Rich Paxson

This section of the course focuses on Acts, Chapter 10 where Peter realizes that God loves all persons equally, regardless of their human condition. Luke illustrates Peter’s profound insight through the metaphor of Peter’s vision of “profane and unclean food.”

Peter’s real intuition was not about food. It was about the offer and extent of God’s love. God called Peter to love both Jew and Gentile giving Peter to understand that no human condition or religion can encompass God’s forgiveness. Just as God forgave Peter’s past prejudices, so also Peter forgave himself. Forgiveness involves knowing the facts of a given period or event or life and then understanding them in the light of God’s universal love.

“German Shepherd | http://bit.ly/1QD4h6t”, a short video produced by Swedish filmmaker Nils Bergendal, speaks to a change of heart that was similar to Peter’s. Bergendal’s protagonist, David Paul, lives with his mother, a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, who inculcates in her son a bitter attitude toward all Germans. “German Shepherd” describes how David establishes a forgiving relationship with Germans by traveling regularly to Berlin where he finds many German friends.

David explains that his German friendships allowed the inner trauma, conditioned in him by his mother, to move outside of himself. Childhood wounds remained but no longer controlled his actions and beliefs because when the trauma was outside, that is existing as an embraced personal history, the scars from his childhood wounds are no longer antagonists.

David Paul’s story resonates with me. I grew up in a family haunted by my mother’s struggle to escape the real and imagined terrors of Chicago’s pre-World War I South Side neighborhoods. My mom was born in Chicago in 1910, which was the year the first phase (1910-1930) of “The Great Migration” of African-Americans to the large, northern, industrial cities began. I was born in 1947, seven years into the second movement (1940-1970) of “The Great Migration.” Those who left the South for Northern cities settled not just in ‘industrial cities,’ but in ethnic neighborhoods, specifically working-class, European-American neighborhoods. My mother began life in a community that disappeared when white families moved away as Great Migration immigrants arrived. Her family moved to new areas of Chicago several times during her formative years. My family of origin moved out of changing neighborhoods twice in my early years. While a change of residence is not necessarily traumatic, it is traumatic when it’s blamed on outside forces identified with a particular group of people.

The ‘social other’ of my formative years conditioned my thinking through the lens of racial prejudice. Like Peter, I am finding new understanding and a change of heart. Like David Paul, the scars of my formative years now are the keys to my forgiveness and atonement and not as ‘forgive and forget’, which can never encapsulate the essence of what it means to forgive. No. Forgiving is not about forgetting. Forgiving is about remembering.

Making sense of the present is contingent upon remembering the past in the light of new understanding. Letting go of the past is not about forgetting but about remembering and reinterpreting what has gone before. Peter changed his interpretation after God came to him with a vision reflecting what Peter initially saw as “profane and unclean” food. Today we are called to “read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest” God’s Holy Scripture, where we find both God’s call to forgive and the guidance we need to reinterpret the past and to live into the future through God’s forgiveness.

Thomas Cranmer expressed this well in his Book of Common Prayer collect quoted here:

“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”