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F word thoughts – more than acceptance and a little bit of Kielty

5 April 2018

The Forgiveness Project exhibition has concluded at Moortown Baptist Church. It added a dimension to our Easter experience. The stories and pictures were profound and have a deep effect on many.

The words of Jo Berry (daughter of Sir Anthony Berry MP, who was killed in the IRA Brighton bombing) stand out for me. “Now I don’t talk about forgiveness. To say ‘I forgive you’ is almost condescending. It locks you into an ‘us and them’ scenario keeping me right and you wrong. That attitude won’t change anything. But I can experience empathy, and in that moment there is no judgment.” IRA activist Patrick Magee, responsible for Jo’s father’s death, responds – “It’s rare to meet someone as gracious and open as Jo. She’s come a long way in her journey to understanding; in fact, she has come more than half way to meet me.”

We should take care in connecting a theology of forgiveness to these words or linking them to Easter. It seems that forgiveness is at one and the same time and confrontation and a moving forward. To forgive means to name a wrong and a person or institution that needs forgiving. Forgiveness makes a judgment and then seeks to reconcile. Jo Berry sees this and the risk of that act of forgiving setting us apart.

Jo Berry and Patrick Magee are pictured together above.

As a result of this many of us cannot get to the place where we name things and speak forgiveness to another. Rather we show as much love as we can, and we offer acceptance to another. Jo describes that as empathy. This keeps relationship open and is wise and noble but stops short of forgiveness and reconciliation. I honour those of us who practice such empathy, but I recognise that this an ongoing commitment that stops short of forgiveness.

So we discover that forgiveness is a risk. In offering forgiveness, we can make matters worse and lose what we have of a relationship. I believe that this is just such a risk that God was taking in Christ. To meet us more than half way and then confront things that need forgiving in a costly way.

So Christ died! His resurrection showed that this paid off. The cost and possibility of failure was real. It is not that Christ jettisoned acceptance and love, but that Christ chose to add forgiveness to them. In order that God could move beyond empathy to reconciliation.

This is the miraculous hope and truth of Easter. It is dangerous and risky stuff.

In the meantime, many of us travel with acceptance and love on a lifelong journey towards forgiveness. The Easter story tells us that we don’t live in vain. This is a truth and a story for our time. It echoed again as I watched Patrick Kielty’s excellent BBC documentary on Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement 20 years on. In it Kielty (right) powerfully explores acceptance, forgiveness and moving on – looking at how difficult and essential these things are. Well worth a watch.

Graham Brownlee, April 2018

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