Monday, November 11, 2013

A Sermon for Veteran's Day

Tonight I'm giving a sermon in my Fundamentals of Religious Proclamation (Preaching) class. I'm really challenging myself this time.  I'm attempting to deliver an inductive sermon.   Inductive sermons, as opposed to deductive, means a sermon that doesn't let the listener in on the point of the sermon until near the end.  The goal it to capture the listener's attention and curiosity.  (A deductive sermon, the more traditional approach, starts out with the main idea and then systematically makes the case for that main idea during the sermon.  Inductive sermons are difficult to do and I don't know if I've done it correctly here.  Additionally, I am challenging myself to give a sermon without notes.  I have mostly memorized the following.  I say mostly because it's not my intention to give the following word for word.  I'm working from an bare outline that I can speak from.  The following was written as part of my preparation for tonight.  I wanted to write down what I'd been rehearsing extemporaneously in the hopes that it would clarify my points and ideas for me. 

Remember back in the first grade when your teacher handed out dixie cups and a bit of dirt, some water and a little bean?  You were shown how to plant it, cover it over with dirt, and water it, and that a plant would grow.  But you had to wait first.  And that was my problem.  I had no concept of time when I was a kid.  I wanted everything to happen immediately.  So I watched and watched all day, trying to glance over and see if it was sprouting yet.  School ended for the day and still nothing.  I thought about it through the night and raced to the windowsill the next morning to find no change other than slightly drier soil.  And even though the teacher had said, “Billy, don’t water it anymore!” twice, I couldn't’ help myself and sprinkled just a bit more on it.  Still nothing,

But we know there is lots happening beneath the surface.  Once the presence of water is added, everything begins to occur, stored magic is unleashed and the process of life begun, even if unseen at the surface.

I want to tell you a few stories.  At the risk of being cliche, let’s go back in time.  22 years.  In the first days of 1991 the rains had not yet come to Israel.  Rains that usually arrived in November had not fallen.  But on January 17, two things happened.  One, The Gulf War began.  Two, the rains came.  In torrents.  Sheets of water for weeks on end.  And with them high winds from the northwest.  But on the same day the ground war began, the winds suddenly shifted slightly and started coming from the west.  Heading across Israel eastward straight into the lands of the aggressor, Iraq.  

The US military credits that shift of wind to be the main factor in Iraq’s decision not to unleash chemical warfare during the Gulf War.   For Kuawait’s winds, it appears, did the exact same thing.

Lets go back 71 years to the Battle of Midway.  The Japanese had been winning the war in the Pacific and believed the Americans were now sufficiently demoralized to hit our biggest target, the Midway Atoll at the northwesternmost point of the Hawaiian Island chain.  From intelligence codebreaking, the US knew it was coming, but not from exactly where or exactly when.

On June 3, 1942, Ensign Jack Reid was flying reconnaissance in search of Japanese warships on a south/southwestern search leg.  He and his navigator Ensign Robert Swan decided to push their search farther than originally planned that day.  And that’s when they first spotted the Japanese invasion force headed to Midway.  It gave the United States a tactical advantage that is in part credited with turning the tide of the war in the Pacific.

So how about we go back 237 years this time?  The ink on the Declaration of Independance was barely dry and British warships had been amassing in New York Harbor all summer.  The Battle of Long Island was the first major battle of the Revolutionary War since the signing.  

After three days of fighting, General George Washington was all but defeated and trapped on a bluff at Brooklyn Heights.  He had nothing but the East River behind him and 20,000 British troops preparing for a siege in front.  The order to retreat across the East River to Manhattan could not be carried out because of the nor'easter that had been plaguing the region for days.  Coupled with high winds that not only kept Washington’s men from escaping, it also kept the British warships from entering the East River to intercept them.  Eventually, the British stopped trying altogether.  But Washington did not.  They prepared for an evacuation he could not be sure would come to pass.

But at 11pm on August 29, 1776 the wind suddenly stopped.  Immediately they began ferrying across soldiers, weaponry, horses, and equipment.  Through the night they crossed.  Fishermen, and barges and rowboats, they moved them onto the island of Manhattan until dawn.  But at dawn they were not finished.  And just then, a thick fog descended onto Brooklyn Heights and concealed their evacuation for two more hours until 7 am when the last soldiers were unloaded onto Manhattan.  And then the American soldiers watched from across the East River as the fog lifted only 30 minutes later to reveal the British soldiers arriving at a now empty encampment, stunned at Washington’s escape.

This time we’re going to back pretty far.  We’ll go back 29 centuries.  Again we are in Israel.  The King of Syria was pissed.  Our prophet Elisha had repeatedly been blowing the whistle on him and saving the King of Israel.  The Syrian king found out that it was Elisha who was going all Wikileaks on him, and that he was living in Dothan.  So, during the night, the King of Syria sent an army to Dothan defeat him.  

In the morning, the servant of Elisha looked out the window to see the Syrian army encircling the city and promptly pooped his pants.  “Oh no, my lord, what shall we do?”

Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid.  Those who are with us are more than those with them.”  His servant must have appeared unconvinced because Elisha then did a remarkable thing.  He asked God to include his servant in the vision.  I wonder if he placed his hand on his servant’s eyes as he prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.”

And then the servant saw alright.  He saw the mountain covered with horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha.  A celestial army which all along, until that moment, had been mustering, unseen.

We, too, have unseen help.  We, too, have unseen help!  Angels, and guides, and messengers of God hover around us waiting to love us; to make their presence known, to make themselves useful to us.  And like a bean sprout just beneath the soil waiting to burst forth, that truth is always there unseen, just around the corner, just beyond visible range, or swirling in the clouds like a fortuitous fog or a torrential rain waiting for just the right the moment to make its presence known.

We have been speaking of war today.  Today is Veteran’s Day.  A day when we remember.  When we remember the men and women who sacrificed their lives, whether killed in battle or, sometimes less mercifully so, lived, to continuously re-suffer the horrors of a life once spent in the trauma of war; surviving the war perhaps, but a sacrifice of a life just the same.  But what else might we include with those memories?  What else might we remember on this Veteran’s Day?  What of the miracles?  How about the fact that so often, in times of our greatest peril, the solutions to our problems were right there, unseen but not unaware, waiting for nothing more that for us to simply not give up.

Winston Churchill is often reported to have said: Never, never, never give up. Had he done so, had Ensign Jack Reid turned his plane back a little earlier, had Washington’s fog not come, had the rains of Israel arrived on schedule instead of on time, the world would be a very different place for us today.  

And speaking of serendipitous fog, wind and rain, in the book of Jōb, God challenges Jōb.  He says, "Have you entered the storehouses of the snow or seen the storehouses of the hail, which I reserve for times of trouble, for days of war and battle?”  Jōb had not.  I have not.  But in faith I choose to believe that they, like all the hidden solutions to my problems, are there.  Like a bean sprout working magic beneath the soil, unseen but ever present.  Take heart today.  When you despair, remember what I have told you.  For we, too, have unseen help.  We, too, have unseen help.  And those who are with us are many indeed.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Am I a Theologian?

