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The Lectio Letter - Issue #55 - Becoming a People of Forgiveness | Part III

The Lectio Letter - Issue #55 - Becoming a People of Forgiveness | Part III
By Liam Byrnes • Issue #55 • View online
“I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books.” 
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead
“There is a saying that to understand is to forgive, but that is an error, so Papa used to say. You must forgive in order to understand. Until you forgive, you defend yourself against the possibility of understanding. … If you forgive, he would say, you may indeed still not understand, but you will be ready to understand, and that is the posture of grace.”
― Marilynne Robinson, Home
“She knew that was not an honest prayer, and she did not linger over it. The right prayer would have been, Lord … I am miserable and bitter at heart, and old fears are rising up in me so that everything I do makes everything worse.” 
― Marilynne Robinson, Home
“I am grateful for all those dark years, even though in retrospect they seem like a long, bitter prayer that was answered finally.” 
― Marilynne Robinson
“It all means more than I can tell you. So you must not judge what I know by what I find words for.” 
― Marilynne Robinson, Gilead

Welcome to Issue #55 of the Lectio Letter. This members-only newsletter is filled with music, film and food suggestions, links, and an article written by yours truly.
Marilynne Robinson, who I quoted above, is my favourite fiction writer. She has such a keen eye for intricate details of the human lives she writes about in her much-celebrated Gilead series. A series detailing a litany of lives arching towards Godliness in a backwater town of brokenness. I’ve included them because this part of the series reflects on the inner experience of navigating forgiveness.
In the previous two parts, I’ve tried to articulate the theological basis from which forgiveness can emerge. This part is in some ways the hardest to write because it touches on how we navigate our inner world in the process of forgiveness. Humans are endlessly complex, each like vast “civilisations”, as Robinson has written elsewhere. The inevitable danger of writing about forgiveness as a principle is that each person’s experience of forgiveness can be ridden over roughshod.
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If you’ve missed any of the last issues you can click on the links below or see the whole back catalogue here;
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Life
One of the amazing gifts of working with children is how present they are. They experience such delight and abandon that we get convinced alongside them that it is so good to be alive!
With school holidays beginning here, we took a team fun day and went bowling. These are such great times of connection that can get missed in the weekly times when we are all managing the joyful chaos of 50+ primary age school kids in one space!
In the past couple of weeks, Rachel and I celebrated our 14th Wedding anniversary… We have changed!.. well at least my haircut has!
We headed to Camp Canoe, a Wes Anderson-inspired glamping spot near Franschoek.
On the way back to Cape Town we went to a friend’s Birthday party at the Labia Theatre and then on to The Athletic Social Club for an impromptu Jazz concert with Ayande Sikade (see in the music section below). Wonderful times..
Music
As I mentioned above, we were able to see Ayande Sikade, a South Africa Jazz drummer play with an incredibly skilled quartet in Cape Town a week or so ago.
Ayanda Sikade - 'Izzah' (recording captured by Rez Inyanzi)
Ayanda Sikade - 'Izzah' (recording captured by Rez Inyanzi)
That sent me onto some more jazz-inspired musical exploration and came across these two tracks from “BadBadNotGood” and “Kokoroko”
BADBADNOTGOOD - Beside April
BADBADNOTGOOD - Beside April
Dide O
Dide O
Watching
We’re continuing to watch the Tolkien inspired prequels to the Lord of the Rings Series, Rings of Power. Although there is a lot of nerd fan purist back lash, we’ve continued to enjoy them.
That being said, there are many different character and narratives introduced in the first four episodes and it takes quite a bit of work to see where they all might fit together.
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Out Now | Prime Video
Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power Out Now | Prime Video
There is a lot of discussion around whether the Rings of Power is ‘faithful’ to Tolkien’s vision, I’m not really a purist in that regard and am happy enough to engage in being entertained by the ‘riff’ which Amazon’s big budget production is making.
What is interesting to me though is this reflection on what it means to have ‘hope’.
Ian N Mills
Rings of Power is still good.

My biggest problem with the show from a Tolkienian perspective is the protagonists' conviction (mostly voiced by Arondir) that there must be someway for the good guys to win.

