Wilbrod Wamboza was born on 1st December
1990. He is a Mugishu by tribe which is found in Mbale district in the Eastern
part of Uganda. He has managed to finish senior 4, senior 6, a certificate in photography and video editing and lastly he is in his 3rd year of philosophy studying for a degree in philosophy at Philosophy Centre Jinja (PCJ)
which is a branch of the Uganda Martyrs University Nkozi (UMU). He is in the order of
the Ministers of the Infirm commonly known as the Camillians discerning his call to priesthood. He followed last year the course: Conflict Transformation, and Power, Identity and Trauma. In this interview he shares the relevance of both courses in his religious formation.
Question: Could you share with us the relevance of the course Conflict
Transformation in the context of religious and missionary formation?
Wilbrod: I will first define a conflict as a disagreement between interdependent
people. With this course, one will come to know that life is all about
conflicts and without them, then that particular person would be masking. To
the religious context, personally, I learnt to transform the conflicts I have
with my brothers in the community because there is no any community without a
conflict. In relation to formation for missionary activity, the issue of how to
deal with conflicts is paramount. As a missionary, one is often put into
cultural situations much different to that of one's own background and thus the
potential for inadvertent conflict is great. Therefore, a good missionary must
count the charism of conflict transformation and reconciliation as a
fundamental aspect of his/her vocation.
Question: You were also engaged in another course where we deepened on key
areas of Conflict Transformation such as Power, Trauma and Identity, could you
share with us how relevant are these three areas in the context of religious
formation (explain one by one)?
Wilbrod: I will first of all define power according to Don Freeman (Lancaster
Theological Seminary), who suggests power as the ability to get things done or
to influence outcomes. According to Freeman, power is the ability to affect and
be affected by the feelings, attitudes, beliefs, opinions and behaviour of
others. Jesus has much to teach us regarding power relations, like in the letter
of St. Paul to the Philippians 4:13 says; I can do all things through Christ
which strengthens me. With that verse, Paul means that Christ is our leader and
has power of which we also shar and then pass it to the
neighbours to improve our relations.
For me, the relevance to power in religious formation stands out with
great clarity. A central component of any religious formation program is
personal development. To develop the well rounded and compassionate persona
required of a religious priest or brother, one must be highly cognisant of how
they use any power at their disposal.
Personally, I have been inspired by my formation program to always seek
out the opinions of people in peripheral or powerless situations, for example,
a patient or their family member. All too often a patient’s personality and
spirituality can be treated in a passive or even neglectful manner by medical
professionals in pursuit of a successful clinical outcome. In my experience,
the smallest gesture towards the humanity of the patient, for example, making
time for conversation, can reap massive rewards in terms of the patient’s
feeling of empowerment. Our founder St. Camillus taught his earliest confreres
that if they wanted to know how to treat the sick then they should ask the sick.
Trauma: As I am in formation for the Order of St. Camillus, the theme of trauma
is of particular relevance. The Camillian Charism is one of practical and
intelligent care for people who are experiencing medical traumas. Of course,
patients who present themselves for medical treatment do not only suffer from
physical wounds. My formation program has alerted me to the ever present need
for awareness of any psychological or spiritual traumas that a patient may have
suffered over the course of their life.
Identity: The concept of identity is a foremost principle in religious formation.
A person’s identity radiates into their thoughts, words and actions.
Conversely, how we think, live and interact with others, shapes our identity
profoundly. Constructing the identity of the religious brother or priest, which
we ultimately hope to embody, is a long term project. Like all great feats of
engineering, building a strong and purposeful religious identity requires a
Since first becoming a candidate for the Order of St. Camillus, I have
laid down the building blocks of personal prayer, celebration of the sacraments
and regular good works. Of course, I have benefited greatly in these efforts
from the input of my formators and my fellow confreres. Therefore, highlighting
one of the most important foundation stones of identity; community life. By its
nature, community life causes a candidate to encounter a variety of vastly
disparate identities. Thus, holding a mirror up to our own identity. He who can
relate well to those in his religious community during formation, by
accommodating other identities, can be confident that the building blocks of a
solid Christian identity are already firmly in place in himself.
Question: Could you share with us how these two courses have contributed to
a better awareness of yourself?
Wilbrod: As a future religious I feel I have really benefited so much from these
two courses. For trauma, power and identity, they have helped me to know how
best to deal with people who have suffered trauma, because before doing
trauma whenever I met people affected by trauma I could think they were
pretending but after deep analysis of these course I am able to understand,
tolerate and accept them the way they are. I also discovered that I had unhealed
trauma during a special session of the trauma releasing exercises which at last
I discovered and I became so light.
As for conflict transformation, it has helped me to learn how to
transform the conflicts in the community. It has helped me to always look
beyond the mere conflict as in to search the root cause of the conflict before
transforming it. Also not to forget that conflict is part of life and life
brings us conflict. Conflicts are opportunities which helps one to be creative
to search for means of transforming. I have also come to realise that it is
profound to envision and respond to whatever conflict comes along my way.
Question: How meaningful are these courses for a better understanding of
community life in our religious context?
Wilbrod: For a community to live harmoniously, it should not take these courses
for granted. They provide a candidate with the best understanding of
him/herself. In religious life, one should be open. Such
courses help the candidates to reflect on their lives and also they teach us to respect the dignity of each human being.
Question: You are a candidate of the Camilian congregation. How relevant has
these courses been towards a deeper understanding of the CAMILLIAN charism?
Wilbrod: Much has been already written in the above answers but still I can share
with you another point. These courses in a special way helped me to understand
the Charism of the Camillians which is; to take care of the sick. This helped
me to understand that sickness is not only physical but also psychological. It has taught me to counsel well the sick I find in my
ministry and also to understand that trauma can be healed. And that we can all become wounded healers.
Question: You have been introduced and gone through the experience of Trauma
Releasing Exercises. How would you evaluate the experience?
Wilbrod during the TRE
Wilbrod: The process is really wonderful. Such exercises should be encouraged in the different communities
because they help one to relax his muscles and mind. As I was doing
the exercise, I allowed my muscles to be free, this gave chance to
start trembling. The part which trembled much was my right leg, I really
did not know why but later on, when processing the exercise, I recalled an injury I got in form three when playing football. I was advised never to play football
again because the cap of the knee had a crack. Since that time, I used to feel
this right leg being heavier than the left one. During the trauma releasing
exercise, this knee released all the energy which was stocked for over
10 years. I felt much relieved and so light in my right leg. This is why I
always do the Trauma Releasing Exercises whenever I feel my muscles are
paining. Now they have kept me fit up to now.
Question: Did the trauma releasing exercises contribute to a new awareness
of the wisdom of your body? How?
Wilbrod: I came to know that most times I do not give chance to my body to relax, that is why I could feel heavy most times. Doing
the exercises has helped me to become light and flexible. I give thanks for the practicality of both courses.
Scott Hutchinson is Pastor of St. Andrew’s United Church of Christ in Perkasie, PA, where he has served for 21 years. He was previously a counseling professional. His areas of focus and expertise include forgiveness, trauma healing, and peace education. Scott is co-founder of Touchstone Veterans Outreach and the COMPASS Healing Circle. Scott is married to Debra, a US Army veteran. They have three children and a grandson. Click here to access Scott's website: Power of Forgiveness >>>
Yago:Scott, you are welcome to this blog called “Breathing Forgiveness:
Conflict Transformation in the Here and Now.”You are the creator and editor of the website, “Power of Forgiveness.”
As a pastor and a counselor you have been accompanying people in forgiveness
for many years.This interview will
explore different textures of forgiveness. I am grateful for you accepting to
share your wisdom on this topic.
