When I was arrested, forgiven, and freed

I was arrested when I was 12 years old, a week after 6th grade had ended. It did not bode well for the summer before moving up to the junior high school. I was not alone though. My best friend Mike and I were leaving the school bus yard, which was across the street from my small apartment complex, when a policeman turned on his siren right behind us and momentarily terrorized us. Not thinking we were in trouble he called us over to his car and asked us if we had been around any of the older buses parked in the far back end of the lot. Again, not thinking we were in trouble we told him we had. He told us to get in the back of his car.

I really had no idea that I was in trouble. In fact, I thought there must be someone dangerous back there that the cop wanted us to be protected from. But, no, we were the ones that he thought needed to be stopped. Not only were we trespassing, but windows had been broken out of those old buses, and we were the primary suspects. Mike and I had not broken windows though. We had played in those old buses though. They were forts and space ships and science labs and castles, all the things our creative imaginations came up with. We were not the only ones who had discovered this pre-adolescent playground though. Some other kids we knew also played on the buses, but they supplemented their imaginations with actual damage to their castles, forts, submarines. They assisted their imaginations with cinder blocks and baseball bats and broken glass. They were not caught trespassing. We were.

I assume the cop believed us when we told him we had not broken any windows due to our complete naivety throughout our interaction. Eventually, instead of bringing us to the police station, he drove us back to our homes and explained to our parents the situation. We ended up having the charges dropped later on in the summer because the bus company did not have any "No Trespassing" signs. Before that resolution though, my parents were very upset with me. I was grounded for the rest of the summer and not allowed to leave the yard of our complex, not even to go half a mile away to Mike's house.

However, in the second week of the grounding, a friend across town called up and invited me to come over. My parents could drive me over, or end my grounding and let me bicycle over. I asked them if I could go. I can still remember being outside where they were sitting in lawn chairs drinking lemonades and asking them for an exception to the grounding. My dad thought about it a minute and told me to go ahead. Without saying it explicitly, my summer grounding had ended a week later. I left our property free to roam as far as a biking 12 year old in suburban Connecticut could pedal as long as I was home before dark as long as I stayed out of trouble.

I remembered this anecdote this morning as I meditated, using the mantra "Father loves me." As I disentangle myself from unloving understandings of God, calling him "Father" and declaring he loves me is an effort to combat and overwrite what has been wrong and unhealthy in my inner world. Thinking on what characterizes a loving father, this memory from my childhood came back to me, because this is what a loving father does, forgives.

Theology in the Orthodox church starts from "God is love." Yes, he is holy and righteous and all those other things, but they are not equal to this foundational understanding.In chapter 4 of his book, The Bible Tells Me So, Dr. Pete Enns talks about the humanity of God who changes his mind. He threatened Adam and Eve with death if they ate the fruit, they did, but he didn't. God was bummed with the humanity project and wanted to start all over again, but Noah. In a later recapitulation, God was bummed with the liberated children of Israel project and wanted to start all over again with Moses, but Moses pleaded on their behalf. An angel of death was on its way to Jerusalem, but David stood between it and the city. Manasseh was an especially wicked king of Judah, but he repented and the judgment against him and the nation was stalled. If you haven't already, please read the ancient, apocryphal short book, the Prayer of Manasseh. No Canaanites were to live in Jericho, but Rahab got an exemption. One of the things that can be reliably said about God in the Old Testament is his mercy when asked. No matter what the Old Testament gets wrong about God, it gets his mercy right.

One of the Christian parenting techniques we learned involved severity, not mercy. Because if our child would not obey us the first time, as inculcated by our strict discipline, then how could we keep her from crossing the road into traffic if she slipped out of grasp? Isn't that how God treated the children of Israel? But Jesus invites us to trust him rather than fear him. I have friends who are raising their kids to trust them instead of fear them. The results are slower, but I think they may be more effective over the long run. Which is how it is with God and the children of Israel. It took them millenia to give up idolatry. It also took them millenia to conclude that God doesn't punish to the third and fourth generation, as Moses says, but only to punish one for their own sins, as Jeremiah says. Haggai blames drought and poor crops on not finishing a temple, but jesus says God sends sun and rain on the good and evil equally. Moses says God is compassionate, but John says God is love and Paul says the greatest thing is love.

I have written about this before, and it still is shocking to me. In the Lord's prayer that Jesus teaches, which millions, if not a billion or more, around the world recite together every Sunday, we say "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." That pronoun "us" is an inclusive word. We are asking for God's forgiveness for all of us, humanity. A father who loves his children is merciful even to those who get arrested.

P.S. I am reading Les Miserables by Victor Hugo for the first time and I'm certain his portrait of Bishop Myriel is having an effect on me.


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