Years ago, one of my dearest friends got his girlfriend pregnant.
He confided in our barkada one Christmas Eve. Months later, his baby was born; and soon after, the child was to be christened. At the time, I was a golden boy in my Christian community, a young leader with pastoral duties, a so-called exemplar. My friend, on the other hand, was once a part of the organization but had since become estranged. In our community, we were commonly discouraged by leaders from hanging out with those who left.
When he invited me to the christening, I knew in my heart that I should support him. We were like brothers. We had grown up together. But then, I thought about my leaders’ views on the matter. I knew they disapproved of my going; they had said so (though I never understood the reason). Then I thought about my role as an “exemplar.” I would have been risking my position as a leader if I went against the counsel of my elders. It broke my heart to decline my friend’s persistent invitations. In my mind I wrongly believed I was doing a virtuous deed. I was standing up for “morality”! I was choosing my leaders’ better judgment, concluding that God didn’t want me to go. So I didn’t.
Can I admit something for a second? I was a total idiot. What kind of friend–what kind of Christian–abandons a friend in their time of need? Even morons know how to love their friends; it’s a no-brainer. My sense of values was severely screwed up. I was covering my institutionally secure ass at the expense of showing my friend the love he needed. He and I didn’t speak for almost three years as a result.
In time I realized what I had done. I awoke to the dangers of self-righteousness, blind zeal and even unquestioning obedience to elders. When I stopped caring about my position in the community and peoples’ perceptions of me, I started to learn how to really love people. I admitted I had sinned against my brother and friend. One day, I wrote him a letter asking his forgiveness. He told me he had long forgiven me, and that the past was over. I have since become a tito to his beautiful daughter and a friend to his now fiancée. He showed me grace and we remain brothers to this day.
Pope John Paul II made many apologies. See a list of them.
Another story of an apology.
People know that I left my old community for ideological reasons. That is true. But the deeper reason is that I was hurt by people. First, I started questioning and disagreeing with long-held beliefs, then fell out of leadership. Later I was no longer called to serve as I once had. I was removed from my cell group and my mentor resigned from being my mentor; my disagreements were seen as an absence of trust. I was basically given the boot. This was heartbreaking. After spending virtually my whole life helping build an institution, after tailoring my education and career around it, I became a relative outsider. Finding myself in the margins, I thought it was better to leave the only life I had known.
Months after I left the community, the very reforms I proposed came to pass. I wrote my ex-mentor telling him that I was happy for them. We soon met over coffee and did an autopsy on our broken friendship. It was then that he apologized to me for the hurts he had caused. With tears in his eyes, he explained his side. I accepted the apology. We shook hands and that was that.
We hadn’t spoken in over a year. But something changed with that simple apology. My anger subsided; the hurts began to heal quicker. Now I can say our friendship is healing, and the future—well, it’s ours to make.
Apologies are powerful. And when hurts are inflicted in the name of faith, apologies are essential. Those who have committed wrongs have the power to be instruments of healing, if they are introspective enough, fair enough, humble enough to admit they were wrong. I have been on both sides of this tension. I have hurt many in the name of faith. For that, I apologize. I repent.
I hope we can meet; you’ll see I’ve changed.
And, I was also wronged in the name of faith. I had no idea how I would heal. But when a person who had hurt me said they were sorry, the pain lessened, the healing quickened, the bitterness faded. I hope that those who have hurt people in the name of faith would see the wisdom and power of an apology. For the sake of healing and peace. For the love of God and others.
They may just win back a lot of respect, and maybe even a few old friends.
Apology: I see God in that.
I grew up in a religious environment where the only music that was truly acceptable was “Christian” music, aka music made by people who professed faith in Jesus. “Secular” (or non-Christian) music was virtually shunned in our Catholic/Christian community. This was not a problem for me when I was a kid. After all, there was a lot of great music that came out of the Christian scene. As kids, my brother and I were fans of Petra, a band of Scripture-quoting, pointy guitar-toting, tight pant-wearing Christian rockers replete with teased hair and a mysterious keytar player for the added flair. Petra rode on the wings of the Jesus movement of the 1970s. They were our early introduction into rock music; and to this day, I still love me some Petra when the mood is right.
But that music “rule” in our Catholic community had its rough edges. As an early teen I ended up feeling guilty for listening to music that wasn’t “Christian.” This was because many of us young people in the group had at some point or another been reprimanded by leaders for listening to “secular” music. Common terms used to describe non-Christian music were that it was “worldly” or “carnal”. A very broad brush was used to stereotype a very nuanced and multi-faceted spectrum of art. And so whether it was intended or not, the created generalization was, Christian=good, secular=bad.This view created a lot of problems. My friends and I were afraid to deviate, or at least get caught doing so. Yet, I couldn’t explain the sublime freedom I felt when I’d tune in to MTV (back in the 90’s when it was still worth watching). How were these worldly, secular, non-believers producing such honest, gripping and true music? Were they not gifted by God with their talent? Were they not uttering truth? Or were they wolves in sheep’s clothing, slowly seducing us to the dark side? Remember, we were impressionable youngsters; and this was a very real dilemma.
A word about religious conviction. There’s nothing wrong with Christians abstaining from a certain type of music (whatever they deem worth abstaining from), any more than it’s wrong for vegetarians to abstain from a certain type of food. If something makes you a better person, then why not? But I think people need to be careful about labeling things with too-broad brush strokes. We run the risk of drawing a line in the sand, as if to say that God is more present here and than He is there. But how can we monopolize an omnipresent God? Is He not equally present everywhere? Can He not speak to and through anybody He pleases? Perhaps it would be of greater value to actually believe that “the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord!” (Psalm 33:5) It’s full of it! That means God may be discovered anywhere, even in the places we discount. Every moment is potentially sacred, every act an act of faith, ever person made in the image and likeness of God – whether the holiest nun, or the most controversial rockstar. Maybe we would listen more to people who do not share our convictions – and arrive at understanding. Maybe we would see God not just in this, but also in that.
One day, many years ago, a leader of mine spoke to me condescendingly for watching MTV, and that was when I had enough! Enough of confining truth – and Jesus – to a box! I realized how wrong and destructive it was to not even care about what a song was about or even listen to it, just rule it out entirely for not being made by a Christian. And to make the listener feel like they were committing some sort of sin? To judge before understanding was to me, prejudice. And I didn’t realize it then, but given free rein such an attitude could allow for even weightier prejudices.
With a clear conscience, I expanded my musical horizons and dove wholeheartedly into a world of amazing music, free of labels. I was free.
These days, I am still amazed at the truth I discover when listening to my favorites like U2, The Beatles, Coldplay, John Mayer, Bob Dylan, the list goes on and on. It’s even more fascinating to find treasure in unexpected places, sometimes isn’t it? Makes me want to praise God even more because there really is no escaping Him. When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he exclaimed, “Truly, the LORD is in this spot, although I did not know it!” Genesis 28:16
For the nine months I carried you holding you inside me, no charge. For the nights I sat up with doctored you and prayed for you, no charge. For the time and tears and the costs through the years, there is no charge. For the nights filled with gray and the worries ahead; for the advice and the knowledge and the costs of your college no charge. For the toys, school, and clothes and for wiping your nose, there’s no charge, son. When you add it all the full cost of my love is no charge.”
- Shirley Caesar
There are only two ways to live your life.
One is as though nothing is a miracle.
The other is as though everything is a miracle.”