When does one have the right to say the words: I am a theologian?  I will confess I even spelled the word wrong when I typed it for this writing. (Who would have thought there was an 'i' in it?)  But am I a theologian anyway?  The definitions say that one must be learned, expert even, before they are considered a theologian.  But is one born a theologian?  I don't ever remember a time when I wasn't aware of the ideas about life after death and its implications for life before it.  My earliest memories are of death.  Not the experiencing of it - no family member died until I was much older - but the awareness of it.  I was around three when I have my earliest memories of them, but the memories include an awareness that they had been happening for some time.  Panic attacks about death several times over the course of years (for what reasons, I cannot even speculate) imprinted upon me a deep early questioning about faith and the afterlife.  They were questions I could not articulate until much later, but I distinctly remember, by the age of 6 or 7, asking strangers in the grocery store about what they thought happened to us when we die.  Was I a theologian then?  What constitutes expert?  When one can be quizzed successfully?  And about things as ephemeral as theological "facts"?  Of what relevance even is a theological fact?  That the books come in the order of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John is a fact.  But what does that matter?  I feel I am a theologian, though I could probably not pass a multiple choice quiz on the subject, or even spell the word correctly.  I can only conclude that it is the journey which defines a theologian, not some dubiously authorized destination.  I am a theologian because I seek.  And as Matthew 7:7 says, "Ask and ye shall receive, seek and ye shall find, knock and the door will be opened unto you."  I seek, yes, but have I found the answer or the path?  Is my path my answer?  It must be so.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Be Grateful for Being Wrong!

At the risk of stating the obvious, I have often noticed that it's uncomfortable to be wrong.  We don't like it one bit.  We rail against it.  Our egos do backflips to conjure some remedy that we may be mistaken about having been wrong.  We get defensive and argumentative.  We use our creativity and ingenuity to sculpt debate platforms and develop keywords, and we bring emotional weapons to the front lines in order to rally support for our wrongness.  Our present fight in congress is about that very thing: we must not be wrong.

But is being wrong so bad?  Isn't being wrong indicative of having been removed from the shadows of error?  Isn't discovering one is wrong cause for celebration?  Isn't resistance to discovering one's error living in the past?  I say live in the present! If I discover I have been wrong it it because I am now, hopefully, right!  

Allow your ego to step aside and celebrate the fact that you are no longer in the dark. Once you have discovered you're wrong about something, even something thoroughly out of your power, say a prayer of thanks at having been delivered from it.  Be thankful.  Be hopeful.  Be mindful that, in the final analysis, we will, at the end of our days look back at all the wrong ideas we had and laugh at many of them.  Will we see those moments as having been shrouded in error, or as moments of new light being exposed?  Will we regret our misunderstandings or will we find pride in the incremental eradication of them?  Will we see a pattern of progress?  How could we not?  We find out we're wrong all the time.

Today is currently a holiday celebrated for Christopher Columbus who discovered the New World, our world, in 1492.  But we now know this is wrong.  Columbus did not discover this land, it was already long known and by many peoples and many centuries previous.  Columbus was trying to find a new route to India.  And like a typical male, he failed to ask for directions.

He washed ashore on the islands of this continent and smugly declared it India.  He conferred the name Indian to the indigenous people he found here.  And in many corners we call them Indians to this day.

Let's make today a day about new discovery.  Discovery of the fact that we are often wrong and thank heaven for that.  For if we are often aware that we have been wrong, we are also aware that we are made right.  We are enlightened and unburdened one discovery at a time.  The blindfold inches its way down and though the light may be bright at first, we are no less relieved at the sight of the sun.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Turn-Off of Christianity: A contextual look at the spirituality of Generation “Why”

Wil Darcangelo                                                                                                                             Monday, October 7, 2013
Dr. Robert Pazmino
Educational Ministry Across the Life Span

The Turn-Off of Christianity:
Mapping New Territory for the Exploration of Faith in Our Time
A contextual look at the spirituality of Generation “Why”

In our contemporary society filled with an increasing abundance of technology and all of its inherent shifts in our methods of communication, we are often left to wander and wonder how we may use the lessons of the past to find relevance in today’s world.  In this paper, I attempt to make an argument on behalf of our contemporary culture’s advancing technology and its many opportunities to bring us closer to one another, and thereby, bring us closer to God.  

“The Context of Teaching IS the Content of Religious Education”
As the director of an after school music empowerment program intended primarily for public high school students called the “Tribe Music Mentorship Project,” I am often in the position of defining for my Generation Y students ways in which to govern themselves, their thoughts, and their actions.  The students know me to be a highly spiritualized person, but I almost always avoid using scripture directly when advising them.  This is due to the fact that nearly all of them, to a person, avoids encounters with scripture in their lives as though it were a disease, an anathema to the “coolness” and popularity they value in their social lives.  They see all too clearly the spouting fundamentalism of “extreme Christianity” and leave virtual skid marks in getting away from the social stigma of it.  They balk at the notion that the question Why? should not be asked and counter with even greater scriptural bullheadedness. I am left to find ways of teaching them the practice of living a forgiving, compassionate life while only internally referencing scripture for my own guidance.

The Tribe arrive each day into my little classroom (Book Storage Room 241 at Fitchburg High School) carrying emotional baggage loaded with drama and subterfuge; who has said what about whom, who disrespected this one or that one, who has just started dating, who has just broken up.  Sex, drugs, and rock and roll are both the context and the textbook through which I am required to mentor my students.  It is the framework of how they experience their lives.  Yes, they have elements of their lives which do not fit into these three oft-quoted categories, but as teenagers, these elements hold the most sway over the decisions one must make in navigating the life of an average high school student.  I can either fight this reality or join it. I can either make their lives superfluous to the lesson or make their own lives the self-identifying content of what I consider to be their spiritual education.  It requires a subtle use of scripture that, over-time, breaks down the barriers of their pre-conceived ideas about what it means to be a Christian in today’s world of constant and instant communication.

Ostensibly, they participate in the Tribe to learn and record music, but in actuality, they are drawn to my program because they feel marginalized, bullied, inadequate, and uncomfortable with their lives.  Tribe is a real-life Island of Misfit Toys.  They are in many ways, simply normal teenagers attempting to grow up in a world that did not exist during their parents’ years in high school and as a result, their parents are often (as mine were) ill-equipped to provide the guidance needed to make tough decisions in a world that has changed dramatically from their own, now comparatively obsolete generation.  We all experienced these years and though we may try to forget them, their effects are with us always.  

The context of their lives must inform the content of my lessons for them or else I would have no students and no program.  It is important to me to educate them in the ways of Christ, primarily to “make an earthquake of one’s presence,” and to actively practice Forgiveness as a pathway to Compassion (we even have t-shirts that say “Practice Forgiveness” and “Make an Earthquake of Your Presence”).  I teach them ways to love one another, by systematically removing obstacles to that goal by using their own lives as the examples through which to do it.