Scott:It is my privilege!I am deeply
grateful for our friendship and collaboration.
Yago:Richard Rohr in his bookEverything Belongs says that it is interesting that Jesus identifies forgiveness with
breathing.He says that God’s
forgiveness is like breathing.How does
this insight resonate with your experience of forgiveness?
resonates deeply.I, too, believe that
the terminology of “forgiveness” points us not just toward the chosen action of
God but to God’s very identity.God’s forgiveness
is the eternal expression of God’s radical grace. Think about that for a
moment: the eternal expression of God’s
While I have only read Rohr’s work
substantively in recent years—thanks in large part to you-- on my site I had
already written: ‘Forgiveness is not just something God does; it is the deep
expression of who God is, in every part of our lives.”Everything about our lives, our origins, our
completions, and all that is in between, is lived in the “give-ness of God.”I like to think of the English terminology in
terms of fore-giveness.God’s action is
unilateral, it is creative, it is “from the beginning.”If this is true, God’s action is not and
cannot be conditioned by our actions.That
realization is profound.
At a workshop several years ago, we were
grappling with the all-encompassing nature of God’s forgiveness, with people
asking, “Why does God forgive this way?” I said, “I don’t think God can help
it.”That may not be an elegant description, but it
is surely worth pondering.Think of the impact
on the church, which endlessly seeks to mold God in its image.
In equating forgiveness with breathing, Rohr is
powerfully referencing both John’s gospel and the second creation story in
Genesis.The setting in John is the
evening of Easter, where Jesus is risen but his followers remain locked up
tight in their own tomb, the power of death continuing to hold sway over
them.They continue to bear the weight
of their failure to stand with him. The resurrected Jesus penetrates the barriers
of their fear and shame—the “locked doors” of life-- offering them his peace
even as he bears his wounds to them!I am reminded of his earlier words to them as
he faced death: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you; I do not give
to you as the world gives.” He will subsequently ask Thomas to touch the wounds
with his own hands. The peace of Christ
does not deny the wounds of life, but acknowledges them, touches them, and
tends to them.
Even as Jesus draws close to them in their
guilt and shame, he commissions them:“Peace be with you; as the Father has sent me, so I send you.”He breathes on them, saying “Receive the Holy
Spirit.”What an incredible revelation: The
Holy Spirit, the breath of Jesus’ life, is the spirit of forgiveness!Breathing it upon them, he blesses them with wisdom: “If you forgive the sins of
any, they are forgiven.If you retain
the sins of any, they are retained.” Withholding forgiveness, or refusing to
receive it, is like “not breathing!” Conversely, forgiving is infusing another
with the power for new life, and claiming it for yourself.
For Rohr, the scene references the Hebrew
Scriptures, Genesis Chapter 2, where the original human is not really alive
until filled with God’s own breath. God’s forgiveness, the breath that animates
Jesus, is the power that makes us alive as human beings.Practicing forgiveness is at the heart of our
That’s plenty for an answer, but I recall that
you originally asked me how this insight about God resonates with my own
experience. I say that my life has been a laboratory in forgiveness.I have known great blessing and richness in
life.I have also been broken, more than
once. I have failed abysmally. I have hurt people. I have tended to learn many
things the hard way. At the same time I have been astonishingly graced.I have been deeply entrusted in my counseling
and pastoral work. The power of forgiveness has been at work in everything!
Duquoc says that forgiveness is an “invitation to the imagination.”Would you agree with him?How?
Christian Duquoc (1926-2008)
Scott: Absolutely.It is helpful to think of forgiveness as a range of imagination.
Interrupting destructive cycles, rather than reinforcing them, is the
discipline of forgiveness.As is the
embodiment of a radical alternative.Forgiveness is necessarily creative and imaginative. Wherever the
environment is defined by violence—physical, emotional, or spiritual
violence—there is great need for disciplined, assertive manifestations of nonviolence.
They are crucial if we are ever to “make a way out of no way.” Duquoc says that
forgiveness is “the risk of a future other than one imposed by the past or by
memory.”That’s creative territory.
I find it helpful once again to hyphenate the
term in a way that can stimulate our imaginations. “For-giveness” speaks to the
expression of being.The giving of who
we are. How do we manifest our deep integrity in the face of wounding and
dehumanization?How can we be true to
our deepest selves in ways that not only affirm our core identity but offer a
witness that confers a powerfully curious blessing on the other?Jesus was fully himself unto the cross.There was no collusion with the power of
There is a simple story that has inspired me
repeatedly.I heard it through my friend
Jim McGinnis.The main character is a
young nine-year old girl named Bess.Her
house was burglarized, and she was understandably upset.Her allowance money, her Valentine’s Day
candy, and her tape player were taken.The front door had been egged.She and her mom were pretty sure that the perpetrators were some local
teens who had earlier drawn graffiti on their garage.Her mom provided a strong example.She didn’t necessarily want the boys to be in
trouble with the law, but she wanted them to be accountable.She got in touch with one of the parents, who
was hopeful that there was a way this could become an important lessonfor the boys.With the help of a police officer, they
identified the parents of the other boys, and some of the challenges they
faced.Learning more about them
humanized them.With the cooperation of
the police and the families of the boys, a restorative approach was
undertaken.There would be no permanent
record if the boys would engage in acts of restitution.The stolen items were returned. One of the
boys wrote an essay on integrity and came and read it to Bess. The others came
and cleaned off the front door and did chores on the property.
Nine-year-old Bess sought an even deeper and
more imaginative measure of healing.She
hosted a forgiveness party and invited the boys.She made a piñata, decorated the house, and
had music flowing from the returned tape player.Not only did the boys come, but their parents
and siblings, too. There was a new manifestation of community celebrated as the
previous brokenness was transformed.
work, Duquoc highlights how our existing notions of justice are often based on
proportionality and equivalence.But he
says, and I’ll quote him: “Jesus shows us that equivalence in evil, even in the
name of justice, does not transform human society.What is required is an attitude not
determined by what already has been done, but an innovative, creative gesture.”
The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation Commission is a public example of an innovative, creative gesture. People
throughout the world have heard about the Truth and Reconciliation Processin South Africa, but most are not aware that
there was a TRC in the United States. The Greensboro Truth and Reconciliation
Commission was created in 2004 to address the unhealed wounds suffered in the
“Greensboro Massacre” of 1979 and its aftermath.In November of that year, a parade led by
labor and community organizers and anti-Klan activists was attacked by armed
Klansmen and members of the American Nazi Party who, in view of news cameras,
murdered five marchers and wounded ten more.Perpetrators were twice acquitted by all-white juries, in spite of the
video evidence.Victims were demonized
and blamed for what had happened.Evidence that authorities were aware of the coming attack and
deliberately withdrew protection came to light but was ignored.The implications of the tragedy for the wider
community were denied.The GTRCis a remarkable story that deserves
considerable study and reflection.It
was initiated, to a significant degree, by surviving victims of the tragedy!
They were seeking not only acknowledged truth but opportunities for communal
healing and reconciliation.In spite of
official resistance, a citizen-led commission was formed with an impressive
group of community leaders. The project included interviews,public hearings, testimony, and the release
of its findings.Nine clear
recommendations were offered.Nelson
Johnson, who was wounded in the attack and who later, as a Christian pastor,
helped establish the Beloved Community Center, speaks eloquently about the role
of forgiveness in the healing process, and what such forgiveness has needed to
entail. Yago:How would you relate forgiveness with our capacity to see?
