POEM: Forgiving Justice

Forgiveness can no more refute
The demands of justice
And its claim reguarding the lost
Than justice can outflank
The necessity of forgiveness
To open the door for peace
A heart rendering choice
The difference being
Securing one’s house
Or living in a precarious home

Being a lifelong peacenik, I have happened across numerous conversations along the lines of: which comes first, justice or peace.  It’s not quite a fair question, but my heart tells me that like produces like.  Justice produces justice.  Peace produces peace.  Like many questions posed as either/or, the truest answer more resembles both/and.  The question is really about forgiveness and grace.  Everybody at sometime wants forgiveness or grace when they have behaved badly.  If justice were sufficient, then forgiveness should be denied.  But we want more.  We want peace.  If you feel that justice is sufficient, and that you are willing to forgo peace, then I suspect you may have some unresolved anger issues.  Of course, anger can be a great driver of working for justice.  This anger can be a good thing.  Equally true, anger is a poor foundation for forgiveness and grace.  Peace comes from a place rooted in hope and possibility.  Peace cannot be guaranteed, but it can be denied.  Peace is a gamble.  Peace requires taking a chance.  As John Lennon said, “Give peace a chance.”  As Gandhi said, “Peace is possible.”  Peace is not simply a theoretical possibility.  Peace is also rooted in the direct experience of forgiveness, grace, and love.  The sheer gratitude of having a life present that was given to us without our doing often gets eclipsed by the dreadful threats of loss of that life, by whole or piecemeal.  The gift of life makes possible all else in our life.  If our life is taken from us, have we lost more than we have been given?  Dare I ask: how can this even be unfair?  As I like to say: life isn’t fair, it’s excellent!  I sense that this question has been answered in the reality that it is a rare person who would believe that it would have been better to never have been born at all.  It may be equally rare to find folks who can persistently focus on this primary grace making all things possible in our life rather than dealing with the actual or feared losses in our lives of things that we have built or gained at least partially due to our doing.  The latter is the makings of justice-seeking.  The former is the makings of peace-seeking.  Justice-seeking and peace-seeking are not mutually exclusive.  However, achieving peace requires a perspective rooted in the grace of life, which is fragile and uncertain.  In fact, the very fragility and uncertainty of life makes it all the more precious!  I do see peace-seeking as a higher function, encompassing and fulfilling justice-seeking.  Peace-seeking is rooted in gratitude, the expression of recognizing grace.  I think of it this way:  To truly believe in justice, you must believe in justice for all.  Believing in justice and fairness only for myself or some in-group (which I happen to belong to) is not justice.  Like Martin Luther King, Jr. so eloquently and simply put, “Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”  With widespread injustice, which no sane person would deny, to seek justice for all means balancing, risking securing justice for yourself and your own in order to achieve widespread justice.  Such a bold undertaking can only be embarked upon with a measure of grace and forgiveness in your heart.  It is the promise of hope — real possibility — rooted in the experience of grace and forgiveness, that is an inescapable element of fulfilling justice.  There must be a peace in our heart, based on this real possibility, that foreshadows the peace and justice that we hope for.  So, what is my answer to the question: which comes first, justice or peace?  My answer: gratitude, and, of course, the corollary of gratitude, which is forgiveness.  Forgiveness is an expression of fairness, even justice, that others should be afforded the same infinite and sacred respect for life that life itself deserves.  We have already “won” by being alive.  The rest of life just needs to be lubricated generously with such a gratitude-filled awareness.  So be aware, life is good!

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