This conviction, according to Tolkien, is the wrong kind of hope. https://t.co/l2EStLlk6R
I’ve edited the twitter thread below for readability…
Tolkien’s elvish languages had two words for “hope.” And the distinction between them is super important for understanding the moral universe of Tolkien’s legendarium.
The first kind of hope is “amdir.” This is optimism or the expectation that things are going to work out.
Now, amdir isn’t necessarily bad. But attachment to amdir can be very dangerous.
Things don’t always work out for protagonists.
Heroism throughout Tolkien, especially in Lord of the Rings, is about relinquishing this kind of hope.
Over and over again, we are told that a character loses all hope. And then they must decide either to resist or to go the way of..(despair) and/or (complicity with evil).
Heroism…is the decision to resist evil even without hope.
Over and over again, characters find themselves without amdir and, then, they face a choice.
Saruman is corrupted by his need for this kind of hope.
“There is no hope left in Elves or dying Numenor,” he says. He tries to convince Gandalf to join with him and use the ring. Saruman says “There is hope that way.”
But there is another kind of hope: Estel.
Although ‘estel’ is explicitly given as a translation of “hope,” it is closer…to “trust.”
It is this hope (estel) that allows you to resist evil when all hope (amdir) is lost.
Tolkien’s moral universe doesn’t guarantee that everything is going to work out for the good guys. Practical hope (amdir) is misguided.
Rather, the transcendent in Tolkien gives meaning to bravery, mercy, and integrity in spite of defeat.
That’s true hope (estel).
The summary of that is that hope in our own abilities is not the same as hope coming from without ourselves. We hope not in our ability to overcome but to trust in the good from without even when we face unspeakable odds.
It’s not surprising that a modern-day adaption of Tolkein has no imagination for inbreaking help from beyond human ability. Our world is deaf to the revelation that we cannot save ourselves.
Reading
I just received Jamie Smith’s new book “How to Inhabit Time” and I attended this recent Trinity Forum where he engages in a Q&A about it.
How To Inhabit Time
How To Inhabit Time
I finally finished Andrew Root’s book “The Congregation in a secular age” which also covers the theme of time. Every time I’ve read one of these books in the Ministry in a Secular Age series I’ve felt like they have been titled by publishers for sales rather than being helpfully descriptive of the core themes. This, however, has been one of my favourites.
I also finished Ben Myer’s book on Rowan William’s theology. Rowan Williams is known for being impenetrably deep and nuanced in his writing. Myer achieves the extraordinary task of making William’s theological development accessible, enjoyable and rich.
Food
On Sunday, I had a hankering to bake something. Rachel suggested I try something new and so I turned to the Hummingbird book we’ve had for a few years. These were delicious, but take an extraordinary amount of chocolate to bake!
Hummingbird Double Chocolate Cookie
  • 50g Unsalted butter
  • 450g dark chocolate Chopped
  • 2 Eggs
  • 170g Brown sugar
  • ¼tsp vanilla extract
  • 85g Plain flour
  • ½tsp Salt
  • ½tsp Baking powder
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/Gas Mark 3.
  2. Put the butter and half the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water) until the chocolate is melted.
  3. Mix the eggs, sugar and vanilla extract in an electric mixer or use a handheld electric whisk.
  4. Pour in the chocolate mixture, beating on a slow speed until mixed. Sift the flour, salt and baking powder into a separate bowl, then stir into the chocolate mixture in three stages.
  5. Finally, mix in the remaining chocolate.
  6. Line two baking trays with greaseproof paper and put six equal amounts of cookie dough spaced evenly apart on each.
  7. Bake for 10–15 minutes until the tops look glossy and start to crack. Let the cookies cool slightly before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.
Becoming a People of Forgiveness | Part III | The Inner Work of Forgiveness
In the past two articles, I have tried to explain why Jesus’ life in the Spirit is an example of forgiveness that we can imitate when we receive the same power from the Holy Spirit. Secondly, I said that while forgiveness is in some sense forgoing a vengeance-based justice, it is not simply sweeping something under the rug. The offer of forgiveness is actually a form of rebuke for wrongdoing. Thirdly, I tried to explain that the very nature of forgiveness is the offering of a gift, not a bargaining chip in a transactional process. We can only give that gift freely when we give it through the gift we have received: the empowering grace of God.
