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I am in no position to condemn others

Paul Reid, who runs, tells of a transforming moment in his attitude towards convicted paedophiles:

Jesus has gone to a lot of trouble to make it clear to me that I am not in a position to condemn anybody.  Once I was watching a documentary about the re-offending rates of recently released paedophile prisoners.  As I thought about some of these people and what they had done to children my anger started to burn towards them.

I felt very righteous as I declared  'These people should be executed, they have forfeit their opportunity to live in this world by their treatment of other human beings.  They have not repented or been reformed and they should be eliminated on humanitarian grounds, just as a domestic animal would be put down if it was attacking people."

But then Jesus spoke clearly in my mind and reminded me that I too had been in prison (before I knew him), I too had been released (when I met him).  "And you also have gone back to your old sin and its wages of death.  You are never in  a position to condemn anyone, not even these ones."

To condemn someone is to assert that Jesus did not pay the price for their
sin.  It is like cutting off the branch I am sitting on.


I bear no grudge

In 1987, millions of TV viewers watched interviews with Gordon Wilson:  

He and his twenty-five year old daughter were buried in rubble by an IRA bomb blast at a Remembrance Day parade in Northern Ireland.  He held her hand as she spoke her last words to him; she died shortly afterwards in hospital.  But he refused to nurse any ill-will towards the bombers.  When he was interviewed in his hospital bed, he said:

"I have lost my daughter, but I bear no grudge.  Bitter talk is not going to bring Marie Wilson back to life.  I shall pray, tonight and every night, that  God will forgive them."  (IPA)


I cannot forgive him

The great and powerful spirit in Corrie Ten Boom radiates through her autobiographical story, "The Hiding Place":

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, the former SS man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing centre at Ravensbruck.  He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time.  And suddenly it was all there -  the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie 's pain-blanched face.   He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. 

"How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein, " he said. "To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!"  His hand was thrust out to shake mine.  And I, who had preached so often to the people the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.   Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them.   Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more?  Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him.

I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand.  I could not.  I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity.  And so again I breathed a silent prayer.  Jesus, I cannot forgive him. Give me your forgiveness.  As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened.  From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me.

And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on his.  When he tells us to love our enemies, he gives, along with the command, the love itself.


I like imperfection

Sandra Bullock opened up to a rehab group in Arizona as part of her research for the movie 28 days, and said it was a life-changing experience for her.  Jordan Riefe (Planet Syndication / The Big Issue 15 June 2000) interviewed her about the film, and writes:

The group would only let her sit in if she confessed her problems too.  So Bullock laid herself bare – about her love life, her family and her most painful memories.  The other group members could have told any tabloid they wanted, but Bullock let everything out anyway. And she says it felt fantastic.

"Those four days were incredibly real and beautiful. I’ve been more honest with those people that with parents, my friends.  You tell a stranger more things than you would even your lover, because you don’t have anything to lose with them.

"We’re so afraid of losing people that we want to mask ourselves as this great, perfect creature that can do anything and that’s not true.  I like imperfection."


I too have transgressed

In 2001 Seiji Takaku undertook forgiveness research at Claremont Graduate University, California, USA.  The work investigated (a) the effects of a victim's perspective taking and a transgressor's apology on interpersonal forgiveness and (b) forgiveness as a mode of dissonance reduction.   This very interesting work reveals how one's readiness to to see oneself as part of a "community of the guilty," rather than as righteous "unlike those others,"  is an invaluable aid to forgiving:

Before the participants read a scenario describing a situation in which they imagined being mistreated by a classmate, the author randomly assigned them to 1 of 4 perspective-taking conditions:

  1. recalling times when they had mistreated or hurt others (i.e., the recall-self-as-transgressor condition);
  2. imagining how they would think, feel, and behave if they were the classmate (i.e., the imagine-self condition);
  3. imagining how the classmate would think, feel, and behave (i.e., the imagine-other condition); or
  4. imagining the situation from their own (i.e., the victim's/control) perspective. After reading the scenario, the participants read an apology from the classmate.

The participants in the recall-self-as-transgressor condition were significantly more likely than those in the control condition to (a) make benevolent attributions, (b) experience benevolent emotional reactions, and (c) forgive the transgressor. The relationship between the perspective-taking manipulation and forgiveness was mediated by the benevolent attributions and positive emotional reactions experienced by the victims.

The effects of apology and perspective taking on interpersonal forgiveness, Journal of Social Psychology 2001 Aug;141(4):494-508


"I was wrong"

Aaron Sorkin's multi-award winning TV series The West Wing explores moral and spiritual issues alongside and inside political and personal ones, often bringing great insight to issues of wrongdoing and forgiveness.  President Bartlet (Martin Sheen) came to office without being open about having multiple sclerosis (MS), and his staff have been waging a long battle to re-elect him while a public Senate hearing is now interrogating them about the deception and other possible misdemeanours. 

At the beginning of a climactic episode "H.CON-172," (Series 3) Bartlet is offered the opportunity to end the wearying enquiry and protect his staff if he accepts a motion of censure (motion #172) from Congress, condemning him for lying to the people about his MS.  As he wrestles with his decision, his Communications Director Toby Ziegler (Richard Schiff) comes to see him, ostensibly about a minor issue.  He then mentions that Bartlet's favourite movie (James Goldman's The Lion in Winter) was on last night:

Ziegler:   ... the scene where Richard, Jeffrey and John were locked in the dungeon, and Henry was coming down to execute them.  Richard (the Lionhearted) tells his brothers not to cower but to take it like men, and Jeffrey says, "You fool!   As if it matters how a man falls down!" and Richard says (Bartlet joins in the words), "When the fall's all that's left, it matters a great deal."   (Pause)  It matters a great deal.

Bartlet:  You trying to tell me something?

Ziegler:  No, Mr President, of course not.

Bartlet stands, thinking.  A little later he calls his closest friend and Chief of Staff, Leo McGarry (John Spencer) into his office:

Bartlet:  Yeah, I'm going to do it.

McGarry starts to argue, listing all the problems that will still remain if he admits lying.  He concludes:

McGarry:  And doing this to save me the embarrassment I've got coming to me is about the dumbest reason I can think of ...

Bartlet:  There's another reason.  I was wrong.  I was.  I was just ... I was wrong.  Come on!  We know that.  Lot's of times we don't know what right or wrong is, but lots of times we do, and come on, this is one.  I may not have had sinister intent at the outset, but there were plenty of opportunities for me to make it right.
    No one in government takes responsibility for anything anymore.  We foster, we obfuscate, we rationalise ... everybody does it.  So we come to occupy a moral safe house where everyone's to blame so no one's guilty.
    I'm to blame.  I was wrong.

The President accepts the motion of censure.


If I were in his place

Christian psychiatrist and marriage counsellor Paul Tournier had a friend going through a divorce.  He did not want to hide from his friend that he thought the divorce was wrong, but pondered in "The Person Reborn":

I cannot approve of his course of action, because divorce is always disobedience of God.  But I know that this disobedience is no worse than the slander, the lie, the gesture of pride of which I am guilty every day.   The circumstances of our life are different, but the reality of our hearts is the same.

If I were in his place, would I act any differently from him?   I have no idea.  At least I know that I would need friends who loved me unreservedly just as I am, with all my weaknesses, and who would trust me without judging me.   If he meets even greater difficulties, he will need my affection all the more, and this is the assurance I must give him.  (p 71) 


Imitation and conformity

In his highly creative and wise Anam cara the Celtic poet and thinker John O'Donohue observes how we often try to smother differences:

There was an old man I knew on an island off the west of Ireland.  He had an unusual hobby.  He used to collect photographs of newly married couples.  He would then get a photograph of that couple some ten years later.   From the ten-year old photograph, he would begin to demonstrate how one of the couple was beginning to resemble the other.

