Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: forgiveness
Wednesday, 26 January 2011 15:53

A review of "Beyond Hatred"

A documentary by Olivier Meyrou, France, 2005
 

This French documentary discussed the murder of a 29 year old gay man by three skinheads in Rheims, France. It was interesting in that it worked in a distinct way from the way events such as this are normally covered by the press or in other films that portray the events as they happen like the melodramatic Matthew Shepard Story or Prayers For Bobby that intentionally pull on heart strings for a big impact. The more introspective style of the documentary started 780 days after the death of Francois Chenu, and focused on the journey of the parents and the siblings of Francois as they reluctantly let go of their anger towards the perpetrators, and faced them in court to hear their testimony and defense. The documentary portrayed brilliantly the very banal nature of the proceedings surrounding the trial, and the way in which the grief played out for each member of the family. It cuts through the performative rhetoric of the victim, that one sees already polished whether in press releases and or in lawyer's prepared statements, by showing us the emotive discussion and preparation, even debate over a single word in the prepared statement. In this way the audience is brought to the realization that the strong face that the family show under the spotlight in the documentary is revealed to be more complex.

 
I thought one scene was particularly interesting, in which the mother tells the camera that some part of her does not want to confront the perpetrators, because she knows when she sees them her anger will be dissipated by hearing of their deprived background, and the anger and rage will be diluted by pity or a desire to comprehend. She felt that, by the very fact of communicating and talking about the case, she was being dragged forward to a more rational place than the pure desire for vengeance. She realises the necessity of moving forward but is reluctant to leave that state of mind.
 

During the trial in the film, the audience observes that the family are torn by their rational democratic and humanistic principles and horror at the loss of someone they love at the hands of imbeciles. The better angels of their nature draw them to sympathize with the destitution of the perpetrators' lives, and the irresponsible actions and indifference of the parents of the accused.

 

Another interesting aspect to the trial was that the youngest perpetrator's legal representative was a Frenchman of "Arabic" descent. Given that the skinhead gang was intensely anti-Arab (one of their friends had pushed an Arab into the Seine where he then drowned), I thought it was extremely interesting to see how much the lawyer was involved with the young man and how much he pushed for leniency towards him. I also thought that his frank discussion with the family and about the remorse (or lack of) felt by the boys was incredibly powerful in that he was able to acknowledge their grief and appealed to their conscience at the same time, which he was able to do in part, because of his ethnic origin. During this discussion we can recognise the family's internal struggle, in that they want to know how to forgive, but are unsure of the remorse of the skinheads.

 
The whole structure of the courtroom and the way the case was handled, gave a lie to the way that these things are represented on television. The grief shouldered by relations of the victims as they go through proceedings makes all the little details and the minutiae of the law heavy with melancholy. There are several shots of office spaces, and corridors, which in their dreariness, replace the dramatics of the murder with the dull realization of the reality of this kind of loss.
 

In contrast to more traditional media outlets, the focus on the film, was on those left behind, and the grief and justice process. Francois never appears in the film, nor do the aggressors, or any photos of the violence committed. In this way, we stand in the place of the parents, who are left imagining the pain that their son went through, but the film ends with an open letter to the perpetrators. It is hard to know how the family's actions are perceived by the killers, and at times the family seems worried that they are laughing at the liberal values of the family that compel them to get involved in the lives of the attackers rather than maintaining distance.

 
Definitely worth watching 4/5
 
Below is the open letter to their son's killers:
 


Tuesday, 06 July 2010 12:02

To harm is human, to forgive is divine

Ming C. Huang is the director of the Prison Fellowship in Taiwan. The prison fellowship gives counselling to various prisoners. They also look after victims and their families and try to fully reintegrate them into society . Of particular interest is that they give counselling to those on death row. This gives Ming a rare insight into prisoners that others may have completely given up on and provides a more accurate understanding of the individual issues and mindsets of each prisoner.