The Contemporary Search For Spirituality and Its Influences on Teaching Practices
In his book Spiritual Life, The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching, John Westerhoff tells us that we live in a time of transition, the era of Enlightenment is drawing to a close (Westerhoff referencing Buttrick, 16).  To prove his point, he makes reference to another point made in David Buttrick’s 1993 lecture to the College of Preachers in Washington, DC that language has been going through rapid changes similar to the end of the Greco-Roman period (Westerhoff referencing Buttrick, 16).  Now that we have entered a new age, the rules of all systems must change.  It is impossible to ignore the onslaught of technology and if we are “to consider the role culture plays in our lives and the lives of those we teach” (Yust/Anderson, 44), we cannot avoid technology, we must embrace it or be left in the dust of our own adherence to tradition.  “What you resist persists,” Carl Jung once famously posited, and I personally believe that to be true.  It is when we successfully embrace the aspects of our age that, I believe, Christianity proves itself to be as relevant as ever.  It continues to prove its universal relevance when viewed through the lens of advancing technology.  In my own anecdotal observations, it was once viewed by governments that the printing press was subversive because criticism of government could now be printed and distributed freely.  And yet, if viewed in faith, they might have come to realize that the mass-printed word could more effectively spread Christian teaching as well as disseminate political dissent.  Bad news, perhaps, for the politician, but good news for the soul.

True, the rapid-fire communication technologies of today create both societal discomforts about the perceived decline in areas such as social skills and spelling, but they also provide obvious benefits to global awareness of injustices like suffering and tyranny.  In the end, embracing new technologies, like accepting the context of today’s youth in Christian teaching, is not only forward-thinking, but essential.  Yust and Anderson claim that “too often North American culture has misshapen us spiritually, creating a need for us to teach and be taught alternative possibilities for living faithfully as God’s people” (Yust/Anderson, 55).  I agree with the latter, but find the notion that our culture has “misshapen us spiritually” to be derivative of outmoded thinking.  Harvard professor Steven Pinker, in his 2011 New York Times article “Violence Vanquished,” suggests that we are living in the most peaceful time in our planet’s history.  This view, statistically proven by Pinker, lends credence to the notion that perhaps, despite our concerns to the contrary, technology may very well be, since the invention of the printing press, incrementally delivering us from evil.  By comparison, Westerhoff believes this era to be the bankruptcy of our spiritual lives (Westerhoff, 20), but I see it as a necessary transition and recalibration toward the assimilation of Science and God in our contemporary society.

Three Modes of Spiritual Teaching
In the Yust/Anderson text, three modes of Christian teaching are explained.  Spiritual Conference, Spiritual Correspondence, and Spiritual Biography (or Hagiography).  The term “Spiritual Conference” references spiritually educational works written for the general populace with “specific pedagogical purposes” (Yust/Anderson, 58). “Correspondence” are works written to specific individuals through which we are able to glimpse into the spiritual growth that occurs over time, through series of letters, between apprentice and teacher (Yust/Anderson, 67).  Finally, “Spiritual Biographies” or Hagiographies are works through which we might learn about how to lead a Christian life through the lens of individual experience. “People’s lives are significant means whereby people glimpse examples of how we ought to live.  The growing importance of mentors and the work of mentoring… are evidence of this” (Yust/Anderson referencing L. Gregory Jones, 68).  “It’s about who we are and what we do” (Yust/Anderson, 68).

While in my opinion there is no one preferred method, and in fact, all could be useful both in combination as well as individually, for my purposes the Spiritual Conference method can easily be a dry and tedious variation.  Rather than creating a dynamic dialogue that captures the listener’s imagination, it relies more on proselytizing rhetoric which often uses outmoded language; not the way to engage a teenager.  Likewise, Spiritual Correspondence is fascinating from an historical perspective and can do much to bring to light a literary conversation and witness to growth, but can leave the reader wanting for contemporary personal perspective.  Biographies and hagiographies are perhaps the least intimidating texts in that they give us the opportunity to witness and emulate the life of a genuine human being who has found a level of spiritual perfection that, unlike the accomplishments of Christ, the everyday person can strive to achieve without feeling that he or she is too inadequately divine to experience God in their lives.  

In my own teaching, using biographical references of real people achieving real comfort in times of contemporary strife is the most affirmative method for putting the teachings of Christ into a contemporary context, and hopefully, usefulness.

Conclusion - Don’t Look a Gift Horse in the Mouth
We are so quick to look at the changes we experience around us and conclude that they are evidence of declining moral fiber and the destruction of the Church.  But I contend, and have hopefully made a good argument in favor of, the notion that we must embrace our burgeoning technology, we should use as our guide the elements of our life today as inhabitants of the 21st Century, and transform the ideologies of our forebears into fresh, new understandings of what Christ’s lesson plan for mankind should bring to our lives.  We must accept that Christianity is changed - the old versions of it do not appear to be relevant to the common young person, born after the advent of mass communication.  But if the lessons of Christ are truly valuable in the long-term as I believe them to be, we must have faith that nothing, not war, not advancing schools of thought, nor technology itself, can dislodge their usefulness.

Bibliography: “The Turn-Off of Christianity”

Westerhoff, John   Spiritual Life, The Foundation for Preaching and Teaching
    Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994

Yust, Karen Marie and E. Byron Anderson   Taught by God
        St Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2006

Pinker, Steven   “Violence Vanquished”  New York Times, 2011

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Stewardship Sermon for Rollstone Congregational Church

This is an assignment for my fundraising and grantwriting class with ANTS President, Dr. Nick Carter.  We were required to write a stewardship sermon for our (or a) church. We are not delivering these sermons, merely submitting them.  -Wil