Often in a relationship there can be a subtle homogenising force which is destructive.  The irony is that it is usually the difference that makes one person attractive to another.  Consequently, this difference needs to be preserved and nurtured.  There should be no imitation of each other; no need to be defensive or protective in each other's presence.  Love should encourage and free you fully into your full potential. (pp 52-3)


Imprisoned yet released

David Rose reported in the Observer newspaper on an innovative approach to transformation in prisons:

In April 1993, Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, 68, a tiny, vibrant Swiss, electrified a conference at Lincoln attended by diverse representatives of the penal system: prison governors, judges, chaplains, officers and a handful of inmates.  Her work on death and dying 20 years ago transformed attitudes to the terminally ill.  At Lincoln she proposed a new approach to crime, with the potential to heal both victims and offenders.

"Symbolically speaking," she says, "there is in all of us a Hitler and a Mother Teresa."  The suppression of emotions, the inability to confront loss, would be found equally in victim, warder or offender.

Unpublicised by the national press, in 1991 and 1992 Kubler-Ross ran workshops with prison staff and long-term prisoners at Saughton jail near Edinburgh. At a time when large areas of the prison system seem characterised by the bleak dictum 'nothing works', her assessment of the Saughton experiment sounded bold indeed. Once an offender had found the roots of his emotions and had expressed his rage in safe conditions, she promised: "He would not hurt even a fly."

Sue Brooks, a former governor of Saughton who took part in the first 5-day workshop and who now works at Peterhead jail, is more cautious. But she says:   "Last week I went to Saughton, and five of the prisoners - long-termers and lifers - turned up to say hello. There was almost a physical change in them. Some of them now had college placements; they had a new confidence and openness. I think they are significantly further on in their sentences than they would otherwise have been."

The large size of the workshops means that each participant will find another who has a story of deep relevance to himself or herself; something which will 'press the buttons of one's own suppressed experience.  In the words of one participant: "I needed to look into the eyes of people who had taken the lives of other human beings, in the same way they needed to look into the eyes of a murder victim's parent - to see our own reflections, to recognise my own dark side or shadow in my projections and judgement of others."

The cynical will dismiss Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and her work with offenders, as psycho-babble mumbo-jumbo or as going soft on crime. But she has a growing body of support.  Judge Stephen Tumin, the chief prisons inspector, who chaired the Lincoln conference, says: "I am all in favour of what she is trying to do. It is splendid."

In Scotland, though not yet in England, senior prison service officials are trying to organise further workshops in jail. John Pearce, Saughton's governor during the workshops and now an area director, says:  "I was acutely aware of substantial personal growth in a number of participants - staff and prisoners. People became more assured and at peace, with a marked reduction in tendencies to get things out of proportion or to overreact."


Indonesian urges forgiveness after his release

Rinaldy Damanik, a Christian peacemaker imprisoned in Indonesia on what many believe were false charges, walked free in November 2004, a year earlier than his original release date, after Muslim advocates paved the way for his early release.

Upon his release Damanik urged that Christians forgive, bless and pray for their enemies.

Damanik was a prominent figure in peace negotiations between warring Muslim and Christian communities on the island of Sulawesi. He was convicted on charges of "illegal weapons possession" in June 2003 and sentenced to three years' imprisonment.    He has also been an outspoken critic of the police's handling of violence, which many feel to be the real reason for his arrest.

Earlier in 2004 Damanik became extremely ill, frequently collapsing with a high fever.   In urgent need of ultrasound the authorities would not let him have. However, after the amazing and unexpected intervention of a senior Muslim cleric, who said he was told to help the Christian in a vision, officials let him travel for treatment.

The cleric, Idrus R al Habsy, also became a staunch advocate for Damanik's release after hearing about his campaign for peace.  On August 20, the elderly cleric wrote to the Minister of Justice and Human Rights declaring Damanik to be a "man of good character" who "should be allowed to go free."

Damanik can now look forward to resuming his work with the GKST Crisis Centre, which provides help to both Muslim and Christian victims of sectarian violence.

Commenting on the response Christians should have to the violence, Damanik said the church needed to pray and bless her enemies. However, he stated, "We also need to show we are not cowards in facing this injustice. I'm not saying we should express our anger in revenge, but we need to speak the truth in love.

"Finally, we Christians should look at ourselves in the mirror and see what faults we have before pointing the finger at others. We need to clean up our own house first."

Open Doors USA

Judge's mercy and wife's forgiveness

The AP report of a merciful verdict by a judge at Leeds Crown Court, England in June 2000:

A husband who 'snapped' and tried to strangle and suffocate his wife when her nagging kept him awake has walked free from court after she told the judge she forgave him.

Raymond Bentley, 49, of Castleford Road, Normanton, West Yorkshire, put a cushion over his wife Colleen's face, put his hands round her neck and squeezed after she stopped him going to sleep by eating a mint, reading, snoring and complaining.

Christine Egerton, prosecuting, said the couple had a "stormy relationship" but things had started to improve before the incident on June 6 last year.  She said Bentley became annoyed when his wife started reading and sucking on a sweet as he was trying to get to sleep.

He told her: "I need to kill you, I want you to die.  I've had enough of you."    Bentley eventually released his 48-year-old wife and she escaped to neighbours, who called the police.  He was initially charged with attempted murder, but pleaded guilty to causing his wife actual bodily harm.

After reading a pre-sentence report on Bentley, whose IQ is in the bottom five per cent of the population, Mr Justice Henriques sentenced him to two years probation.  The judge told the court that Mrs Bentley insisted she was "at least half to blame for what happened," and had never feared for her safety before in their 27 year marriage.   She said her husband was "a perfectly normal gentleman".

The judge told Bentley: "This was very close to being a tragedy.  By reason of your wife's forgiveness you are not losing your liberty today."


Justice and reconciliation in East Timor

On 30th August 1999 the people of East Timor voted decisively to reject Indonesian rule. The United Nations sponsored ballot brought to an end one of the most brutal occupations of modern times. But after 24 years of rule, the Indonesian army unleashed a systematic campaign of terror to influence the vote, and when that failed the Indonesian generals and the Timorese militias they created burnt East Timor.  Up to 1200 people dead, two thirds of the infrastructure gone and tens of thousands still live in camps in West Timor where they either fled or were forced by soldiers and militia gangs last year.  Catherine Napier reported for BBC Assignment in August 2000:

Timorese leaders are searching for a mechanism to heal society – looking at the example of South Africa’s Truth Commission. In a place of Indonesian propaganda, its hoped victims of the occupation will have the chance to tell their stories and establish the truth of what really happened. But when it comes to the crimes last year – church and political leaders don’t always see eye to eye on how reconciliation should work.

Father Filomeno Jacob has just been appointed to the territory’s new coalition cabinet.  He explains the Timorese people’s capacity to forgive:

‘The Timorese people are a very brave people and a very dignified people. They have been through hell but there is also the capacity to leave it behind. We are now able to talk to Indonesians, we even speak in Indonesian- there is the capacity to forgive, there is the capacity to learn – I would call that the inner capacity of suffering and the inner capacity of calling it another day.’

The church’s view is that reconciliation should march hand-in-hand with justice. But some political leaders say reconciliation should come first. They want to persuade people to reintegrate the militias. Somewhere behind this message is a belief that every Timorese has been a victim of Indonesia, whichever side they were on. But there are political motives too – one being the desire to bring Indonesian generals to justice. Francisco Guetteres is the Secretary of the National Reconciliation Commission, he comments:

‘We in East Timor think the militia were not the organisers of the crimes- they were the executors of the crime. We need them to come back so they can be witnesses against the generals.’


Justice is good; mercy is better

The humble and wise pastor of the influential Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, John Arnott, has written a good book on forgiveness, but it’s his spoken addresses which best convey his style and compassion:

"The law of God is good.  It’s still in effect.  And there are two possibilities. You can either stay at the level of the law, or there’s a higher way – you can step up into the grace of God.  The law – for example the Ten Commandments – is good.  They’re designed to protect people from others.

