The Space between Revenge and Forgiveness

We all bore witness to forgiveness  at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in  Charleston. The congregation members who lost love ones showed the power of that  sentiment. They helped all of us learn how forgiveness may support victims and scapegoats by  calming  grief and  empowering  prayers and so much more.

We know there are many other emotions felt but left unspoken. The fact that this  community accepts the legal framework of punishment  makes it easier to forgive. It projects the all too human feeling of anger and revenge–in this case well represented collectively by  incarceration and possible  death penalty–into the hands of an anonymous judicial system that, if trusted,  frees each  individudal’s heart and mind to dwell on  emotions of mourning.

But if the shooter was not now in the hands of the society but still roaming free , forgiveness would surely be on hold.  It is a painful truth that wherever killers are not apprehended and dealt with severely, victims who have the power to take ‘justice’ into their own hands, usually  do . The rest of us remember.

Forgiveness? Not until we settle the score with him/her/them.

Dr. Scapegoat is not feeling cynical about the extraordinary outpouring of grace and graciousness by this group . But we all need to feel  both heart and  muscle at times of tragic loss. Turning the other cheek is the heart in action. Protesting, airing grievances on th social media,  hiring a  a lawyer (or a paid assassin) to punish  killers and exact reparations is the muscle of anger and revenge in action.

In this case the community was buoyed by its immediate ability to display their faith in forgiveness, a shared sacred creed of their religion. It provided solidarity and group comfort and put off living alone with the horror of personal, lonely loss. How long will it take until the feelings of anger, unfairness, revenge and the desperate need for action take over?  Social activism and other mechanisms for progress in human affairs, rely on seed energy from these ‘negative’ feelings and sublimates them  in  working  toward transforming the future and remaking it  into a fairer place. It is one of the ways  we mourn without destroying ourselves or others.

In tragedies such as this one,  forgiveness is a first step or  perhaps a last one. But the place between forgiveness and revenge is the place  we must  struggle to find, the place where we create the new reality, where we heal by demanding and insuring justice .

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