Stewardship Sermon for Rollstone Congregational Church, Fitchburg, MA
My middle name is Daniel. I was named for my father, Daniel.  This is a photo of him. (Show photo) When I was born he was a mail carrier and he didn't much like going to church.  This is a photo of my parents on their wedding day. (Show photo) My grandparents on theirs. (Show photo). They, in contrast to my father, were involved in nearly every committee and club in this building.
My parents, my grandparents, my aunt and uncle.  They were all married in this church. They spent their spiritual lives building up this sacred space.  They participated in things like the Candlelight Club, on committees, attended fundraisers, donated to scouting, listen to sermons, participated in the sacraments.   Too much to possibly complete in one single adulthood, they surely built it for us.
Don't we owe it to them to maintain it in dignity?  Don't we owe it to them to continue living up to their ideals and goals for the future of this church and it's community?  Don't we owe it to them?
We do not.
They built us this space for a purpose.  But sacred space exists in no brick.  It exists in the chosen configuration of them.  They gave us bricks and glass, yes. But most importantly they gave us each other.
They built it so we would come.  They built it so we would be brought about into the world through a stable, sacred environment with love, and ethics, and fellowship.  They built a place through which we could answer our callings to serve.  They built it as a conduit to discover ourselves and our humanity.   They built it as a sanctuary.
But what is a sanctuary in today's world?  For millennia we have fled the temples in greater numbers and yet we have, in contrast to that move, incrementally increased the value of human life on the planet to statistically the most peaceful time in its history.  Check out Steven Pinker if you'd like to see his math on the subject.  It's quite comforting to learn that while we see more bloodshed than ever on TV it is not because it is happening more on the planet, it is simply because we know one another more now than ever.  We share everything now.  With our cell phones and cameras, we communicate every horror to one another and actively work to stamp out, and pray through our gaps in human compassion.  Likewise, we share our laughter and our talents, and our tears.
What is a sanctuary in today's world?  Where is our sanctuary?  Have we fled them? ...or are we taking them with us?  
The reason stewardship numbers are increasingly bad is because we are pumping money into old sanctuaries.  That is not say we should let the building crumble around us.  But the paradigm of sanctuary has changed.  Expanded.  And if we took a look at what now becomes a sanctuary most, we may find an answer quite different from my grandparents'.
I encourage you to give, yes.  I encourage you to put a portion of your time and "talents," both literal and biblically figurative, into the hands of your spiritual community as representatives of your spiritual desires.  But what are those desires?  Why are you here?  Are you getting what you came for?  Are you able to express your spirituality and need for human love here in this space?  Why or why not?
If you are here it is because you have a need.  This space is consecrated to fulfill that need.  Take what is offered and share what you are able in order to expand on what is available for you.  Get involved with this space and learn to receive its blessings.  For I believe in doing so, you will find your ability to give.  And through that process you will receive your anticipated return on investment. Perhaps quite a bit more.
So I ask you, what do we owe our grandparents?  What we owe them is each other.  For that is truly what they wanted us to have today.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Children Are Not the Future, They Are the Present

Wil Darcangelo
Weekly Reflection Paper - Friday, September 27, 2013
Culture and Religious Variations on Childhood

The definitions of childhood are as varied as the number of children on the planet. It is possible to define it for one’s own purposes, but defining it on behalf of the culture at large is a task of arrogance. The field is too wide and the cultural differences too many for any one metric to emerge. Each would be more unfair to the majority than the other. Each would impose upon the other a cultural paradigm unfit for universal application, and thus, be doing some cultures a disservice in favor of those whose cultures happen to align with a prescribed educational format.

But when it comes to the care and raising of a human child, there may be room for a common mission to be articulated. A constitution of child-rearing that all humans could adopt in their own way and style. A document of faith that acknowledges our special relationship and responsibility to those of us who are weaker, less-informed, struggling. I do not propose that document here, but I do know some of the key elements to be kept in mind: We have a duty toward those navigating earlier stages of development to be mindful of their position of progress and be encouraging at all times. We must do our part to help them to overcome fears and insecurities. We must maintain vigilance for emotional disturbances and foster individualized learning opportunities such as customized educational plans, mentorships and internships. We must acknowledge that children are people with needs as are we all. We must live up to the needs we felt when we were children ourselves and find ways to improve upon our ability to learn from the mistakes made by adults during our own development.

As a mentor and substitute teacher in public schools I know that I cannot create one method to best serve all children. But I can have one mission: Do what is best for each and let what is best for one be no guide for the rest.

Ned Parker’s observation that children are not the future of the church, but the present, is a perfect example of the shift in paradigm that our culture needs to explore if we wish to make the most of our children’s years of development. “...the truth is that you ARE the church right now, this minute. We wouldn't be this church that we are without you here. You make us whole."

If we truly acknowledge that children aren’t just something meant for tomorrow’s usefulness, we might make better, more enlightened use of the time we have with them.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

When the Rubber Hits the Road

So, now I come to the point in my new life that I have to figure out a way to synthesize it with my old one.  How do I combine my careers with my theological path?  In one major sense, they are not disparate ideas at all; my dual-careers (my community and my music) have always been informed by my evolving theology.  It is why I partnered my two careers together in the first place.  My faith system encourages me to do well by doing good, the central tenet of cause marketing and social enterprise (thank you, David Roth and Corinne Farinelli for teaching this to me).  It is perfectly natural to me to believe that greater profit comes from high-integrity business plans.  Plans which create opportunities to collaborate with the community.  When everyone is a shareholder, everyone participates.  When everyone participates, a network is automatically generated within the group.  When a network exists, all things are possible.

But in the specifics, I have the Tribe: my band and funky family.  And I have the next three years of divinity school.  And I make stained glass.  And I like to write.  I like to plan big events.  And I'm remodeling my house.  How do these things now synthesize into one being that can pay his cable bill every month?

I have a feeling the answer already exists in the ether.  The solution is out there and probably already in the works.  The person who has the right thing to contribute or say which generates in me the idea, perhaps.  Or maybe I'll just stumble upon it and be doing it before I even realize I'm doing it; perhaps find that I've been doing it all along just with one little element missing.

I feel that I should be more concerned about my finances, but I just can't seem to bring myself to be able to worry about it.  I somehow feel very well supported even though I can't see it.  I am consciously letting it buoy me.  I have no answers.  But I don't let that fact disturb me.  I am surfing the present, because I don't know what the future holds.  I will not be driftwood.

The waves of life are both beautiful and terrible.  They can kill us, and they can bring us to higher grounds.  They are as Judas: part of a terrible plan meant to save us all.  A double-edged sword.

I will be a surfer of these waves.  Or at least I aspire to be.  I will not be driftwood.  I will let the wave beneath my board speak to me and intuitively tell me which direction to point myself.  I will stay in the sweet spot until the very moment I gently walk off the tip as it glides to rest in the wet sand.  And then my answer will be waiting for me.

Whatever answer I seek to whatever question I may have is waiting for me at the shoreline.  I have only to get there.  And there are many ways for a plank of wood to reach the shore.  Few of them are pleasant.  Few of them are fast.  But one way is to be a surfboard.  It requires no power other than your intellect and your body.  The waves are always there, ready to smash us against the rocks or to power us forward.  It's up to me which one I choose.

So, the answer to my question is: Accept the fact that I don't yet know the answer, but accept that the answer exists.  If I acknowledge its presence, it will manifest more quickly, no?  I would think even in the literal sense, if you make a decision to see a rose, you'll come across one because you're now on the lookout.  Likewise, if I assume that there's a way to combine my fields of study and practice in a way that inspires integrity and profit - both social as well as financial - a way will appear.  It's a tall order, I admit.  But with God all things are possible, they say.  And if God is in me then I have some of that magic wand too.

And so do you.

What are you going to point your magic wand at today?  When you know the answer, that will be the moment when the rubber hits the road, when the surfboard itself knows what to do, and when your heart is at peace atop the most tempestuous sea.  Wish me luck with my wave and I'll send you some good mojo for yours!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

There's No Turning Back Now

I have spent the past two days at orientation.  It was a real eye-opener.  The first day of classes is tomorrow. "Education Across the Lifespan" will be my first class at ANTS. I am actually doing this. It was only six months ago to the day that I realized I must do this and now I'm looking at a stack of books and a student id with my giddy face laser marked into the glossy white surface.  I am already $5,000 deeper in scholastic debt (I got a few thousand in scholarships from the school) and it's only the beginning.

