Giants and Dwarfs
I have a confession to make and want you to hear it straight from me. It’s about someone I love. I am a lover of people who have big ideas! I love the way they envision the world as an expansive landscape of ever-growing possibilities. What others see as insurmountable mountains or treacherous waters, they view as giant-sized opportunities and limitless horizons. I love to hear them talk because through them my own ideas are watered and fertilized by my exposure to their way of thinking. You see, I believe that one’s speech is largely a result of his or her perspective. Generally, people’s perspectives are born from the height in which they think.
Let me give you a very literal example. When my wife and I would hide our children’s Christmas presents, I noticed an amusing propensity each of us had to hide the toys according to our respective heights. My wife hardly ever hid a present up high, keeping it within her arm’s reach. Compared to me, she is relatively short in stature. So when she hid things, she always secured them in low places. I, conversely, hid the kids’ toys in the top of the closet or in an air duct in the ceiling because my viewpoint reflected my height. My wife was not opposed to hiding them in high places; she simply didn’t think to place them beyond her eye level. Her ideas were a reflection of her height.
For the past three hundred years, our country has largely been a big-idea nation. If you were to go back three centuries, a relatively short period in the history of the world, you would see that most of the modern conveniences we enjoy, like air travel, electricity, railroads, and automobiles, have only been in existence within the last one hundred years. Prior to the twentieth century, there were no computers, microwave ovens, no cell phones, car phones, or telephones at all. There were no engines, steam, gas, or electric motors. No indoor plumbing. No medical options like vaccinations, anesthesia, or chemotherapy. No major surgeries, such as heart replacements or kidney transplants. No stem cell research.
When one considers how long man has been in existence, the notion that most of the conveniences common to our present way of life only emerged in the past couple of centuries seems truly amazing. Their creation reveals that the last few generations have largely been the catalyst through which big ideas exploded and were massively produced.
Our country has thrived and become the envy of other nations because we have, for several generations, been a nation of big ideas. Big ideas come from forward-thinking people who challenge the norm, think outside the box, and invent the world they see inside rather than submitting to the limitations of current dilemmas.
Now, you might be scratching your head and saying, “What’s he talking about? I thought this was a book about letting go of the past and finding the grace to forgive! Why is he going on and on about big ideas?” I am glad you asked. You see, much like turbo jets, fighter planes, the Internet, brain surgery, or stem cell research, forgiveness is a big idea. It takes a person who thinks big ideas rather than comparatively small thoughts to introduce and practice forgiveness effectively. Would you agree? Let’s see if we can drill down into this notion to test its validity.
Several years ago I was invited as a guest on Oprah to talk about sexual abuse. When I suggested that it is important that we move beyond just saying how bad the molester was to have committed such atrocious acts, to the larger (from my viewpoint) idea of showing the perpetrator how he can be forgiven and rehabilitated, people went wild. Some of the guests were far too angry to think beyond the height of the atrocities they had experienced. They used their anger like familiar blankets to warm them as a comfort from their trauma, never realizing how they were smothering their own futures. They couldn’t imagine that future perpetrators will never come forward as long as they believe they have no chance at forgiveness and rehabilitation.
While the women who told their stories that day on the show had every justifiable reason to hate and be angry, the reality is the poison of unquenched anger doesn’t infect the perpetrator but only incarcerates the victim. Unforgiveness denies the victim the possibility of parole and leaves them stuck in the prison of what was, incarcerating them in their trauma and relinquishing the chance to escape beyond the pain.
We have seen this truth about forgiveness played out on a larger scale. When angry, bruised women from South Africa screamed in outrage because of the horrible atrocities they had been exposed to from apartheid, Nelson Mandela and members of the African National Congress (ANC) knew that a small idea like revenge would destroy the far larger idea of national healing and survival for their country. If they focused only on the temporary desire for immediate justice and swift retribution and missed the far weightier need for a healthy, functional, inclusive government in the midst of a nation filled with the pain of its most recent maladies, their homeland would never have survived.
The National Council of Provinces (NCOP) was developed to raise the bar by giving diplomatic immunity to sometimes undeserving people in order to protect the larger necessity of national survival. The big idea was forgiveness; the smaller idea, as justifiable as it might’ve been, was hatred, resentment, and revenge. South Africa survived because those at the helm chose the bigger idea of the good for all rather than the revenge of some.
When Dr. King resisted the lure of his own anger and submitted to the larger idea of a nonviolent movement that was led and filled with justifiably angry people, he preserved the future and changed our world. Those with the smaller ideas of starting our own country, or shooting and killing the racist molesters who had abused our fathers and raped our mothers, would have appeased our human need for retribution while destroying our way of life. We survived because we dared to risk acting on the larger notion of forgiveness rather than acquiesce to the dwarfed ideas of revenge and retaliation. Consequently, the destruction that would have been the inevitable result of thinking too small was eclipsed by the hopes of men and women who dared to dream on a scale larger than they had ever seen.
Like Native Americans relegated to a reservation where one could only be the chief of a small, government-sanctioned area, many of us remain on the reservation rather than escaping into the much larger world of assimilation, inclusion, and acceptance. Simply stated, people who don’t forgive neutralize their own growth potential. They end up hopelessly entrapped by the repercussions of leadership that remains in a dwarfed context of thought, thereby missing the overarching need to transcend the immediate encumbrance. We must think beyond the reservation like so many Native Americans have done and move forward.
When I write on blogs and Facebook, I am often astonished at Christians who never leave the reservation and can only see or think from their own Christian perspective rather than evaluating others from a broader perspective of overall ability. They sacrifice an excellent leader because he isn’t a Christian as they define it or limit the discussion to one or two issues at the expense of the bigger idea of how well a leader can lead the country.
I shocked my church when I announced that I was far more interested in finding a surgeon who was great at operating than I was finding one who voted like I did on political issues or shared my ideas on faith. I explained to them that I’m more concerned about a surgeon’s track record in the arena of patient recovery success than I’m interested in interrogating him on his view of eschatological theology! I just want to know if he can do the job, not whether he teaches Sunday school at First Baptist!
On an operating table we can sacrifice the dwarfed idea of our personal theological perspectives for the bigger idea of doctor’s surgical competency. When we can have both, it’s a real advantage. But I will not refuse the services of an excellent surgeon just because I don’t like his favorite football team—or his religion!
When looking at this model of thinking in our personal lives we must ask ourselves the question, does incarcerating the perpetrator to a lifelong sentence with no hope of parole really protect us from the ever-increasing chances of attack by unknown stalkers? My fear is that it only perpetuates a pathology that teaches our children that we are too irrational a society to allow people to grow beyond what they did into what they can become. Consequently, perpetrators have no choice but to hide who they are and therefore continue to attack our children, destroy their marital vows, or engage in disputes once mistakes are made. A healthy family environment is only achieved when one leaves the night-light on for those who have wandered away. We must be willing to give them what we all need, a GPS system that allows the prodigal son to find the way back when he is finally ready to return home.
I have learned that most people who harbor animosity in their hearts against others do so because they remain on the reservation of what has happened in the past rather to escape to the much larger idea of a better future. However, they must ask themselves, What will happen if I cling to my narrow perspective and lose a chance to loose change in my life? How can I move beyond my history into the larger terrain of my destiny?
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, forgiveness is a big idea and it works best when it is invested into people who have the courage to grasp the seven-foot-high idea of what’s best for their future rather than the fou...