By: Forrest R. Church, Publisher
THE VILLAGE REPORTER
I have thought a lot about forgiveness in recent months.
What does forgiveness, whether requesting it or demonstrating it, look like in personal life?
What does forgiveness look like with business / professional dealings when we were wronged at the newspaper or maybe on the flip side, we are guilty of dropping the ball ourselves? Example – missing a news coverage event due to a writer becoming ill, spelling someone’s name wrong, or maybe even misidentifying someone because a sports roster was incorrect.
How does forgiveness look in a small rural community when a local resident conducts a criminal act and yet we will brush shoulders with them at the high school basketball game? Let’s face it, if you read The Village Reporter each week you see a lot of police reports and court records, so this is commonplace.
The opposite of forgiveness is judgment; there is a lot of judgment that takes place while we walk this planet, we all do it if we are honest. If you have not been guilty of judging someone this week, heck maybe today, you are better than most of us. It is an ugly aspect of human nature, something we should all probably work on improving.
I long ago drew the conclusion as a person of faith that you can and should forgive, but do we need to forget? Debatable, I suppose. If a relative or friend hurts you, as a person of faith that believes those pages in the Bible have a lot of good advice on the matter, then you need to forgive just as we are forgiven for our sinful behavior.
On the flip slide if someone hurts you in some way, simply forgetting the offense and allowing it to repeat itself seems absurd to me; you may be asking to see abusive behavior develop if this is allowed. If that neighbor kid keeps stealing money from your unlocked vehicle, you can certainly forgive them, but the act is not easily forgotten when you see them walk to the edge your property a month later. It may take a long time to forgive the action or even not automatically associate their “deed” every time you see them or hear their name.
There are a lot of books written on this subject matter, I could probably write one myself. Those that read this column know as my wife says, I can get long-winded so I want to look specifically at community forgiveness.
Why do I bring this up? It has been on the back of my mind for a long time. I think about it when driving our back county roads at 3 a.m. with a cup of coffee. This is certainly not been on the forefront of my mind 24/7 like inflation has been in recent months, but this column has been building. Thanks for allowing me to share my thoughts on the matter, as I joke, this is cheaper than therapy for me.
UNFORTUNATE REPEATING HISTORICAL REFLECTIONS (Example 1)
One of our most popular features is when we share past newspaper history from our archives. You have seen the pages where we share what took place 10, 20, 100+ years ago from our local newspaper archives. Our surveys have found this section is our second most popular feature after sports.
You will read about snow in late May in the 1920s, or the Smith farm having a triple-yoked egg in the 1940s, or maybe the basketball team winning a District Championship in the 1970s. Personally, this is also one of my favorite features each week, much more enjoyable than a council article talking about sidewalk projects.
Yet there are also sad and unfortunate news moments within the reflections such as someone committing murder, a tragic death of a high school student, an ugly theft case at the Little League group, etc.
Some of the harshest calls/visits/emails we have received was when something historically sensitive jumps back up in our newspaper archives. I can recall an instance where a chain of robberies took place in one of our small towns. It was obviously the major news story in our newspaper archive reflections for that week so it was shared in our Year’s Ago section when that reflection date came around.
I was called everything under the sun for allowing that news archive to repeat itself in our history section. The family and guilty party still lives in the area, according to the complaint, living a wholesome life, but now their kids and family would know about what took place decades earlier. They did not outright say it, but the conversation appeared to indicate that they tried to hide that the event ever took place from their children/grandchildren instead of talking about it.
This is where personal and professional logic somewhat split for me. On a personal level, I completely understand rehashing this major news topic brought back old painful memories for those associated with the guilty party, the victims, and honestly the community itself. I do not enjoy publishing this type of news whether current or in our archives. If such a historical reflection were about me or someone in my family, I would certainly understand being uncomfortable about it. The historic archive is certainly not to be celebrated like a league sports championship being earned.
I could probably write a book about the ugly activities that have taken place in our family (both sides of marriage – guess I will know who reads my column within the family real soon – note check messages day after publication), but at the end of the day it would probably look similar to your family’s history. Not everything in family history is pleasant when reflecting back over time, is it? The same holds true in our communities, in some regards our extended family.
