Hometown Wisdom


We’ve just returned from a holiday trip to best all holiday trips—ten days, eight states, 1500 miles--visiting family and friends for Christmas. It wasn’t without its quiet moments though, and one of them was returning to my husband’s (one-stoplight) hometown of Floyd, Va. Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains, it rivals Mayberry for its quiet friendliness. The local headline the day we arrived was this: Dogs spared in duck deaths “On July 12, two dogs and one other attacked five pet ducks in a cage on the property of Fred Jones and Linda Shell-Jones near Pilot. Three ducks died in the attack, and a fourth injured duck was later euthanized while a fifth duck escaped but later returned to the couple’s home. Mrs. Jones described the surviving duck as “traumatized” and said it wasn’t the same after the attack.”

In the end, the judge in the case, a dog lover himself who had brought his new Jack Russell puppy to court that day because he was “too young to be left alone;” decided to extend mercy to these delinquent canines on the grounds that they behaved themselves for the next year.

But Floyd’s also home to an earthier set and has been a gathering place for clean living, free loving, mystical creative-types for the last several decades. The town’s streets, once populated by professional offices, are now lined with alternative shops, art galleries, and music venues. And so one morning while we were there, my husband and I took advantage of that lovely phenomenon called “grandparents” to slip out to a local coffee house run by a high school classmate. It’s an unusual blend of rustic and groovy with the service and atmosphere as smooth as the coffee.

I was getting in touch with my inner seventies, when I strolled over to the bulletin board. Like the town, the notices were a mix of the practical (For Rent: 3br, 2 bath mobile home on 1 acre) and prophetic (Yoga classes, eastern remedies, and progressive schools).Then I saw it--stuck among the fliers and cards was an 8 ½ x11 sheet of paper typed with the simple words:

                                            “Try forgiveness: renew somebody else, regain yourself.”

For some reason, placed as it was alongside an advertisement for meditation classes, I got the sense that it hadn’t been posted by the local Baptist church.

Still, as I read it, something about the power of forgiveness rang true and I couldn’t help but recognize that all of us—no matter what creed or background—long for the certainty that our wrongs have been made right. It’s a drive so deep, so fundamental, so human that we can’t be at peace until the person we’ve wronged sets us free. And the need to forgive is so equally powerful that if we don’t, we end up enslaving ourselves.

Left at that, few of us would argue. From AA to the local synagogue, we all acknowledge that bitterness over past wrongs can consume us and turn us into one dimensional people, ever driven, ever absorbed by them. But is that enough? Is it enough to embrace the power of forgiveness, to know that it is worth pursuing? Is it that we need to be convinced of its value--or is it that we need to be empowered to actually forgive? Because the reality is, how am I--a broken person herself in need of renewal--going to find the inner strength to forgive another broken person also in need of renewal?

It has to start someplace other than me.

And this is where Christianity turns all other philosophy on its head. While other religions may express truth (see above), Christianity says that Christ Himself is Truth, that His life and death embody it all. So when it comes to forgiveness, it is His perfect life and self-less death that renews us, releases us, and enables us to do the same for others. It is His forgiveness that makes all other forgiveness possible. It is through Him that we are no longer defined by sin, and it is through Him that we are new and we are free.

So yes, by all means, please take the advice of a flier in a hippie coffee shop: do “try” forgiveness because really, there is life-changing power in it, just like there is deep magic in redemption. But know this—hope in this—because it doesn’t start with us, it won’t end with us either.