Scott: I would begin with God’s capacity to
see. We who are graced are visible to God: recognized, accompanied, affirmed,
and infused with divine imagination. This is from the beginning.I recall the sound of God’s voice in Jeremiah:
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born, I
consecrated you.”This is a poetic
expression of intimacy, one that holds a kinship with the testimony of Second
Isaiah: “The Lord called me before I was born; from the body of my mother he
named my name.”Such visibility and
knowledge are original.
We are created by a God who sees; the same God
who gives.I believe that the capacity
for such sight and deep knowledge is woven into our being.
When Jesus inaugurates his Galilean ministry
he identifies the gift of sight as critical to God’s new order: “God has sent me to proclaim sight to the
blind.”Luke’s gospel has Jesus
return to the house of worship in his hometown of Nazareth, and as he reads the
text of Isaiah 61:1-2, he claims it as a statement of identity and mission: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in
your hearing.”Good news for the
poor, release to the captives, and letting the oppressed go free are all linked
to the ability to see another person’s humanity clearly.Seeing each other is an essential way that we
are to practice being human with one another.
The scriptural reference to “the year of the
Lord’s favor” invokes the Jubilee, a profound societal liberation from the
bonds of indebtedness. Once again, a new order –social and economic—that
recognizes our common humanity and for-given state. And Jesus omits, “the day
of vengeance of our God.”
Of course, that same story takes a terrifying
turn when Jesus’ preaching references the humanity of outsiders and God’s
preferential option for them-- the widow at Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian. The congregation becomes a mob that seeks to angrily toss Jesus off a
How we see God has everything to do with how
we see and understand ourselves, how we perceive others, and how we relate to
the world we live in.
Accepting God’s gift of sight and practicing
ways of seeing with one another (not just an ocular enterprise!) is life work
in the community of faith.
Let’ talk about church.When people come to worship in a traditional
setting,their view of God is mediated
by the architecture, the order of worship, traditions, the core beliefs around
which the existing congregation is organized, how members demonstrably live
with one another and how they practice forgiveness-- or not. These are ways
that God is “imaged.”For new folks,
these impressions are deeply impacting, and sometimes, painfully
disappointing.For longtime members
these factors are institutionalized and powerfully shape daily living.
On my site, I have a piece entitled, “Divine
Image-ination.”I engage the story of
Jesus’ dismantling of the symbolic structure of the Temple: interrupting the
sacrificial process, redefining atonement, setting the sacrificial animals free
as a foretaste of human liberation.
He replaces the distorted image of a violent,
bloodthirsty God with “a rush of God’s agape self.”A God who could only respond to humanity’s
contagion of violence with a greater, divine violence is not the God whose
power is love.We are promised something
more; and the God of mercy can be imaged –seen--in our bodies!
forgiveness a way of being?
Scott: That is a helpful description.I have already made that assertion about
God’s way of being; so let’s remain consistent as it applies to you and me.
Think of forgiveness as a multi-dimensional way of being: with one another,
with the world around us, and with ourselves.The practice of forgiveness, receiving it and offering it, increases our
ability to enter vulnerably into the experiences of others.It becomes a way of living that offers
hospitality to others and what they bring; it enhances our capacity to receive
the fullness of them.Forgiveness
honors the integrity of someone else’s experience, constantly recognizing our
In forgiveness, we do not need to reduce the
humanity of someone to get to know them. Quite the opposite is true. As such,
the labels, presuppositions, and distorted renderings of history that have held
sway in our lives become subject to the power of transformation. The world is
changed right in the midst of the details of daily life.
There is a story very early in Mark’s gospel.
A man with leprosy, terribly isolated and “untouchable”—he is labeled “a
leper”-- comes toward Jesus, crying out, “If you choose. . . you cancleanse me.” Jesus is touched deeply by the
man’s humanity.The text says that there
is movement in Jesus’ guts –the language is vivid.And one way of translating the text is that
Jesus “is compassioned.”The man’s
humanity “compassions Jesus!”He is
moved to respond with a clear choice: “I am willing.”Jesus stretches out his hand and touches him.
And the reality of the world changes.The man is impacted, even as Jesus has been. And the “leprosy
departs.”Not just the lesions, but the
stigma.It is not a refitting of the
man, but a “refitting” of the world, if you will.The world’s reality changes when Jesus
touches the man!
I want to suggest that this is a powerful
forgiveness story.But where does the
for-giveness begin?In Jesus’ giving, or
before that—in the man and his for-giving as he moves toward Jesus?Or even in the “fore-giveness” of God which
re-contextualizes and re-interprets everything, opening to new possibility and
These questions have powerful implications for
how we tend to ourselves as well.
For instance, I believe it is critical for
faith communities like the one I pastor to become Open and Affirming
Communities, welcoming the fullness of LGBTQ brothers and sisters, receiving
them as gifts of God, honoring their stories and their truths, while
acknowledging and repenting the Christian Church’s long history of exclusion
and violence against them.
When faith communities are willing to humbly
engage relationship like this, or risking an honest reckoning with race in
America, or in tending the victims of war while owning our kinship with its
victims—welcoming transformation--these can become dimensions of “receiving”
You often talk about textures of forgiveness.How is that?
Scott: I am fascinated by the breadth, the
depth, the substance of this territory.You are aware that when I speak of textures I often rub my thumb and
forefinger together. Texture is the feel and consistency of something.In art, we can talk about physical texture
that is tactile, varied, and distinct. Or about visual texture, which
creatively communicates perceptive differences.Each is full of interpretive possibility.
I began using the terminology of “text-ure”
because of the different terms and meanings of forgiveness in the Koine Greek
of the New Testament. There are three verbs meaning “to forgive.”Aphiemi
is the most common.It can mean to
remove or send away, to allow, to let go, to remit a debt, to liberate.It can even mean to depart and to leave
something behind.It is the language of
liberation.There is an extraordinary
amount of territory to explore just in those meanings! The accompanying noun, aphesis, means liberty, release from
bondage, pardon of sin.This is term
used in Luke Chapter 4 that I referenced before, when Jesus claims and
interprets the promising language of Isaiah 61 in a spirited and embodied
way—that he has come to proclaim release to the captives and to let the
oppressed go free.
is a common verb translated “to forgive.”To loosen bonds, to set free, release, even
to unburden.In Luke chapter 13, Jesus
draws to himself a woman who has been “bent over” by a “spirit of weakness” for
“eighteen long years,” “quite unable to stand up straight.”He sees her in spite of her marginalized
location and diminished stature in the eyes of others.He calls her to the center of focus, the
well-situated crowd immediately around him needing to part like the Red Sea.
And he declares “You are set free (from that which has been bending you in
two!).” Not healed.Set free.
Less common in usage but quite compelling is charizomai, which means to give graciously;
to gift; even to restore.It is employed
to great effect in Luke Chapter seven.Jesus “gave sight” to the blind.This immediately prior to the vivid story of Jesus attending a dinner
party at a Pharisee’s house and being anointed by a woman who came off the
street, tending to him carefully. Jesus tells the host and his other guests a
parable about gifts of debt forgiveness.
To study forgiveness, in the incarnational
way, is to explore these meanings in the human experience, the loves, the
challenges, the fracture; each becomes a revelation.
So when I explore the depth and breadth of
forgiveness and its power, I look for ways that people are being liberated;
where burdens are being lifted and people can rise to their full stature. Yago:What would be to you the fundamental steps
that allow a person to forgive someone else?
First, he says, we must become willing to
speak truthfully and patiently about conflicts that have arisen. To me,
“becoming willing” acknowledges that such honesty and patience may not have
characterized my behavior up until now.Seeking truth is more than just reciting our personal account of the
events.There needs to be room to receive
the truth of the other parties, and of those committed to accompaniment.This means careful listening, for an
alternative presentation of history and the personal testimony of the other.