On a professional media front, not all news is positive and that was the major news of the time period, should we hide it? Let’s face it, a lot of history is full of human mistakes, if we forget or cover them up is that wisdom? I thought in elementary school they taught us that learning from history was important? This is why every time I see another statue taken down, it appears to be an attempt to change or cover up history. I better save this thought for another column at another time.
While I believe our staff goes above and beyond to try to focus on positive news, while some in our industry tries to focus tragedy for ratings or to sell newspapers, we cannot hide or cover up unfortunate news that can and does occur around our little communities.
I was criticized pretty harshly for recapping the news from that week in local history, they felt the newspaper page seven pie winners from 1972 (not the actual year) should have been focused upon instead of the major crime committed against a local business that involved heavy law enforcement and was the headline for local and even regional news that week.
There have been a handful of times over the past few decades where I was contacted by an displeased family member concerning our history section. They wanted to keep personal involvement buried deep in the pages of time. The example I listed here is just one such instance.
I understand the concern. I would feel the exact same way in most instances. However, covering up or trying to take scissors and/or an eraser to local history is not a proper direction. We cannot delete 30,000 emails of history to clear the slate (oh, there is another column forming), history is set.
I believe community forgiveness if those guilty of the offense successfully pays their debts to society and is regretful of their actions, is the proper direction. Transparency, not trying to hide from history itself is a better course to take. Of course you will have those that will never stop judging along the way, that is unfortunate, but factual.
Note I changed a few facts in the example since people will try to be nosy and try to figure out what scenario I am writing about. Good luck.
ERASE LOCAL HISTORY PLEASE (Example 2)
Someone that I recall praying for when I learned they were in trouble years ago contacted me out of the blue. I was familiar with the criminal case covering it at the newspaper, knowing the person personally. They were able to complete their sentence, fulfill their punishment and from my observation pay their dues to society. This mentioned individual applied for expungement. A judge approved the requested expungement of their record, giving them more freedoms to move on with their life (legally it is as if it never happened). I applaud this from top to bottom.
I doubt this “reset” judgment would rate high if we took a national poll on the matter due to the fact society likes to push the heads of those borderline drowning further underwater. The truth is many people stay in a life of crime as they struggle to gain traction after their conviction – cannot find a good job – little support system. If they have not had a lifetime of criminal behavior, I personally applaud the court system for helping these folks on their journey towards being productive members of our society, aka a clean slate.
As an ordained minister, I have visited a lot of people at CCNO and CCNO Juvenile Center over the years, encouraging them. One of the facts that I use in times of ministry is that the only difference between those behind bars and those walking the streets is those lining up for the four o’clock jail count were caught. Very few people I know are not guilty of stupidity at some point in their lives, whether it was a single bad decision or years of bad decision making. This of course varies by the person, but let’s just be honest, who can/should cast the first stone? Probably none of us.
An officer of the law recently told a teenager that we were tag teaming in a good guy / bad guys scenario to help “turn on the light” reaffirmed this concept. He said a drunk driver on average drives 88 times intoxicated before they are caught. The point? People are guilty of improper activity all around us, few are caught. Those that are caught need to own up to their actions, learn from it, then move on with their life, chalking the poor decision up to a life lesson.
Circling back around to example number two, this individual wanted us to take down online content that talked about their conviction, sentencing, etc. Since the court cleared their record to give them another chance, they hoped the media / history would do the same by taking down content of the case online. While this issue pulls on my heart strings, our policy is to protect news content. Having discussed this matter with my colleges with newspapers around the county over the years, their policy is the same.
Example number one concerning our history decade by decade section was before the internet, thus archives, of this past criminal action are mainly on microfilm and within print newspaper archives. Long story short, those wanting to go back into time to look at local history cannot easily do so via an internet search. They have to dig via more traditional methods or wait for our weekly historic reflection to publish. I think this is part of the reason that when unfortunate local history does repeat itself in print newspaper pages it is such a shock to the victims, guilty parties and our communities – the easy internet search is really not available, the news archive was buried deep, the news does not pop up on page one of a search page.
The second example here involves news coverage within the last ten years covered by numerous news outlets showing what took place via a simple Google Search on countless websites. It was desired we would take down the news content on our site since the court system expunged the record yet news, which is a snapshot of history still showed the offense in print, microfilm, internet searches, along with the memories of thousands of people following the news story closely in our newspaper along with other local and regional media outlets.
