When I served a church full time, I grew used to greeting people at the door on Sundays who apologized for not having been there the week before. Most offered up faulty alarm clocks or out-of-town visitors as excuses, but a few confessed, “It was so quiet when I woke up . . . ” or, “It was such a beautiful day . .
A few months ago I participated in a Building Bridges Seminar, one of the annual encounters between Muslim and Christian theologians sponsored by Lambeth Palace. I was not quite sure what to expect going in. Such dialogues can range from boring to exhilarating.
Here is a lesson in monastic stability, transposed to a domestic key: I am invited to give a talk to a general chapter of Benedictine monastic communities, meeting at a historic abbey in Italy. Such occasions, which take place only once every eight years, normally are private affairs involving intramural matters like the election of an abbot president and revision of monastic statutes.
Although it would be easier at age 48 to take up the violin or pole-vaulting, I am tiptoeing into a long-postponed project of learning how to love my enemies. Not that I haven’t talked a good game or done admirable work up to now. I appeared on TV arm in arm with a Muslim imam to calm public ire the evening of 9-11. I met often to reconcile with a man who sued my church.
Mom and Dad, you won’t believe what they put on the official T-shirt we bought. I won’t ever wear it!” Our 17-year-old son was calling from Governor’s School, a six-week summer program for which he had been nominated by his high school. He was appalled because the “official T-shirt,” which he had ordered as a remembrance of his experience, had two phrases that he found appalling.
In 2006 Charles Roberts walked into an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania, shot and killed five schoolgirls, injured another five and then took his own life. The Amish community immediately declared that it forgave Roberts for his heinous acts, and some of them reached out with compassion to Roberts’s mother. Roberts’s brother Zachary is now working on a documentary called Hope, focusing on his mother’s journey since the shootings. “How does the mother of a mass murderer move forward?” he asks. Forgiveness and faith have been the key ingredients in her life (Huffington Post, November 17).