Even when you disagree with someone else’s interpretation of an event, you can
honor their personal experience of it.Here is the key:willingness
means engaging capacities within ourselves that are not reactive.This will mean some honest soul-searching,
and developing capacity for new ways of relating that do not compound injury.
Second, Jones says, we acknowledge the
existence of anger and bitterness and a desire to overcome them. To deny these
forces within ourselves is not helpful; neither is denying them to others.In the Christian faith tradition, there are
abundant resources available to us to help us articulate anger and bitterness
in ways that are not destructive.
Third, we summon up concern for the well-being
of the other as a child of God.This is
bedrock to Christian faith. I think Dr. King’s classic sermon on Loving Enemies
remains deeply relevant.King recognized
that love and forgiveness are intertwined; ultimately, we cannot sustain one
without the other.He says the evil deed
of the one whom he calls the “enemy-neighbor” – enjoy the paradox-- is not the
full measure of who the person is.”We
recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, prejudice, misunderstanding,
but in spite of this, we knowGod’s
imagein ineffably etched in being.We love our enemies by realizing that they
are not totally bad and not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love.”This love is a measure of for-giveness.
In the wake of the September 11th
attacks, I came to know a dear man whose son was killed in the North Tower of
the World Trade Center.Yet he had
become active in the September 11th Families for Peaceful Tomorrows,
a group that opposed the US bombing in Afghanistan which in only a few weeks
took more civilian lives than had been sacrificed on 9/11.The September 11th Families
reached out to develop relationships with Afghan families that had lost loved
ones.My friend said that even in the
intense pain and bitterness of losing his son so unjustly, he could not bear
the thought that the same horror was then being visited on Afghan families in
the name of avenging his son’s death.I
was awed and humbled.But his giving
went further.When I invited him to
speak to my congregation, before a packed house, he told us that even though
the plane hijackers had done a horribly evil thing, he did not think about them
as “evil people.” They came from families that loved them and communities that
had tended to them as they grew from tender children.The congregation was stunned by the gracious
truth flowing forth from this grieving father.One time when he and I were talking, the subject of forgiveness came up
and he said, “Scott, I can’t begin to think about forgiveness.”I was quiet, but thought to myself, “Dear
One, you know more about it than almost anybody I know.”
Fourth, we recognize our own complicity in
conflict, remembering that we have been forgiven in the past, and take a step
of repentance.This is not the same
thing as assuming blame for something done to us or not holding someone
accountable for their hurtful or destructive acts.
But it involves taking responsibility for
ourselves, and our role in the future that is unfolding from this present
moment. When I went through the breakup of my previous marriage, to the mother
of my daughter, I was devastated and angry.But no matter what legitimate complaints I may have had, I knew that
having our relationship come to that deeply broken place had required my active
participation!I needed to claim that if
there was going to be any healing.And
the two of us knew that we would have to learn to relate to each other in new
ways if we were going to co-parent our daughter lovingly, effectively, and in
ways that did not have her carrying the freight of her parents’ failures.
Which leads to Jones’ fifth step:We make a commitment to struggle to change
whatever caused and continues to perpetrate our conflict.I am painfully aware that I can’t necessarily
change the behavior of another person, but with God’s help my own behavior can
be transformed. This means addressing injustice, but in a less parochial sense!
Sixth, we confess a yearning for the
possibility of reconciliation. A process of reconciliation includes not only
trying to find solutions to the underlying conflict but also works to alter the
adversaries’ relationships from that of resentment and hostility to friendship
and harmony (a quote from our teacher Hizkias Assefa!).Reconciliation is not always possible, as it
requires equal investment from both parties.However, God reconciles us to God’s self.
Breathing Forgiveness Workshop in Saint Andrew's United Church Christ in Perkasie, PA in 2014. Facilitated by Scott Hutchinson and Yago Abeledo
Yago:Your experience after leading many workshops in forgiveness tells you
that the receiving of forgiveness is a greater challenge for people than the
subsequent offering of forgiveness.Why
is this?What do you imply by
Scott:I always invite people to tell me about their experiences of being
forgiven.It seems to me that being
forgiven is critically important to exercising the full freedom to practice
forgiveness with others.I am used to
people struggling with this—it is an unusual inquiry--so I try to be more
When have you been loved in the face of your
own painful and destructive behavior?
When has someone interfered in a damaging
cycle that has been swallowing you up?How has their intervention opened up space for an alternative future?
When has someone taken the risk and invested
the patience to speak to you honestly about hurt that you are causing, while
not forsaking their relationship with you?
Who has acted for your well-being when you
have not been acting for theirs?
When have you been given a second chance, or
Giving careful consideration and answering
specifically is very important. If any of these blessings is familiar to us,
then we know something about “being forgiven!” Yago: Thinking critically, how have these experiences made it possible for us
to act differently, to live differently? Can we identify particular changes in
Scott: Many of us will find that there is an
impressive body of work—and wisdom—within us!
Deeply related to this, I ask folks another
question:What is your experience of
being forgiven by God? Many of the initial answers are doctrinal or
conceptual—testimony to their thoughtsabout forgiveness.But I am asking: What is your experience of being forgiven by God?Where
does the Word become human and dwell in you, and with us?
It can be helpful to return to the first set
of questions in light of our relationship with God. How has God loved you in
the face of your own painful or destructive behavior?
When has God interfered in a damaging cycle
that has been swallowing you up?
When and where has God opened an alternative
future where you didn’t perceive one before?
In what ways does God speak to you honestly
about hurt you have caused without forsaking God’s relationship with you?
How has God acted for your well-being quite
apart from your own behavior?When have
you received second, third, fourth chances?—and what is God’s role in that?
I am not seeking pre-ordained answers.The exploration moves us into the rich
territory of possibility and discovery.In what ways are you living today as
a forgiven person? In what ways does your congregation live as a forgiven
When Jesus is asked what the greatest
commandment is, he responds: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your
heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your
strength.”And there is another that is
inseparable: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
You asked me why I think the receiving of
forgiveness can be so difficult.I think
the greatest obstacle to the full receiving of God’s gracious power is the
misperception that we are only forgiven is a result of what we do.We have learned, mistakenly, that forgiveness
is a transaction:we provide God with what
God demands—a confession of guilt and unworthiness, contrition, improved
behavior—and God parcels out the saving grace.But most of us feel ill-equipped to satisfy God with what we can
produce. And when strings are attached, grace ceases being so gracious!
Consider, instead, that God’s untempered love
is the liberating force that encourages honest confession and enables us to
shed the bonds that actually hamper our repentance.God’s forgiveness makes confession and repentance
possible, rather than the other way around!
Yago: You are inviting us not just to define
forgiveness in the context of injury.What are you suggesting?
Scott:If forgiveness is a way of being then it is more than just an ointment
to apply to a wound, powerful as it may be. I think that to define
“for-giveness” only in the context of injury is to limit our consideration of
its power and breadth.For instance,
when have you been gifted by someone else, quite apart from any notion of
deserving?Who has loved you only as
they themselves would wish to be loved?And what impact have these experiences had on your development and
well-being?What have you learned?
Sometimes others “see the Christ in us” that
we haven’t seen in yourselves.
To be known deeply and, at the same time,
accepted wholly, is transformative.
I am inviting us to explore the landscape of
grace in our real-life experience.These
are not theoretical questions and explorations.They place us in a larger and more promising context, where we are
empowered and equipped to act differently, and to be ourselves in a much fuller
way.And to have fresh understandings of
our lives as part of a larger narrative.
