Humility is not easy. After all it shares the same root as "humiliation". But the humility that allows us to say we are sorry and to change our mind or our actions is central to the Christian faith. The word "repentance" which has been badly abused and distorted means to "re-think" how we think and act (even in Spanish "pensar" means "to think"). It is about re-thinking what we know or what we do. Something healing happens when we say "sorry" or acknowledge wrongs and ask for forgiveness.
But none of us ever want to be wrong or to say we are sorry. And certainly pastors and politicians never admit their mistakes unless they get caught on tape. For this reason, just as the world was outraged when we heard of the decision of Terry Jones to burn the Quran, it is also worth celebrating his decision not to burn it.
I have no idea what went into the decision or what pressures are upon Mr. Jones, but I am certain this story could have ended differently. He could have stubbornly pushed forward with the decision. He could have refused to listen to people or God and re-think things, but he did not. And frankly, I think the world is a little better off. I'm certainly not ready to lift him up as a hero (nor am I refusing to allow him to become one), but I am all about applauding his humility to re-think this action. In fact, I just called to let him know I am thankful for his decision not to burn the Quran... maybe you want to do the same: 352-371-2487. Too often we demonize people as if they were not human, and we talk at them but not with them. And I'm sure he's had plenty of mean calls, and might need some affirmation.
It's easy to write people off, and think it is impossible for them to become anything different from what they have been. But the entire Christian story is about the possibility of change, of people being made into new creations - and there are taxcollectors and zealots, prostitutes and pious elites who are all re-thinking who they have been and who they want to be in light of Jesus. Today, I am thankful for a pastor in Florida who was willing to re-think what he was about to do before he did something that he, and all of us who claim the name "Christian", would regret. As I told folks at his church today, I said in the conversation: "I am a Christian who wants the world to know the love and grace of Jesus... and I'm pretty sure burning the Quran is not going to get us closer to that." They listened and thanked me for the call.
Bono once said something to the effect, "The fact that the Bible is full of messed up people used to disturb me, but now I find it a great source of comfort." No one is beyond redemption. The Bible is full of people who make mistakes and are transformed by the grace of God and others - like David after his adulterous affair with Bathsheba, like Peter with his instinct to pick up the sword to protect Jesus, like Paul during his aggressive persecution of the early Church. God's grace is big enough for all sorts of messed up people to rethink who they are and do something new and beautiful for God. No one is beyond redemption - neither Terry Jones, Osama bin Laden, Saul of Tarsus, you or me. St. John of the Cross (and Leonard Cohen) coined the phrase - "It the cracks that let the light come in." So let us thank God for a crack in the events in Florida, that may allow light to come in... it is a moment pregnant with possibility.
Let us pause. Let us refuse to box anyone in to who they have been and rob them of the possibility of becoming more fully whom God has made them to be.