victimized struggle to forgive. Even so, in all but the most extreme cases, we also need to recognize and resist our temptation to blame others while exonerating ourselves. All too often we see the speck in other people’s eyes while not noticing the log in our own (Matthew 7:1-5). We tend to ignore our own wrongdoing.”  (Pg 51)

All though the initial wrong done to us might not have been the result of anything we have done wrong, the festering of unforgiveness can make us perpetuate that wrong. We could go on to be so bitter that we hurt others and ourselves. We must own our Own Wrong Doing and repent (ask forgiveness) for allowing that bitterness to take control of us (even if we didn’t start the chain of wrongs). That being said, in reality we are perfectly able to screw up all on our own, and we need to Recognize, Remember, and Repent there as well.It is a little bit like a muscle memory  exercise (talk about Zoe’s piano) Remembering the times we needed forgiveness helps us forgive more easily, and helps us seek forgiveness more quickly next time.

“Taking the step of forgiveness ourselves, we create space for the healing God wants to give, for the healing that each of us needs.” – pg 53


Step 5: Commitment to Change
We make a commitment to struggle to change whatever caused and continues to perpetuate our conflicts.

“Forgiveness does not merely refer backwards to the absolution of guilt; it also looks forward to the restoration of community. Forgiveness ought to usher in repentance and change. It ought to inspire prophetic protest wherever people’s lives are being diminished and destroyed. Forgiveness and justice are closely related.” – (pg 53)

If we can live as both someone who can ask and offer forgiveness we will be a different kind of person, we will not be week, and stepped on rather we will be a person of the Kingdom who is able to fight against wrong doing. The act of forgiveness doesn’t justify wrong it actually helps stop the spread of wrong doing, hurt, and hate.“We must not forget  that Jesus was executed outside Jerusalem not for  revolutionary violence but for forgiving sins.” – Pg 54Forgiveness is inherently subversive. It scares people in power, it always points to justice and calls out the wrong doing around us. “Don’t you dare forgive, or I’ll either have to forgive as well or I won’t forgive and my own evil will become even more obvious to everyone else around me.” Real forgiveness is linked to a commitment to change.

Step 6: Hope for the Future
We confess our yearning for the possibility of reconciliation.

“Sometimes a situation is so painful that reconciliation may seem impossible. At such times, prayer and struggle may be the only imaginable options. However, continuing to maintain reconciliation as the goal – even if this “hope against hope” for reconciliation in this life – is important because it reminds us that God promises to make all things new.”  – (Pg 55)


“Every concrete act – every prayer prayed, every apology offered, every meal shared across dividing lines – is a  sign that our history and habits of sin have been definitively interrupted by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is why the Rhythms and practices of forgiveness in community life are so important. They do not wash away all bitterness into a sea of forgetfulness or guarantee that animosity will not erupt in angry words or thrown chairs. Christian forgiveness assumes, rather, that the Christian community, just like any human community, is broken and in need o healing. We do not gather because we are all ready perfect. We gather to learn the steps of faith from a God who is faithful and wants us to join the eternal dance of life abundant in communion. Good habits of forgiveness matter.” Pg 55-56


This is part of that contradiction of being a citizen of a new kind of Kingdom with this new Kingdom not yet being fully realized. We live in pockets of the Kingdom, we live in pockets of Forgiveness.

I wish these 6 points were a little catchier, that there was some trick to boil them down to a phrase or a diagram, but this isn’t easy stuff, it won’t be learned in one teaching segment on one Sunday, or after reading one book, or even after offering forgiveness once successfully. It is an “all of life” kind of thing.

Despite the difficulty of embodying forgiveness, it is so important to everything else we value. I’m starting to see that without forgiveness we can’t live out any of our values.

Community can only last with people differing to each other in forgiveness. How many communities have self destructed because of a lack of forgiveness

Justice & Peace– We have already talked about how forgiveness moves us towards change, calling out what is right, and building a world that moves towards peace.

Hope, Truth, Beauty, Authenticity   – I think it could be argued that all of these things are just  shadows of what they could be without Forgiveness.

The Author (L. Gregory Jones) does end these six points with a helpful forgiveness hint “look to Jesus.” He makes the analogy of a new student in a dance class that doesn’t have all the moves down and isn’t very graceful, but when the master instructor dances with her and says just look at my eyes and follow me, the girl is the “picture of grace.”

This is really just the beginning of this conversation on forgiveness.