Yago:You say that the language of self-forgiveness could be a trap.Many people go through the challenge of
self-forgiveness.Why is it so difficult
to forgive oneself?
Scott:When people tell me that they are struggling to forgive themselves, I am
always keenly interested in what they mean by that.
If, as I have asserted throughout my
work,forgiveness involves the removal
of obstacles that have limited love and well-being, or the lifting ofburdens that have distorted our full
humanity,or release from the
constraints that have stifled reconciliation--then “self-forgiveness” would
mean having to accomplish these things for ourselves!And I think that these are extremely hard things
to do all by oneself.It would be like
having to unlock the jail door from inside the cell.Expectations can be unrealistic. To those
among us who are already struggling, not being able to “forgive ourselves” is
one more burden in a life where we already carry a “shouldload” of weight!
Think about it. In the context of injury,
forgiveness is an initiative of the wounded party toward the one who has done
the wounding. But what do we do when our wound is perceived as self-inflicted,
and the remedy is understood as an internal exchange?
The late Lew Smedes produced a lot of good
work on forgiveness.He talked quite a
bit about “forgiving ourselves” and “healing ourselves.”While I prefer not to adopt that terminology,
I have found his books helpful. Smedes wrote about “the four stages of
forgiveness,” which he put forth rather simply:We hurt; we hate; we heal; we come together.We can think about these dynamics and apply
them to our own mending.In honestly
acknowledging our own hurt, and perceiving the hurt of others whom we have
impacted, we are moving beyond excuses that just aren’t working.That’s good.Moving on, we claim the anger, the bitterness, the paralysis of
unfinished business and unhealed wounds, which brings our need into honest and
clear focus.And we have heard the
testimony of others.What is the relationship
of their pain to our own?The next
stage, when in the process of forgiving another, is to see the person who hurt
you in a different light.So in the case
of our own need for mercy, I want to suggest that this stage involves the grace
of being able to see ourselves as God sees us.Now that is God’s initiative, one
that we receive.It is available to us
in the context of relationship.And it
is best discerned in a community being shaped by the same initiative.
When people ask me about how they can forgive
themselves, I assume that most have tried, repeatedly and unsuccessfully, to
gain relief. There is a powerful story in the Acts of the
Apostles, Chapter 16.Paul and Silas
have been detained in Philippi for interrupting commerce and good order.Some slaveholders have been exploiting a
woman they possessed, utilizing her gift of fortune-telling for profit.Paul distinguishes between the “spirit of
commerce” and the deep humanity of the woman, calling this distorting spirit
out.Her true identity is more clearly
revealed, but her profitability is ruined.The presumed owners of this now- liberated woman bring public charges
against Paul and Silas.The two are
attacked by the angry crowd, legally beaten by the authorities, and thrown into
the prison.For good measure, they are
placed in the hellhole, the deepest and least accessible cell, and their feet
are fastened in stocks so that they cannot rise.But in the darkness of midnight, Paul and
Silas pray and sing hymns praising God, like the early freedom riders in
Parchman Prison in Mississippi.Luke
writes: “And the prisoners were listening to them.”It is in the wake of this listening that a
divine “earthquake” shakes the foundations of the prison, opening all the doors
and unfastening everyone’s chains.The
jailbreak is readied! In the midst of it the jailer awakes, fears that he has
failed his duty to the prevailing order, and prepares to take his own
life.But Paul stops him, assuring this
terrified man that even if the powers abandon his humanity, Paul and Silas will
not! Seeking light in the darkness, he runs into the jail cell, where
the light is shining brightly!
There is a relationship between the power that
opened the jail and the embodied praise and empathy of Paul and Silas.That power is at work in our lives, too, even
when we are tempted to pull the door back shut.
If by “self-forgiveness” we mean claiming the
freedom in our lives, a re-contextualization of our story, and a willingness to
set down burdens we have been carrying or tending to inner wounds we have not
allowed proper tending to, then I am very much on board!But we will need support and encouragement.
And there is another potential issue with
“self-forgiveness.”When we have done
damage to another, to “forgive ourselves” without honestly facing the damage we
have done and the people who have suffered the damage would be far more to
excuse ourselves than to participate in true forgiveness.
example would be in the care of war veterans and the moral injuries they may
carry. Numerous veterans carry wounds of the soul from their war
experience.When they come seeking
relief, they carry the victims of war within them.Their stories reveal not only their own
experience but those of comrades they have lost, of people they have killed in
battle, and particularly civilians whose lives have been taken unjustly. The
last one is a truly terrible burden.
To tell them “You did what you had to do,” or,
“You were just protecting us,” is atrocious.
It is to betray their trust, distance
ourselves from our own responsibility, and refuse to receive the truths they
need to share with us. They know the realities of war!Which is why they are seeking forgiveness.
In the context of human relationship, the
forgiveness that is being sought can only come from those who have been
damaged.In so many cases, they are not
present; far away, dead, on the opposite side of an ongoing divide.This is territory in healing work I engage
To insist that people must “forgive
themselves” is an injustice. Yago:James Alison talks about loving your enemy within our divided
selves.Is it an invitation to work
first and foremost in our internalized unforgiven reality?
Scott:A great question.Actually,
Alison points us outward in order to go inward.He obviously has paid attention to Jesus’ method! Jesus says, “Love your
enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of
God ... Be complete (in love), as God is complete. (Matthew 5: 44, 48)”So it stands to reason that love like
thisnot only has an abundant social
yield but a deeply personal one as well.There is a vital connection between loving others and realizing our
beloved selves.Alison would say that it
is how we are in relationship with others that runs our reason, not our reason
that runs the way we are toward others.This is consistent with the way Jesus calls all who would be his
disciples: “Follow me,” he says, and in the following we will come to see and
experience things very differently. Practicing for-giveness is like that.It is no accident that Jesus teaches us to
pray: “Forgive us our debts/sins as we indeed have forgiven our debtors/those
who sin against us.”
So Jesus and Alison are suggesting that when
we practice forgiveness with others we not only release them; we too are being released
and can begin healing from our inner brokenness.If we can, indeed, “forgive ourselves,” it is
Over the years, I have found that when people
deeply regret the way they wounded someone and then failed to atone when they
had the opportunity, it is a heavy weight of “unfinished business” that they
carry. The good news is: It’s not too late to do it with someone else!
Yago:It is said that “unforgiveness is like taking poison, and expecting
someone else to die.” What does this sentence suggest to you?
Scott: When withholding forgiveness is employed as a
weapon against another, we cannot help but damage ourselves.Again, Jesus says it is like refusing to
breathe.I don’t recommend trying that!
“Unforgiveness” is like taking poison because
it denies our deep interrelatedness and the concept of shalom.As Desmond Tutu has said, quite rightly:
“Without forgiveness, we remain tethered to the person who harmed us ... that
person will hold the keys to our happiness; that person will be our
jailor.”The injury, and the pain and
bitterness that accompany it, will define our existence.It is important to recognize that.I don’t think most of us want to give an
offender that kind of ongoing power over our lives.
We may want to withhold forgiveness because we
are seeking to establish some control on our own behalf, by denying to the
person who has wounded us something that they badly need.What we may miss is that the freedom to offer
forgiveness, to assert our own dignity and worth, to give the world our best
selves, is something we badly need.While we cannot control the behavior of the other person, we have some
authority over our own. Claiming that power is a vital step in our own healing.
Yago: Can we do violence to ourselves in the name of forgiveness?
