Monday, September 14, 2009

Finding Safe Haven

“If they told you that a murderer were to be released into your neighborhood, how would you feel?” asks Antoine Rutayesire, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide that left one out of eight of his countrymen dead. “But what if this time, they weren’t just releasing one but 40,000?” This chilling question is not hypothetical for Antoine and his small, African country. They released 40,000 prisoners in 2003, and 10,000 more in 2007.

The horrific genocide of Hutus slashing, bludgeoning, and burning of Tutsi neighbors in Rwanda has become familiar to many. A profound story continues to unfold. A sampling of redemptive stories has been published by Zondervan, 2009, written by Catherine Claire Larson.

Based on personal interviews and thorough research, As We Forgive briefly outlines the early colonialism that used racism to political advantage to shape the boundary lines for the 1994 genocide. Larson traces the route of reconciliation in the lives of Rwandans—victims, widows, orphans, and perpetrators—who’s past and future intersect. These stories reveal the suffering, memory, and identity that set up roadblocks to forgiveness, but they further reveal how mediation, truth-telling, restitution, and interdependence create bridges to healing. I found her book breathing with humanity and as haunting as it is hopeful.

We live in a violent world—Janjaweed raids in Sudan, brainwashed child-soldier attacks in Uganda, Sunni and Shiite conflicts in the Middle East. In Ireland, the Ivory Coast, and Eastern Europe deep wounds still separate people who have survived generations of conflict.

Nor are Americans immune to such violence and division. As recent as 9/11, I heard the word “revenge’ raised as a yet possible response. Jonathan Kozel, in his book The Shame of America, reveals some of the hidden racial tensions in our educational system. I cannot remember when I have seen such political polarization. I can scarcely believe the animosity and hatred I find in the current Health Care debates, following the election of our first black president. Broken marriages and splintered relationships assault all of us.

Is there any alternative to the collective devaluing of people currently taking place? Is there any roadmap to reconciliation? Is a shared future possible after unthinkable evil? Catherine Larson dares to believe that if forgiveness is possible after the slaughter of nearly a million in 100 days in Rwanda, then, we owe it to humanity--to ourselves--to explore how one country is addressing perceptual, social-psychological, and spiritual dimensions to achieve a more lasting peace.

If forgiveness is possible after genocide, then perhaps there is hope for the comparably smaller rifts that plague our relationships, our communities, and our nation. I am deeply saddened by the way we divide and devour one another verbally--using words like battering rams to assault, denigrate, dehumanize, and destroy.

There is only one proven response to the hostilities and broken relationships we face, and that is a love that is willing to value people and unwilling to devalue them.” It seems to me that is the bottom line of all that Jesus said and did--bottom line of love.

We cling to our treasured forms of war, nationalism, and personal independence and wonder why we have no peace. We forget that forgiving is an active form of suffering offered on behalf of the victim to create a pathway of redemption, of peace, of shalom. We want our peace halfway (on our terms), but Shalom provides for the well-being of all--victim--offender--the flourishing of humans, which comes only as a result of reconciliation

As many a preacher has proclaimed, when God raised the man, Jesus Christ, from the dead, he didn’t take away his scars. The scars testified to the pain, and the love--the extent to which God will go to conquer the evil of the world through the active suffering of forgiveness.

Only through such active love can such horrendous scars be transformed into emblems of triumph, concludes Larson.

Last summer, I met Pastor George Jordan, of Columbus, Ohio Hilltop Church. His business card tells us where to find a safe haven:
Help those in need
Adore God
Value God’s grace
Encourage one another
Nurture spiritual gifts

From Walking With Warner,

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