Forgiveness Will Not Change the Past, but It Could Change the Future: Dealing with the Aftermath of a Painful Experience

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
As my regular readers know I went through a decidedly difficult time over the past coupled of months. If you are a new reader or have not read the post in which I wrote about this experience let me explain.
In mid-June I substituted for one of my chaplains so that he could have a weekend off. The preached from Second Corinthians chapter five regarding Christian responsibility towards other people and the creation. I discussed how the Trump Administration’s border policies were in opposition to that. I explained that the words used by the President and administration about darker skinned immigrants and refugees was dehumanizing. That the use of terms such as “animals” and ‘infestations” while labeling them all as “rapists” and “criminals” of the worst kind was little different than what others had done in the past. I used a number of historical examples; including the American experiences dealing with the extermination and forced relocation of native American tribes, slavery, Jim Crow, the incarceration of Japanese Americans in World War II, and the Nazi treatment of Jews and others deemed “subhuman.” I quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and others to emphasize that such treatment and demonization was in complete opposition to the teaching of the Gospel and the Christian tradition.
It was probably one of the most powerful and heartfelt sermons that I have ever preached. One of the chapel members present told one of my staff chaplains that it was like “hearing the voice of God thunder from the pulpit.” 
For that I had a member of the congregation try to have me tried by court martial for conduct unbecoming an officer and contempt towards the President of the United States. The man accused me of many things including comparing the President to Adolf Hitler and law enforcement officers to the Nazis. I did no such thing but that is what I was accused of. I was investigated and had to retain an attorney. The investigation confirmed that I had not done what the man said and exonerated me.
Since then I have tried to work through my feelings and emotions and decide what to do. I talked with a number of people and decided that I would need to address the subject before the congregation at a future point.
So I did that today and am pleased to report that my talk with the congregation regarding went well. I was very nervous and fearful going in to the service and during the half hour or so before the service while sequestered in my office I thought that I was going to throw up. 
I talked for a little over 8 minutes and humbly explained what happened without any judgment on the man or the congregation. In fact I confessed my fear about even coming before them. I explained that of all the things in my 37 year career that this was the most difficult, including going to combat, getting shot at and dealing with PTSD. I explained that I never expected anything like that. I explained that I had thought that even if someone disagreed with the sermon that they would come to me as is taught in the words of Christ and the writings of the Apostle Paul and not try to have me punished by attempting to have me punished. 
I explained that I had worked through my anger but that I was still hurt and that I did not feel safe with the congregation. I invited anyone that wanted to see me either after the service or make a time with me to talk over coffee, lunch, or a beer at a later time. I discussed forgiveness and remarked that even though I had gotten through the anger and forgave my accuser and those who turned their backs on me after that service that the pain remained and that I did not feel safe or that I was fully able to trust them. I also asked forgiveness for anything that I might have said to offend anyone present. I noted that forgiveness will not change the past but could very well change the future. 
Likewise I explained that during my anger I had considered taking revenge on my accuser by suing him in civilian court for libel and defamation of character. But I realized that if I did so that it would not be helpful to anyone. When I was binge watching The Blacklist over the past few weeks I remembered a comment made by Raymond Reddington. He said: “Revenge isn’t a passion. It’s a disease. It eats at your mind and poisons your soul.” 
When I completed my remarks, I exited the pulpit and handed the service back to my Protestant pastor and waited in my office.
The response was good, I don’t think that I could have asked for more. A number of people came to me after the service and were very kind. Two of them were men who in their interviews with the investigating officer refuted all of the accusations against me. The response of the people who came to me was quite touching and very encouraging. 
Since I do not know what the man who made the charges looks like I do not know if he was in attendance today. At the end of my talk I announced my plans to retire and that I may not preach again at this chapel, but that the decision was not final. Those who visited with me all told me that they wanted me to continue to preach the truth, all of them said that it was badly needed in our chapel if it were to survive. One elderly couple said that the congregation was dying. I haven’t decided if I will preach again because I am not there yet, but I haven’t ruled it it. 
As far as forgiveness, I do forgive, but it is a process, but it is impossible to forget. Maybe that is one thing that makes us human. The memories of such experiences will always be a part of us, and just maybe that is a good thing. That may sound strange because so many people say to “forgive and forget” as if that is part of scripture or a Biblical command. In fact that the phrase is not found anywhere in the Bible. I believe that we should forgive but that because we cannot forget we should remember what was done so that we learn from it and are able to move on and do better ourselves.
So for tonight I thank all of my readers for your kind words, thoughts, and prayers over the past two months.
Until tomorrow.
Padre Steve+


Filed under christian life, faith, life, ministry, Pastoral Care

13 responses to “Forgiveness Will Not Change the Past, but It Could Change the Future: Dealing with the Aftermath of a Painful Experience

  1. bvolman

    Shalom, Padre Steve,
    I have been following you for several months now and I am very grateful for all your heartfelt, educational, and incisive messages. May the Lord continue to strengthen you for the tremendous task of speaking truth to power, grace to the ungracious and wisdom to those steeped in folly. You have changed my perspective, informed and equipped me, but above all you have exemplified faithfulness to the Gospel. (Although, I’m afraid that I’ve begun walking around and mentally identifying “Know-nothings.”) I can’t thank you enough.
    Warmly in Messiah, Ben

  2. Hi Padre Steve. I am so sad and angry that this bad experience happened to you. The subject matter of your earlier sermon and the things you said in that booming sermon were nothing less than taking a bold and courageous stand for the Jesus Christ of the New Testament. American Christian fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals are trying hard to snuff out that truth because they have been deceived by the Evil One and now own a false and perverted gospel (with a little “g”) that has been fed to them by Christian Reconstructionists, Dominionists, Theonomists, Celebrity Preachers (who love money more than the things of Jesus), and other modern heretics.