Scott:Absolutely.And violence to
others as well.If we only understand
forgiveness as a rigid command or imperative—“You must forgive”—then we are in
the realm of coercion.Weight is being
added rather than lifted; the burdens are increased; and wounds potentially
compounded. This is particularly true if we have mistakenly assumed that “to
forgive” is to have to excuse an offense or overlook it.It is also true if we think it means to “move
on” as though we are no longer wounded.We will hear people say, “It’s time for you to get over it, to move
beyond the offense.” That is violence.
I have a piece on my site entitled
“Remembrance, Forgiveness, and Psycho-Social Hope.”In it, I am moved by the witness of CoMadres
in El Salvador, the Committee of Motherswhose children and family memberswere assassinated or disappeared during the many years of violent
repression and warmaking in that country.It includes a poignant 4 minute interview with Paty Garcia, the late
President of CoMadres who herself was incarcerated, tortured, and repeatedly
raped by soldiers in response to her justice work.In El Salvador, following the end of a twelve
year civil war, the congress passed a law granting amnesty for those who had
committed atrocities.“Forgive and
forget,” the nation was told, leaving those who had already suffered so greatly
to bear the weight of a counterfeit peace.
Honestly, Yago, if “to forgive” means mothers
of murdered children need to forget them, or that the truth of what happened to
them must be denied and covered over, then to hell with “forgiveness!”
But authentic forgiveness is neither excusing
or denying.In the case of Paty and
CoMadres, I believe they have become
for-giveness in a way that crosses generations.They show us that we can be agents of salvation—deliverance-- for one
another, though such grace is often responded to with something other than open
In my article, I sketch out key elements in a
trauma healing process that Paty and CoMadres embody:(1) Remembrance (2) Truth-Telling(3)The Freedom to Mourn(4) Welcoming a “Third Factor” (in this case,
invoking God’s presence and power)(5)
Breaking the Cycle of Violence with their very selves(6)Manifesting what I call “Psycho-Social Hope.”
I suggest that they incarnate the radical
meaning of true forgiveness in the face of impunity.They have existed for nearly four
In Cuscatlan Park in San Salvador there is a
Monument to Memory and Truth with the names of 30,000 people, victims of the
violence, etched in black granite. It is impossible to imagine such truth
publicly testified to without CoMadres. There are more names to be inscribed,
people to re-member.And so many still
carrying wounds.Today CoMadres still
works toward the establishment of reparations for the victims of violence.
I had my own gracious encounter with CoMadres
nearly thirty year ago.I was in the
Cathedral in San Salvador on a Sunday morning, during my first visit as a
Mission Partner. I was standing in the
midst of a large congregation, not far away from the tomb of martyred
Archbishop Oscar Romero, the champion of human rights who had been murdered
during mass a day after telling the conscripts in the army that God could not
bear them murdering their brothers and sisters.Romero was buried in one of the transepts.In the midst of the densely packed room I
felt a tug on my sleeve.A diminutive
woman asked me if I was an American.When
I acknowledged that I was, she placed a folded piece of paper in my hand:
“Please take this with you.”She smiled
at me and departed.When I opened the
paper, I found on it a list chronicling the murders and disappearances committed
by the security forces during the previous month.I was being humbly entrusted with receiving
these truths and sharing them with others.But not before reckoning with what such truth, and the precious life and
gift it represented, would mean for me as an aspiring follower of Jesus in the
USA.This kind of challenge is a form of
forgiveness, too, one with the potential to undo conspiracy with violence.
are in love with storytelling.Is it
through storytelling that forgiveness can be explained?
Scott:Tom Boomershine says that story is a primary
language of experience.It is true that
our experiences have a narrative quality.I not only love to tell stories; I love to learn the telling of
stories.But all of this is preceded by
living our story attentively and listening carefully to the stories of others.
The pregnancy of certain words, the cadence, the movement of the action, the
emotion: such richness can be awe-inspiring. We are sensitized to the depth and
wonder ofour neighbor’s life
narratives, and of our own.As a pastor,
I reverence the opportunity to listen to the stories of my people.They share what is precious; what hurts; what
has been formative.
I enjoy having the opportunity to accompany
them in deeper examination.
In our land, and in our world, a great deal of
pain and conflict is the result of not wanting to honor the stories of
others.In America, our dominant culture
often tells people who they are and what their life means or doesn’t mean.And when the people themselves try to give
testimony to the authentic experiences of their God-given lives, they are
corrected: “That’s not who you are! We’ll tell you who you are!” The results
are devastating.But in faith community
we have the chance to honor one another’s narratives as they are weave together
claim a common narrative.
Now not everyone wants to tell stories in a
church setting, at least in formal worship.But one of our key practices is gathering around a story.Listening carefully. Being curious.Which has led me to being able to And
responding. And we wind up sharing and being blessed by more personal
stories.One of the great things about
biblical narrative is that it offers entry points into the depths of our
personal and communal narratives. But
there is a safety as well.When we are
overwhelmed we are able to step back and take a deep breath.If we need to, we can say, “Well, it’s only a
Bible story, right?”
Three decades years ago I was deeply impacted
by reading The Gospel in Solentiname.Father Ernesto Cardenal
pastored among the people of a Christian Base Community in Nicaragua; in the
Solentiname archipelago of Lake Nicaragua.The people gathered together to listen to the stories of the gospels,
and then dialogued with one another about what they each heard and where that
connected with their daily lives.The
book series was a collection of verbatim transcripts of the conversations.The reflections were as profound and they
were down-to- earth.We do this in my
So you asked if forgiveness can be explained
perhaps.Translated in ways that touch a
range of senses.When we are able to
meet the stories of the gospels with the narratives of our own lives, it is a
Yago:Navigating within biblical stories could be a real source of inspiration
as we explore different textures of our identity and forgiveness.What would you say on this?
Scott:There is enormous power in the stories.One good example might be Luke 7:36-50, which
I referenced before, a story I often engage in my workshops and classes.This is the scene where Jesus has been
invited to a Pharisaic dinner party hosted by a leader named Simon.The dinner is crashed by a woman who is
afforded no name, only described as being a “sinner” and “of the city.”She anoints Jesus’ feet-- first with ointment
and then with her tears-- and wipes them with her hair.It is an extraordinarily beautiful scene, but
the host and his other guests are scandalized.The kind of judgement that they render quickly on the woman they also
lay on Jesus. “If this man were a prophet he would have known what kind of
woman this is who is touching him—that she is a sinner.”Jesus perceives Simon’s attitude and responds
by telling him a parable about forgiveness of debts.A creditor forgives two debts, one of five
hundred denarii and the other fifty, and he forgives both.Which one will love him more?
“The one, I suppose, for whom he canceled the
greater debt,” The Pharisee responds.Jesus says, “You have ‘judged ‘ rightly.”Indeed, Simon is painfully good at judgement.But then Jesus asks Simon what is likely
the most pivotal question in the story: “Do
you see this woman?”You can imagine
Simon offering some version of “Uh-huh” while wondering where Jesus is going
with this.The key question remains; “Do
you see this woman?”
While Jesus is speaking to the Pharisee his
own eyes remain focused on the woman.Jesus sees her. Then he recounts the hospitality that he has received
from her, even though it is not her
house!Simon’s hospitality suffers in
It is a wonderful story full of “textures.”
Two of the key New Testament terms meaning “to forgive” are employed here, aphiemi and charizomai (to release and to gift).
Subtitles in Pew Bibles mistakenly write “A
Sinful Woman Forgiven.” In truth, she enters the scene as a “for-given person,”
someone already free enough to transgress the boundaries of imposed shame and
judgement. Jesus confirms this in his use of the perfect passive.It is she
who ministers to Jesus, who creates a space of care and sanctuary for him right
there in territory hostile to them both. I have titled my reflection on this
story, “The One Who is Forgiven Much Loves Much.”
