Saints, Sinners and the Power of Forgiveness

The biggest mistake many of us make is getting caught up in hating a singular man, Donald Trump. I have fallen victim to it as well. We can oppose his cruel policies and errant ways but not allow ourselves to hate him or those who support him. We are called to do better.

Donald Trump is a human, just like us, no different. He’s neither a god nor a king. He is a 73 year old elderly man who says and does terrible things without repentance. I sometimes feel sympathy for the lonely person he must be to harbor so much bitterness.

But like all of us, he will get older, get sick, and die a frail and aged soul. And he will face eternal judgment for the contents of his life, just like the rest of us. There is no escaping this fate. No amount of wealth or power lets us cheat death. When we hate the man, when we concentrate more on him and less on each other, we give him power. He is but dust and to the earth this dust will return, like all people great and small.

Perhaps in him we can see the faults of our own family members and the necessity that we meet hate with love, anger with forgiveness. It’s the hardest thing we are called to do.

My own family has many stories of saints and sinners. My grandfather lived his life as though it had neither an end nor repercussions. He was an unrepentant alcoholic and moonshiner who served time on a chain gang in a North Carolina prison. My mother recounted spending her 5th birthday at the jail with a piece of cake for her dad and one for the sheriff, who liked my grandfather so much he rarely kept him in the cell. My mom recounted having to step over her dad, passed out in the front yard when she got home from dates. He worked only when it suited him, neglected his family’s great needs, and despite multiple interventions and trips to rehab, died of alcohol poisoning among his drunken friends at the age of 66. At his funeral, I recall the kind minister struggling to find the words to say at his gravesite. He said Bert was a child of God, loved by his family. And indeed, despite his many sins, he was. We loved and disliked him all at once. He was but a man, full of childish impulses and reckless behavior that left little behind to recall with admiration. He was but dust, and to that dust we returned him on a cold and rainy November day.

For such a long time, particularly in the wake of the years I spent with my mom as her caretaker, I sometimes hated my grandfather. His lasting impact on my sweet mother was pain, suffering and a lifelong battle with severe depression that made my own young life often very difficult. I resented him and sometimes wished I could confront him for the lasting damage he inflicted.

But he was just a man. A man who my grandmother loved despite his faults because she loved his sense of humor. A man who took my brother and I around his farm and taught us how to care for the animals and looked forward to our visits. A man who regaled my dad and our local newspaper writer with stories of life as a mountain man. There were moments of humanity, of kindness, of humor. And in recognizing this humanity, I strive towards forgiveness and insuring his mistakes are not repeated in my own family.

And so I return to Trump. We can hate what he does: his cruel policies, his inability to feel remorse, his refusal to bend to the laws of God or of men. We can hate these behaviors and condemn their effects. But we can’t allow hate to blind us to the fact that he is just a man. There are much bigger issues at stake. We don’t need to just “get rid of Trump,” we need to change our hearts. We need to see the humanity of those with whom we disagree, and together, work to right the wrongs. To endeavor to help the downtrodden and neglected; to soften our hearts to the cries of the poor, the sick, the immigrant and the forgotten in our midst. Progress is achieved through compassion and cooperation, as we have done throughout our complicated American history.

For from the White House to our own house, we are all saints and sinners. Our task is to mend the wounds left behind. To summon the spirits of forgiveness and courage. We cannot forget the values we proclaim as citizens of a great nation that is a beacon to many. When we give so much power to one person, in hate or in admiration, we abdicate our own responsibility to work for change. It is incumbent upon each of us to heal our divisions and bring peace to our nation.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Matthew 5:9