Patrick Walsh

When I worked at Trader Joe’s, we always had a dearth of standard issue, ergonomic, multi-function razor knives. They were easy to take home and forget, or lose in the crevices of vehicles. Once they made it to the homes of employees, they probably became quite a welcome oversight, since they are a very useful tools.

In order to save hundreds of dollars of replacement knives, management offered a “knife amnesty day.” Everyone would bring back their borrowed knives with no penalty. It was a broad forgiveness to save everyone a lot of shame, and provide a new start.

This may be a silly example to use in examining forgiveness, but sometimes the baggage that we hold onto is, in the end, rather silly. It is also very understandable.

So many of us live surrounded by like-minded people. Our belonging can become exclusionary and defensive. It can become easy to put our resentments for people we disagree with at the forefront of our minds.

I propose an ideological amnesty day. We can try and approach those who hold opposing viewpoint, without the layers of resentment that color our public discussion. We could call it #ideologicalamnestyday, call it #letsnotbejerks, or drop the hashtag altogether and just call it “Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable Day.”

We can call it whatever we want, but what it requires is forgiveness, patience and love. These are very vulnerable postures. All of us are experiencing great hurt, fear and suffering. It is a very difficult thing to be open to a person who seems to be the embodiment of things that are threatening us. But love, patience and forgiveness can’t exist where there is simmering resentment. Only God can heal the hardness of our hearts, but we can definitely co-opt the trendiness of a hashtag to get people to entertain the idea of calm, healing forgiveness, if only as a brief experiment.

Ideological amnesty day could just involve sharing time and a meal with someone who doesn’t see the world the way we do. It could involve honest questions whose answers could hurt to hear. It could involve listening to responses that seem foreign or insufficient. But here we are. We’re all here, and we know that we’re called to be one body in Christ. This could be a small start.

It’s an experiment because it’s implausible to cure ourselves of cultural baggage with the flick of a switch. But I think we all have the potential to entertain unconditional love over one meal. Without the ever-present uncharitable mental notes, the eye rolling and the defensive retorting, we can open a window, breathe someone else’s air and be present with that person.

In our work at a community food pantry, we try to develop what has been referred to as kinship. Our work with each other, our work for the community, is all to the end of cultivating real, life-giving relationships between everyone involved. I think this familial nature of kinship is something we could use to develop between members of our Catholic family. In our current moment, people feel like they are not even living in the same church, not reading the same Scripture, not leaving Mass with the same mission. I believe it is only through forgiveness and honesty together, with God, and one another, that we can “all be one” as the Son and the Father and the Spirit are one.

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Patrick Walsh manages Martha’s Choice Marketplace, a choice model food pantry at Catholic Social Services’ Montgomery County Family Service Center. He can be reached at pwalsh@chs-adphila.org. More information about Martha’s Choice can be found at www.marthaschoicemarketplace.com.