Simon is blinded by equations that are rooted
in judgment rather than love.How does
that work?In Jesus’ parable, does Simon
see himself as the one forgiven more or less?
When the story is broken open it offers us
much to ponder together.
the relationship between love and judgment?What do we learn here about forgiven-ness?What are its gifts to share?What would life look like in a forgiven
To pay this kind of attention and take this
kind of care in tending to the stories of our own lives, and the common life of
a faith community, is pretty promising!
Yago:Let’s talk more about Jesus and forgiveness.How do you see the role of forgiveness in
shaping Jesus’ ministry?
Scott: Jesus is the embodiment of
forgiveness.From the beginning, he is
pure gift. The new life he brings is given for everyone, while being
experienced very personally by Mary and Joseph.God breaks into the dominant flow of human
history; the gift is not shaped by human demands but by the character of
God. We might identify with Mary who
responds to grace with grace, receiving and carrying the promise within her,
nurturing and nourishing it, and bearing it into the world. For Joseph, saying
“yes” will require making new choices, embracing the scandal as the cornerstone
of his new life.He is untangled from
collusion with death even a life turns upside-down.Both engage a stunning level of freedom.
In inaugurating his own ministry around age 30,
Jesus claims the language of Isaiah 61 as his mission statement, a Living Word,
full of the forgiveness of God.The NT
Greek text is spirited with such language.The “release” to the captives and “letting the oppressed go free” are
both forms of aphesis, the noun for
forgiveness.Recovery of sight to the
blind is Jesus sighting us in a way that enables us to recognize the deep
humanity of everyone, to see them with divine eyes.And “the year of the Lord’s favor” is where
all debts are forgiven, slaves are freed, and the grip of consolidated wealth
Throughout his ministry, Jesus recognizes
people, honors people, includes people, unburdens people, heals people, frees people
from all forms of bondage.He re-members
their stories in ways that redefine each person’s sense of identity and
purpose. He touches the untouchable, unparalyzes the paralyzed, gives gifts and
receives them, changes lives and is changed by them, learns even as he teaches,
constantly confronts injustice with love, and death with life.The way of the cross paradoxically becomes
the way of life. One of my teachers, the late Daniel Berrigan, used to contrast
the Way of the Cross with” the way of putting other people on the cross.” These
are our choices, too!
The Risen Christ breathes forgiveness to the
locked away disciples. One the Galilean seashore, he engages Peter intimately,
walks him through the disabling pain of his three-time denial, reframes his
mission inlove, and equips him to
nurture, nourish, and tend as Jesus has. He sends all of the apostles out with
the proclamation of metanoia and release.
E. Fittipaldi has, I think, a very important take on Jesus’ way of being.For him, Jesus’ practice of forgiveness is
manifested in his openness and availability to all people and to the various
contexts where he meets them.This way
of being impacts his ability to enter into the experiences of others and
establish hospitality even in unfamiliar territory.Jesus does not define himself in terms of a
particular place; hence, he demonstrates a remarkable capacity to be “at home”
everywhere.He does not define himself
in terms of a particular social group, and recasts the meaning of family.So he is open to people of all social
stations.And though Jesus respects and references
the Law, he behaves in ways that transgress its limitations, getting to what it
is that truly has the power to deliver people.All of this Fittipaldi considers has having a “forgiving attitude.”It’s compelling.
Credit: Daniel Bonnell, The Baptism of the Christ
Yago: How does Jesus’ baptismal image invite
us to discover our real identity?
Scott:At the time of his baptism, Jesus is moving from the limited, if
blessed, definitions of life in Nazareth to immersion in the beautiful and
broken lives of all of God’s people. This is profound movement.Nazareth has been the location from which he
has perceived the world, understood himself, and been known by others. It is
this place and people who have given shape to his life for three decades.Travelling to the Jordan, he enters the baptismal
waters with everyone else, muddy as those waters are with the sin of God’s
children.Jesus is immersed. And as he
rises from the waters he sees the heavens opened; vividly “torn apart” in
Mark’s gospel.In other words, every
barrier between God and God’s people has been removed! There is, and will be,
no division between heaven and earth.Nor in him.It is in this
realization of openness and graciousness that Jesus is spirited and receives
several new names bestowed upon him.Up until now, he has been “Jesus of Nazareth.”Now he is recognized as:Son; Beloved; God’s Pleasure.The rich meaning of these expressions of
identity will be experienced in the living; it will be in the context of human
relationship that Jesus will real-ize what those names will mean.So it is a necessary part of the story that
the Spirit leads --even “drives”--Jesus into the wilderness. Let’s not think of
wilderness only as frightening and unfamiliar territory.A wilderness experience can happen when we
risk plunging into the deeply familiar geography of our personal history. What
happens with Jesus in the desert-ed place is not only resistance but also some
deep internal work! In Matthew and Luke’s gospels, Jesus declines the
temptations to “prove himself” precisely so that he can realize being himself. I wonder how he would describe what he
discovered. It is in the wake of this clarifying that he is then able to return
to Galilee, proclaiming the nearness of God’s realm in the here-and-now, with a
liberating invitation to a life lived fully in God’s redeeming love.
For us, that will mean each of us exploring expressions
of our deeper, God-given identity:Children of God, Deeply Loved; Those Who Live as God’s Pleasure.
And what is the baptismal identity of a
community of faith?What is our
There’s a good source for such exploration.
Not that long after the account of Jesus’ baptism, Mark’s gospel offers a
dynamic story that powerfully references Jesus in the Jordan. It is early in
Jesus’ ministry, and he is teaching a full house of people in Capernaum. A man
described as a “paralytic” is being carried to Jesus by a very determined group
of people.But when they arrive, there
is no room for welcome, “because of the crowd.”All available space has been claimed.Rather than being discouraged, or deciding to
try another day, those carrying the man act assertively, creatively.They climb up onto the roof of the house,
lifting the man up.Once there, they
“unroof the roof,” the text says, making an opening where there hasn’t been one
before.I delightfully imagine the howls
of protest below.But they are
undeterred, having moved him from the margins of the story to the center,
carefully lowering him to a place of intimate encounter with Jesus. They
themselves are not paralyzed by the previous claims made on Jesus’s time and space.
Nor the barriers.
There is a wonderfully baptismal flavor to
this.As Jesus once looked up from the
waters to see the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him, today he
raises his eyes to see the ceiling being broken through and a person being
spirited into communion.The faith of
those carrying the paralyzed one is the force that removes the barrier,
changing the very same location into a point of entry!And seeing their faith, Jesus declares,
essentially, “Their faith has made
you whole.”Now that’s a story to
Yago:Now, let us touch the role of contemplation in nurturing a forgiving
mind.In Fittipaldi’s article,
“Zen-mind, Christian-mind, Empty-mind,” he says that Christian emptiness is
realized in “having the mind of Christ,” which is a forgiven mind, that is, a
mind that is open and unbound in regard to place, social status, and the
law.How does Fittipaldi’s reflection
inspire you in the exploration of new territories of forgiveness?
Scott:It’s a remarkable article.I am
drawn to Fittipaldi’s exploration of the connection between “non-attachment”
and forgiveness.As we acknowledged,
Jesus’ practice of forgiveness is manifested in his openness to all people. He
transcends cultural filters and rigid frames and legalisms that would limit his
receptiveness and availability.Fittipaldi calls this “Jesus-mind.” For instance, what is described
scripturally as his “having no place to lay his head” can alternatively be
understood as a radical manifestation of freedom, one that Jesus engages
So a couple of key questions are: How can we
nurture such capacities in ourselves? And: What kinds of disciplines can we
practice that shape a “forgiving life,” interrupting and overcoming the
life-taking and destructive patterns we have been in enmeshed in?