When thinking through the Biblical picture of forgiveness and applying it in our own lives, it is helpful to consider how the process of forgiveness can feel on the inside. The truths I’ve gestured towards in the earlier parts of this series are of little help if they can’t find a landing place within our inner emotional and spiritual lives. 
One of the challenges of making a topic like this practical is the vast array of circumstances that present an opportunity for forgiveness. Far from a “one-size-fits-all” approach, any pastorally sensitive process of forgiveness is like the act of a good doctor.
A doctor takes the theory and understanding from their training and applies it with attention to the person and situation at hand. Similarly, the process and practicality of forgiveness depends on the severity of the wrongdoing that creates a situation where forgiveness is required. 
What I have been reflecting on are situations of offence and forgiveness that take place in relationships within the Church. My approach would be quite different if I was speaking of something more serious like sexual abuse involving children, or murder. These, of course, are weighty and difficult situations, but far more common in the Church are the smaller disagreements that escalate into needlessly broken relationships. These smaller situations can deeply damage Christian witness and the hope of other Christians for the building of a community on the basis of forgiveness.
With that being said, it is first important to recognise, when engaged in a process needing forgiveness, that the process feels different for each person involved. What feels like a minor offence to one can deeply wound another. 
While major acts of wrongdoing have a clear offender and victim, other broken circumstances may leave both parties feeling like they are the victim and the other an offender. But when dealing with each in turn, it is helpful to recognize the difference between the experience of the offender, who is offered forgiveness, and the victim who may offer it.
If an offender has a sense of conscience over their actions and sees their need for forgiveness, they will often view forgiveness as an event. I need to be forgiven, you offer forgiveness, and now it is over. 
For the victim, forgiveness is a journey. An initial offer of forgiveness, while a herculean task and boundary marker, may only be the beginning of a much longer journey. Once again, the factors are as numerous and distinct as the people involved. A harshly spoken word which caused offence might be resolved quickly, whereas for the victim of an extended abuse, the relationship may never safely be resolved in reconciliation.
I recently heard someone describe grief in a way that might possibly help us understand what it means to live in forgiveness towards someone who harms us, which is itself a form of loss. The processing of a loss or wrongful act can feel like trying to walk with the crushing weight of a boulder bearing down on us. Depending on the severity of the loss or wrongful act, we may carry the boulder, or at least its consequences, for the rest of our lives. What changes through the process of grief and forgiveness is not the weight of the boulder but the strength of our bodies to carry it. 
Painful things have happened in my life, many of them decades ago. They continue to be low points in my life’s story. These things have marked me and, in some ways, have contributed to the person I am today. Yet, to continue the metaphor, I am not walking with a limp because I am better able to carry the weight of the boulder. 
The Lord, through healing experiences of forgiveness, has strengthened me to carry the consequences of those actions. In many ways, he has brought wholeness to the brokenness caused by those actions against me. God has met me in ways that have led to a gratitude that these actions are a part of my story because without them I might never have known the grace of God in my life to the same depth. 
Obviously, this cannot be the same for every wrong action, but it can be the case for many of the wrongs we experience throughout our lives. In a forgiveness process, we are not expecting that the boulder to be removed as if it had never happened, although we would be delighted if it were so. We cannot erase what has been done, but are simply asking for the strength to walk with the weight of loss in step with Jesus who bears it with us and enables us to offer the gift of forgiveness.
In the process of forgiveness, there has to be a place for grief and lament. As Christians, we can often be highly uncomfortable with some of the more unpleasant and unpredictable emotions that arise in the context of loss, conflict and pain, but these emotions are a crucial part of the process. If we shortcut them, feeling a duty to a peppy surface-level positivity, we bury a ticking time bomb of resentment. 
If the goal of God’s story is presence, then affirming God’s presence in our places of pain is a key part of the forgiveness process. It is understandable that we fear the kind of pain that arises when parts of our world become shattered through acts that should never have been. When we experience something that requires forgiveness we are confronted with the brokenness of the world and we rightly feel overwhelmed. 
Sometimes we are impatient in the process of forgiveness. We hope for a quick process and don’t allow the space we need to appropriately express our grief and lament over the situation we find ourselves in. In the end, space for grief and lament allows forgiveness to work deeper down into our bones than a hasty resolution might.
Lament, in contrast to despair, is not whining into a void. It is a relational mourning, and expresses loss to the One who hears and empathises with us, and who shares in our grief. When we enter into lament, we affirm that even here in our pain, anger and loss, we can meet God. 