I just dove into this experience headfirst.  I never even knew how long the program was, how much it would cost, how many credits I needed, and most of all, what kind of seminary I wanted to attend.  I knew a couple people at Rollstone who had attended ANTS so I just decided to go there.  Other schools never occurred to me.

I went into this experience not worrying a whit about any of the details.  I knew that they would be worked out in the necessary time and all I needed to do was decide to go.  I really was trying to put my money where my mouth is on all the advice I give people about "Pick a destination and drop an anchor of thought there.  Decide what you want and make the decision final in your mind.  Then have faith that the Universe will conform to your decision.  Don't look at the soil where you've planted a seed after only two days and say, "Why is nothing happening?" LOTS is happening, you merely can't see it.  Have faith that things are conspiring on your behalf behind the scenes and leap! The net will appear."

Making the decision to answer my call was a huge leap.  I knew I could never put it back in the tube again.  But the other night as I went to bed before the first day of orientation, I thought to myself, "I could back out now still.  It wouldn't be quitting, it would be merely not starting."  I knew I wouldn't but the thought was appealing.

Now that I'm ready to begin, I couldn't be more excited.  I know why I was brought to Andover Newton.  It is the perfect school for me.  I fit in beautifully and I know that I'm not even the most radical thinking Christian by far on the campus!  Every obstacle has fallen away throughout this entire process and I have to just accept the fact that this is what I'm doing with my life.

I am now a graduate student.  God help me.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Why am I doing this? (or, Why I am doing this.)

It's a very interesting distinction between 'why am I' and 'why I am.'  One is a question to the self by the self, and the other is a response to the self being questioned by someone else.  Strangely, it is in responding to the question that I not only ask it of myself, but learn the answer almost in tandem with my questioner.  It is in answering that I often best hear myself.  It is the act of articulating those loose, generalized thought packages into digestible answers that I often catch myself saying things I didn't realize I was thinking, but that my behavior had suggested all along.  I answer because I, too, want to know the answer.

And in this instance I will ask it of myself, because I really want to know.  Why am I doing this?

I tell people what I believe to be the truth:  First, I want this education.  I have been fascinated by this subject matter all my life and I want to keep learning.  I want to participate in discussion and debate about my ideas without tiring people out who have little interest in what I'm thinking.  I want to hear other peoples' ideas and find the ways in which we are all telling the same story.

Second, I long ago gave myself to a life of service.  I don't even know specifically when it happened.  But as I look back on the past 14 years of attempting to "do well by doing good" in my community and my career, I realized that I had given it in stages without realizing.  There is no other path for me than a life of service. 


I think the moment I realized every path I've ever walked in my life has led me to this trajectory, would be the moment I understood why I have all these different interests in the first place.  They are meant to serve together.  Several years ago I remember thinking that on some level I felt my life was galvanizing together; that the separate trajectories of all my major interests and skill-sets (like religion/spirituality, stained glass, music, carpentry, community building, travel, uncovery, etc.) were going to be useful when combined one day.  I just didn't yet know how (or even know that I would want) to combine them.  

On March 16 of this year it occurred to me for the first time that I could be a reverend while retaining my natural irreverency; I didn't have to give up my dreams of being a rock star with a colorful vocabulary who loves to belch simply because I also want to be a minister.  That moment in my minivan that day was a powerful realization, but it was only a micro-epiphany about what to do next. I needed to go to seminary.  But it was not the moment when it all came together in my understanding about how and why they could all fit together in the same person.  How all these disparate parts of myself could exist in the same 21 letters: reverendwildarcangelo. How exactly does one tame a "wild archangel"?  One doesn't.  


I need to accept the previously unacceptable: It's okay for me to be different.  It's okay for me to be a little dangerous.  I need to be able to fit in the places of the world where most people don't want to go or know what to say when they get there.  I needed to know what it's like to be lonely and sick and redeemed.  I needed to know.  I needed to learn that forgiveness of self is the hardest part.  I won't say I have accomplished that one yet, but it is on my bucket list. ;-)


By the way, that magical moment when I finally realized it was all supposed to work together occurred right where you see the *asterisk above.  I had hoped I would learn the answer in the answering.  And so I did.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Great Central It

When I meditate and ask myself if I think God is a central entity with a single intelligence, I can only answer no. 

I feel as though God must be more profound than a single entity with one intellect.   However vast a mind the mind of God might be, we are so entwined, even when we try to believe otherwise, we could hardly think of  ourselves as separate from The Great Central It. And if so entangled and inseparable then we are all of a piece. And therefore stands it to reason we are all of us, together, God?

Monday, September 2, 2013

My Student Biographical Statement

Wil Darcangelo is a professional vocalist and music mentor from Fitchburg, Massachusetts. Drawn to theological writings and study his entire life, he is embarking on the journey to become an ordained Congregationalist minister through his home church, Rollstone Congregational in Fitchburg.  Wil is also a substitute teacher at his alma mater, Fitchburg High School, where he directs an extensive after school music empowerment program called the Tribe Music Mentorship Project.  The Tribe is a project of his social enterprise company, The Good-Wil Initiative, which has produced cultural events, fundraisers, and social projects in the area since 2008.  After attending the American Academy of Dramatic Art in New York City in the early 90s, Wil spent ten years traveling the world as a professional actor, producer, choreographer, and director.  Wil is also a finish carpenter, stained glass artist, professional stitcher/upholsterer, life coach, art framer, and community advocate.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Accepted, Registered, and Financial Forms Filled Out!

So, the process has begun.  On March 16, 2013 I came to the startling realization that I wanted to go into the seminary and become a minister.  On Sept 16, 2013, six months to the day later, I will enter my first class.  "Educational Ministry Across the Lifespan."  I have no earthly idea what it's even about.

My second class will be that same evening at 6pm, "Preaching."  I cannot wait for this one!

On Thursdays I'll have my third and final class "Show Me the Money."  I think it's about fundraising!  Hopefully it's not being taught by a televangelist!  Actually, the class is taught by the school's president, Nick Carter.  I assume it has to do with fundraising and finances for spiritual institutions.  I hope it's not boring, but I really don't care.  There isn't a single class that ANTS offers that I'm not interested in.  They were asking me what classes I'd like to take and I literally told them, "Start with the first one and I'll take them all!"

I must admit, though, I am a bit anxious about how I (and my somewhat radical views on Christianity) will be perceived by the faculty and students.  For instance, I am curious about, but don't put much stock in, certain aspects of the religions of Christianity such as virgin birth, divinity of Christ, resurrection, etc.  I don't put much stock in them because I feel they are merely ornaments to the Lessons of Christ, the things he was trying to actually teach us about how to conduct ourselves in order to achieve our most joyful state.  The concept of virgin birth has nothing to do with the lesson of Forgiveness, for example.  It brings nothing to the lesson and is merely part of the biography of the teacher.  The biography is interesting, to be sure, but it is not the Lesson itself.  It is also impossible to understand or prove the circumstance reality of the mother of the man we call Jesus.  The use of the word 'virgin' can have many uses and translations in different cultures and times.  It inspires endless speculation and debate, but is not part of the purpose of Jesus the teacher.  I feel fairly confident that he gave no consideration to the idea that his mother would be worshiped as an idol.  I wonder also if he might not have wished it, for fear that it would draw attention away from what is truly important: The Lesson.