First, I believe that exploring Prayer is
essential to this way of being.A mentor
of mine taught me long ago that prayer involves “dislocation and new
location.”The dislocation of the ego,
the denial of oneself, not necessarily in an internal tug of war but by having
self-interest replaced at the heart of attentive living.
command that we love our enemies and pray for them is a stirring example.“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall
love your neighbor and hate your enemy;” here Jesus invokes the dualism the
world is so imbued of!That’s where we
start out. But Jesus doesn’t leave us enmeshed. He contrasts that with an
inspired alternative: “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those
who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”Again, a matter of being!And thus, a matter of wholeness.I think that Matthew 5:48, the conclusion of
this teaching, should be translated: “Therefore, be whole and complete as your
heavenly Father is whole and complete.”
Historically, we have struggled with that
passage because most translations have rendered the Greek term teleios as“perfect;” “Be perfect as God is perfect.”That is not a passage that is accessible to
us. And hearing it that way pushes love of enemies further away.But teleios
can also mean, “whole” or “complete.”In that case, we are being directed toward a wholeness that images God’s
wholeness; that is, being whole or complete in love.No one—particularly the enemy-is left out of
God’s love.Jesus drives the point
home: If you only love people who love you back, well, even nonbelievers do
So if my practice of forgiveness can begin
with me praying for my adversary, rather than needing to excuse them or summon
some affection for them (both of which I might find impossible), that is a
different matter.To lift my adversary
in intercessory prayer first requires me to place his/her well-being at the
center of concern, rather than my own perceived self-interest.That is a new location for both of us!As Buechner would say, to see the lines in
their faces and the way they walk when they’re tired, to see their families, to
perceive their fears; To pray for them to be loved, forgiven, transformed by
God, even when we seem unable to summon such love ourselves. It’s a revolution.
This goes hand-in-hand with our praying of the
Lord’s Prayer with attention and intention. In Matthew, “And forgive us our
debts as we forgive (or have forgiven) our debtors,” and in Luke, “forgive us
our sins as we also are forgiving . . .”
Prayer is a time of paying attention.My former pastor, Ted Loder, describes
prayer as “a way of attempting to focus on grace, to pay attention to it, to
praise it.”I love that!
It seems to me that Confession is another
critical discipline. Confession releases.The good news is that God’s fore-giving opens healing space for our
confessions.“The spirit of judgement is
cut off at the roots,” Bonhoeffer said about the power of confession; “In
confession the break- through to community takes place.”
There is a church in Somerville,
Massachusetts, that engages that wisdom publicly.At First Congregational United Church of
Christ, public confession is an integral part of their worship.Their time of Confession and Assurance of
God’s Grace involves people coming up and sharing stories from their lives. The
person serving as liturgist for that week makes a public confession of sin and
vulnerability.They begin: “Now is the
time we bring our stories before God.”Their former Pastor, Molly Phinney Baskette, has written a book about
the practice: “Standing Naked Before God: The Art of Public Confession.” The
process is quite reflective.The
liturgist receives the scripture, Sermon Title, and a synopsis of the theme for
the week.They ponder, inviting the Holy
Spirit’s work, and discern connecting stories and situations rising from their
own experience.And what is my responsibility
in the story?How would I name it as
sin?How has the grace of God been
manifested in ways that have been healing, strengthening, revealing? The book chronicles real life struggles;
fallenness; fears of loss; responses to bad things happening; needs to control;
addictions; lying to loved ones; victimization and longsuffering wounds; anger
and frustration with children; working through differences in a primary
relationship; being hung up on how things look; failures; sense of emptiness;
anxiety—all these and more are the territories of truth.
Baskette says that this was a central practice
in helping the community to grow considerably.She quotes her Associate Pastor as saying that the confession was
“critical self-examination for an internal peace.” It seems to me that this
practice invites people in the community to share deeply in one another’s
lives; to be entrusted with gifts of truth, while encouraging
self-awareness.It has me considering
the ways that entering such a process itself transgresses boundaries of place,
social location, and the tyranny of “shoulds!” And also internal boundaries
that have separated acceptable and unacceptable.People seek authenticity, release,
entrusting, and invitation. They yearn for understanding. By the time Molly
left, there was a 20-month waiting list of folks who wanted to lead! But any
faith community can wade into the waters. Yago:In a previous interview in this blog, we discuss the challenge of
transforming historical harms.Particularly the one related to the history of slavery in the United
States.What is the role of forgiveness
in this transformative process?
Scott:Your interviews with Amy Potter Czajkowski and Phoebe Kilby were both
really beneficial.Amy’s contained a number of important
references to forgiveness as we have been discussing it. She resonates with Dr.
King’s understanding of forgiveness as recognizing that someone is more than
the harmful acts that they have committed.This humanizes the offender and opens up possibilities for engagement,
including inner-engagement. In this way, forgiveness manifests the biblical
theme of “seeing.”Not only seeing others
more clearly and deeply, but being seen.I found very compelling her words: “Being seen beyond one’s harmful
behavior as potentially good can be a tremendous gift.” The texture here is charizomai. In talking about the historical beneficiaries of slavery
and its legacy, Amy says: “So for European Americans whose families have
financially benefited from slavery, being forgiven ignites a part of their
humanity that they don’t always see.”She is articulating the experience of being humanized.We have talked
in some detail about the connection between experiencing forgiveness and being
released to practice it with others.
THH, as I understand it, focuses on
interrupting the intergenerational transmission of experiences, beliefs, and
institutions that come from enslavement.Forgiveness always involves the interruption of violent and destructive
cycles, creatively and generatively.Both Amy and Phoebe embody this in deeply personal ways.To “face history” requires a significant
measure of courage.Research risks
revelation. Amy’s willingness helped her understand the economics of slavery,
and to identify and acknowledge ways she has benefitted.
Her journey resonates with Fittipaldi’s
insights, particularly in becoming aware of the cultural filters through which
one has beheld and interpreted the world. Any measure of liberation from those limitations enables reframed
perspective, sharpened receptive language, and increased accountability.“If the narrative we got through our families
and societies doesn’t actually represent reality, we need to expand our
Phoebe’s participation in Coming to the Table has been both life changing and world changing. I was struck by her courage.
Her testimony about reckoning with the filters through which one has perceived
race is so powerful, personal, and so encouraging!As you know, her willingness to face history
has included studying the awful accounts of eugenics, its damaging impact, and
its transmission at the University of Virginia Medical School while her father
studied there. This gave her new insight into the racial filters she learned
from her father and from visiting his medical practice.It enabled her to understand him more fully,
and led her to reflect honestly on her own racism and how it has
manifested.Also poignant are her
reflections on inner -contradiction and fear.Many people would join me in relating to this.
You and Phoebe related Tee Turner’s relevant
insights into the power of language to perpetuate things or change things, to
facilitate liberation or to reinforce bondage. For-giveness can be experienced in dialogue, in embracing a
Scott for the wonderful insights and life experiences you have shared with us.
Looking forward to a second part of our interview.
too! I am grateful for this opportunity for you and I to explore this territory
together. I hope we can move even more deeply into the relationship between
forgiveness and atonement in opening paths for healing and reconciliation. You
are raising some challenging questions about the role of forgiveness in
confronting the legacy of white supremacy in the United States and tending the
open wounds borne by many in America. I also look forward to sharing our
present healing work with the veterans of war, the communities they return to,
and the victims of war's violence.