More often than I would like to admit, I remember an interaction I had over a beanbag game at a house party. After beating me and a friend by a considerable margin, a guy made the comment, “ I wish we would’ve beat you by more.” To be clear, I remember this person because I hate them and want to punch their face. I think up clever things that I could’ve said to a person years ago over a beanbag game. I am haunted by some absent-minded words at a party where everyone was drinking. To call this memory exercise a flagrant waste of a time and energy would be very generous.
This particular event is one of many that drift through my head when I have trouble falling asleep.
I recently informed a group of friends that I cannot golf because I do not trust myself with a long metal rod around people loudly discussing investment strategies and extremely expensive but always “spiritual” dieting practices. I would very much like to be a better person who could allow space for people to have their own interests, expensive or otherwise, and just let them be.
However, from observation, this is never how personal interests end up being framed. We start out by loving an activity or a food for what it is and then inevitably there is a moral code that gets attached to those decisions. I don’t just like spicy food because I like spicy food, I like spicy food because my palette is somehow more advanced. I am refined. I am cultured. I am a pretentious insufferable bastard. The enjoyment is somehow, through shocking logical gymnastics, transformed into a dominance campaign. It is deeply idiotic and utterly tragic, but it is human.
This is why the razor sharp, “forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who have trespass against us” buried in the Lord’s Prayer kills me. The utter horror of repeating these words while talking to God that you actually believe in should be breathtakingly terrifying. The entire congregation of every church should come to a screeching halt of fearful silence right before we get to this knife in the gut, but instead we just rattle it right off,
“Forgive our trespasses, blah,blah (I know a guy who should forgive some trespasses)…blah. Blah. Blah.”
Forgive our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgive our debts. Forgive us our sins.
The two words that make it burn.
There are people who say that they couldn’t walk into a church or God would strike them down with a lightning bolt. Those people have a proper understanding of these words. They have an accurate sense of a very real part of themselves. They probably enjoy being unforgiving jerks as much as I do, which is not at all. They have comments that have burned themselves into their brain and tastes that define their moral superiority over other people with lessor tastes.
This is why I believe that Jesus places those words in this prayer. So that given a hot second we can accurately access our position before God as requiring an enormous amount of forgiveness on the part of an outside Forgiver. The prayer goes on to align the refusal to forgive with evil. “…and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
Not help us try harder.
Not give us some hot tips.
Not dredge up the life application cards. Everybody is acutely aware of how they screw up even if they bury it. Thanks.
It is a request that something larger than us would act upon us on our behalf because we can’t even forgive tiny imaginary rivalries, let alone the things that we really need to forgive in order to be marginally more functional. It’s not even that we don’t want to. It is that we cannot in our own power do it. “For I do not do the good I want to do.”
Being nice to an enemy is not forgiving. The prayer does not address what can be seen on the human surface. The prayer is aimed at the interior, at the heart. It is a reminder that polishing the outside of the glass will never be enough, sunshine. It is a reminder that “nice” doesn’t cut it. God is not buying the performance, other people probably are not either, only the actor got lost in the role.
Most of us have spoken or been recipients of one-off comments that have corrupted entire relationships. We have had minor misunderstandings that have spiraled into resentments and invented contests. All of us are pitted against one another in tiny moral contests that would be alarmingly petty if they were not so damn destructive. Laying awake at night winning arguments in our heads with the villains that we have conjured from a barely remembered past involving beanbags. Is that even the game we were playing?
I am addressing one kind of forgiveness here, but many people have some damn fine reasons not to feel particularly forgiving. There are people in this country who can actively be abused from every single angle by every single authority because of the place they are from or the color of their skin. Injustice has been stacked upon injustice for centuries. Every country has its own brand, but ours is buried under the illusion of having resolved issues that are a million miles from even being addressed. We do the bad things and pretend goodness so earnestly that we believe our own lie.
The hurt runs so deep that all of the versions of trying to assuage or recognize it simply will never be, nor should they ever be enough. You cannot unmurder entire families and entire cultures by being nice. To undo centuries of damage will take centuries, not a few minutes and a new shiny mission statement. The quickest and most convenient approach is always engineered by tyrants who want the credit for changing without having to budge an inch or appear weak. Tyrants are cowards who want an easier and more digestible truth, but as Flannery O’Connor said, “The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it emotionally.“
This is the beauty of the words “deliver us.” It is for people in direct proportion to their need for deliverance not just from themselves, but from the people who regularly trample on them. It is a call for justice distributed by a God who knows what that justice should be and how to accurately rectify brokenness in people and systems. It is a call for strength from that God to find ways to bend the world back towards mercy for all, not some.
I am a person who has trampled. I am a person who is more comfortable because of entire systems that trample. I am not less a part of that because I am trying to be more attentive. There are zero extra credit points for not being the most shitty person possible. It is not impressive.
Forgive our trespasses for they are constant and they are many.
In church we talk about restoration, but often it is framed as something that we are already doing, good for us shiny little princesses and princes of perfection. I honestly hope we break our hands patting ourselves on the back because our perpetual failures are many and they are obvious when we can step outside of wanting to be good and actually see clearly. I don’t think that there are as many villains in church as films portray, but there certainly are not less either. We write words about ideals and quit there. It’s lazy and easy (I say while writing easy words about ideals).
All love is learned on the ground in hardship. It is learned in abiding with those people who make us uncomfortable. The people who push against our idealized ideas about ourselves.
“Love your enemies and bless those who curse you.” Try that shit for one day. One. I have a friend who advised me to try this. It is the worst and I am never talking to her again.
This is the reason that the “deliver us” is at the heart of it. It is an “us” that we want to deliver not a me. Not an I. An “us”. I want to want to deliver an “us”. I want the number in “us” to grow with age, not shrink. I also don’t think that “us” should just look exactly like me, you know a bald blonde white guy with blue eyes. That would be terrible, a nightmare actually.
Oh and beanbag guy, you were probably drunk and I am an insecure bastard. Being competitive about dumb stuff is fine, it’s silly, but fine. I do not hate you I just needed a functional illustration. I still kind of low-level-non-punching hate you, but I don’t really want to.
Father forgive the writer for his sins are many. Amen.