A note from the author: The quote above is one of the only metaphors I will indulge in here. There may be a few more, but I will attempt to curb my impulse. I like metaphor. They’re easy. They’re also easy to hide behind and for what we’re about to dive into I would like to hide. But God has always made hiding at Trinity Grace Church hard for me and I remain grateful.
Ten years ago Jon Tyson sent me those words about forgiveness in an email. He was graciously responding to an email that I sent that if I look at it ten years later I would say would be far too long and sadly full of too many painful questions that no one could possibly ever have answers to. At thirty there is slightly a bit more peace around questions that don’t have answers and sitting in pain that is real and present. At twenty there is no ability as I would normally say “to roll with it.” And I was definitely not “rolling with it” when I walked into Origins, now TGC. I happened upon Origins when I wasn’t looking to change churches or be a part of anything new. But I stepped through the door because of a new friend I had met and I felt my chest and my mind crack open, which meant that ultimately I would send the fated overly long email and receive the words, “Morgan, forgiveness is the currency on which God’s kingdom runs.”
In the early winter of 2000 my cousin was murdered in his home. It’s a long story in which he was helping someone and it ended badly for him. I was fairly young and I watched my entire family go through pain that I cannot describe, pain that made it impossible for us to breathe and to be, pain that was sort of impossible to talk about. My family talks about everything. We engage everything with language especially my immediate family and to watch my parents, sister and I sit and sob and have nothing to say to each other was strange and horrifying and it’s own new pain. And so I carried it. And it transformed into very complex emotions around the perpetrator of the crime.
I hated him. Hate would be mild word in actuality for what I felt. Most of what went on in my imagination and in my heart wasn’t even fit to share with my accountability. It would have shocked them, probably made them question my salvation, and get on high Christian horses of forgiveness and piety. Honestly, you can’t sit in a chapel with other twenty year olds who have lived lovely lives and tell someone that last night you hoped someone shanked someone else in a yard. It feels uncouth for some reason. Because death wasn’t even enough. I remember praying the distinct prayer that this person would never experience the love of Jesus and surrender their life to God so that they might experience the experience of separation forever. That for me felt like a reasonable punishment. It felt like maybe that could create restitution. It did not. It created in me more pain. It felt like I was pouring battery acid into my own soul. And by the time I walked through the doors of Origins God had worked mercy, forgiveness and grace into places in my heart that I knew it had to stop. And so I sent an email…
I met Jon for coffee. I think he felt like he was failing me as a pastor because there were no answers. There was nothing to point to and say “Morgan, do this.” And so I had to sit in it. And I did. And I moved through in profound and interesting ways. At TGC I sat in the back of the Triad and cried and began to see in new and real ways in which Jesus was the image of the invisible God. And in that I began to see the real ways in which the currency of God’s kingdom was in fact forgiveness. And as I began to forgive this murderer my life opened up in ways that I am grateful for. But the words “Morgan, forgiveness is the currency on which God’s Kingdom runs.” kept a hold on my brain and my heart.
I forgave. It happened a little at a time for me. In small ways and I can talk about that journey in profound specifics over scotch and cigars, but that is for another time. As I grew in my own forgiveness I started to actually see glimpses of what it looked like to join God in the renewal of all things. And as I looked around me and what I saw, at least in the criminal justice system, was a society that looked something like me, before I engaged. Now I am not saying that everyone has to forgive. I am not putting that burden on anyone. But I saw in the culture a space in which people sat in un-forgiveness and pain on a meta scale and it seemed to be leading to many things that grieved my heart. But I am not a lawyer. I am an actor and more recently a playwright… I didn’t know where to start or begin so I let it sit. But the words “Morgan, forgiveness is the currency on which God’s kingdom runs” played in my head like a tape. And so I sat down one day and I started writing. And then I wrote for two years. I wrote my story in a play. I wrote the pain and I wrote the forgiveness and I hoped that it could be something that spoke to people, people without my experience that maybe it can change how they look at our prisons and the people in them. Because if I could change how I looked at this one person then maybe we could change how we look at everyone.
I don’t know if it will do that. That is my hope. And it will have life this summer at the TBG theatre in Midtown. And I know that I wouldn’t have been able to write it without that season at TGC. I know now that sometimes things take ten years or more to come to fruition. And so I am grateful for that conversation ten years ago. It is the place that God knit forgiveness into the threads of the deepest places of my heart. It is the place where I learned to “above all, trust in the slow work of God.”