‘Canceled,’ or welcomed home?

Instead of writing off as irredeemable those who have done wrong, today’s contributor explores how acknowledging God’s grace and love for all empowers efforts to correct and heal.

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I was recently reading how a lot of high-profile people have been “canceled” this year. This trendy notion of canceling someone whose expressions you disagree with means making a public statement of withdrawing support from that person. It is mostly connected to social media, and is directed at those whose political, artistic, or other views are seen as unacceptable. It’s sometimes described as a cultural boycott, depriving someone of attention, status, or prestige.

It’s certainly important to be alert to inappropriate, offensive behavior. But these days, the rush to find fault with, insult, and blame others has reached a deafening crescendo that goes even beyond canceling someone on social media. This got me thinking: Is dismissing or overtly rejecting someone a healing response? What if we considered a different approach, one in which what we “cancel,” reject, and dismiss isn’t each other, but every statement, intent, or act that would stain and darken our world?

In my own life I’ve consistently seen the value of a spiritual response to challenges of all kinds. For instance, there was a period in my life when I was active in occasionally speaking about Christian Science with groups of men and women in prison. I often found many of them quietly yet clearly rediscovering their own spiritual worth and that of their fellow inmates. Once, though, as I walked into the meeting room of a women’s prison, I found each of the inmates wearing a required badge that said “Offender.” I understood why the badges were necessary, but it felt as if these women had been “canceled,” seen as irredeemable.

But that evening, when I shared a story from the Bible, something remarkable happened. The story was Christ Jesus’ allegory of the prodigal son who asks his father for his inheritance early. He proceeds to waste it, ends up destitute, and finally, in humility, returns home to beg his father to let him stay as a servant. But his father openly celebrates his son’s return, observing, “My son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found” (see Luke 15:11-32).

One woman in the group said, through tears, that she was just like the son who had wasted everything and that she might as well be dead. But another then spoke up about the father in the parable, who runs to meet his son returning home. This inmate said, “That father is our God in heaven, honey, and He’ll never drop you. He’s ready to welcome you home, right now!” It was a powerful, holy moment that defined the rest of that evening – and has stayed with me over the decade since.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you” (Matthew 5:44, New King James Version). To me, this doesn’t mean passively tolerating or appeasing people’s attitudes or actions no matter what. Rather, I see it as encouragement to see my fellow men and women as God, our loving creator, made and maintains us – in His spiritual image (see Genesis 1:26, 27). It’s true that God never drops any of us. No one is beyond the possibility of redemption, because we are made to express God’s purity, goodness, and love.

Referring to God as divine Love, The Christian Science Monitor’s founder, Mary Baker Eddy, wrote: “Love never loses sight of loveliness. Its halo rests upon its object” (“Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures,” p. 248). If we awaken to the fact that the halo of infinite Love’s approval is always resting upon us, we can discover that our transgressions and ills – even criminality, addiction, illness, and hate – do not cancel our innate spiritual innocence, purity, freedom, and love. In fact, it’s the other way around. As Mrs. Eddy also wrote, “By the love of God we can cancel error in our own hearts, and blot it out of others” (“No and Yes,” p. 7).

Simply isolating people – whether on social media or in person – cannot correct the root of whatever may be wrong. Ultimately, heartfelt prayer is needed to lift our view to realize our and others’ nature as the recipients of God’s grace rather than as flawed personalities. This understanding helps us be more effective at canceling problems, not people, and reflecting to all the warm welcome of God’s healing love for each of us.

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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