Similarly, it seems that so many of the miracles of Jesus are waived about in order to give credibility to their claim that Jesus was the one and only Son of God.  I suspect it was an attempt to corner the market and convert as many spiritualists from various cultures to the new uniformity of the Roman Catholic faith.

Now, let me be perfectly clear about one thing: I am not refuting these traditions.  Mary may very well have been a virgin and Jesus may very well have bodily resurrected after three days in the tomb.  I have no more evidence than anyone about whether they are true statements or not.  I am merely suggesting that we not look to these traditions as evidence of the validity the the lessons.  The lessons are valid enough on their own and gilding the lily is a waste of good gold.

The Bible is not a perfect document.  I believe, if anything, that God wants us to use it to learn to be able to discern the difference between the Love of Spirit from the words of Man.  And, perhaps, in that, the Bible is a perfect textbook for the foolishness of Man as well as of Mankind's' greatest possibilities if only we choose to look at it that way.

I want to learn to teach the Single Great Lesson of Jesus.  Love One Another.  That's all he really wanted us to take away from his life here on Earth.  He was a teacher and a rebel.  He was a lover of all he came into contact with.  He saw everyone's light and loved them for their possibilities not their pasts.  I can't imagine he would care if we even remembered his name so long as his lessons made their appropriate impact on mankind.  Why sing songs to Jesus when we could be singing songs to each other?

So, all I have to say about entering Andover Newton Theological School is, "Wait till they get a load of me."

Friday, August 2, 2013

And Thus it begins.

Ever since I decided to finally "answer the call" and begin the process to become an ordained minister, I have struggled with the idea of what type of minister I will be.  I know who I am and what I believe, but I am not yet confident of how those beliefs and ideas will be perceived.  If you know me then you already know that I won't be your run-of-the-mill man of the cloth.  I have very different ideas and my effectiveness in sharing those ideas remains to be seen.  So, here I will share my process and my trials at communicating what I hope will be an overall message of encouragement and empowerment for people who are struggling with our new age and the changes in our global culture that have recently occurred.

I have applied at Andover Newton Theological School in Newton Center, Massachusetts.  It is the only school to which I have applied and the only one I am interested in attending.  The previous post (Analysis of CS Lewis' "Essay on Forgiveness") is an additional application requirement I needed to write since I do not currently have a bachelor degree.  If accepted, I will be a provisional student until I have successfully completed at least three graded courses, probably by the end of my first semester.  I will then be a "real" student.

I am not typically a well-disciplined person.  I procrastinate and divert and foot-drag.  I have decided the best way to circumnavigate that character trait as well as potentially solve the concerns mentioned above, is to post all of my assignments and writings and will even occasionally journal about my experience of becoming Reverend Wil Darcangelo.  I will greatly appreciate any and all feedback. and thank you for sharing this experience with me.  I really didn't want to be alone.
Wil Darcangelo
Supplemental Writing Sample for Andover Newton Theological School
Application Requirement for non-Baccalaureate Candidates for M. Div Program
Submitted July 2013 for Fall 2013 entrance

Analysis Commentary of CS Lewis' Essay on Forgiveness
published in 1960 by Macmillan Publishing Company, Inc.

I would like to begin by disclaiming the fact that I have not yet read Mr. Lewis' other theological writings though I know now they are numerous.  As I am at the virtual beginning of my adult academic life, I look forward to exploring a number of such works in the future.  However, once I had decided upon Forgiveness as my subject for this analysis, I decided I would use my ignorance of his other work as an asset; or at least something I was willing to work with.  I only know of his storytelling (i.e. the highly allegorical Chronicles of Narnia, etc.) and knew nothing of his prolific career as a theologian and philosopher until a fortunate choice of words in a search engine brought Mr. Lewis' essay to the top of the list.  I thought this was an opportunity to examine only one small piece of a puzzle to see what might be visible of its whole.  I look forward to discovering my own hubris as time goes on, perhaps.  Or maybe the larger man is truly visible in all things he wrote.  For me, time will tell.  For now, I will attempt to analyze a rain drop in the hopes of knowing the lake.  People tell me I have a tendency to over-analyze things.  They may be correct or, possibly, they may be too under-analytical.  Since this is a free forum for analysis I will go whole-hog and gleefully take his essay and pick it apart; undoubtedly deriving and inferring things that poor man might never have meant to imply. Perhaps there is a better distinction between analysis and critique than I as yet realize.  But maybe this writing assignment is important if only for the opportunity it provides to give my own feelings about his subject matter a springboard for comparison.  In which case, I hope Mr. Lewis wouldn't mind a bit of freshman arrogance.

Right from the onset of Mr. Lewis' Essay on Forgiveness (see essay in its entirety at the end of this analysis) he seems to be under the impression that one of the principal tenets of Christianity as I understand it - the concept of Forgiveness itself - is something which is simply known without being taught.  As if it were, or should be, instinctual.  More troubling is his assertion that God's forgiveness is conditional.  The main point of his essay is thus: "We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us.  There is no doubt about the second part of this statement.  It is in the Lord's Prayer, it was emphatically stated by our Lord.  If you don't forgive you will not be forgiven.  No exceptions to it.  He doesn't say that we are to forgive other people's sins, provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort.  We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated.  If we don't we shall be forgiven none of our own."

I agree that we were taught by Jesus to forgive no matter how egregious the trespasses against us may be.  However, there is nothing in the Lord's Prayer to suggest that forgiveness is conditional in any way.  Forgive our debts/trespasses as we forgive our debtors/those who trespass against us.  The statement as we have come to understand it today is "AS we forgive", not IF we forgive.  I might interpret the line to mean that God already knows we forgive, if not always, often.  God forgives as we forgive.  Our faith teaches us that we are a part of God. If that be true, God's gifts are our gifts also, insofar as we choose to use them.  Forgiveness is part of our natural balanced state; our equilibrium; on the soul level.  Forgiveness is only held in abatement by other, more human factors.  Factors that, once removed or assuaged, can no longer stem the tide of our natural state.  His lack of doubt and the absoluteness of his belief is unjustified.  Yes, we are to forgive them all, but the love - ergo the forgiveness - is unconditional. 

