Here is something you may not have known about me: I am a John Prine fan. I do not listen to him that often, and I have lost his two CDs (that stands for compact disc for readers born after the year 2000) that I used to own, but I know many of his songs by heart. They are not easily forgotten. Often I will find myself singing his songs at random for no apparent reason. In his song “Fish and Whistle,” John Prine sings:
“Father forgive us for what we must do
You forgive us, we’ll forgive you
We’ll forgive each other til we both turn blue
Then we’ll whistle and go fishing in heaven.”
I have often thought about what John Prine may have meant by these words. He seems to be making a play on what Christ said on the cross “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do (Luke 23: 34).” Often times, we do not know the hurt we cause others and the hurt others cause us. We are oblivious to the ripple effects of our decisions. We all make decisions that affect others. Sometimes we do not know the magnitude of those decisions (like when Clark Griswold’s boss did away with Christmas bonuses, and Clark received a free membership to the jelly-of-the-month club instead).
As I revealed in my last blog, I am reading Desmond Tutu’s book during Lent, The Book of Forgiveness, that he co-wrote with this daughter Mpho Tutu. Bishop Tutu talks about decisions we make that affect others when we do not mean to hurt them. We all inevitably hurt each other whether we mean to or not. That’s why forgiveness is important. We all need it.
Perhaps what John Prine is saying is exactly that. We make decisions. Sometimes we must make decisions. How those decisions impact others cannot clearly be seen. Whether we “know better” or not about what we do and the decisions we make, forgiveness is essential to our lives. Just as hunger is remedied with food and thirst is remedied with drink, hurt and sin is remedied with forgiveness. Our ability to hurt and sin is innate to our humanness, but much more than that, our ability to forgive is innate as well. We all need forgiveness. Our world needs forgiveness. And as John Prine sang in another one of his songs, “That’s the way that the world goes ’round.”