In this way, we reconcile or return ourselves into an intentional, experienced relationship with God. Too many times, I have seen people who have not been able to engage God in their pain and have shut down any willingness to forgive a person who has wronged them. While they may continue to pay lip service to a relationship with God, the hardness of heart that has developed through their unwillingness to forgive another person seeps into their relationship with God. They cannot forgive and they no longer remain available to receive felt forgiveness from God. Their hearts have grown hard and cold in their insistence for justice and vengeance on their own terms. It is amongst the saddest things I have observed in my entire life.
If we hastily brush aside the felt experience of conflict and loss, we remove the possibility that the forgiveness we are called to offer will reach all the way down into our pain. God entered into the deepest depth of loss in his forsakenness and death on the cross. This is what made his work so complete, so full of integrity, and so trustworthy. If we don’t allow ourselves and others to plumb the depths of our pain, we risk racing towards an incomplete reconciliation that will only hurt us further down the line.
One final practical note here. There are times when a process of forgiveness gets stuck by focusing only on the interior. If this is the case, we need to return to the point I made earlier regarding forgiveness being offered before repentance. Forgiveness cannot be held captive by an individualised process which collapses into introspection and navel-gazing. Often just beginning to express an unfelt forgiveness with the acknowledgement that there is always more interior work to do, can unlock our hearts towards reconciliation. After all, forgiveness matures and gets expressed ultimately between people as reconciliation. In most cases, when forgiveness only happens on the inside, it is not the fullness of what we are called to as Christians. 
This is what we will conclude with in the final part of this series.
Miscellaneous Link List
Eruptions and a polar bear at play: Drone photo awards 2022 – in pictures | Art and design | The Guardian
Incredible Set of Historical Photos are Signed by Photographers and Subjects | PetaPixel
The 33 coolest streets in the world right now
Having visited a number of the cities mentioned, I’d definitely have a few more to add or adapt, but this is an interesting list!
In London, they mentioned Deptford High Street, but I’d say Nine Dials areas and the Kings Cross development are my picks.
In Cape Town, they mention Kloof Street but my money is on Bree Street instead.
In Istanbul, they mention Süleyman Seba Caddesi but Bebek is surely cooler.
Celebratory Gunfire: An interactive data visualization and analysis.
A Syrian woman in Lebanon was killed by a stray bullet fired in celebration of the New Year of 2021. A small plane was shot down when it flew over a wedding party with guests celebrating the occasion by discharging firearms into the air. In California, five fans were injured inside the Oakland Coliseum by falling bullets fired from a neighboring community. These are just a few examples of celebratory gunfire, a dangerous practice that injures and kills innocent people all over the world.
Antiphons. We’ve Been Singing Antiphons. < Andy Crouch
Andy Crouch offers a thoughtful reflection on why many modern worship songs gather people in heartfelt response to God, but after a while feel like we are chewing for a very long time on a very small piece of bread.
The oft-proposed solution to this problem is the road to Rome. To pick up rich traditional liturgies which create a more fully rounded meal. Crouch, however, proposes that we would lose something precious about these antiphonal heartfelt responses to God. Instead, he argues we should be.. “..putting these choruses in their proper place, surrounding and undergirding the congregation’s attention to the deep texts (and maybe also tunes) of the Christian story.”
I’ve long wondered about reading Psalms in between songs, or better yet tracing the story of the bible with well-chosen verses which allow modern musical worship times to be both hearing from and expressing to, the God we gather in the name of.
Toward an I-Thou Encounter with Time - The Other Journal
[In] an I-It encounter, we treat the other as an object to be used. Whether that other is a person, an object of creation, an idea, or a tree, in an I-It relationship, we act on the other through the world of objects. On the other hand, I-Thou encounters involve turning toward the other with our whole being and thereby recognizing the sacredness and uniqueness of the other.
“For Buber, one of the highest virtues is to offer oneself to encounter the other, to make an ontological turn toward the other—whether that other be a person, idea, or thing—which requires vulnerability, risk, and trust. Such an encounter means venturing into uncertain spaces with a willingness to be changed and transformed by the other. To enter into these spaces of unknowing and uncertainty is holy work.”
