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Posts Tagged ‘Forgiveness’

As We Forgive coverOver the last week or so, I’ve been absorbed in Catherine Claire Larson’s new book, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda. If you’re interested in a deeper understanding of what happened in Rwanda in 1994, or a deeper understanding of the miraculous process of reconciliation, I commend this great book to you. 

Last month marked the 15th anniversary of the horrific Rwanda genocide, and the wounds are still apparent in the country. However, despite physical and emotional scars, something dramatic is happening among the Rwandan people. Survivors are forgiving those who killed their families. Perpetrators are truly repenting and doing practical acts of reconciliation to demonstrate their remorse, like building homes for those whose families they killed. God is moving.

In her gripping book, Larson shares seven stories about the genocide, its aftermath, and the spirit of reconciliation that is happening in a place that was once defined by inhumanity and death. What’s taking place in Rwanda today is instructive for all people, especially those of us who confess Christ. As Larson observes in my interview with her, now at UrbanFaith.com, “If forgiveness can happen in that country after such unthinkable crimes, surely it can also happen in the comparatively smaller rifts we face. In their hope, we can find hope.”

I highly recommend that you check out Catherine Larson’s compelling and well-written book, as well as the award-winning film that inspired it. Also, once again, don’t forget to read, link to, and pass along the UrbanFaith interview with Larson.

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Anyone catch President Obama’s appearance on The Tonight Show yesterday evening? I didn’t, mainly because I prefer Letterman or Nightline during that hour. Plus, I knew I would be able to catch the highlights on any number of websites and blogs the next day. Unfortunately, it turns out the President made an insensitive remark that implicitly insulted the Special Olympics and its athletes. He has apologized, but the damage has been done and many of his veteran critics now have new fodder to blast him with.

I frankly had mixed feelings about Obama appearing on the Tonight Show, not because it wasn’t “presidential” or because no previous sitting president has done such a thing (I like that he wants to reach the everyman), but because the very nature of a late-night talk show is to be loose and silly and offhanded. You feel obligated to be a little more crude and crass; you want people to find you humorous. In that kind of environment, with that kind of casual mindset, a lot of unintended comments can fly. And you would think that after Obama’s mindless crack about Nancy Reagan at his pre-inaugural press conference, he would be more careful.

Still, I’m sure we’ve all mindedlessly cracked jokes that we’ve later regretted. (I almost got my butt kicked in high school by a black belt in Karate one night for making a joke, at his expense, during a Friday-night football game. I learned a lot from that gaffe, though I’ve gone on to make many more verbal blunders over the years.)

This article from DiversityInc magazine shares some useful tips about what do when you’ve said something stupid and hurtful to another person. The list could be helpful to anyone seeking to add another tool to his or her reconciliation resource kit.

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It’s not every day that you see a former KKK member apologize for the attrocities he committed decades ago, but here’s proof that God is still in the reconciliation business. I’m a little late to the party on this one, but this is such an incredible story that I thought I’d post on it anyway, just in case anyone missed it.

UrbanFaith.com has a great article about it, and Anthony Bradley did a fine post about it more than a week ago. Breaking news it ain’t, but this is one of those stories that hopefully will be told again and again.

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I’m always a little intrigued by how easy it is for us humans to instinctively demand justice, yet how deep we have to dig in order to muster up any inclination toward mercy or forgiveness. What’s up with that? I understand that God has wired us with that desire for righteousness, to see “the crooked made straight and the rough places plain” (Isa. 40:4). But I also know how much trouble we get into when we presume to dispense judgment without mercy. Wouldn’t it be something if, instead of righteous indignation, our first instinct was one of grace and mercy? What would that look like?

I say all this because I’ve been fascinated by the response to a situation here in Illinois. Many of you probably know that our former governor George Ryan was sentenced to a six-year prison term for a variety of corruption charges that stem from his tenure as secretary of state. Probably the most notable and tragic result of Ryan’s crimes were the deaths of the six children of Scott and Janet Willis, who were killed in a fiery traffic accident caused by a trucker who obtained his driver’s license illegally from one of Ryan’s secretary of state offices. Consequently, many people view Ryan as an accomplice to murder.

