Eggs and Bunnies ?

A friend of mine has written under under the religion section of her Facebook page: It’s all about the eggs and the bunnies, right ?

Whenever I see it, it makes me smile.

Most Christians would agree that It’s all about Easter, if not exactly eggs and bunnies, and that Easter is pretty much all about forgiveness.

Our Western culture often seems far more focused on revenge than forgiveness. Our films and TV is full of examples of getting even and journeys of self-righteous vengeance. In sports people talk about settling scores and payback against the opposition. The debate on prisons and reform tends to focus on punishment, rather than rehabilitation. I know it’s hardly science, but type revenge into Google and you get 276 million hits, forgiveness gives 56 million.

This shouldn’t be a surprise – revenge is part of our basic human nature, indeed it’s one of our strongest emotions. In primitive tribal societies,without any other systems of justice, revenge served as both a way for wronged individuals to achieve emotional satisfaction, and also served as a visible public deterrent to others.

But in our modern complex societies, with rule of law, our desires for personal revenge usually result in far from positive consequences – perpetuating cycles of violence, entrenching division and splitting families. After all, it’s not as if those being ‘punished’ always resign themselves to a rap on the knuckles and changing their ways – frequently the response is further anger, resentment, and a desire to retaliate against the person doing the ‘punishing’.

As neighbours fall out, relationships break up and community relations break down, escalation can easily occur – in some cases leading to frosty avoidance or internet slanging matches, in other cases slashed tires or physical violence. It’s estimated that around 20% of the murders in the Western World are motivated by revenge !

Obviously societies need to have justice, and sometimes actions need to have consequences – but forgiveness is really about something else.

It’s the emotional process of letting go of personal feelings of injustice and resentment. It’s what we do in our own heads and hearts.

Research by Dr R Enright and others indicates that people who are more inclined to forgive others are typically happier and healthier, experiencing less stress, less depression and less disease. Forgiving those who we perceive have wronged us also means we’re less likely to carry unresolved resentment and anger into new relationships and situations.

It’s not so much what we’re granting the other person, but what we’re granting to ourselves that matters. Freedom to move on – letting go of hurt, loss and bitterness. Ultimately forgiveness is a choice.

Sometimes it might seem impossible.

But we can learn forgiveness, the best teachers being those who have themselves been able to forgive some terrible wrong done to them, such as with Abiola Inakoju or Linda Beihl, or in Sierra LeoneNickel Mines USA or South Africa and many other places around the world. Many more inspiring and remarkable stories can be found on the website The Forgiveness Project.

The two videos below might also provide food for thought – with the journalist and author Naseem Rakha on the left, or the Christian writer and minster Rob Bell on the right. Many more videos about forgiveness can be found on the Fetzer Institute Youtube Channel.

 

Similar articles – The Imam and the PastorTahrir Square

Photo by prakny.przewodnik via Flickr

The Imam and the Pastor

A guest post by Carol Kingston-Smith. Carol and her husband Andy spent several years working with the church in Bolivia, and now teach justice and advocacy at Redcliffe College, and blog at http://justiceadvocacyandmission.wordpress.com/

I’ve just been watching a documentary film about the work of two Nigerian faith leaders – one a Muslim Imam and the other a Pentescostal Christian pastor.

Culture Unplugged, who are screening The Imam and the Pastor online give this synopsis below:

The Imam and The Pastor depicts the reconciliation between Imam Muhammad Ashafa and Pastor James Wuye, and the peace-making initiatives which have flowed from it.

The film, narrated by Rageh Omaar, shows that it is possible for the perpetrators of inter-religious violence to become instigators of peace. It is both a story of forgiveness and a case study of grass-root initiatives to rebuild communities torn apart by conflict.

In the 1990s, Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye led opposing militias in Northern Nigeria. Now the two men work together bridging religious conflicts that have killed thousands. In recent decades, tens of thousands of Nigerians have been killed in communal clashes between Christians and Muslims. “We formed a militia to protect our people”, states Pastor Wuye. “My hate for the Muslims then had no limits”. The victims of his militia included Imam Ashafa’s spiritual leader and two cousins. The Imam spent three years planning revenge, then one day, a sermon on forgiveness changed his life.

