Oct 02 2015

October Theme: Forgiveness

Published by at 8:47 pm under Minister's Musings

Forgiveness as a Path, Not a Moment

by Rev. Nancy Palmer Jones

At the annual for Recovery Café San José breakfast this September, 200 people sit in rapt silence as Roger, a Recovery Café member, tells his story:

“When I came to Recovery Café about 18 months ago, I didn’t have to get over drugs or alcohol. I needed to get over me.” He claps a hand to his chest. He “was a bad man,” he tells us. “No, I mean it!” he adds, before any of us can object. A series of crimes sent him to jail, and after his third strike—“a whopper,” he admits, not proudly—he expects to live out the rest of his days behind bars. For most of his fourteen years in prison, he keeps up the same hateful, destructive behavior—until one day, he simply cannot stand himself any longer. He goes cold turkey on the old ways and starts to turn himself around.

To Roger’s surprise, a judge decides in a little while to downgrade Roger’s last crime and to set Roger free. Roger walks out with a clean shirt and shorts, a new pair of shoes, and almost nothing else. Once on the streets, he doesn’t know how he will feed himself or find work. All he knows are the old ways. Hungry, he “tries to get money”—he doesn’t tell us how—but his “victims,” instead of turning him in, offer him another chance. They take him to Recovery Café, and there he begins to build the new life he has longed for—the life of “a good man.” He eventually gets a job “pushing a broom,” and for months he shows up and works hard, in sickness and in health. “And now,” he concludes, “guess what: I’m a foreman, and I get to hire people.”

We listeners erupt in applause and cheers.

Roger’s sincerity, strength, and courage are palpable. But he gives the real credit for his new way of being to that judge, to the couple who bring him to Recovery Café, and to the café’s members and staff who believe in him and support him on his journey. “They have made me who I am today, and I love these people. Instead of turning all of you,” his hands sweep toward the wide room, “into my victims—because you all were, really—now I’m someone who contributes to society and cares for other people.”

Roger never outright uses the word forgiveness. I don’t know if he has forgiven himself or if others have forgiven him explicitly. Instead, his story makes me think of forgiveness as more of a path—more of a way of living—than an actual exchange at a given moment in time. I believe that when Roger, still behind bars, vows to turn away from his destructive behavior and move toward his vision of a better way of life, he starts the journey of self-forgiveness within himself. When he encounters the generous strangers who take him to Recovery Café and when he intentionally joins with other café members in its programs, he enters on the path of forgiveness among a community seeking the same kind of healing. And when he turns his new job into a chance to give back to others, he extends that road of forgiveness beyond his own narrow circle to reach people he might never otherwise meet.

Within, among, beyond—these three “locations” describe our work as a faith community, too. Within each of ourselves, we wrestle with our individual needs, longings, gifts, and hopes, and we strive for change. Among groups and teams of members and friends, we practice building loving, compassionate, justice-making Beloved Community here in our congregation and with our near partners. And beyond our open doors, we move out into the wider communities to which we are intimately connected to Make Love Visible in all that we do and say. At every stage, in every location, we have a chance to engage our broken-open hearts on the path of forgiveness.

But to do this effectively and with intention, we need a new vision to guide our work. This month, First Unitarian’s Board of Directors launches a congregational process for creating Vision 2020—a vision that will name where we need and want to put our loving energies and attention over the next five years in order to deepen and strengthen our congregational life in those three main areas: “within, among, and beyond.” Come to worship on October 11 to find out how you can contribute to Vision 2020!

And please don’t miss our special celebration (and the biggest party of the year) on October 18, the 20th Anniversary of Surviving the Fire and the Launch of our 150th Anniversary Year.

We too have stories of forgiveness and transformation to share. Please join us!

Love,

Rev. Nancy

About Recovery Café San José:

http://www.recoverycafesj.org/vision-for-recovery-cafe-san-jose

Located inside First Christian Church on 5th Street behind City Hall, Recovery Café welcomes a wide range of people into programs that help folks find housing and jobs, build skills and self-esteem, develop community, and strengthen their recovery. “We are all recovering from something,” café members and staff say. Recovery Café is founded on the belief that every human being is precious, worthy of love, and deserving of the opportunities to fulfill his or her potential. In this loving community people who cannot afford long-term recovery services come to belong, heal, and know themselves as loved.”

Several First Unitarian members volunteer with Recovery Café, offering programs, singing in the choir, and finding great meaning in the friendships they make there. To volunteer, contact Marianne at marianne@recoverycafesj.org or 408-294-2963.

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