It’s about what’s fair.  An eye for an eye, a life for a life.   This was really driven home to me several years ago.  Near Carol’s (his wife’s) home town there were two brothers who were farming with their mother.   They got in a fight one day, and the one brother went missing.  They looked all over for him, they searched everywhere; finally they called the police, and two weeks later they found the missing brother, and he’s stuffed down an old well, and of course he’s dead.

Well then they arrested the brother, and it all went to court, and he was convicted of the murder of his own brother.  And justice was done.  Thank God for justice.   But I’ll never forget journalists interviewing that mother as she left the courtroom: they asked her, "Mom, have you got anything to say?"  And she said, "All I know is this.  I used to have two sons, and now I have none.   One is dead, the other is in prison for the rest of his life."

You see, justice was done.  But there’s no redemption in that.  So God has come along with a better way.  One is good; the other is better.  Justice is good; mercy is better.  And that better way is called the grace of God.     It’s a free gift, and we can step up into the place of the grace of God because the price of the gift has already been paid by Jesus Christ.

And you know what?  I can just step up into this place of the grace of God and I think, ‘Wow, this is wonderful!  I’m not going to get what I deserve, now. I get the mercy and the grace and the love of God.’ 

I like to define it this way:  Grace is getting something that you don’t deserve; and mercy is not getting something that you do deserve.

When you and I choose to sin, we step down out of this place of grace and we do something for selfish interests, that ends up hurting others.  Sin always hurts somebody.  Jesus calls us to come up into the higher place, where we want God to forgive us all of our sins, so we can have a clean sheet and begin again.  But along with that there’s another call from him that says, ‘I want you now to forgive all those who have sinned against you and hurt you, just as I have done for you.’

The devil can’t get me – in the grace of God – because I am absolute protected here, I am in the bosom of the Father; I am a child of God.  So the enemy tries to get you to go back down from the grace of God – back down to a justice level, where he's the Accuser, where he has full rights to work under the law. And that’s the parable Jesus taught of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18).  So if I come down to this justice level, and say, "See that man, he knocked my tooth out, and I want to be paid," then the devil will say, "Father, do you see what that John Arnott’s doing?  He wanted grace for himself, but justice for those who have sinned against him.  Therefore I have the right to bring back down upon his head everything that he is due to reap under the covenant of the law of justice."

So in the parable Jesus said, if you do that you’re delivered to the tormentors, to the torturers, until you pay back everything that you owe.  The deal is – if you want mercy, you have to be merciful.  Blessed are the merciful – they shall obtain mercy.

So I’m going to say, "OK people have hurt me, and I could want justice.   But I want to stay here in the grace of God.  So I’m going to say it’s all right, I’m going to trust God to be a big God and a merciful God."  We can live out of the grace of God, or we can live out of the law of God.  But you can’t have both.  You can’t say, I want grace for me and justice for you.  The minute you do that, you come back to the justice level, and you will get what you deserve.   (TACF sermon, 7 May 1998)


Letting go hatred for the Holocaust

Rabbi Harold Schulweis, a well-known Jewish commentator in the US and leader of the Valley Beth Shalom congregation in Encino, Ca., wrote movingly of how meeting many non-Jewish Europeans who helped Jewish refugees during the Holocaust helped him let go much of his condemnation:

The question is not whether to forgive, the real question is how to forgive without forgetting, how to remember without laying a heavy stone upon the heart of Jewish and non-Jewish children.  The question is how do we speak to our post-Holocaust children - Jews and non-Jews alike.  We need evidence, we need witness, we need authentication of our belief in the existence of godliness even in the hell of Auschwitz.

Some two decades ago, I came upon the first, empirical data that helped me deal with honesty with the past and shaped my spiritual understanding of the world.  The last twenty five years I have had the great privilege of meeting with and reading of Christian men and women, flesh and blood human beings, farmers, peasants, doctors, priests, nuns from all walks of life and from every country which the Nazis occupied - Italy, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia - ordinary people who risked their lives and the lives of their families to protect and shield the hunted members of my Jewish family.   I have heard and seen the testimony of Jewish survivors, many of whom are yet alive because of Christian people who sheltered them in closets, attics, barnyards, pigsties, sewers, monasteries, graveyards.  These are the people made of flesh and blood like our own who for days and nights stamped passports, forged visas, falsified documents and would not turn Jews back to the countries of genocide.

Their rescue behaviour is remarkable enough but equally important is the knowledge that these were men and women of another faith than my own, another catechism, another liturgy than my own. These were people who refused to be isolated within the four cubits of their own dogmas and doctrines and who with deliberacy transcended their circle of faith in order to protect people of another faith.  These are the people who enabled me to overcome my own stereotypes, my own prejudices against "them".  They helped me look into the eyes of Germans and Poles without the ugly and unfair condemnation of whole peoples or whole religions.  They made it possible for me to believe in authentic goodness and in the integrity of forgiveness. (


Letting it go - coldly

The Godfather films by Francis Ford Coppola and Mario Puzo vividly portray the values inherent inside a crime syndicate.   Since they often use the terms 'family' and 'business' interchangeably to speak of the organisation, they usually comment vividly on the values in these institutions as well. 

In The Godfather II, Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) has become a remote, awesome leader, who is seen negotiating in Cuba with an old colleague of his father, Hyman Roth (Lee Strasberg).  Michael is about to pull out of a deal with Roth, suspecting the old man has endangered him by arranging for the killing of the Rosato brothers.  Roth shows anger as he reminds Michael that Michael had already killed his friend Moe Green, but that he let it go ... for the sake of 'business':

ROTH  :  There was this kid I grew up with ... he was younger than me.   Sorta looked up to me ... you know.  We did our first work together ... worked our way out of the street.  Things were good, we made the most of it.  During Prohibition we ran molasses into Canada ... made a fortune ... your father, too.

As much as anyone, I loved him ... and trusted him.  Later on he had an idea ... to build a city out of a desert stop-over for GI's on the way to the West Coast.  That kid's name was Moe Green ... and the city he invented was Las Vegas.  This was a great man ... a man of vision and guts. And there isn't even a plaque - or a signpost - or a statue of him in that town!

Someone put a bullet through his eye. No one knows who gave the order.     When I heard it, I wasn't angry.  I knew Moe ... I knew he was head-strong, talking loud, saying stupid things.  So when he turned up dead ... I let it go. And I said to myself, this is the business we've chosen ... I didn't ask who gave the order ... because it had nothing to do with business!


Listening without recoil

Helen Bamber founded The Medical Foundation for Victims of Torture.  She began her work by helping victims of the Nazi concentration camps 60 years ago.  The first camp she went to was Belsen.   She spoke about it to Jon Snow:

I used to go there and talk to people.  It was often dark in the rooms, and people would want to tell you their story. 

But they did it in a way I have never witnessed before, or since.  They would push their fingers into your flesh, in order that you heard.

I felt helpless, so useless ... until I began to realise that (I know this doesn't sound very fundamental!) the mere act of listening and receiving without recoil, actually receiving what they were giving me, and being able to say in the end, "Look, I'm your witness" ... that was my first big lesson I learned there.

The other was how compassion quickly dies.

... I think that the integrity of a society, the understanding of a citizen's responsibility towards the dispossessed, is absolutely essential if we're to build a compassionate society, and building a compassionate society is what I feel we should be about.

(from The New Ten Commandments, UK Channel 4, March 2005)


Love and forgiveness

In his last book "Fear no Evil," written when he was struggling with cancer, the English evangelist David Watson tells of a key moment in his pilgrimage through suffering:

About one a.m. on Advent Sunday morning, I had a bad asthmatic attack.  In my helplessness I cried out to God to speak to me.  I’m not very good at listening to God, but between one and three a.m. God spoke to me so powerfully and painfully that I have never felt so broken before him, and still do.  He showed me that all my preaching, writing and other ministry was absolutely nothing compared to my love-relationship with him.  In fact my sheer busyness had squeezed out the close intimacy I had known with him during the first few months of the year after my operation.  