He also naïvely contends that the authors of the Creed must have wanted what was in our best interest when crafting the document, when it is quite possible that (consciously anyway) they were responding more to their political agenda than their spiritual altruism.  According to James Keifer as reported by, much of the Apostle's Creed was written in the first or second century likely in answer to the Gnostic belief that God did not make the Universe (it is evil), God did not take human form (Spirit entered the body at baptism and departed before Crucifixion), and that Gnostics believe that it is enlightenment which is needed most, not forgiveness (ignorance is the problem, not sin).  Lewis makes an uninformed assumption about why the drafters of the Creed included the statement about forgiveness.  And though the common religious beliefs of Mr. Lewis' time did not culturally encourage such dissenting thought (and therefore might innocently not occur to him), the original authors were more likely countering the Gnostic belief as a theo-political move rather than attempting a deliberate long-term plan to save Christian souls.  Fortunately, the message of Forgiveness remained with the main body of Christ's teachings despite the possible rocky road to its inclusion.

He also contends that "forgiveness is not as easy as I thought."  This is a very curious statement.  At what point in his life did he have the thought that forgiveness was easy?  At what point was he disabused of this notion?  This essay was written at age 62, three years before his death.  It was written the year of his wife's death to bone cancer, unknown if before or after, but one might assume that her illness was lengthy.  It's possible that he had forgiveness issues with God over this, but it is only a supposition.

He also spends a large amount of time arguing the appropriate form in which our request for forgiveness should take.  When applying to God for relief from the burden of our sin, are we asking God for forgiveness or are we asking to be excused?  Mr. Lewis goes on to explain the "important" distinction between the two concepts as he sees it and yet as he writes, he only seems to reinforce the idea that they are in fact the same.  To compare, I looked up the two definitions:

                Forgive  v. (used with object) 1. to grant pardon for or remission of (an offense, debt, etc.); absolve.

                Excuse  v. (used with object) 1. to regard or judge with forgiveness or indulgence; pardon or forgive; overlook (a fault, error, etc.).

Here, as in his writing, there appears to be virtually no distinction between Forgiving and Excusing.  Why then spend such an inordinate amount of time arguing the difference between a Chrysler minivan and one made by Plymouth?  They are virtually the same car with different names.  He continues in the subsequent paragraphs to argue in favor of the very contradictions to his own case as indicated here: "One is to remember that God knows all the real excuses very much better than we do.  If there are real "extenuating circumstances" there is no fear that He will overlook them.  Often He must know many excuses that we have never even thought of, and therefore humble souls will, after death, have the delightful surprise of discovering that on certain occasions they sinned much less than they thought.  All the real excusing He will do."  So, does God know all or not?  Why does Mr. Lewis virtually suggest we approach God with worry in our hearts that we will not be forgiven if we don't ask for it correctly, when he then goes on to explain that it's pointless to do so since God already knows anyway?

Repeatedly, Mr. Lewis states God's forgiveness is conditional.  One must ask for it and ask for it correctly.  One must discern excuse from reason.  But I ask, does God hold back his forgiveness until it is asked for?  Or perhaps, as Mr. Lewis inadvertently debates, does God forgive and excuse the "sin" before it is even committed?  For whom is the concept of forgiveness anyway?  The act of "forgiveness" implies the "sinner" was first held by God in a state of being "unforgiven" prior to being awarded the state of being "forgiven."  Is God waiting around not forgiving us until we ask for it correctly?  Or, perhaps, it's possible (as I personally believe) that God has never once held any of us in a state defined as "unforgiven."  I would make the bold assertion - using the unconscious subtext of Mr. Lewis' essay as evidence - that God does not need to forgive because there is nothing for which we need God's forgiveness.  WE are the ones who benefit from the act of forgiving.  God does not need to make God feel better by forgiving us for being nasty to one another.  WE need to make ourselves feel better by KNOWING a state of Forgiveness.  It is arrogant to think we can offend God.  What I hope God really wants is for us to forgive ONE ANOTHER.  God's doing just fine.  Forgiveness is for the forgiver, not the forgiven.  It makes me wonder what type of bargaining conversations Mr. Lewis had with the Creator.  Further, this statement: "Forgiveness says, "Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before."  I would argue that the act of being forgiven and of receiving forgiveness changes the dynamic relationship forever - it could never be exactly the same as before.  It would be more profound.  And there, unwittingly to Mr. Lewis, might sit the distinction itself.  Perhaps to excuse someone is more akin to resuming the previous relationship - including it's flaws, while to forgive is to build on that relationship and synthesize both the deed and the resurrection from estrangement into a higher vibration of human entanglement, compassion, and love.  Both allow for a removal of the blockage, but one makes the pipeline even wider.

If God knows our excuses before we make them, what is the point of his essay as he writes it?  The compartmentalization of "sin" into "excusable bits" and "inexcusable bits" seems to be an exercise in pointlessness.  In one breath Mr. Lewis says God knows all and has already anticipated your excuses (meaning how you feel about your own "sin"), and in the next he's saying the jury is still out.  He's telling you to make sure you're not going to God with too many excuses because God knows them all already so there's no point in making a fool of yourself trying to explain your actions.  God already knows what you did, why you did it, and feels compassion for you because you suffer from not being able to forgive yourself for doing it.  Mr. Lewis inadvertently makes the case for this when he says, "We are only wasting our time talking about all the parts which can (we think) be excused. When you go to a Dr. you show him the bit of you that is wrong - say, a broken arm.  It would be a mere waste of time to keep on explaining that your legs and throat and eyes are all right.  You may be mistaken in thinking so, and anyway, if they are really right, the doctor will know that."  But I say: What doctor looks at his patient and says, "I don't forgive you for breaking your arm until you ask for my forgiveness."?  The doctor has no need whatsoever of even going through the motions of forgiveness.  Likewise, God has no need to forgive us when we are forgiven before we even commit a sin against ourselves in the first place.  As the doctor doesn't need to forgive his patient, God is only there to heal and to mend what someone has only done to themselves.  What forgiveness is required for that?

According to Lewis, Remedy One: Don't make excuses.  Remedy Two: Believe in the concept of Forgiveness.  "Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it."  Is this the view from God's perspective or of the man in the mirror?  God must view the "sin" as part of a complex tapestry of circumstances and choices and environment.  God must know the labyrinth of lefts and rights we take when making our decisions and why each choice along the way was made.  God must know that we constantly make what we feel to be the best possible choice for ourselves in each moment of our lives.  Even when those choices prove to cause more harm than good, we do our best at each moment without even meaning to.

"In our own case we accept excuses too easily, in other people's we do not accept them easily enough."  I believe this to be mostly true.  Except in the case of accepting our own excuses "too easily," it makes me wonder if we shouldn't find a way to cut ourselves a break once in a while?  What does "accepting our own excuses too easily" amount to?  A partial lack of forgiveness?  Or is he trying to say that we need to pay attention to our excuses for our own sake?  I do believe that paying attention to the excuses we make can lead us to knowing the root of why we commit "sins" against ourselves and others in the first place.  I'm not certain this is what he meant, but it is what I have inferred nonetheless.  "One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought."  Is he asking us to make excuses for others' sins?  Or is he inviting us to experience compassion?  If that's the case, I think he would have managed to use the word 'compassion' at least once in his essay.  Since forgiveness is the natural result of compassion and compassion is the natural result of knowing one another, he is perhaps inadvertently advocating for it. "...attend to everything..." He asks us to take our time and explore all possible avenues toward excusing/forgiving those who trespass against us.  And why?  Because even though Mr. Lewis spends considerable time explaining that we need to ask for forgiveness (and give it) in order to receive it, he contradicts that by saying "To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you."  One can only assume that forgiveness was already, and perhaps always, granted.  No questions asked.