Wednesday, 09 June 2010 17:21

“Where sin abounded, Grace abounded all the more”

Growing up in a South Suburb of Chicago in the late 1980s, I first learned about the death penalty when the American serial killer, Ted Bundy, was put to death by the electric chair. Despite being young, his name and his awful crimes were something that I have always remembered.

Hours before his execution, a Christian Evangelist named Dr. James Dobson spoke with Bundy in a taped interview. Since the content was adult and dealt a lot with Bundy’s addiction to pornography, I never heard or saw anything from this interview, I just knew that a very sick and bad person was no longer around.

From this, my very impressionable mind was made up and I do believe my opinion on the death penalty was established. Since Dr. Dobson was a Christian and was not, from my memory, speaking out against Bundy’s execution, I took the event to mean that those who truly commit heinous crimes have to be put to death to ensure the safety of others. My young mind could wrap itself around the notion of eradicating evil, in the name of death. And it did so for the next twenty years.

It seemed logical that you end the life of one who showed no respect for others and who graphically and brutally could take the lives of innocent, young and defenseless people. It made sense to use death – in certain cases – to amend for death.

I felt this way until only this year.

When you think about it, the public rarely hears about criminals who are executed – unless terrible stories accompany their killing spree. Since the start of 2010, fifteen men and women have been put to death across the United States, mostly through lethal injection. These criminals face their due while the rest of the country is none the wiser let alone made to feel safer, except for - maybe - the victim’s family.

In March, one news headline caused me to take notice when I learned that a man in Virginia was executed by the electric chair. I had no idea the electric chair was still an option. The man had brutally killed two women, and I felt a sense of relief and safety knowing he was no longer a threat. His crimes made me sick to my stomach.

I shared this bit of news with a friend, not realizing he took an entirely different stance when it came to the death penalty. He explained how he felt killing for killing was wrong, no matter how heinous, evil and despicable the crime was.

I was flabbergasted.

Didn’t justice have to be done?

My friend agreed, but contended that locking someone away for life seemed like a good way to punish and to ensure that society would be safe from someone so dangerous and immoral.

For me, a lifetime in prison just didn’t seem enough.

Prison means you still get food and shelter. Your life goes on, albeit behind bars.

In contrast, how does that rectify the innocent ones who lost their lives and should still be alive?

Our discussion shook me to the core, because I realized how much I wanted to fight for what I considered justice. For what I thought was fair.

But in talking about justice and the dignity of life, I thought of how Christ came to love and die for all. Yes, we’re all sinners, but we’re not all killers. And yet, God sent Jesus to die for the good and the bad - those who would try to live uprightly, and those who would willfully choose the path of evil. It’s a radical love that makes no sense, and is anything but fair.

It stopped me in my thoughts, because I suddenly felt a release. By demanding a life for a life, I was trying to create justice on my terms. By releasing the need to see fairness this way, I found that God gave me peace to leave punishments to Him. In place of anger, I had remorse over our fallen human existence that tries and fails at every turn. Without Christ’s goodness, we are all capable of allowing ourselves to fall so deeply into sin that we lash out in the most brutal of ways.

Without true light, we are all in darkness. While we won’t all act out to the degree of killing another human - our depravity leads us down other roads of lust, anger, malice, etc.

Two examples that further clarified this realization, deal with responses of love brought about after incredible pain and loss.

Elisabeth Elliot is a Christian writer who shares her grief experience in “Through Gates of Splendor.” In the book, she recounts how her husband and four other men felt a call to reach the "lost" people of Ecuador in the early 1950s. After months of earning the tribe’s trust, the men were attacked and speared to death. Elliot’s husband left her as a widow and her daughter fatherless. While her grief was severe, Elliot eventually went with her daughter to Ecuador and spent two years as a missionary with the tribe that killed her husband. She wrote “God is God. I dethrone Him in my heart if I demand that He act in ways that satisfy my idea of justice.”

