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Reconsidering Forgiveness...

Welcome into a deepening journey into forgiveness, freedom, and wonder! Matthew Ichihashi Potts is our next guide, with his Forgiveness: an Alternative Account (Yale University Press, 2022).

I was immediately struck by his middle name, which does indeed point to his parents’/his journey as Japanese-Americans in the USA. 1940's was not an easy time to be of Japanese descent.

He begins his book with the words of those who survived the June 17, 2015 shooting at the historic Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Relatives of those who had been murdered by white supremacist Dylann Roof offered words of forgiveness of him over a closed circuit TV feed at the jail. Ta-Nehisi Coates wondered aloud, “Is that real? … I question the realness of that.” (Potts, 2). Fair enough. I’ve wondered about that too.

Potts therefore invites his readers into a reconsideration of forgiveness that is real. He begins with the survivors’ “angry and grief-stricken words while also attending to the forms of forgiveness they say they have offered.” He observes that these forms “reject hate but not anger,” “deny superficial healing and forgetting,” and “refuse unearned reconciliation.” (2). He wants to ask “what a Christian forgiveness that rooted itself in grief would look like” (3)…

This forgiveness

  • allows for anger and rage and grief

  • preserves mistrust and keeps a safe distance for its victims

  • acknowledges hurt rather than promising healing, and

  • uniquely reckons with the permanence of the wound, rather than hastily dressing that wound with a thin reconciliation (5)

He proposes a theological defense of forgiveness rooted in grieving, evolved beyond economic models into spatial ones. As such, forgiveness becomes a "refusal of retaliatory violence," a "forswearing of vengeance and rejection of retribution." It involves "accepting that what has been lost cannot be regained." It is “more broken-hearted than whole-hearted,” “a strategy for surviving an irrevocable wrong.” “Forgiveness is not reconciliation.” (8) “It may provide a first step to reconciliation, or it may simply occasion a lasting nonretaliatory estrangement.” It is a way “we learn to struggle with and through and in a loss we cannot redeem.” (10)

What compels me so about this work is that I began to recognize some dynamics or dimensions I have had to live into in my own close-family relationships. I also appreciate deeply Potts’s forward-facing direction. In his words: “The urge to live with loss is still an urge to live, and so forgiveness will be, even if only reluctantly, a stance of openness toward the future.” (10)

I’m a born-and-bred Presbyterian who has only understood forgiveness in an untenable, unreal way: a refusal of hurt, for sake of forced reconciliation; a theological window-dressing that neglects an irrevocable wound; persistent allowance of continued wounding “for sake of relationship” or “community.”

Blessedly, within wisdom community(ies), I’ve lived my way into some of the things Potts names. I am eager to have better theological language for what I have come to know.

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