In the end, perhaps he comes to a better conclusion than the slipshod trajectory of his essay would direct.  He is wise to acknowledge the somewhat counter-intuitive notion that a single great injury is easier to forgive than the "incessant provocations of daily life."  For that is where the difficulty with living a forgiving life exists: in the mundane, banal annoyances and inconveniences that seem too trivial in the micro to bother forgiving, but without constant care they emerge into the macro of our lives with a vengeance.  Perhaps he wants us to know that without living in a state of reciprocal forgiveness you can neither forgive others (or oneself), nor have faith in the concept of forgiveness.  To live without it is to absent oneself from the cycle of compassion and humanity.  Anger, frustration and annoyance become our very religion, our personal philosophy, our dharma, the way we navigate the minutia of our lives.  But to forgive is the only way to know forgiveness.  Mr. Lewis intuitively steps into this but fails to make his argument with words when he makes God's forgiveness of us conditional upon our forgiveness of others.  It is not a punitive act that God withholds forgiveness until we get our act together.  It is that we are unable to experience the flood of forgiveness constantly gushing over us when we cannot know forgiveness of others and ourselves.  He tells us to risk closing the umbrella in our grasping hands and simply allow the rain to wash us clean.  And in this, he is correct.


Essay on Forgiveness

by C.S. Lewis

Macmillian Publishing Company, Inc., N.Y, 1960

We say a great many things in church (and out of church too) without thinking of what we are saying. For instance, we say in the Creed " I believe in the forgiveness of sins." I had been saying it for several years before I asked myself why it was in the Creed. At first sight it seems hardly worth putting in. "If one is a Christian," I thought " of course one believes in the forgiveness of sins. It goes without saying." But the people who compiled the Creed apparently thought that this was a part of our belief which we needed to be reminded of every time we went to church. And I have begun to see that, as far as I am concerned, they were right. To believe in the forgiveness of sins is not so easy as I thought. Real belief in it is the sort of thing that easily slips away if we don't keep on polishing it up.

We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us. There is no doubt about the second part of this statement. It is in the Lord's Prayer, it was emphatically stated by our Lord. If you don't forgive you will not be forgiven. No exceptions to it. He doesn't say that we are to forgive other people's sins, provided they are not too frightful, or provided there are extenuating circumstances, or anything of that sort. We are to forgive them all, however spiteful, however mean, however often they are repeated. If we don't we shall be forgiven none of our own.

Now it seems to me that we often make a mistake both about God's forgiveness of our sins and about the forgiveness we are told to offer to other people's sins. Take it first about God's forgiveness, I find that when I think I am asking God to forgive me I am often in reality (unless I watch myself very carefully) asking Him to do something quite different. I am asking him not to forgive me but to excuse me. But there is all the difference in the world between forgiving and excusing. Forgiveness says, "Yes, you have done this thing, but I accept your apology; I will never hold it against you and everything between us two will be exactly as it was before." If one was not really to blame then there is nothing to forgive. In that sense forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites. Of course, in dozens of cases, either between God and man, or between one man and another, there may be a mixture of the two. Part of what at first seemed to be the sins turns out to be really nobody's fault and is excused; the bit that is left over is forgiven. If you had a perfect excuse, you would not need forgiveness; if the whole of your actions needs forgiveness, then there was no excuse for it. But the trouble is that what we call "asking God's forgiveness" very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses. What leads us into this mistake is the fact that there usually is some amount of excuse, some "extenuating circumstances." We are so very anxious to point these things out to God (and to ourselves) that we are apt to forget the very important thing; that is, the bit left over, the bit which excuses don't cover, the bit which is inexcusable but not, thank God, unforgivable. And if we forget this, we shall go away imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves without own excuses. They may be very bad excuses; we are all too easily satisfied about ourselves.

There are two remedies for this danger. One is to remember that God knows all the real excuses very much better than we do. If there are real "extenuating circumstances" there is no fear that He will overlook them. Often He must know many excuses that we have never even thought of, and therefore humble souls will, after death, have the delightful surprise of discovering that on certain occasions they sinned much less than they thought. All the real excusing He will do. What we have got to take to Him is the inexcusable bit, the sin. We are only wasting our time talking about all the parts which can (we think) be excused. When you go to a Dr. you show him the bit of you that is wrong - say, a broken arm. It would be a mere waste of time to keep on explaining that your legs and throat and eyes are all right. You may be mistaken in thinking so, and anyway, if they are really right, the doctor will know that.

The second remedy is really and truly to believe in the forgiveness of sins. A great deal of our anxiety to make excuses comes from not really believing in it, from thinking that God will not take us to Himself again unless He is satisfied that some sort of case can be made out in our favor. But that is not forgiveness at all. Real forgiveness means looking steadily at the sin, the sin that is left over without any excuse, after all allowances have been made, and seeing it in all its horror, dirt, meanness, and malice, and nevertheless being wholly reconciled to the man who has done it.

When it comes to a question of our forgiving other people, it is partly the same and partly different. It is the same because, here also forgiving does not mean excusing. Many people seem to think it does. They think that if you ask them to forgive someone who has cheated or bullied them you are trying to make out that there was really no cheating or bullying. But if that were so, there would be nothing to forgive. (This doesn't mean that you must necessarily believe his next promise. It does mean that you must make every effort to kill every taste of resentment in your own heart - every wish to humiliate or hurt him or to pay him out.) The difference between this situation and the one in which you are asking God's forgiveness is this. In our own case we accept excuses too easily, in other people's we do not accept them easily enough. As regards my own sins it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are not really so good as I think; as regards other men's sins against me it is a safe bet (though not a certainty) that the excuses are better than I think. One must therefore begin by attending to everything which may show that the other man was not so much to blame as we thought. But even if he is absolutely fully to blame we still have to forgive him; and even if ninety-nine per cent of his apparent guilt can be explained away by really good excuses, the problem of forgiveness begins with the one per cent of guilt that is left over. To excuse, what can really produce good excuses is not Christian charity; it is only fairness. To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.

This is hard. It is perhaps not so hard to forgive a single great injury. But to forgive the incessant provocations of daily life - to keep on forgiving the bossy mother-in-law, the bullying husband, the nagging wife, the selfish daughter, the deceitful son - How can we do it? Only, I think, by remembering where we stand, by meaning our words when we say in our prayers each night "Forgive our trespasses* as we forgive those that trespass against us." We are offered forgiveness on no other terms. To refuse it is to refuse God's mercy for ourselves. There is no hint of exceptions and God means what He says.

*Trespasses=offences, being offended or offending.
(Notes are not authored to Mr. Lewis)