God also showed me that any so-called love for him meant nothing unless I was truly able to love from my heart my brother or sister in Christ.  As the Lord put various names into my mind, I began to write letters to about twelve people asking for forgiveness for hurting them, for still being so inwardly angry against them – or whatever.  It was the most painful pruning and purging I can remember in my entire Christian life.  But fruitful! Already some replies to my letters have reduced me to tears. (p 171)


Loving your enemy

Francis Frangipane, a prominent pastor and writer in the USA, related in a talk given in 1997 how he had to learn to 'die to self' when he was misrepresented in public:

One of the things the Lord called me to do was to seek to bring unity and healing to the Body of Christ.  And in reaction to what the Lord had called me to do I had my name written about in all sorts of places.  I had a preacher in our city, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that was preaching this monthly theme on the antichrist.  And he connected me to it, and said, "Francis Frangipane is the antichrist."  How do you deal with that?

I didn’t like this – that this guy from his pulpit, would say, "You think the antichrist is going to come from Egypt, or from Israel, or from Russia?   No, the antichrist is going to come from America!  You think the antichrist is going to come from the East Coast, or the West Coast where everything is weird anyway?   No, God’s going to bring him right from the heartland … from a very conservative area. Iowa."   (I’m listening to this on a tape, man.)  He said, "Do you think the antichrist is going to come from the world?  No, he’s going to come from a church … and I’ll tell you he’s going to come from this city.  The antichrist – is Francis Frangipane."

And the people he told, they told other people, and he passed out some of the books that misrepresented me.  How do you deal with that?  I’m sent to bring unity – to facilitate the Body of Christ coming together – and in my own town I can’t walk into a supermarket without people seeing me, turning round and going the other direction.  Well, Jesus said, "Bless those that curse you, pray for those that persecute you."  I had to die to my own natural reaction.  You want to know where the cross is in your life?  It’s where you’re being offended.   Whatever offends you is where you’re being called to die to self and live to Jesus.

So I prayed, "Lord, what shall I do about this guy?"  And the Lord said, "I want you to give him an offering.  I want you to write a cheque for $100 and mail it to him, and tell him that I told you to send this money to him, and tell him that you’re praying for him."  So I did.  And next Sunday, he’s preaching – and I hear it on a tape – and he says, "Francis Frangipane has written books.  But he never hears from God."  Then he interrupted himself and said, "Well, sometimes he hears from God!"

And you know what?  It softened his heart.  And then we had a city-wide reconciliation service between the blacks and the whites in our city at City Hall, and he was there, and the Lord showed me something about a dream for him. And now this guy and I are friends.  The Lord has done a work of grace.  You know, I mean this in a Biblical sense: The Lord wants us to love the hell out of our enemies.  (TACF 2.5.97)


Lying gets into the culture

When a public figure is found to have lied there is a high degree of merciless unforgiveness from the public, particular from the popular press.  Yet at the same time evidence is growing that the public is increasingly likely to lie for their own advancement or protection.  Have we lost the ability to admit our own frailty - or is it that public image is everything?  This is a big question for most modernised countries; here G Jeffrey MacDonald reports on the American scene:

If you play by the rules will you lose out?  Many Americans think so. 

Headlines from the past few months suggest that Americans wince when they think their heroes are lying to them.  News reports plead for honesty: Did the Bush administration lie about an Iraqi weapons program?   Did John Kerry lie about throwing away his Vietnam War metals?  Did Pentagon brass lie about orders given to torture Iraqi prisoners?

Though the public expects truth and bristles when fed lies, wider trends indicate those same outraged Americans are increasingly telling lies of their own to get ahead in school, business, and relationships - and apparently feel OK about it.  For example:

• 74 percent of high school students, in a 2002 survey of 12,000 respondents, said they had cheated on an exam at least once in the past year, according to the Josephson Institute of Ethics.  In 1992, 61 percent of students reported having cheated.  The latest craze is to use cellular phones to photograph exams and show friends in the following class.

• After doing 3.8 million background checks, Automatic Data Processing Inc. announced in April that 52 percent of job applicants had lied on their résumés.

• The list of corporate executives accused of lying to defraud investors now includes those of Tyco, Enron, WorldCom, and Parmalat.

In the high-pressure, high-stakes environment of 21st- century America, lying has for many apparently become a way of life, even among those whose faith demands truth-telling.  People may know it's wrong to lie in theory, researchers say, but in practice they feel the success they want will be out of reach if they admit their flaws and sins along the way.

"They think, 'If I'm playing by rules that no one else plays by, then I'm disadvantaging myself in a way that's apt to play out over a lifetime,' " says David Callahan, author of The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead ...

"It's now more lucrative to lie," says Diane Swanson, professor of professional ethics at Kansas State University.  "People must know there is a risk, but the payoff is potentially enormous ... Conversely, if you admit you had a flat quarter or a flat year, then the market will penalize you." ...

According to Douglas Porpora, author of Landscapes of the Soul: The Loss of Moral Meaning in America, although lying has always been around, he says, today's reporters who probe routinely into private lives are now more likely to find and expose it.

"In some senses, the bar has been raised in how the news covers it," says Dr. Porpora, who chairs the department of culture and communications at Drexel University in Philadelphia.  "John F. Kennedy was having affairs left and right. That's dishonest, but we didn't care and the press left it alone."

Yet what's also noteworthy today, Porpora adds, is that the ordinary person is willing to tolerate routine lying under certain circumstances.  When the crime seems practically harmless - to cheat the government out of a few tax dollars, or to bill a rich client for a few unworked hours - then the working guy seems to have won, according to Porpora and other analysts.

Christian Science Monitor


Mandela - leadership in reconciliation

Desmond Tutu gave a vivid description of the essential role of a great creative leader in providing the space for freedom and reconciliation which others can enter and undertake:

Nelson Mandela invited his white gaoler to attend his inauguration as an honoured guest, the first of many spectacular gestures he made that showed his breathtaking magnanimity and willingness to forgive.  He has been a potent agent for the reconciliation he urged his compatriots to work for, and which was central to the purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission he appointed to deal with our country's past. 

This man, who had been vilified and hunted down as a dangerous fugitive and incarcerated for nearly three decades, was transformed into the embodiment of forgiveness and reconciliation, and had most of those who had hated him eating out of his hand.  (No Future without Forgiveness, p 7)


Metaphors for forgiveness in South Korea

Prince Charles Oteng-Boateng, the pastor of Seoul Union Church, provides a summary of the MTh research he undertook during 2003:

The purpose of this research was to identify the dominant metaphor(s) for forgiveness among expatriates in Seoul, Korea and to examine how it compares with the biblical concept of forgiveness.

For quantitative analysis, the following research questions were asked:

(1) What is the meaning of forgiveness? (2) What is the biblical concept of forgiveness? (3) Is there a dominant metaphor for forgiveness among expatriates in Korea? (4) How does the dominant metaphor compare with the biblical concept of forgiveness? 

A questionnaire was developed to collect information on the respondents’ choice of a metaphor for forgiveness. In addition, eight demographic variables were collected from their responses. The demographic data were the following: (1) gender; (2) age; (3) country of origin; (4) ethnic background; (5) marital status; (6)  education; and (8) religious affiliation.  A convenient sample of one hundred and fifty expatriates in Seoul, Korea representing the following countries: USA, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, New Zealand and the Philippines were chosen for the survey. Data were collected from December 2002 to April 2003 and analyzed using the Statistical Package for Social Science (SPSS). A comparison was carried out using a chi-squared analysis.

Results obtained from the descriptive statistics identified release as the dominant metaphor for forgiveness. Among the dependent variables, there was a significant difference across religious affiliation and the choice of release as the dominant metaphor. There was also a difference in the choice of some metaphors across ethnicity. Furthermore, a chi-square analysis also showed a significant difference between Caucasians, Asians, and Blacks in their understanding of the concept of forgiveness. This result was consistent with previous findings. A cross tabulation analysis also showed a significant difference across ethnicity in the choice of love as a metaphor for forgiveness. Finally, there was no difference in the choice of metaphor on the basis of gender, marital status, level of education, and the source of hurt.