The two men met and “gradually the relationship began to grow”. They played a leading role in negotiating a historic peace accord. As Imam Ashafa explains, “even though we differ in some theological issues, we will make the world a safer place”.

At its first screening in Parliament, London in 2006  Iman Ashafa noted that “Differences arise out of ignorance of own tradition and of the other traditions. We studied our scriptures together and found 70 values in common and 25 areas of disagreement on core values that cannot be compromised. We reject the word tolerance because of its negative connotations. What is needed is acceptance of the other for what he is.”

Pastor James emphasised that  “Nigeria is a very religious country. The conflict entrepreneurs use faith as the medium to inspire violence. We’re using faith to de-programme violence.”  They both affirm that at the heart of both Christianity and Islam the message is one of non-violence and that teachers of both faiths need to dig deeper and teach more faithfully the message of peace.

In the last week, Iman Ashafi and Pastor James have been sharing  their model for inter-religious peacebuilding at a workshop in Cairo, Egypt. In An African Answer, the sequel to this documentary, their work is tracked through their involvement in peacebuilding workshops in Kenya which was racked by renewed inter-religious violence post-elections.

Pastor James says: “We are like a husband and a wife. We must not divorce. If we divorce, our children…(the next generation of Nigerians) will suffer.”

 

Photo from FLT Films

RELATED ARTICLES – Tahir Square, Meet Shane Claiborne

Fighting for Peace

This Remembrance Sunday, as we remember and reflect on the conflicts and sacrifices of the past and present, I’d like to pose a question.

Are you a pacifist ?

There surely aren’t many people who love war, who see conflict as a desirable way to settle differences, a fantastic accomplishment of the human race !

But many would no doubt agree that unfortunately, in some circumstances, when faced with violence and aggression, and where no other reasonable option exists for peaceful resolution, then conflict and war are sometimes necessary in the real world. After all, if someone broke into your house, intent on harming those you love, who wouldn’t resort to force to protect them ?

These arguments are of course very reasonable, and used by many to explain why they’re not absolute pacifists – myself included.

But there’s something these arguments miss.

Pacifism isn’t just about when we choose to go to war or not – it’s also about how we go about building lasting peace with others.

Peace isn’t simply the absence of war.

Real lasting peace comes from respect, tolerance, trust and fairness, without fear, envy or resentment. If we treat others, whether in the world or in our street, with contempt, scorn or a lack of respect, or if we act unfairly, unjustly or dishonestly with them, then we can scarcely be said to be ‘making peace’.

Real peace making is surely about more than simply the ending of physical violence – it’s about building fair and respectful relationships with others – between nations, tribes, religions, social classes or individuals.

If we want our future to have less conflict, we need to make sure our present has more love.

“The more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war”

- Vijaya Lakshimi Pandit

“If they want peace, nations should avoid the pin-pricks that proceed the cannon shots !”

- Napoleon Bonaparte

   

Photo by HuwowenThomas, via Flickr

Meet Shane Claiborne

The next few ‘Foto Friday’ posts will focus on individuals who are currently working in their own way to try and make a positive difference in the world.

Shane Claiborne is a Christian activist and author, who champions the poor and marginalised in society.

He is also an outspoken critic of the arms trade and militarism. During the second Gulf War he travelled around Iraq for three weeks apologising to the Iraqi people about the Coalition bombing, worked with Ben Cohen of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream on his Bombs and Ice Cream project, and in his 2010 tax return he witheld the 30% of his tax that he argues would go towards military spending.

He recently wrote an open letter to non-Christians for Esquire Magazine.

“I am going to Iraq to stop terrorism. There are Muslim extremists and Christian extremists who kill in the name of their gods. Their leaders are millionaires who live in comfort while their citizens die neglected in the streets. I believe in another Kingdom that belongs to the poor and to the peacemakers. I believe in a safe world, and I know this world will never be safe as long as the masses live in poverty so that handful of people can live as they wish. Nor will the world be safe as long as we try to use violence to drive out violence.” - SHANE CLAIBORNE

[More Ideas for ‘making a difference’ in The Year I Saved the World]