    I am glad you survived your court ordeal, and I am sure that Jesus was with you all the way—and still is. You might not be able to feel his presence on some really bad days—but Jesus is always there hugging you—even now.

    Only you can make a retirement decision for you. All I will say is that this might be the right time to do it. With Trump in power as President, and as long as he is in power as President, these people that pervert the mission of Jesus in the American military will be in a mode of ascendance and increasing power—rather than being in a mood to be talked down out of their high trees. Men like this are always “out to define enemies and find a way to get them.” You and other truly faithful Christians in the American military will be their targets—perhaps you especially because your court case no doubt made news headlines. No person who has experienced PTSD needs this kind of daily trials and never-ending warfare with the forces of darkness in a regulationally- and command structure-constrained environment like the American military. It would be like fighting these people with one hand tied behind your back. If you leave the military, you will be able to stand up for the real Jesus all the time with full strength and unconstrained—especially if you start your own church—a church where you own the deed to the building and grounds.

    Trump and his evil minions are already in deep trouble. The American people are opening their eyes to this mess—finally. The Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches are going to be in big trouble when Trump falls and the excrement hits the fan and blows right back onto them. People, especially young people, will be leaving their fundie churches in droves—and others will avoid them like the plague. Someone will have to help them pick up the pieces—and show the real and truly loving Jesus to all of these disaffected and disappointed people. The person to help them do it might very well be you and others like you—as well as people like me.

    In the meantime—out here in Civilian Land—we need all the people we can get to be shedding light publicly onto all of this evil that is coming out of the Christian fundamentalist and conservative evangelical churches—churches that have sold out to heretics and Satan in a grim Trumpian world.

    You might find some daily comfort at the blog operated by Charles S. Garabedian. He sheds a lot of light on all of this evil—enough to prevent a person like you from feeling that all the evil you are seeing is somehow “not real” or “just your imagination.” Nobody can “gaslight” Garabedian. You might also draw some strength from the blog of John Pavlovitz and his many hopeful writings. Just enter the words “John Pavlovitz” into Google to go there. Here is the safe link to Garabedian’s blog:

    Much love to you Steve. You are the best. Believe it. Believe in yourself and all that Jesus has shown you. Someday when you are 85 years old—you may look back and see that your PTSD was an awful, horrifying gift that propelled you on to better things in life—and for the lives of others because of the love you bestowed upon people and they will certainly give back to you.

    • maryplumbago

      I’m familiar with Pavlovitz and he seems a very decent intelligent man.
      I checked out Garabedians blog and wow!
      Some excellent posts and he is right on!

      I’m not religious but I’m usually a live and let live sort of person.

      However, I’ve been seeing the danger of the fundies and their ilk for a few years now, probably starting in the Reagan years.

      But now they are on steroids with the obscene trump agenda and he plays them like the fools they are.

      Just like the predator priests give the Catholic Church a bad name, the fundies and evangies give Christianity a bad name as well.

  3. Carmen

    Onward and upward, Padre! I think you’ve got this. 🙂

  4. Matthew

    Your text seems much more peaceful. I am pleased for you. I pray that God continues to introduce you those who can share your journey. May we all continue to forgive and be forgiven. I think I heard that in a prayer somewhere! Matthew

  5. Speaking against the hypocrites and Pharisees is at the core of Christianity, to my knowledge. I’m not a believer, but that’s my reading. Religion is supposed to bind people together, which usually means confronting power arrangements that would divide us. If you had denounced homosexuals and the kale eating liberal elite the people who persecuted you would have carried you out on their shoulders. Evangelicals have climbed into bed with the politically powerful. The old saying, if you lay down with dogs…

    Take care and I hope your healing process does not take too long. Kudos to you.

  6. maryplumbago

    Never doubt yourself, Steve, nor your decency and worth. I can feel the mental pain you went through because your very core of who you are was attacked.
    This man, whoever he was, is a small petty mean spirited and typical of trump supporters…he is filled with arrogance and hate.

  7. Karen Folkerts

    I’m not as articulate or eloquent as your other commentators but I want you to know I appreciate you, your words and your thoughts. These are hard times but they will pass. Keep your light shining.

  8. Pierre Lagacé

    Merci Padre for your wisdom.

    From one of your loyal readers.

  9. francese D Wilocox

    Right on!!! Padre!! the crap is behind you! Your people need you ! and you need them! Keep on keepin’ on , you have new horizons to see and paths to trod .. keep up up to date..

  10. The weak can never forgive.Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong -Mahatma Gandhi.Beautiful words, aren’t they ?

    Infact here in India a holy event and a festival of forgiveness called Paryushana is being celebrated every year.

    As a matter of fact it’s underway right now , from 7th September to 14th September

    So Lets share our thoughts and celebrate Forgiveness

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