That's a Good Question
Dear Dr. Tom: As an observer watching the proceedings in the George Zimmerman trial, I can't help but feel that Zimmerman got away with murder. I know that Jesus preached forgiveness, but at the moment the thought of Zimmerman being forgiven seems repugnant. Do we need to forgive him to have spiritual integrity?
T.L., Prairie Village, Kansas
Dear T.L.: It’s always hard to forgive when we feel an injustice has been done. If the verdict had gone the other way, the people who believed George Zimmerman was not guilty would be asking the same question. Speaking as a clergyperson, proactive forgiveness is always the best course of action. Unforgiveness hurts the person clinging to spiteful thoughts, as great spiritual teachers from all religions have observed. This does not mean to excuse behavior that is inexcusable—forgiveness is not forgetting—nor should we ignore the painful lessons learned. However, Jesus said “Love your enemies,” which presupposes hurtful opposition will sometimes arise in life. My friend, the Buddhist monk Bhante Wimala, says holding anger inside hurts the person who harbors it. However, that doesn’t mean forgiveness will be easy.
In any situation where behavioral choices lead to tragedy, the challenge to forgive is not an easy task. It’s just the only way we have to move on, carry on, and press on, making the necessary changes so the world becomes a safer place for all God’s children.
Dear Dr. Tom: America celebrates the Fourth of July amid national pride and bluster. Isn’t it contrary to the teachings of Jesus to be a patriot in any country, when all humanity is our family?
D.K., Oakland, California
Dear D.K.: Not necessarily. As a Pennsylvania Dutchman, I can be proud of the American heritage without denying my Anglo-Germanic genealogy or refusing to see myself as a child of the human race. Patriotic sentiments only become problematic when they give people a sense of superiority over other nations, peoples and ethnicities. In the 2012 election year, both parties went out of their way to affirm “American exceptionalism,” the idea that there is something inherently superior to American political and cultural values. Even Superman affirms the concept when he declares he has come from the planet Krypton to fight for “Truth, Justice and the American Way.” It may surprise some of my countrymen to learn that not everyone on this planet shares Superman’s enthusiasm about some American values, notably an unhealthy passion for materialism and a lack of cultural flexibility about worldviews different from ours. In the words of author Wade Davis:
The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit.
Yet there are so many good factors in American culture—among them freedom of thought and democratic representative government, a fervent belief in equal justice under law, and an irrepressibly optimistic attitude about our ability to face the challenges going forward. Many believers in the oneness of humankind, like me, find that celebrating the establishment of this land of great possibilities seems totally appropriate.
So on July 4, I wave the stars and stripes but keep a blue United Nations flag handy as a banner of a cooperative future world at peace.