There’s a question, a powerful question, that I’ve had to ask myself: If I could undo the bad things that have happened to me, would I?
The answer should be easy. It should be, yeah, for sure. Getting rid of as much bad stuff as you can is so logical, so pure in its obviousness. Who wouldn’t erase their pain if they could?
Reminds me of a movie:
Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is about people trying to erase bad memories from their minds. It’s a beautiful film. A lot of different themes, but one is a twist on my question. It’s not just would you erase the bad things in your past. It’s also, what do you lose in the process?
Christine Hung, in her sermon “Better Not Bitter,” shared about forgiveness and embracing her past, even the painful parts, because who she is now, and what she’s able to participate in now, are inextricably linked to all of her personal history, not just the nice parts.
I think about this all the time, having lost important people in my life, some way too early and some more recently. I don’t know if I have the faith to forgive the wrongs I’ve experienced. I don’t know if I have the guts to embrace the positive, redeeming turns that God has made in the wake of suffering.
In the big picture, maybe I’m not ready for that.
But in a small bit of reflection on a current event, I can take a step in that direction.
The Reverend Fred Phelps passed away on March 25th of this year. He was, by almost any account, an evil man. He devoted his life to the practice of hatred and the cause of human suffering. I was as happy to see him die as I’d be to see a loved one recover from cancer. A national day of celebration, I figured should have been announced.
But then I saw a post on facebook titled: Fred Phelps is Dead and We Will Not Dance on His Grave. In this article, George Takai, actor and gay activist had this to say: “I take no solace or joy in this man’s passing. We will not dance upon his grave, nor stand vigil at his funeral holding ‘God Hates Freds’ signs, tempting as it may be. He was a tormented soul, who tormented so many. Hate never wins out in the end. It instead goes always to its lonely, dusty end.”
Followed by: “Today, Mr. Phelps may have learned that God, in fact, hates no one. Vicious and hate-filled as he was, may his soul find the kind of peace through death that was so plainly elusive during his life.”
Touching, generous and human. And there’s more.
Speaking of redeeming the negative. Huffington Post posted an article titled: “Be Grateful to Homophobic Preacher.” It’s about how much Rev. Phelps helped the pro-gay cause. By playing the boogie man, he gave the nation a clear and obvious target of what is wrong with Christianity’s approach to homosexuality. And all kinds of people rallied together because of him.
In Phelps’ story and in the man himself, and in the ways that some have responded, I do feel some of the hope that Christine talked about. Something like what the Reverend King once said: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
To listen to past sermons from Trinity’s archive, click here.
Juan-Zung Hsu is a secular Christian, practicing Christianity but remaining (mostly) atheistic in his beliefs. He writes freelance copy and he blogs at Ghozt Writer. His posts on Christianity are found HERE.