Wednesday, September 9, 2015

What Downton Abbey Taught Me About Forgiveness

"We're all ready, m'lord!"
"Right! Nobody fart, and we'll
get through this with no problem..."
Downton Abbey is PBS's worldwide phenomena, winning awards all over the place for writing and acting and  - oh I don't know what. It is a glorious British melodrama set at the end of the Edwardian period. It was a golden age, the peak of the British Empire, when the sun never set on the British flag.

It concerns the Lord and Lady Grantham, and their immediate family who are the fading monarchy of England, watching the vast changes in thought and politics and society Britain experienced from the sinking of the Titanic to the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. We get an imaginary peak at what the hustle and bustle of running and supporting a huge estate looked like. Much care has been given to accuracy in many details, but softened wisely to give us an exciting drama, not a dour documentary. It reminds me of our current times, frankly, and I am certain that is its appeal to all of us watching our world change so quickly in medicine, technology and religious boundaries.

We see the human failings of each character at Downton - and we find that even the sneakiest of the snakes has some heart, while the best of the best have shameful actions, too. What I found well-written from a spiritual P.O.V. is that every action has a consequence. Good people and foolish people all get hit. It is how they handle their folly and poor judgment that reveals their character.

Here's what got me: I think Downton Abbey has taught me to forgive. Jesus commanded it, of course, but watching certain characters in the class struggle drama has shown me what it looks like. Guess what?

Forgiveness looks like love.

It does not look like sympathy nor tolerance.

It looks like love.

Fifteen years ago, I came to Wheaton to work for an evangelical organization that helped people worldwide as their new head web designer. I thought I was done with "practical ministry" work I did in the Binghampton area of Memphis. There, I was a "Mr. Mom." Here, I was going to serve as manager of this corp's web presence and hopefully transition to being a personal assistant to their president, a prominent evangelical leader.

It did not happen. Everything went bye-bye as I served under a person who was not only incompetent, but frighteningly controlling and shame-based - in a Christian organization. I simply did not "know my place" as they'd say in Downton Abbey. I was Tom Branson, a brash Irishman with grand ideas.

In fifty working days, I was gone. This satisfied my manager. She then did some damage control by taking info I gave her to show her competency and portrayed me as a mere insubordinate, unsuitable to serve at headquarters.

It was bad. Oh, baby, it was bad.

Over the following months, I had to take a physically demanding, soul-crushing job as a courier to live. It was like being a waiter for a party of 100, and the dinner was five hours long every night. At the same time, I preached in the county jail three times a week and led a Bible Study every Tuesday night. But also at the same time, a well-to-do Christian generously paid off one of my credit cards, seeing my dedication to the Lord.

That helped me a lot financially and spiritually. My landlady was also very kind to me and gave me scriptures daily in my lunch she packed.

I was strengthened by her faith in me and my faith in God, I began to see His hand, using circumstances to crush me for better use.

I began to see Joseph in the Old Testament as my hero.

I was stunned by the amount of good things here in Wheaton and how many loved Christ sacrificially, were artists who loved Christ and that kept me going.

But it has taken watching Downton Abbey to bury the coffin. It took watching John Bates and his love for Anna.

I forgave my mistreatment and mistreators last week.

I've been praying for this. I've been moving forward as best as I can, and I know I should forgive and let things go, but it has been so unnatural, so difficult. The best I have done is that I called on God to bless me with His love and not pay anyone back.

A week ago on Facebook, I mentioned something snidely about my ex-wife, and others pointed it out. I danced off saying I also had good memories but yeah, that bad thing she did and was unrepentant of [I'd recently found she'd not changed one iota and spewed hatred at me], I still held as my victory of righteousness.

Look, that kind of language is soul-murderous, so understand I use it only to be honest. The biggest danger for a Christian's soul happens when we are RIGHT.

It makes us smug. It makes us hard.

Finally, I said "Please. I hate even hating." Just ran out of room in my heart, I guess. I found myself no longer having a home for it.

How I Crossed the Rubicon, Old Chap
Here's how I know I received this gift: a loud and obnoxious verbal exhange happened in this house between my landlady and a family member. I was ready to righteously and justly berate the perpetrator. You would have agreed.

But I knew it would do no lasting good, so I stopped myself. I realized Satan was using this verbally cruel person to entice me, to "piss me off".

If I had intervened, that person would've merely ignored me. It would also have granted them the smug privilege of call me a hypocrite, while calling the police and saying they'd been attacked. [This tactic has been used before.]

You see, their selfishness was and is too deep for me to eradicate. They have to ask for the God of Love to change them. How will they do that if I pound them?

Winning any given battle is easy, really. One surprise attack and most foes are done for. Winning a war is hard. You have to take the longer view and win all the primary battles.

I have fought unwisely and lost before. I intend, from this day forward, to fight wisely and win.

I was 35 years old then. I am 50 now. Times change. People change.

And since, every year Jesus Christ looks wiser to me, my tactics must change:
Matthew 5: 44, 45
"But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous..."
God's tactic is to bless both and allow the grateful eternal life.

The ungrateful? Well, not so good. But at least they cannot say God was never good to them.

So my advice in waging war against evil is - be a son. Shine -  and don't let them eclipse your kindness and love.

John Bates taught me that.

Silly, I know, but true.

He really did.

Amen.

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