Leading forgiveness researcher Dr. Robert D. Enright of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and the International Forgiveness Institute will be holding the Jerusalem Conference on Forgiveness for the Renewal of Individuals, Families, and Communities on July 12-13, 2017 at the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center.
The two day conference will include speakers from the major Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Speakers will be discussing forgiveness, what it means, its importance and how to better interact with others through forgiveness.
I was given the opportunity to sit down with Dr. Enright to discuss the upcoming conference, the forgiveness curriculum and the potential for the forgiveness curriculum being implemented in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region.
Q: Dr. Enright, why did you choose Jerusalem as the city to hold the Forgiveness Conference?
A: Well actually, it was not my original idea. I was in Jerusalem, because I do forgiveness work in Galilee, where we have been doing forgiveness curriculum for many years. I was staying at the Notre Dame Jerusalem Center, and Father Eamon Kelly suggested that we should have a conference on forgiveness for the Abrahamic religions, in Jerusalem because of historical tensions, and because of the idea that forgiveness education might make a difference.
It seemed like a really good idea because Jerusalem of course is at the heart of those different [Abrahamic] faiths, and it is also a very broken-hearted community because of all of the conflict. We ended up with a number of peacebuilders and a team of people who wanted to work on the conference locally, and my colleague and I, internationally, so we all came together because of this team effort.
Q: What are some of the hopeful outcomes for the conference?
A: [That] people can see - even though there might be religious and ideological differences among the Abrahamic religions - the humanity in the other. We are not looking to change religious beliefs, we are not looking to change ideologies, we couldn’t do that if we tried and I don’t want to do that. What we want to do is to humanize people on what you might call the other side, so that when people meet, they see a human being there, regardless of what they believe; and who knows where that will lead.
Q: Tell me a bit about the forgiveness curriculum and its possibilities for the MENA region?
A: We have a model for this, we know it works, we work a lot in the region and internationally. If we can see diverse kinds of cultures, peoples and faiths that are doing forgiveness curriculum, it might act as an encouragement to some of the people in different world regions. It [the curriculum] can widen our view of humanity. We are all in this world together, it's a tough world, and people hurt each other and there are injustices. But we can overcome these, especially the effects of injustice, with forgiveness, so that we don’t let resentment poison us, poison our families or our communities.
Q: Can you see forgiveness curriculum helping root conflict issues?
A: It takes a lot of work, it's not something that people get in their hearts and minds overnight. Forgiveness education, this idea that people have inherent worth, not because of what they do but often despite of it, can take a long time. There is resistance to that, because it doesn't often fit with people's ideas of how the world should work. If someone is bad to me then we should punish them. The idea of being kind to them, even though we seek justice at the same time, can take many years. That’s why we have curriculum programs starting from kindergarten and continuing to US grade twelve. People have to live the thoughts of the inherent worth of all people, before it becomes part of them...before they can access that in in their hearts, especially when their hearts are hurting because of injustice.
Q: What do you feel is important for the people in the MENA region to know about the conference?
A: I would say that a lot of times, hearing the word forgiveness, that there is a misunderstanding about what is really meant by it. I get a very common expression in the Middle East, ‘no forgiveness, without justice.’ I understand that the quest for justice is very serious, and an important thing. However, justice by itself can be dangerous, if the justice does not come. When one is looking for fairness, whatever you define as fairness, and fairness does not come, then what is your outlet for getting rid of the built up anger, and pent up resentment, the frustration within?
My message is why not try forgiveness with the quest for justice? At the very least, if you don’t get the justice you seek, you will at least be cleansed of the negative consequences in your own heart, which are characteristic of people who live under injustice for a long time. That kind of resentment can destroy individuals, families and communities. Forgiveness can set you free from that kind of resentment. You can live to ask for justice another day, and forgiveness can give you renewed energy, renewed focused, and renewed zeal for life.
The upcoming conference speakers will include Dr. Enright, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, Dr. Adamou Ndam Njoya, and Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle, Archbishop of Manila; as well as many other international clergy, peacebuilders, and educators.
To find out more about the conference and how you can participate or attain video recordings, go to the International Forgiveness Institute webpage.
by Malika N. Cox
Day after day, the devastation carries on. Damascus. Aleppo. Homs. Dabiq. The devastation of a war waged on innocents by powerful forces from every side. Ambitiously plunging ahead, violence and mayhem cast aside all restraints and assert their power without heed for the weak and the vulnerable. There is no sign of it stopping, now or ever. Peace, peace, yet a sword.