These results have some implications for the field of Christian counseling and the implementation of forgiveness in therapeutic practice.

For more information mail:


Moral complexities and Jesse Jackson

Tony Allen-Mills provided a wide-ranging report in the UK Sunday Times on a tale of complex contemporary attitudes in the US:

In the USA the National Enquirer (16 Jan 01) broke the story that Jesse Jackson, the country's foremost black crusader and founder of the Rainbow/Push Coalition, had had an affair with Karin Stanford, head of the organisation's Washington bureau.   The affair led to the birth of an illegitimate daughter.

In a demonstration of the scandal fatigue engendered by eight years of allegations against President Bill Clinton, the news of Jackson's extramarital affair was met with widespread indifference.  Clinton, his vice-president Al Gore, and the incoming president George W Bush, all telephoned Jackson at his home in Chicago to express sympathy.

"He won't have a problem with the African-American community; we forgive everybody," said Cliff Kelley, a Chicago radio host.  "It's an issue between him and his wife," said the Rev Vernal Simms, a black Philadelphia church leader.

One explanation for the mild response may be Washington's hard-earned reputation for endemic philandering.  So many politicians have been bulldozed into admitting affairs that Jackson's (subsequent) confession was regarded by some as refreshingly candid.   Nor does Jackson, who was conducting his affair while acting as spiritual advisor to Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, appear to have been damaged by the widely held view that - as with Jackson's mentor Martin Luther King - Stanford was the latest in a long line of young women. 

Jackson's wife Jacqueline, has been addressing question's about rumoured infidelities for years.  "Of course I know what happens out there," she told a Jackson biographer in 1996.  "I understand other women being attracted to him, but I don't believe in examining the sheets.  My portion of him is mine."

A fuss about the $35,000 severance pay made to Karin Stanford when she moved to Los Angeles, and about the purchase of a $360,000 house for her, may prove harder to walk away from.  The Enquirer received its tip-off from Rainbow/Push employees unhappy that Stanford had been paid from the group's funds, although a spokesman for Push said the severance package was not particularly high, and that Jackson was paying $3,000 a month for his child out of his own pocket.

It was left to small number of white conservatives and some of Jackson's moderate black rivals to argue that he deserved contempt from Americans, not forgiveness.   "Jesse Jackson spends a great deal of time railing about how whites have hurt blacks, when in reality loose sexual behaviour is the overwhelming source of poverty in the black and white communities," said Robert Rector of the right-wing Heritage Foundation.  (Sunday Times, January 21 01)


Mother pleads for mercy

Dr Thomas Munch-Petersen, a university lecturer at University College, London, was convicted of causing death by dangerous driving in July, but only jailed for 90 days and banned from driving for three years.  The mother of one of the victims wrote a letter to the court pleading for the lecturer to be spared jail.

Munch-Petersen was travelling at 70mph in the overtaking lane when his G-reg. Volvo swerved out of control and into the slow lane.  It hit a lorry, which then careered back across the road, taking the Volvo with it.  Both vehicles went through the central reservation and into the path of the oncoming traffic.  He told the court: "It was a grave misjudgement. I have no positive recollection of taking my eyes off the road, but I accept I must have done."

Darren Kempton, 32 and his pregnant girlfriend Jenny Lancaster, 25, from Milton Keynes, were killed when their car hit the lorry.   Darren's mother wrote to the court:

"My family and I feel that to send Mr Petersen to prison would serve no purpose at all.  This man and his family have suffered enough. Lives have been broken without further adding to the tally.  Throughout life, we all make mistakes. Most pass without future incident. A few have tragic results."

But despite the letter Judge Styler said he had no option but to jail the lecturer.   "I regret to say that because your dangerous driving resulted in the deaths of three people, in my judgment it is so serious that no other sentence is appropriate."   (BBC report, August 2001)


National Reconciliation in Ghana

On 14 January 2003 Justice K. E. Amua-Sekyi convened the first meeting of Ghana's National Reconciliation Commission.  

The National Reconciliation Commission is charged with a mandate to seek and promote national reconciliation among Ghanaians by establishing an accurate and complete historical record of human rights violations sand abuses inflicted on persons by public institutions and public officers during periods of unconstitutional government and other periods from independence in 1957 and to recommend redress for the wrongs committed.

The Commission had received a total of 2,737 complaints covering abductions, killings, disappearances, torture, ill-treatment, and seizure of property were spread over the entire period from March 5, 1957 to January 6, 1993.

Justice Amua-Sekyi  said in his opening address:

"The task before this Commission is the promotion of national reconciliation. We are not the first nation to embark on such an enterprise.  Several countries, notably, South Africa, have trodden this path before us.  We are happy that we have the support of Bishop Desmond Tutu who chaired the South African Commission and of Dr. Alex Boraine who was his deputy.  Dr. Boraine, in particular, was with us when we were sworn into office by His Excellency the President, and his organization, the International Centre for Transitional Justice, has given us considerable expert assistance in the preparatory work leading to the commencement of hearings.

"Many of those who have suffered arbitrary arrests, torture, deprivations of property and summary executions of close relatives since then are still alive.  We owe it a duty to ourselves and our nation to make amends and offer reparation in appropriate cases.  It is by this that the success or failure of the enterprise we have embarked upon will be judged.  The Commission counts on all men and women of good will for support."


New organs, new life

In June 2001, a Palestinian family made an unusual gesture of goodwill in the midst of the bloody violence and deep mistrust between Arabs and Israelis.

The Djulani family donated the organs of their dead son to five people, four of them Israelis, for life-saving transplants.  Mazen Djulani died after being shot in the head in east Jerusalem last week.  An Israeli Jew has already received his heart.

David Cohen, the father of one of the recipients, said he was "very surprised" by the gesture.  "It is really touching, especially in these days when relations are so tense. This noble family comes and teaches us that it is possible to do things in a different way," he said.

Lufti Djulani, the dead man's father, was quoted as saying he wanted to save lives, live in peace with the Israelis and be rid of Jewish settlements.  "I donated the organs to save the lives of others, no matter if they were Jews, Christians or Muslims, even though my son was killed by a Jewish settler's bullet," he told the Associated Press news agency.

Israel's national organ transplant co-ordinator said this was the first such donation since the wave of violence which began last September.

AP / BBC June 2001


No problem

In "God is closer than you think," Juan Carlos Ortiz helps us be more realistic about whether or not in a given relationship we (yet) have the power to forgive:

A woman once came to the elders in our church to do something about her husband, who I believe truly was a rascal.  "Dear brothers, I don't want you to misunderstand me.  I want to divorce him, but I forgive him.  The only thing I ask is that he never see me or the children again.  I don't want him ever to set foot in our house."

I said, "If this is what you demand when you forgive him, what would you demand if you did not forgive him?"  I wasn't saying she was wrong to feel as she did;  I wasn't saying her husband didn't deserve this - he did.   And in cases where a man is inflicting serious physical and mental abuse on his wife or children (as here) separation is essential.

But I could not agree with her version of forgiveness.  She wanted him to pay for his sins by isolating him from his family.  Suppose you confess a sin to God, asking for forgiveness.  He responds, "Hey, no problem, I forgive you.   But you know, that last sin put you over your lifetime limit.  You're going to hell when you die."  This is not the kind of forgiveness our God offers us.

When I challenged this woman, she began to weep.  "Don't cry," I said.  "I think I understand.  And God understands.  But be honest - tell God you can't really forgive your husband now.  God will understand."  Forgiveness is not easy, so let's not pretend that it is.  (pp 63-64)


Nobody looks good that close up

The episode "Gentle, gentle" (written by Ann Donahue) from Danny Cannon's first series of the award-winning TV drama CSI - Crime Scene Investigation portrays a story of a baby’s suspicious death, and the family’s increasing trauma as father, then mother, then teenage brother are all suspected.

