Updated: Oct 26, 2021
El Paso has been in the news lately, where thousands of border guards, farmers, city workers, and schoolchildren make daily pilgrimages across the Texan/Mexican bridges. Where the toxic machismo of rich visiting politicians mixes with the toxic machismo of angry liars, disappearing the truth about the wild US rim into an over-trumped fantasy of a magic fortified citadel.
Ciudad Juárez is just on the other side of the Rio Grande, where hundreds of women have been disappeared, murdered, and buried in the desert. Where no one can determine what is going on because the toxic machismo of the lying police mixes with the toxic machismo of the angry criminals. Where the women...well, you know, they brought it upon themselves.
Oppression wears various disguises, but its soul-rotting, body-destroying effects are universal.
Too many cultures are based on having the oppressed define, tolerate, and ultimately forgive, the oppressors. It is up to the ones being hurt to make life comfortable for those who hurt, a mad reductio ad absurdum of Christ’s other cheek. The abusers receive a Get Out of Jail Free card every time they go ‘round, extending temporary survival to the abused. Thus slaves must swing chariots low and forgive the slave owners, street prostitutes botox their bruises and forgive the pimps, the battered clean up the burnt dinners and forgive the batterers, the raped undergo surgical hymen-repair and forgive the rapists, the harassed transfer their winnings to their lawyers and forgive the harassers. Forgive them Father for they know not what they do. MeToo, but remember we’re only listening to each other, watching each other’s poignant movies win foreign awards. The oppressors cannot hear us, much less acknowledge what they've done.
The idea behind perpetual forgiveness is quite logical, which is why children latch onto it as soon as they are neglected or harmed. You deserve it. You deserve to be lied to by the big people, the powerful, the rich, the people who own you. They don't treat everyone badly, so it must be your fault. If you were just a little different, just a little less... strong ... smart ... loud ... offensive ... truthful ... then maybe they would ... accept you, treat you ... better?
Actually, no. They have already decided your fate. Your guilt is determined, Calvinist. It feeds their insatiable vampiric arrogance. They see themselves created in the image of God. In fact, they own imago Dei. You? Nah, you're the naked little one propping up the pedestal.
But there is another kind of forgiveness, one not based on forgiving the behavior. This only leaves the oppressor safe to repeat the act. The other kind of forgiveness is rather transformative, leaving the oppressor changed and thus no longer able to repeat the act.
Eva Kor was a Mengele twin survivor. I heard her speak at a medical ethics conference in the Twin Cities in 2013. She and her five-year-old twin Miriam saw their mother and older sister dragged to the Auschwitz gas chamber just before they were enslaved in the live laboratory barracks. Miriam later moved to Jerusalem, while Eva went on to give speeches in the States. Then she did a BBC special with the Nazi doctor who stood at the gas chamber door at Auschwitz, the one who made sure everyone was dead. The Jerusalem relatives were livid, disavowed her. Absolutely not. None of them can ever be forgiven. They were right, but then so was Eva. She was forgiving, but in a different way. She did not forgive the evil, the fatal bigotry, the spineless following of toxic orders. She forgave the doer, not the deed, thus breaking its power over her. An old broken woman looked into the eyes of an old broken man and saw another soul who does not want to be injured, a soul instinctively seeking life. This does not change or excuse the commission of unspeakable acts. It is rather Reconciliation, the rafter-shaking discomfort of post-Apartheid congregations, the Restorative Justice that brings together a mother with the drunk who killed her son, Raskolnikov crying at the crossroads from an unexpected infusion of Redemption. Grace, wholly undeserved.
But you have to be alive to do this. For the rest, it's crosses in the desert.
17 FEBRUARY 2019