First the sounds of revolution sweeps through a country weary of heavy handed rule. This revolution does not know it invites a worse doom, carrying black banners through the deserts of an unprepared nation. Unprepared, like all the rest of us, but who will care when another country at the center of the world falls to pieces under the force of terror? The powerful respond slowly, they talk about caring, but mostly they just twiddle their thumbs and hold discourses in low, calm voices, not heeding the cries of men, women and children weighed down by the storms of war.
But then it starts, that first shot ringing out into the crowds in Damascus on that unsuspecting day five short years ago. Soon the blood pours out not just from those bodies but from the well of chaos that has welled up in anticipation of this moment for so long. An Arab spring but no, an Arab winter, because now this scene is frozen in time to be repeated over and over and over until none can stand to hear about it any longer, and for a split second in time they will raise their voices and talk of doing something, anything to make it all go away.
And then they do nothing. The black banners parade through the streets, the good bad and ugly cross swords in the night though none can see clearly who is brother sister mother or father. All they see is another body fall in the darkness, another flame turning to embers. All they feel is the surprising touch of human skin and bone mixed with the coarse ruins of the earth, the buildings tumbled down into ruins. All they smell is the rotting flesh as the chariots of the enemy and those who would call themselves friends rolling away in the distance. All they have left is nothing at all.
Moscow and Washington, Paris, and London, Berlin and Beijing, they will all shed their crocodile tears in conference rooms, let their insincere feelings bleed onto papers that will carry little weight against the sound of hate. In Syria there is no mercy, there is only brutal, relentless action and reaction. A brother for a brother, a hospital for a government building, a school for a military base, a crowd of children for a squadron of fighter planes. Inhumanity at its finest.
Dawn breaks. There is only one flame left in Syria, not of revolution or of terror or even of the wrath of the sword of the rulers of the land, but the flame of remembrance. And if the flame of remembrance should die or should only remain a flame by which to mourn the winner and the loser both and if it should never turn into a flame of hope or longing or redemption then why are we here.
In this war nobody wins. We ourselves wishing away the ugly specters of hatred and conflict, that is only a desire for magical transformation that cannot prosper, a pipe dream that has no substance, a false light at the end of a tunnel where the roof has caved in. In Syria, we witness the flame that consumes the whole world, the flame of mourning and remembering and regretting the things that we ought to have done and the things that we ought not to have done because by not trying to do some small thing we did the worst thing of all. Peace is not magic. Not revolution. Not instant transformation. It is small. It is quiet. It is steady. It is consistency. It is faithfulness. It is trying and doing. Trying to do something. Trying. Try. Just try.
Blessed are those who mourn. For they shall. Be. Comforted.
I recently moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland to study conflict resolution and reconciliation. Belfast is vibrant, friendly, and beautiful, and it is hard for me to imagine that this city was known for anything else. However, it was known for its conflict, which erupted in the 1960s at the time of civil rights demonstrations over a disparity of resources and power. During this time in Belfast paramilitary groups arose, and over three decades violent acts became commonplace. Northern Ireland is also now well known for the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the ongoing “post-conflict” peace process.
The other day my class had the privilege of hearing Rev. Harold Good, a major leader in the peace process, speak about his role. Good was a Methodist minister who pastored a church in the Shankill Road in Belfast in the 1960s. He was also a part-time chaplain at the Crumlin Road Prison; the Director of Corrymeela, a center for reconciliation where Protestants and Catholics work together for peace. He remains active in mediating conflicts today.
Our class asked Rev. Good how he found himself involved in the peace process. He simply answered, ‘trust.’ He said that when you spend a lifetime genuinely caring for people, without political agenda or ulterior motives, they come to trust you. He spent years pastoring a church in the epicenter of the conflict where he cared for his congregation, even mopped up blood in his church from acts of violence, and yet he still was able to meet with those who many considered ‘the other’ to build bridges.
Rev. Good was asked how the peace meetings which he was a part of were able to be successful while other talks were not. He answered that he didn’t believe that any of the peace talks were unsuccessful. Good indicated that each time there were talks, even if they had no immediate solution, that it was positive progress because there was dialogue. He said that through dialogue new insights were exposed and able to be used for the next talks. He said that the important thing in peacebuilding is to keep talking, even when it’s an “uncomfortable conversation.”
