Blog 9, Forgiveness, Introduction, 053114 I do a little work in a Christian ministry to people in prison. We have a weekend retreat twice a year to 42 new/different “brothers in white”, hoping to teach them (or guide them in learning) about the basic principles of Christianity. One of the basic principles of Christianity is forgiveness. Like it says in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses, (debts, sins) as we forgive those who trespass (harm, sin) against us.” (Matt 6:9-13) In Verses 14-15 Jesus has more to say about this subject. In this ministry, we place a great deal of emphasis on forgiveness. We have four or five separate talks about it during the weekend. We call it the “forgiveness series”. It ends with a forgiveness ceremony in which everyone: pilgrims, the servant team, and the ministry team members write on a small pieces of special ‘flash’ paper; they write two lists, 1] all the names of people they need to forgive; and 2] all the people they have wronged and need to ask for their forgiveness. Then we nail the lists to a cross and burn them up; as a symbol of how, when we give our sins up to God, He separates us from them “as far as the East is from the West.” No one misses the implication that this is only possible because of what Jesus did for us on the cross. Then every time the devil comes to accuse us, we can remember that moment and say, “Get away from me devil, in Jesus’ Name, ’cause God has already forgiven me for that.” (and everything else too!) Just like it says in the ‘Big Book’ from AA, you can’t get relief from what’s wrong with you until you admit to yourself (and others) that you have a problem and you need help; admit that your life is unmanageable and you’re powerless to change it. Only then can you start to get any help. In the Christian terminology that’s ‘confess your sins’ and accept God’s forgiveness. So recently we had a weekend and I was writing a short introductory talk to the forgiveness ceremony, and God started talking to me about a couple of episodes in my life that I was still carrying around unforgiven. One happened when I was seven years old, and the other one happened within the last six months, since my 65th birthday. Oh, did I mention that I’ve done more than 30 prison ministry weekends over the last ten or twelve years, with a forgiveness ceremony at each one, and before now, these particular “forgiveness issues” never reared their ugly heads. I just didn’t think about them. Some of the names on my list keep showing up every time. I really try to forgive them, but by the next weekend, six months later, they come to mind again. You’d think I’d get it after 30 times. Must be something to what my daddy used to say about me having a thick skull. Since that talk 2-3 weeks ago, I’ve thought of three more incidents in my life that need to be dealt with, just as urgently as the ones mentioned above. And each of these five episodes demonstrate something different about how unforgiveness (and forgiveness) works. One thing though, that arises in nearly every case, is that failing to forgive someone (often yourself), shuts down and blocks open communication with God. So when God says, as cited above in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive others, then God will forgive you; but if you don’t forgive others, then God won’t forgive you;” it means something, something important.