I can understand the desire to make this go away, after all if your record is expunged, you no longer have to put on a job application you were convicted, it is almost as if the offense never happened because, again, the debt to society was fulfilled and a judge believes you should be able to go forward without the offense hanging over your head. Yet you put in a job application, do not have to check the criminal offense box, but a Google search by the employer finds that snapshot of history all over the web.
History does not disappear because of a ruling, archives are set in stone by our newspaper and in many bigger court cases a lot of other media outlets, some with bigger audiences than us, as well. In a rather poor yet well known comparison, O.J. Simpson was not convicted of murder, yet what percentage of society associates him as being guilty because of trial evidence along with other poor behavior displayed in his life both before and after the court hearing? A court ruling of not guilty does not change the personal judgment made by millions made around the world from their living rooms following the case.
As this column said in the beginning, does the community forget both large and small offenses? Will all in the community forgive? The answer is unlikely, not 100%.
Will siblings forgive and forget things causing issues over the years? Nope, they still talk about it at Christmas, if they even decided to stop bickering over the petty stuff to even celebrate a holiday together. Human nature isn’t pretty in a lot of instances, is it?
Once history takes place, it is done. The bell has rang. The snapshot has been taken. It is written in stone. Newspapers are printed and distributed. Websites and internet searches store content. Social media users take screenshots and share them openly, even if content is deleted. Community members store in their memory criminal activity.
Long story short, history cannot be erased no matter how hard people try.
Note I changed a few facts in the example since people will try to be nosy and try to figure out what scenario I am writing about, good luck.
HOW SHOULD A PERSON / COMMUNITY MOVE FORWARD?
I spent a few years in seminary after my “young and dumb” life adventures, sharing my testimony on how God worked in my life, sharing bad choices that I made in my teenage years. Sharing this testimony on TV, behind the pulpit, as a football chaplain, at large youth rallies and even in past newspapers columns – I always hoped being transparent would help others in some small way. There were a lot of success stories developed out of this effort that I know of, yet of course many failures, as my words seemed to go nowhere in some people’s lives. When my race is done on this rock, I hope some good came out of the effort.
Much of what I am writing about in this column is not based off a random opinion. I have lived much of this myself. Have you? If not you, someone in your circle?
I had some major mistakes in my late teenage years. Sharing my struggles from now 25 years ago, overcoming them on a spiritual, mental and physical level, with those that are in the heart of similar struggles has always been near and dear to my heart. As a person of faith, I have asked God countless times why He pulled me through my teenage struggles when so many facing similar battles ended up in an early grave or a lifetime in prison. My partial conclusion was to help others know there is a path, there is hope. How can your testimony and life experiences help others?
My conclusions from a few decades publishing local news (endless court cases) and seeing how individuals / families need to move forward in our communities, ministry opportunities, and personal experience?
Own it. Learn from it. If you want to look at a spiritual aspect, read Scripture on figures who made some unbelievable boneheaded choices yet God still used them in a mighty way. Help others to learn from your mistakes. When you were an idiot in high school, talk to your kids on how you wished you did things differently when they are near school age. When you experimented with that substance in collage, be honest about whether or not you inhaled (oh, that’s another column) and share how you medically made it through, though you know of others that ended up in the obituary section from doing the same hardcore drug. Tell your story, don’t hide from it.
If you have paid your debt to society, walk with your shoulders back and head up. Many will not forget or forgive, just face that truth. Ultimately there is nothing that can be done about this, history cannot be erased, those that want to judge have that right, though it is important to know that can come around full circle. Bury the bad memory with a lifetime of good deeds.
Some of the strongest leaders, whether local or nationally made major mistakes in their lives. They fought through them, learning along the way and their mistakes ultimately made them a better person in life.
If you are on the opposite side of the coin, what does your (my) forgiveness chart look like? Do we have room to grow in the area? Who can we encourage in our little rural communities?
I’d love to hear from you. As always, feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com or via the mail at 115 Broad Street, Montpelier, Ohio 43543.
What is difference between judgement and judgment? The spelling varies based on whether you’re writing UK or US English. In US English, “judgment” (no “e”) is the only correct spelling. In UK English, “judgement” (with an “e”) is standard, but “judgment” is used in legal contexts.