“Modernity has taken a grasping approach to time—feebly attempting to control, possess, and master it. The poet and essayist Christian Wiman describes contemporary American life as frenzied and fragmented, a “collective ADHD” culture. The very technologies modernity created to free us up to have more time have merely “degraded the quality” of time while exacerbating our collective anxiety. And then, in our feeble attempts to give ourselves respite from the frenzy, we engage in “self-care” in a similar obsessive, frenzied, and panicked way.5 Time has become the great object to be used, mastered, owned, and slayed. It has become the it to our I. ”
The Didache, our oldest catechism, prepared candidates like Cornelius for baptism by instruction them that they would not kill, would not have sex with other people’s spouses, would not abuse young children, would not abort fetuses. In doing so the church put itself on a collision course with some of the Roman world’s most widely accepted practices. But our current North American church – as well as some churches in the midst of revolution in Third World countries – so want to be recognized as culturally significant (as Caesar defines significance), so want to have the power to change and improve society without converting and evangelizing it, that we gladly adapt the foolishness of the gospel to the world’s standards of wisdom and reduce our social witness to the back-seat status of a general civilizing influence on the empire rather than form a new kingdom loyal to a King who is not Caesar.
“…the post-Enlightenment myths that orient us in the modern world are so potent because they base their authority, paradoxically, on the myth of mythlessness. That is, the Enlightenment project was, among other things, committed to overcoming the restrictive chains of religious dogma, inherited belief systems, and, yes, grand narratives of mythology. But this was only to change one set of answers to our biggest questions for a host of others. We can’t escape myths; we only exchange them.”
“First, in this weird and troubling age of Christian celebrity where platform-building, fame-chasing, green room-dwelling, and name-dropping can easily replace gospel virtues, Tim inspired me with his reluctance to participate in or even flirt with the trappings of Christian celebrity.”
Second, Tim waited until he was almost sixty years old to publish his first trade book. 
Third, in a time of posturing, comparing, and competing — a time when many pastors see each other as obstacles to overcome versus kingdom co-laborers to pray for and applaud — Tim has always been the latter. 
Fourth, even though Redeemer grew and grew (and grew and grew and grew) under his gifted leadership, Tim never embraced the mindset of “bigger and bigger.” Rather, he emphasized quality of ministry over quantity of seats filled
Fifth, as Tim’s influence grew over the years, so did his dependence on and personal engagement with the hidden, ordinary graces such as daily Scripture reading and prayer.
Sixth, Tim and Kathy have a strong marriage. They live their lives together and not separate — face to face in friendship, and side by side in mission— and that makes such a difference.
Seventh, and as I have mentioned before, Tim is one of the best examples I have seen of covering other people’s flaws with the gospel.
Finally, Tim could receive criticism, most of which came from the outside and was almost always unfair, and it would bring out the best in him rather than bringing out the worst in him.
Opinion | The Man Who Found His Inner Depths - The New York Times
“…after his mother had died, Buechner wrote of her: “The sadness of other people’s lives, even the people she loved, never seemed to touch her where she lived. I don’t know why. It wasn’t that she had a hard heart, I think — in many ways she was warm, sympathetic, generous — but that she had a heart that for one reason or another she kept permanently closed to other people’s suffering, as well as to the darkest corners of her own. Buechner went the other way. He realized that the problem with steeling yourself against pain is that you simultaneously close yourself off from being transformed by the power of life itself…In one of his frequently quoted passages, Buechner wrote: “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and the pain of it no less than the excitement and the gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”
CIA museum: Inside the world's most top secret museum - BBC News
“It is the perhaps the most unusual - and exclusive - museum in the world, filled with artefacts that have shaped history. But its doors are firmly shut to the public.
It is the only place a visitor can see the gun found with Osama bin Laden when he was killed, next to Saddam Hussein’s leather jacket.
Welcome to the CIA’s secret in-house museum.
Located inside the US intelligence agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, the collection has just been renovated to mark the agency’s 75th anniversary. A small group of journalists, including the BBC, were given exclusive access, although with a security escort constantly at our side.”
That’s all for now…
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Liam Byrnes

A Fortnightly newsletter with links, music, recipes and one article from me focussed on Christian formation, Theology and Discipleship

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Liam Byrnes, 1 Montrose Close, Noordhoek, Western Cape, South Africa