To go back a bit further to the turn of the twentieth century, we have the devoted Italian Catholic martyr, Maria Goretti. At the age of 11, she barely survived an attack and stabbing by an attempted rapist. While in the hospital, she expressed forgiveness for her attacker and the desire to see him in Heaven. She died hours later. Her attacker was caught and put in jail, and eventually had a dream where Maria gave him flowers. When he was released, he went to Maria’s home and begged her mother for forgiveness. She forgave him and he changed his life, later becoming a laybrother.

Both families could have turned their back on these killers. With God’s help, they did not. They chose to let the killers live. And going one incredible step further, they forgave.

Will everyone repent their crime while being locked away? Only God knows. But they have a choice. As long as they breathe, they have that choice to turn from sin.

Taking another’s life as a way to bring justice is playing God, and it strips those on death row of another chance to choose God. And it strips us of the powerful freedom that comes from choosing to forgive.

While it is difficult and painful, if we lack the ability to forgive, we lack the ability to obey the words of Jesus in His prayer - “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those that trespass against us.”

Should evil be dealt with?

Absolutely.

Those who sin great should be greatly disciplined.

But our anger and emotion toward their actions should not result in more death.

As St. Paul’s letter to the Romans reminds us: “Where sin abounded, Grace abounded all the more.”

(Photo: C.P.)


Thursday, 14 January 2010 01:30

Forgiveness by ritual

It is easy to forget that the act of forgiveness is inseparable from how it is delivered and what it signifies. Forgiveness is simply not possible without any real, visible changes. Between two people, forgiveness can be expressed through subtle signals such as a smile (or shared crying), a resumption of communication displayed by a slight gestures and more confident conversation. But even at this personal level most forgiveness demanded and received is transmitted through codes and small rituals - a gift offered and accepted, a shared meal or a hug. These rituals are created spontaneously, by a couple or a group friends. The signs exchanged are of great importance: once the ritual is performed, everything can restart again; however, without at least a discreet, subtle gesture, all progress is hindered.Things are even more subtle and complicated in society. Firstly, you never quite know who is forgiving and who is being forgiven. A nation is not the same as an individual, different opinions and experiences are in operation at the same time and there is great disparity in historical interpretations. However, nations and communties suffer similarly traumatic experiences: periods of dictatorship, foreign or civil wars, natural disasters, serious economic crises etc; and when emerging from a crisis, the group feels the need to start afresh, but this is often very difficult to achieve. Your memories are shackles that you drag along, haunting flashbacks to which you constantly return. Its difficult to place and divide responsibility, and those responsable often refuse it . The victims take refuge in their grief, the culprits go unpunished or disappear, amongst many other situations that plague the collective atmosphere.

Ritual as a Road to Reconciliation

What can we do in these post-traumatic cases? Instinctively, groups and nations gradually invent their own rituals. These rituals always signify an end and a new beginning. There is nothing surprising in this; even in ordinary times we need rituals as milestones, to help us forget and start anew. New Year wishes, both in the Chinese world and the West perform this function. Wishing a happy new year, paying back the year’s debts, eating an exceptional meal together, wearing new clothes and cleaning the house, all welcome the new and bid farewell to the old. In many ways, the rituals that mark Chinese New Year can be seen as marking a reconciliation (implicit but very effective) in the household and neighborhood. Likewise, village communities often use rituals to expel demons who bring the plague or other contagious diseases. These rituals are repeated year after year, with all the "bad influences" symbolically burned. These rituals distinguish Wang Ye cult worship in southern Taiwan. By expelling the "evil spirits" the community cleanses itself. This is also the jealousy and infighting being dispersed, thus renewing the community spirit. I have been fortunate enough to observe similar phenomena in the rituals practiced to heal the sick amongst the minorities of southwestern China, where the family and neighbours all gather in a house. For many of us, diseases and conflicts are inherently linked. Fighting for the rejuvenation of the human body is also being committed to the reconciliation and purification of society.


Translation from French by Nicholas Coulson

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