The end of any year is a popular time to look back and reflect. But I don’t blame you if you’d rather not look back or reflect on 2015.
It seems a particularly wretched year, marked by a devastating earthquake and mass shootings and refugees fleeing persecution and race relations at a fevered pitch — not to mention so many politicians choosing fear as their rallying cry.
Dean Seal’s quiet offering comes at a good time, serving as a welcome reminder that we can look forward to 2016, where, perhaps, we’ll find our better selves.
Seal, a playwright and pastor at Shepherd of the Hill Presbyterian Church in Chaska, gives us “Exploring Forgiveness,” a 26-minute video produced by his nonprofit production company, Spirit in the House.
The video airs at 7 p.m. Sunday on TPT Minnesota (Channel 2.2) and again on Jan. 3.
Seal doesn’t expect us to leap into forgiveness. He does hope we’ll entertain the concept.
“Vengeance is a normal human response, a means of defense,” he said. “But forgiveness is how we survive.
“I see forgiveness as one of the only means of moving forward with our sanity.”
Seal’s interest in the topic is personal as much as professional. He suffered a head injury 20 years ago and still deals with memory problems.
“I’m trying to not be consumed by anger for not being who I wish I was, for not being able to move on from things that have not gone well,” he says in the video’s opening voice-over.
In other words, he’s trying to forgive himself, as well as others, neither an easy thing for humans to do. But moving along a continuum “from vulnerability to compassion to forgiveness to, possibly, reconciliation,” Seal believes, “is a way that we can be in this world and live with each other and not try to poke each other’s eyes out.”
Seal, who has a master’s degree in interfaith dialogue through the performing arts, was executive director of the Fringe Festival for four years. In 2012, he produced the play “Marietta,” about Marietta Jaeger Lane, whose 7-year-old daughter was kidnapped and murdered in 1973.
Lane’s ultimate path to forgive the unforgivable places her, Seal said, “in the mystic corner of faith that so few are.”
For the rest of us, he built two 10-day Forgiveness 360 symposiums around the play. In addition, he has participated in Augsburg’s Nobel Peace Prize Forum and written articles about forgiveness for interfaith publications.
“Exploring Forgiveness” features diverse voices, including Amineh Safi, a Sunni Muslim whom Seal met as an adjunct teacher of religion at Augsburg College, where Safi studied.
“Her courage and depth are an inspiration to all of us,” Seal said of Safi, whose brother was hanged in his home in Syria. And, yet, the poised young woman opens herself to forgiveness, because it is “a core value in Islam.”
“The less you are involved in your own struggles,” Safi said, “the more you can do for the world.”
In the video, Jewish scholar Louis Newman, a professor of religious studies at Carleton College, explores whether there are certain kinds of harm that can never be repaired. His answer may surprise some.
Artist Dougie Padilla tackles forgiveness outside of any faith tradition. And Krista Tippett, the ever inquisitive host of NPR’s “On Being,” raises the bar with a provocative challenge to practice “love of enemies,” instead of just preaching it.
“The impulse to forgive comes,” she said, “because your relationship with that person who harmed you changes you. We are defined as much in how we choose to relate with our enemies as by anything else that defines us. Forgiveness is a choice in how you are going to be.”
Seal would agree.
“There are a lot of angry people on TV,” he said. “People get used to the idea that you have to be angry to be useful. But there’s a Buddhist saying, ‘A grudge is like holding a hot coal in your hand.’
“Forgiveness is hard. It takes strength, but it’s necessary, whether it’s self-forgiveness, forgiveness in a marriage, forgiveness with family … whatever degree you can go.”