Who can detect their errors?
Clear me from hidden faults.
— Psalm 19.12
September 11 is not a bad day to think about the hurt we cause. Last night our church hosted the synagogue’s Rosh Hashanah dinner, attended by several other churches as well. We talked about racism. I was talking to the group about the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman, and said something about “the Jews” in a way that sounded like “you people,” and it felt hurtful to some of the Jewish people. The rabbi felt it, too, and took me aside and called me on it. I suggested that we have our conversation in public, for everyone to hear. So we did. I had to acknowledge what I had said and the impact it had had. Because impact trumps intent. It doesn’t matter that “I didn’t mean it that way.” It felt the way it felt. Our relationship meant more than the point I was making. I had to take responsibility for that. I had to re-state my point, but more importantly, I had to heal the relationship.
But. It wasn’t completed. We had the conversation, and the rabbi and I hugged, and we moved on— but something was missing. I realized afterward I never actually said the words “I’m sorry.” I didn’t stop and tend to their hearts. I failed at the very thing we were trying to teach: to take responsibility to heal what is wounded, wherever we can.
That my failure, or at least half-success, bothers me, is probably more helpful than had I “done it right”—or even not made the mistake in the first place. It humbles me, and keeps me from thinking I’m the “good guy” who doesn’t need to learn. It motivates me to be more ready next time to set aside my agenda and be ready to see where I have hurt others, and enter into the vulnerability of saying I am sorry, and ask forgiveness.
None of us will always be perfect. Even Jesus goofed up. The call is to be open, to assume we have hidden faults, and to be ready to atone—not to defend ourselves, not to “get it right,” but to tend to the relationship. That it feels unfinished as as it should be: it is. Be open. Be ready.
—September 11, 2018