Dick Durbin, one of our U.S. senators, recently sent a letter to President Bush requesting that Ryan’s prison sentence be commuted to the one year he has served already. (Coincidentally, Durbin is a Democrat and Ryan is a Republican.) In a truly gracious display that, unfortunately, has been drowned out by the cynical cries of favoritism and “politics as usual,” Durbin writes that the 74-year-old Ryan “has lost his state pension benefits and a commutation will not restore them. He would emerge from prison facing economic uncertainty at an advanced stage of his life.” He also notes that Ryan’s wife, Lura Lynn, is in declining health and would benefit from her husband’s presence. Durbin continues:

“For those who would argue that a commutation makes light of his crimes, it is clear that he has already paid a significant price and will continue to do so as long as he lives. Justice is a sword that should be tempered with compassion. Further imprisonment will not, in my opinion, serve the ends of justice.”

For this, Durbin has taken a major lashing from the public. On the Chicago Tribune website, one commenter opined, “Whatever good opinion I have had of Senator Durbin has just diminished to zero. He has just added to the belief that politicians stick together no matter what the crime. It is time that they not be considered untouchable where justice is concerned.” Responding to the criticism, Durbin said he had been “raised in a tradition of redemption” and that he believed Ryan has already paid a great price.

However, the overwhelming majority of folks seem adamant that Ryan should not be given any special treatment. Again on the Tribune site, in a survey that asks: “Should President Bush set Gov. George Ryan free?,” out of 1,977 respondents (when I last checked), a whopping 1,617 said “No,” while only 360 folks said “Yes.” That’s 82% whose natural and abiding impulse is to go by the letter of the law versus 18% who think the old guy has suffered enough.

Ironically, Gov. George Ryan’s other great controversial act was the moratorium he placed on Illinois’s death penalty because of several dubious cases where individuals were unfairly tried. Then, before leaving office in 2003, Ryan commuted the death sentences of every inmate on Illinois’ Death Row—167 in all—to life in prison.

What do you think? What’s the proper balance between mercy and justice? Would commuting Gov. Ryan’s sentence send the wrong message, or would it send exactly the kind of message our society needs to witness more of—one of compassion, forgiveness, and grace?

In What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey writes:

Because it goes against human nature, forgiveness must be taught and practiced, as one would practice any difficult craft. “Forgiveness is not just an occasional act: it is a permanent attitude,” said Martin Luther King Jr. What greater gift could Christians give to the world than the forming of a culture that upholds grace and forgiveness?

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Amazing. First America elects an African American president, and now Bob Jones University releases a statement to apologize for its racist past. It’s cold here in Chicago. Are the temperatures dropping in Hades, too?

Okay. I’m just joking. I apologize for sounding cynical, because I’m not. My bumbling sense of humor often doesn’t translate well in the blogosphere. I’m actually thrilled to hear about this development, and I thank BJU alumnae Joy McCarnan and Camille Lewis for bringing it to my attention.

This is no small occurrence. Bob Jones University’s infamous history has long been viewed as emblematic of the bigotry and narrow-mindedness of Christian fundamentalism and, by extension, American evangelicalism as a whole. But now, BJU is repenting of its past. I was particularly struck by this portion of the statement:

For almost two centuries American Christianity, including BJU in its early stages, was characterized by the segregationist ethos of American culture. Consequently, for far too long, we allowed institutional policies regarding race to be shaped more directly by that ethos than by the principles and precepts of the Scriptures. We conformed to the culture rather than provide a clear Christian counterpoint to it.

In so doing, we failed to accurately represent the Lord and to fulfill the commandment to love others as ourselves. For these failures we are profoundly sorry. Though no known antagonism toward minorities or expressions of racism on a personal level have ever been tolerated on our campus, we allowed institutional policies to remain in place that were racially hurtful.

Recently, many of BJU’s students and alums have implored their school to issue this kind of public declaration, and I believe a major campaign was underway to publicly challenge the school to acknowledge its past sins and take a stand for racial reconciliation. (I’d welcome some folks more knowledgeable than I on this matter to chime in.) Camille Lewis, who was a part of this reconciliation effort, says she and others were thankful for, but genuinely stunned by, this development.

A few of you have asked my opinion of the statement, particularly whether it seems a little too strategic and convenient. Is it genuine or just a stunt to counteract the unwanted controversy of that alumni campaign? I have no idea, though I would hope this gesture is just the beginning of a greater, ongoing effort by the school to pursue racial and cultural diversity and model the kind of Christian unity mentioned in the statement. I think the school has now obliged itself to become a leader in this regard.

Though some call me naïve, I’ve generally tried to take a “give them the benefit of the doubt” approach to things like this. I want to assume the best from BJU’s leadership. I have no right to judge their motives. Instead, I want to rejoice in the potential for reconciliation that’s happening here. I hope that this noteworthy act will cause an outbreak of grace and unity throughout the church, which still struggles with sins of segregation and intolerance that extend way beyond Bob Jones University.

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