Decommissioning, the destruction of all IRA weapons, was one of the most difficult aspects of the peace process in Northern Ireland. Rev. Good and Father Alec Reid, a pastor and a priest, were chosen to be witnesses to the process. Good told us his story of witnessing this event first hand. He told of how when the last gun was turned over he was able to offer each man a written prayer by St. Francis of Assisi which says, “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”
It is clear that the road to peace, conflict resolution and reconciliation is a process; and we at Karis are committed to learn from those who have walked this path. Our hopes are to prove ourselves trustworthy to those in the “uncomfortable conversations,” to always be without agenda, and to ultimately be instruments of peace.
by Malika Cox
There are times when it just doesn’t do any good to make an intellectual argument about something dear to your heart. Writing your heart might not read eloquently or sell a point compellingly, but it would be the right thing to do. If your heart is bleeding with anguish for something you love, you’re not going to let it sit there and stew, creating a combination of despair and paralysis. You’re going to do something about it. You’re going to say something.
Two weeks ago I returned from a month-long study program to the Middle East called the Philos Leadership Institute, a summer study program organized by the Philos Project, a nonprofit organization based in New York City aimed at building positive Christian engagement with the Middle East. The program, whose participants and leaders are now some of my dearest friends, took place in New York, Poland, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Territories. It was not my first time to the Middle East, nor was it my second. Frankly, on this third trip, I walked in with a vastly misplaced self-assurance that I could only be persuaded, not transformed. I allowed for the possibility of accepting new facts and new arguments about Israel and Palestine, interfaith relations, or the enduring regional specters of poverty, violence and oppression. I did not anticipate that I would be shaken.
I talk a lot. In fact, if you knew me, you would know that I talk a lot more than most people do. But when I got back to New York, still bustling in all its enterprise and cosmopolitan bliss, I could barely speak about what I had seen. In fact, trying to talk about it or think about it would often lead to me to break down completely in tears or be unable to do anything else in my normal capacity. It wasn’t just jet lag, either – something inside me had been broken. I knew that eventually, however, I would have to talk about what I saw, not to assuage my own heartache but because you, my fellow followers of Christ grappling with the difficult questions of faith and public life – you must know these things and gain at least a small sense of what the people I saw and I met go through every day.
So what did I see, then, in this broken Middle East?
I saw the image of God firmly planted on every person
Genesis tells us that all of humankind has been made in the image of God, but when it comes to talking about the policy questions engulfing a volatile region like the Middle East, people’s humanity is all too often abrasively replaced by their utility. A countrywide civil war becomes a game of global superpowers supporting their favorite factions to achieve victory, or the plight of refugees becomes a talking point for ambitious political parties.
This isn’t the way that God views people, though. When I visited the Golan Heights on the border of Israel and Syria, what I heard was the sounds of people dying, sounds that broke my heart as our group prayed over a country ripped in half. When I overlooked the Gaza Strip, one of the most densely populated areas in the world and currently under the barbaric rule of Hamas, and walked through the town of Sderot nearby, where resident Israelis have only eight seconds to rush to bomb shelters in the event of incoming rockets such as those fired last week, what I saw were places where real people lived and died, where their children laughed and played and danced. When I visited a camp of Syrian refugees and later spent a day in Amman, Jordan with Assyrian Christian refugees who had fled Iraq to escape genocide at the hands of ISIS, I saw in the eyes of those people the beauty of our Creator, who wept over their pain (John 11:33-35), who suffocated to death for them on a cross, and who is moved every day by their pain and the injustice done them (Psalm 7:11).
God didn’t simply create the world to abandon it to its own confused senses, He intervened in its chaos through the presence of His Son, and even though sin now holds so much of this world captive, in every corner of the Middle East where evil is, there He is also. Christ is with every innocent human being who suffers injustice at the hands of oppression, greed, or terrorism, and just as He so deeply loves His own children, so He deeply loves those who have not yet answered His persistent call of grace and love. People are precious – they’re not animals, they’re not tools, they’re not objects, and they’re most certainly not “issues.”
I saw the footsteps of Christ still lingering in a land precious to Him
It’s difficult to explain what Israel is like without talking about two things: the Holy Land and the Holocaust. The historical Holy Land hosted countless significant political, religious, and social happenings, but the horrific tragedy of the Holocaust ultimately turned aspirations for Jewish return to the Holy Land into a reality. Both of these historical realities, Holy Land, and Holocaust, were on my mind again and again throughout our trip. The sickening aura of the gas chambers and crematoriums at Majdanek Concentration Camp in southwest Poland, only one of the many death sites for Hitler’s targets, six million of whom were Jews, permeated my mind when we left Poland for Israel.