Gradually it emerges that they are covering up for their youngest child, a three-year old boy, who inadvertently caused the baby’s death in an unsupervised game.   Even though he would never be prosecuted, they feared for his reputation, concealed evidence and misled the investigation - putting themselves in a guilty light.

At the end the overwrought mother says to investigator Catherine Willows (Marg Helgenberger), "You must think we’re an awful family?"

She replies with wise compassion, "You’re an average family, burdened with a tragedy that put you under a microscope.  That close nobody can look good."


Northern Ireland / Stanford Hope Project

Dr Frederic Luskin is one of the great pioneers of forgiveness training.  In January 200 he collaborated with Reverend Byron Bland in inviting five women from Northern Ireland who had suffered catastrophic losses to Stanford University to participate in the first Stanford-Northern Ireland HOPE Project. 

The three Protestant and two Catholic women spent a week learning to forgive the person who had murdered the person close to them.   Four of the women had lost sons to violence.  This summary of the transformation they experienced is from Dr Luskin's "Forgive for Good" website:

The Degree of Hurt Measure asked the women to rate on a scale of 1-10, the amount of hurt they felt over the loss of their sons.  When they arrived (Baseline) they rated their hurt on average as 8.6.  When they left for Northern Ireland(Post-test) their rating was 3.6 and 6 months later in Northern Ireland (Follow-up) their score had stabilised at 3.4.

The Spielberger Trait Anger scale asked the women to rate from 1-4 how often they generally felt different aspects of anger.   The women’s average score changed from 21.6 to 16.6 after the week at Stanford for a decline of 23%.  At the follow-up assessment the scores were stable, but not statistically significant at either measurement period suggesting the improvement could have been the result of chance.

On a standard measure of depression the women’s scores decreased from checking 17+ yes choices out of 30 to 7 selections out of 30.  Each question asked to check yes or no to a common aspect of depression such as unhappy mood or difficulty sleeping. The positive change was statistically significant at both the post-test and the follow-up.

On a scale signifying how much the women had forgiven the person who killed their son the score on the Rye Forgiveness Scale increased from almost 37 to almost 53 at post-test and then stabilised at 51. The improvement was statistically significant at both post-test and follow-up.

On The Perceived Stress Scale, the women’s level of stress was cut in half from the beginning of the week to the follow-up assessment 6 month later.   The results were significant at Post-test and Follow-up

The Optimism Scale measures how much long term positive expectation these women have. Their average score improved at post-test and then continued to gain at follow-up.  At follow-up the result was statistically significant, but not so at the post-test.


Notting Hill

In Richard Curtis' romantic comedy Notting Hill (directed by Roger Michell) there is a fine illustration of grace as the free activity of a person with power.  Like forgiveness, grace is a 'top-down' action, and the film lovingly and warmly illustrates the helplessness of people who do not have power or freedom.  Like many romantic plays and films, it also illustrates how persevering in relationship matters more than status or organisational role.

Julia Roberts plays Anna Scott, a beautiful American who is the 'world's most famous movie actress.'  She is a figure of great glamour and power. Hugh Grant plays William Thacker, a 'humble' bookseller in London.  Yet these opposites experience a deep and moving attraction, and Anna invites William to her suite of rooms at a London hotel - he believes for a private meeting. 

It turns out to be a maelstrom of press interviews with all the stars of her latest movie.  He is nonetheless granted a few minutes with Anna immediately, wherein he must pretend to be a film reviewer for a magazine. In desperation he chooses the equestrian magazine Horse and Hounds.  He ends by asking her, "Are you busy tonight?"  She replies (truthfully), "Yes." William is then led through several other interviews which betray his ignorance of the movies.   Dishevelled and in awe of it all, he is then suddenly rushed back to Anna's room:

He enters.  A certain nervousness.  They are alone again.

ANNA  Ahm.  That thing I was doing tonight -- I'm not doing it any more.   I told them I had to spend the evening with Britain's premier equestrian journalist.

WILLIAM  Oh well, great.  Perfect.  Oh no -- shittity brickitty -- it's my sister's birthday -- we're meant to be having dinner.

ANNA  Okay -- fine.

WILLIAM  But no, I'm sure I can get out of it.

ANNA  No, I mean, if it's fine with you, I'll, you know, be your date.

WILLIAM  You'll be my date at my little sister's birthday party?

ANNA  If that's all right.

WILLIAM  I'm sure it's all right.   My friend Max is cooking and he's acknowledged to be the worst cook in the world, but you know, you could hide the food in your handbag or something.

And she spends an open and vulnerable evening with William's sister and friends.


Olive trees for Palestine

The Shalom Centre reports on some of its work with Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel to bring practical restoration to Palestinian towns damaged by Israeli troops:

To protect Israeli settlers whom successive governments have allowed to build towns in the Palestinian areas, the West Bank & Gaza, Israel has resorted to barricading and besieging many Palestinian towns.  And Palestinians, beset by their own fear and rage, have used violence to strike back, and been met with still more violence in response.

In some Palestinian towns, Israeli soldiers and settlers have even destroyed the olive trees that have been the economic and ecological basis of the town for centuries past and must be for decades to come.  It has done this even though Torah itself declares, "Even if you are at war with a city . . . you must not destroy its trees." (Deut 20: 19-20).  In the village of Hares, for example, the Israeli rabbis of Rabbis for Human Rights found 1500 olive trees destroyed — many in places far from where they could have been used as cover for violence.

These olive trees were not decorative.  They were the life-support of the village.   Some of the trees were hundreds of years old, having produced for this village oil and olives for all that time.  Each one of them paid the cost of year after year of schooling for a child.  Or the cost of a room built for a growing child.  Or a dowry for a girl about to be married.

In short, these trees are the family bank accounts.  They are also beloved members of the families of the village.  Many are now gone.

So we are joining in an act of people-to-people peace-making with Rabbis for Human Rights in Israel — the only Israeli rabbinic association that includes Orthodox, Reform, Reconstructionist, and Conservative rabbis — to help purchase new trees for several Palestinian villages, and then to replant these trees and help meet the humanitarian, human-rights, and environmental needs of these villages while the trees regrow.

The Olive Trees for Peace campaign has the possibility of changing both Palestinian attitudes toward Israelis and Jews, and the attitudes of Jews in Israel and America toward Palestinians.


Paid the fine

Nicky Gumbel, in his best-selling Alpha resource "Questions of Life," tells this story of 'giving-for'.  Some sources say it is a true story; others use it as a parable:

Two people went through school and university together and developed a close friendship.  Life went on and they went their different ways and lost contact.   One went on to become a judge, while the other one went down and down and ended up a criminal.

One day the criminal appeared in court before the judge.  He had committed a minor crime to which he pleaded guilty.  The judge recognised his old friend, and faced a dilemma.  He was a judge and had to be just - he couldn't let the man off.  On the other hand, he didn't want to punish the man - because he was still his friend.

So he told the man that he would fine him - the correct penalty for the offence.  That was justice.  Then he came down from his seat and wrote out a personal cheque for the amount of the fine, and paid it to the court for his friend.   That was love.  (pp 23-24)


People may be expendable

Despite converting a British naval success into an American one, the World War II movie U-571 (written and directed by Jonathan Mostow) has some telling insights into navy values.  These reflect almost all institutional values, not merely military one.   The script explores one key issue in particular - that some people are expendable for the sake of the mission and/or the boat. 

In a time of war, this is not in dispute; nor is the extraordinary courage of so many military personnel.  But institutions tend to bring the values of war into ordinary society, in ways which erode deeply human and spiritual ones:

US submarine executive officer Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) has discovered that his captain, Mike Dahlgren (Bill Paxton), has blocked his promotion to captain.  Dahlgren explains that Tyler isn’t ready yet – he is too friendly with the crew members and therefore could not sacrifice some of them for the sake of the boat or its mission.

