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The art of metanoia

Questlove did this.

Ani DiFranco did this.

…then she did this.

Shia LeBeouf did this.

The creators of “How I Met Your Mother” did this.

Melissa Harris Perry did this.

All of which leads helps me to confirm something that I  have known from first hand knowledge; apologies are hard.

I apologize a lot. It is, sadly, a prerequisite for those of us who live with Chronic Bonehead Syndrome. It’s a real thing. look it up. I get a lot of apologizing practice. Perhaps my lived expertise qualify me to say what I think a good apology is and is not.

First and foremost, a good “apology” is not an “apology”. Apologia in Greek is “a speech in defense”. What Ani did originally was actually a very good apology. It was self justification at its finest. There’s nothing wrong with that. Here’s the problem: apologies don’t build relationship. Apologies are great for debate or arguments, but they’re lousy for reconciliation. Most apologies are simply a lowering of the sword to take up a shield. Shields, of course, can be both defensive and offensive. Reconciliation requires that we lower both sword and shield.

Sidebar: This is why I find Christian Apologetics so offensive and ineffective. The idea that we “win souls” by winning the argument is preposterous to me.

Anyway, what do I think makes for a good apology? Well, since I just slammed Christian apologetics, let me say that I feel like the answer to this question is also rooted some what in faith language. The English word that gets translated into “repentance” is the Greek word “metanoia” which means to change direction, mind, or purpose. I think we need less apologizing and more metanoia.

“In biblical Greek, metanoeō/μετανοἐω and metanoia/μετἀνοια signify a ‘change of Mind, a change in the trend and action of the whole inner nature, intellectual, affectional and moral.”… It was in its use in the New Testament and in writings grounded in the New Testament that the depth of metanoia increased until it came “to express that mighty change in mind, heart, and life wrought by the Spirit of God.'” (Richard C. Trench in “Synonyms of the New Testament” 1880).

Radical changes of mind and heart lead to radical changes of action. Metanoia requires the humility to recognize that the way that we had thought about something may, in fact, be wrong. It requires the willingness to say “I messed up”. It requires an understanding of the injury that your previous line of thought may have caused. And it requires a willingness to adopt a new line of thinking.

The problem with our 24 hour information cycle… well, one of the many problems… is that we don’t allow enough time for the delicate process of metanoia to play out in the public sphere. Because of that, public apologies often come across more as publicity stunts than genuine changes of heart. There is a qualitative difference between apology because “I got busted” and metanoia because “I hurt someone that I care about and I don’t want to do that again”. One is a quick fix, a patch job. The other is a long journey into a new way of thinking and being. I actually wonder if genuine metanoia can be done in public. Maybe the results of it can be seen in public spheres… not sure about that one.

I’m currently in a process of metanoia. Several actually. It sucks because it requires that I acknowledge how wrong-headed some of my thinking has been over the years. It’s worth it to go through the process as to not re-injure, but it is a series of fits and starts. It is the growing pain inherent in being in relationship, I suppose.

I’ve heard several preachers ask congregations “would you rather be right or would you rather be reconciled?” The truth of the matter is that, more often than not, we’d rather be right. But, for the sake of reconciliation, I lower both my sword and my shield. I lower my defenses to make myself as vulnerable as those I have hurt and allow whatever will be to be.

Apologies are hard, y’all. Metanoia harder still.

About derricklweston

Father of two. I co-host God Complex Radio, a show highlighting progressive voices in the faith community. (godcomplexradio.com) I am an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church USA. I like lots of stuff. Sometimes I write about that stuff.


3 thoughts on “The art of metanoia

  1. There is a qualitative difference between apology because “I got busted” and metanoia because “I hurt someone that care about and I don’t want to do that again”. One is a quick fix, a patch job. The other is a long journey into a new way of thinking and being.
    AMEN. Thank you.

    Posted by lisaleben | January 18, 2014, 8:52 pm
  2. That was the money line. Beautiful and much needed post. Thank you my friend. I needed to read/hear that. Thank you for continuing to be a beacon of light in my life.

    Posted by prespreacher | January 21, 2014, 3:32 am
  3. I wasn’t aware of the Ani DiFranco-plantation debacle. Thank you for sharing that. I agree with you that hers is pretty close to (if not) metanoia. Shia LeBeouf is just plain weird. He might be losing it. It’s hard to stay mad at QuestLove. One could argue that his is a quick fix and yet I do love the way he writes. I think his apology is more sincere than most celeb flaps. Melissa Harris Perry is an example of “busted” and HIMYM is to a certain extent, however I give the show runners credit for actually responding to fans and saying “We messed up.” They didn’t put up too big of a shield. Compared to Seth McFarlane and other TV creators who make similar mistakes, it was refreshing to see HIYM creators sincerely attempt to make amends.

    Posted by prespreacher | January 21, 2014, 3:40 am

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