I was awed by the now-fulfilled Jewish dream of “next year in Jerusalem, a home that the Assyrians and Babylonians in the 6th Century BC, then the Romans in the 2nd Century AD, had desecrated and destroyed almost most in its entirety before renaming it as Aelia Capitolina (and the whole of the land as “Palestine,”) just as Turkish and Arabic empires would later destroy the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem. At the same time, I grappled with the desire of Arab Christians and Muslims, Druze, Bedouins, Arameans, and so many other people groups to live in peace in the Holy Land, a land they might call Palestine instead. I don’t have any clearer idea on how to bring peace between Israel and Palestine, whether one or two or many states present the necessary answer to the decades-old dilemma. I only know that the land is holy. To stand in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and at the Garden Tomb, to pray at the Western Wall and celebrate Shabbat with dear friends, to listen to Muslim clerics on the Temple Mount and marvel at the Dome of the Rock, all these memories tell me that this land is holy to so many. Even if they don’t all know the correct reasons for its sacredness, they each recognize in their own way the presence of God in a physical place near and dear to His heart.
I saw hope even as my own heart broke
When I woke up the next morning after arriving home and thought about how impossible the Middle East is with all of its pain and complexity, my initial impulse was to give up. “Don’t ever read or write about it again,” the voice in my head said. “If it hurts that much to care, then just don’t care.” Obviously I knew that was a lie, but trying to come to grips with that lie only by acknowledging its existence wasn’t enough – the lie had to be replaced with the truth. Everything I had seen and heard on this all-too-short but remarkable trip to the Middle East had convinced me of the beauty and dignity of every human being, of the persistent efforts to overcome conflict and poverty through creativity and authenticity, and even of the hope for true reconciliation between peoples and faiths.
People often think that they can only taken in so much tragedy, but the limits of our capacity to empathize are much greater than we realize. And empathy isn’t always politically defined – my revulsion at the security barrier between Israel and Palestine is separate from my belief that it is a necessary evil that has saved the lives of countless Christian, Jewish, and Muslim citizens of Israel. My frustration over the plight of Assyrian Christians whose safety is compromised in majority-Muslim refugee camps does not prevent my from mourning with the grieving Muslim fathers, mothers, and children fleeing the Syrian Civil War to some safe haven where they will be loved and accepted, not ostracized or feared. The more I empathized, the more I grieved, and the more I grieved, the more the grief dulled and turned into despair, subconsciously, unknowingly. I told myself that a new fire had ignited inside of me and my love and compassion for the region had increased, as had my knowledge and understanding, but for a time, I secretly mourned without any real hope of seeing light at the end of the tunnel.
I can’t really explain exactly how hope materialized in my thinking about the Middle East, but there was no flash of light involved. Frankly, I’m not really aware of the moment I decided I believed that a better future existed for Israel and her neighbors or that there was a chance that the Gospel might really triumph and heal wounds of poverty, conflict, and oppression across an entire region. I only know that my belief in the restoration of the world rests in the security of knowing that Christ will one day rule in love, truth and power, exercising perfect justice and extending His mercy and grace in a way that will leave our most incredible visions of utopia in utter shambles.
And each day since I’ve begun to recover from the shock I initially felt post-Philos, I’ve realized more and more that the hope I have isn’t just an anticipation, it’s also a budding reality. The world’s ignorance of anti-Semitism is changing after the events of the Olympic Games. Western organizations that have severely undermined the Israeli-Palestinian peace process are beginning to be exposed for their negligence (or conniving, depending on whom you believe). Christians and other religious minorities in Iraq and Syria are being acknowledged as targets for religiously motivated genocide after centuries of having their persecution ignored. Repressive regimes in Turkey and Saudi Arabia are receiving international scrutiny at unprecedented levels. And similar small but significant victories in addition to those we read about in the news are being carried out through interfaith reconciliation efforts between the three Abrahamic faiths in Jerusalem, centers in Nazareth dedicated to encouraging entrepreneurship by Israeli Arabs, or the incredible efforts of Jordan to accept so many refugees of all faiths when other Middle Eastern nations have turned away these innocents fleeing the ravages of war.
I know that this rambling, emotive collection of words can’t possibly give you a clear picture of what the Middle East looks like in all of its pain and beauty. I know that I haven’t laid out any arguments for a political stance or cited Bernard Lewis or Edward Said. I’ve only shared with you a piece of my heart, and I hope that if you’ve glimpsed anything about the Middle East through what I’ve written, you’ll feel the urge to know more, to see more, or, perhaps most important, to pray more. God is among His children, both those who have received Him as their God and those who have yet to know Him. He will return soon and redeem the whole world, including the land in which He once walked. Until then, I remain sincere and hopeful about the Middle East. I pray we will all share that hope. Weep over Jerusalem – and pray for its peace.
by Nathan Heath