The captain of a stricken U-boat carrying a secret Enigma coding device orders his gunner to shoot a rowboat carrying British sailors – the security of the Enigma must not be compromised, by orders of the Führer.  The story then unfolds as a ‘coming-of-age’ for Tyler, climaxing when he must order a young friend to go underwater to restore pressure for a torpedo launch, knowing the lad will almost certainly drown.

The main dialogue with his captain comes before they engage with any of the enemy:

Dahlgren:  You and Mr Everett are good friends.  You went through the Academy together.  Would you be willing to sacrifice his life? … You see, you hesitate.  But as a captain you can’t.  You have to act.  If you don’t, you put the entire crew at risk. … If you’re not prepared to make those decisions, without pause, without reflection, you’ve got no business being a submarine captain.

Strikingly, at the end of 2000 the British Royal Navy ran a TV advert which ends with a seductive voice narrating:

"But aren’t you just a cog in the machine.  Who wants to be a cog in the machine? … Depends on the machine."



At the beginning of J R R Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, the naive hero Frodo learns from Gandalf that the creature Gollum has betrayed the whereabouts of the all-dominating Ring to the devil-like Sauron; it is the very ring his uncle Bilbo has just left for him without explanation, the ring Bilbo took from Gollum.   They are now in terrible danger.  Yet at the beginning of this extraordinary imaginative fable about good and evil, we find the heart not of judgement but of pity:

“What a pity that Bilbo did not stab that vile creature (Gollum), when he had a chance!”   Frodo cried.
     “Pity?” replied Gandalf. “It was pity that stayed his hand. Pity, and Mercy; not to strike without need. And he has been well rewarded, Frodo. Be sure that he took so little hurt from the evil, and escaped in the end, because he began his ownership of the Ring so. With Pity.”
     “I am sorry,” said Frodo. “But I am frightened; and I do not feel any pity for Gollum … he is as bad as an Orc, and just an enemy. He deserves death.”
     “Deserves it! I daresay he does. Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”

(The Fellowship of the Ring  pp 78-9)

As the final war begins, Gandalf speaks urgently to Denethor, in charge of the people of Gondor, about hiding the ring from Sauron:

“You think, as is your wont, my lord, of Gondor only. Yet there are other men and other lives, and time still to be. And for me, I pity even his slaves.”

(The Return of the King p 92)

Planting a seed

This is a Hasidic tale, retold in many forms. It seems to be based on the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman, sometimes excluded from John 8.  It was sent to me by Philip Noble:

There was once a poor Jewish man who found it impossible to get  any work or money to buy food for his family.  Going through the market one day he was greatly tempted, reached out and stole a loaf of bread and ran off with it.  Now the poor man had never stolen before and had never even planned his escape so, of course, he was soon caught.


These were hard times and the penalty for stealing anything in that land was death. When the poor man was brought to the emperor for trial it was quickly decided that he was guilty and deserved to die.  But the man besides being poor was also a storyteller.  He spoke out loudly so everyone could hear, "It is right that the law should be respected, but it is such a shame my secret will die with me."

The emperor naturally became curious and asked what the secret might be.  The man replied, "I have some special pomegranate seeds that, when planted in the evening, will produce a full-grown tree with fruit growing in its branches, all in one night."


"It will do no harm to keep the man alive for one more day," thought the emperor, and sent him back to his house with a guard to obtain the seed.  On his return the poor man removed a seed form a tiny pouch and then paused. "There is only one problem," he said.  "The seed must be planted by someone who has never stolen.  As you know, I cannot do this, so will one of you plant it?"

One of the soldiers responded to the emperor's nod and dug a little hole in the ground and planted the seed.  Early next day the people gathered to see the wonderful tree. There was no sign of even the smallest shoot. They brought out the poor man to expose his lie. However he simply poked the soil, frowned deeply and said to the emperor, "I can't understand what went  wrong."

Then he turned to the soldier and asked, "Are you sure you never stole anything in your life?"  The soldier shuffled his feet and went red.  "Well, I did take a couple of jars of ale last week from the inn when the innkeeper wasn't looking."

"That explains it!" cried the poor man.  "Could someone else please plant the seed and then we will all see the tree tomorrow?"  The emperor impatiently pointed to another soldier, but he excused himself as having also taken "one or two things from a neighbour's house," as he put it.

"It will have to be you then," boomed the emperor, turning to the keeper of the royal treasury. His courtier turned pale and replied,  "Perhaps I should just check that none of the treasure has fallen out of the imperial chest.  You know how easy it is for accidents to happen."  He scurried off to put back the gold coins he had quietly removed last week and hidden under the treasury floorboards.

"Why not plant the seed yourself?" the poor thief asked the emperor.  But just as the emperor began to dig a little hole, the poor man continued, "I am sure that someone of your position has never had any need to steal."

This made the emperor pause and think long and hard.  He remembered a time when he was a boy of six when he had taken his nursemaid's shiny brooch.

As the poor man saw the emperor begin to straighten he said.
"It is strange, is it not, that all the people here have stolen in one way or another, and yet they are all allowed to go on about their business, but I, who stole a loaf of bread for my starving children, have to die for my crime?  Well, sadly no one will see the miraculous tree now.  Please go ahead and get the execution over."

The emperor regarded the poor man quizzically and smiled.  "It seems we have little right to judge you.  You may go free ... but don't steal again."



Policeman and robber in Wyoming

Steve Watt is a drug education officer working with the Sweetwater County Sheriff's Office. He was elected to the Wyoming House of Representatives and recently launched his bid to become governor.  Watt was nearly killed twenty years ago when, as a policeman, he tried to stop a bank robbery in the town of Craig.  Today he calls the robber, Mark Farnham, “my friend,” and says that if he’s elected governor, "I'd probably release him." 

Their story was told by Angus M. Thuermer Jr. in the Jacksonhole News, then picked up by CNN.  Here is a shortened version of Thuermer's story:

Mark Farnham got in drug dependency after leaving the army.   His business ventures failed and "everything kind of hit at once," Farnham said.  "It seemed everybody wanted their money from me."  He was stressed to the breaking point.   "Pride kept me from going to my family.  I felt I had to solve the problem myself."  In 1982 Farnham bought a gun from a pawn shop. He picked the Craig bank at random.  "I kept [the gun] in my waistband and just showed it to one of the tellers. When I robbed the bank, I really didn't care if I got caught or not."

Steve Watt was then a highway patrolman working a shift in Rock Springs.  By the time Steve Watt got to Craig the robbery was over.  He was looking for anybody leaving Craig, intending to stop them and ask what they'd seen.  When Farnham went by, Watt turned around to follow.

"I didn't give him a chance to come to a full stop," Farnham said. I slammed on my brakes, got out and started shooting.  I was trying to kill him," Farnham said. "I didn't see a brother, a father, a son. I saw something - a uniform - in my way of escaping, and I meant to kill him."

Watt remembers, "The first bullet hit me in the left eye ­ through the windshield and sunglasses.  The second round ricocheted off the center of the windshield. I reached down and grabbed the radio mike. 'Help! I've been shot.'The patrolman drew his own handgun and hit Farnham in the shoulder. The robber slumped forward, then sped off.  A swarm of lawmen apprehended Farnham not long after.

Watt was lucky. The bullet in his left eye stopped "the thickness of a piece of paper" away from his brain, he said. Another bullet was in his liver, a third in his spine.  He had joined the Highway Patrol at age 23. "I was not a very nice person," he said. "A lot of it was my age. I grew up respecting cops. In Rock Springs, I rapidly developed an attitude there's two kinds of people -­ us cops and you dirtballs.  I hated the guy who shot me.  I lived for one thing, and that was to hate him."

