The Path of Redemption Leads to Trust

Let’s take a break from Madoff, academics, and business processes.  Let’s go way inward and talk about redemption.

In 1997, Robert Duvall’s The Apostle won many nominations and awards.  It features a jagged but dead-on role by Farrah Fawcett, and the best work I’ve ever seen Billy Bob Thornton do.  But mostly, it’s Duvall.

Some reviewers can’t find the redemption in it.  I think it’s about nothing but.

Duvall’s character is a sinner of every sort—a cheating, lying, womanizing and self-congratulatory preacher.  In a fit of rage, he unintentionally kills his soon-to-be-ex-wife’s boyfriend, and sets out on the lam in the deep rural south, calling himself “The Apostle E.F.”

What follow is a series of epiphanies for him.  At every turn of his life, he rediscovers the beauty in life and other people, and in serving them—at the same time realizing with horror how deeply he had sinned.  And at each turn, the consequences of his sin catch up with him. 

He is forced to move on to another place, where again he gains a new insight, again realizes the depths of his sin, and again accepts the consequences of his sin by being forced out of yet another home.

It ends with him working on the chain gang, yet praising the Lord.  Because for every realization of his sin, he knows he grows to a greater appreciation, and becomes more willing to do the right thing.  Every step down represents more learning, humility and dedication to service.

Something like that happens in the last of the Carlos Castaneda Don Juan series, Journey to Ixtlan.  Don Juan and Don Jenaro explain that because they are magical warriors who can see things others can’t, they also cannot be understood by mere mortals. In a palpable sense, they can not go home to Ixtlan anymore.  Yet offered the same choice again—to learn and be alone, or to be common but together, they would choose the lonely life of the magician.

William James, in Varieties of Religious Experience,  wrote about the “once-born” and the “twice-born.”

The once-born has always led a life of quiet faith. The twice-born, by contrast, knows what hell looks like, having been there, and so appreciates the difference. 

I think Duvall, Castaneda and James all spoke the language of redemption.    The religious sense of “redemption” is delivery from evil or sin.  It has a strong sense of “now I know what I never knew before, and I know it to be true in a way I never knew before.”

* Redemption is a complete change of perspective.  Redemption means “I have seen the light,” or, more colloquially, “holy crap, I never realized.”

* Redemption is what the Angel Clarence teaches Jimmy Stewart in Bedford Falls, and Ebenezer Scrooge in London. 

* Redemption is why alcoholics will ignore priests and spouses, but listen to a fellow alcoholic—they’ve been there and seen the light.

* Redemption is the ultimate act of empathy.  It is about radically revising ourselves to see another reality. 

Redemption alone isn’t sufficient to trust someone.  Ex-smokers, for example, can be giant pains-in-the-butt because they’ve exchanged one cause for another.

But it’s a powerful start.  The ability to see (at least) two sides of a coin is the foundation of getting along with others.  And thence to trust.