Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"I'm Sorry That You're a Jerk"

With the Jewish High Holy Days approaching, I have been ruminating on my almost-annual sermon on forgiveness and starting over, or whatever similar theme I can link to this important time in the Jewish year. Because of certain public events and smaller ones in my own congregation, I am going to focus this year on the issue of apology and how it relates to forgiveness. The title is “Who’s Sorry Now?”

Part of the impetus for this is the astounding monologue titled “sorry” in Ntozake Shange’s play For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuf. One woman says:

one thing I don’t need
is any more apologies
i got sorry greetin me at my front door
you can keep yrs
i don’t know what to do wit em
they don’t open doors
or bring the sun back
they don’t make me happy
or get a mornin paper
didn’t nobody stop usin my tears to wash cars
cuz a sorry.

There are two people in my congregation who need an apology to happen between them, and my fingers are crossed that it will happen with a slight nudge from their minister (that would be me). If it does, it will be good news. (I haven’t quite figured out how to address that one in the sermon.)

And then there’s the Pope, whose non-apology to the Muslim world has my jaw on the floor. Here’s the way my local newspaper quoted him: “I am deeply sorry for the reactions in some countries to a few passages in my address at the University of Regensburg, which were considered offensive to the sensibility of Muslims.”

Hello? Mr. Pope Sir? (Or is it Rev. Pope Sir?) What kind of an apology is that? You just said “I’m sorry that you’re a jerk.” All the cute red hats in the world aren’t going to get you out of this unbelievably insensitive gaffe, this second slap in the face to Muslims.

In my book, a sincere apology begins with these four words: “I’m sorry that I…” It can’t be any other way, because any other way puts the blame squarely on the other person, with the speaker (let’s call him the Idiot Non-Apologizer) taking absolutely no responsibility for what has happened.

By saying “I’m sorry that I…” the offender takes ownership of what happened because of his or her action. It’s an acknowledgement of wrongdoing, it names what happened and identifies the result. Hopefully the subsequent conversation is about how to make things right again.

I think that insincere apology is one of the sicknesses of our current society. It pays lip service to the concept of healing a relationship, while actually doing more damage and getting the aforementioned IN-A off the hook. What’s the medical term for when medical care actually makes the person sicker? It’s like that.

Pope Benedict, you’ve got a long way to go.

3 Comments:

Blogger Rev. Sean said...

Thank you so much. I thought for a while I was the only one who noticed. Everyone was so grateful and astounded that a Pope actually "apologized" it felt like they missed the fact that it wasn't an apology at all. It's been driving me crazy!

11:50 PM  
Blogger Joel Monka said...

The Pope's apology proves him a better man than I. In a speech to students that wasn't intended to be an address to the world, he quotes someone he said in that same speech that he disagrees with; the quote takes issue with spreading Islam by the sword. The response from the Muslim world includes burning six Catholic churches and shooting a nun in the back. I would have been tempted to say "Quad Errat Demonstrandom."

6:38 AM  
Blogger ms. kitty said...

Amen, Sister Berrysmom. I was appalled by the so-called apology which laid the blame back on those who objected. A half-assed statement of non-responsibility, for sure.

Of course, it didn't help the whole situation that the Islamic world came unglued and reacted violently.

Whatever happened to the tenet that we "assume benign intent"?

1:00 PM  

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