As Farnham tried to adjust to prison life, serving a life sentence, Watt returned to his job. But he couldn't take the pressure. He took time off, saw a psychiatrist, but nothing worked.  His wife, Marian, sought help from a local churches, and both were baptized in 1983.  "I paid lip service to it," Watt said of his Christianity.  "I said I forgave the man who shot me, but I didn't."  His wife confronted him.  He sought help again from his chaplain, who preached forgiveness.  Watt wrote one letter, to Farnham, then finally a second.  It read, in part, "I love you."

In 1986 Watt saw Farnham again. "I had an opportunity to go to prison for a revival service," Watt said. "He stuck out his hand. I threw my arms around him and gave him a hug and said, 'God I'm glad I didn't kill you.'"

Slowly, Farnham says, he came around. He co-founded a group call TELIS ­ Tell It Like It Is, a program in which inmates lectured troubled youths.  He completed his education.  "I'm the first inmate in 100 years in Wyoming to earn a bachelor's degree while incarcerated," he said.   His file is replete with letters of commendation.

"I consider myself extremely fortunate," Farnham said.  "I'm lucky to have Steve for a friend.  His forgiveness has made what I did a little easier living with myself.  It cost Steve dearly to forgive me.  No one will know how many friendships he's lost.  Steve tries to improve lives with no fanfare.  Steve has forgiven me.  I have not yet forgiven myself.  The greatest thing [that could] happen for the State of Wyoming is to have Steve for the governor."

Meanwhile Watt says he likes his change from a mean, angry cop. "Being shot was the best thing that has ever happened to me," he says.  "If I could change anything that happened to me on March 18, 1982, I wouldn't."



Practical forgiveness


Jennifer Kavanaugh reported in the Palo Alto Weekly (10 February 1999) on Stanford University's forgiveness research programme:

At the Stanford Center for Research in Disease Prevention, Fred Luskin is studying how the act of forgiving can help people move past anger, pain and trauma, and conversely, how the inability to forgive can have a negative impact on individuals and their relationships.

Luskin recently completed his doctoral dissertation on the subject, and he is now conducting a study to identify ways people can be trained how to forgive.  He said that while most of us value forgiveness as a concept, we don't always know how to go about it.

"I'm convinced that religion and spirituality can be really useful to help people forgive," Luskin said. "But the way they teach people to forgive isn't always practical. The point (of the study is) to make forgiveness simpler and more practical."

Luskin and his associates are recruiting 100 men and women, ages 25 through 49, to attend six weekly workshops. The participants are divided into groups of 12 and then asked to bring a forgiveness issue that they want to resolve. But the participants don't have to discuss their personal problems in front of the group, Luskin emphasized. "It's not therapy," he said.

"Everyone has certain rules of behavior for what's right and wrong.  So when a person breaks one of those rules, it's much easier to say that person is a bad person.

"Most of the rules of behavior are legitimate: Don't cheat on your partner, don't lie, don't steal," said Luskin, who added that people need to learn how to get past transgressions of even these rules if they want to feel at peace.

The act of forgiveness, Luskin said, involves a multi-step process comparable to the one associated with grief. In the forgiveness process, the person first feels anger and hurt, then finds a way to forgive the specific offense. Ultimately, the person develops the ability to forgive more easily and to take less umbrage at the words and actions of others.

People who are unable to go through this process, Luskin said, can experience not just emotional difficulties and interpersonal problems but also impaired cardiological, neurological and immune systems.


Prayers not condemnation when marriage ends

A prayer book about divorces and the breaking of engagements has been published for National Marriage Week in Britain.

The Methodist Church has included prayers such as "When a Marriage has Ended in Divorce" and "When Someone has Walked Out" in the book titled Vows and Partings.

National Marriage Week is being launched by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, and the Chief Rabbi, Professor Jonathan Sacks.

A Methodist church spokesman says the new book contains only a handful of prayers about the end of a relationship.  He said: "It would be wrong to draw the inference that the Methodist Church is promoting divorce.

"However, we recognise that some marriages end in divorce and that people in such a situation feel pain and seek support and understanding, not condemnation from the Church."


Prince Charles: no longer victims of history

In a recent article about the spirit of forgiveness in political history, Michael Henderson included this observation about the British Prince of Wales:

Prince Charles spoke in 2002 at the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation in Ireland.  ‘We need no longer be victims of our difficult history with each other’, he said.  The underlying meaning of peace was not just the absence of conflict.  It was equally ‘a climate in which understanding of others goes beyond caricature and where frozen images of hatred and negativity yield to a new vision of shared values and goodness’.  He said that, without glossing over the pain and suffering of the past, we could integrate our history and memory in order to reap what he called the ‘subtle harvest of possibility ... So let us then endeavour to become subjects of our history and not its prisoners.’  (Irish Times - 16 February 2002).

His speech was described by the Irish Times as ‘a peace bombshell’.  The paper had a front page headline that read, ‘Prince’s Unexpected Remarks Likely to Boost Reconciliation’.  The paper’s foreign affairs correspondent wrote:

While not bearing on any immediate political problems, the prince’s comments were seen in Dublin as likely to improve relations, in the wider sense, between the two communities in the North.  His speech was seen as the most significant of its kind since Mr Blair expressed apologetic sentiments in June 1997 over the Great Famine.

"Forgiveness" in The Way 43/2


Professor launches forgiveness course

Ken Hart, while a university professor at Leeds University, England, launched one of the world's first courses teaching people to forgive their enemies, while improving their health:

Canadian-born Prof Hart, a 45-year-old psychology lecturer, says bottling up anger simply re-inforces the feeling of victimisation and leads to high blood pressure and heart disease.

More than 70 people enrolled in his first 20-week workshop in London - a course he believes is the first of its kind in the world.  With pupils range from victims of burglary and bullying to jilted husbands, abused wives and raped women, it was often hatred, bitterness and a thirst for revenge that brought them together.

The students met in groups of eight to 10 for two-hour workshops with a visit to a counsellor every fortnight, with the course using therapeutic techniques such as introspection, empathising with the person who caused the pain and action on how to forgive the perpetrator.

"People can be trained and taught to forgive.  If you cultivate people's ability, like any skill, forgiveness can be learned," Prof Hart said.

"Forgiveness is something the victim does in relation to a perpetrator," he said, adding:  "And at its core is a shifting from a negative attitude to a positive one."

Ananova News, November 2000


Tony Allen-Mills - Moral complexities and Jesse Jackson

Justice Amua-Sekyi - National Reconciliation in Ghana

Ananova - Professor launches forgiveness course

John Arnott - Justice is good; mercy is better

AP report - Judge's mercy and wife's forgiveness

AP / BBC report - New organs, new life

Helen Bamber - Listening without recoil

BBC report - Mother pleads for mercy

Corrie Ten Boom - I cannot forgive him

Francis Ford Coppola & Mario Puzo - Letting it go - coldly

Richard Curtis - Notting Hill

Daily Telegraph - Prayers not condemnation when marriage ends

Ann Donahue - Nobody looks good that close up

Francis Frangipane - Loving your enemy

Nicky Gumbel - Paid the fine

Hasidic tale - Planting a seed

Michael Henderson - Prince Charles: no longer victims of history

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross - Imprisoned yet released

Jeffrey MacDonald - Lying gets into the culture

Jonathan Mostow - People may be expendable

Catherine Napier - Justice and reconciliation in East Timor

John O'Donohue - Imitation and conformity

Open Doors USA - Indonesian urges forgiveness after his release

Juan Carlos Ortiz - No problem

Prince Charles Oteng-Boateng - Metaphors for forgiveness in South Korea

Paul Reid - I am in no position to condemn others

Harold Schulweis - Letting go of hatred for the Holocaust

Shalom Centre - Olive Trees for Palestine

Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing) - "I was wrong"

Stanford University - Practical forgiveness

Angus Thuermer - Policeman and robber in Wyoming

Paul Tournier - If I were in his place

Desmond Tutu - Mandela - leadership in reconciliation

Brian Walden - Nero and frail leaders

David Watson - Love and forgiveness

Gordon Wilson - I bear no grudge

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