By Bishop Philip Huggins for the Australian National Council of Churches
May I offer some of the insights and resources that have been shared with me since we first published this intention?
They come with our encouragement that you initiate your own local Conversation on the theme of how we nurture a more loving,forgiving and understanding culture; that you share the fruits of this with us, trusting in Jesus Mustard Seed wisdom in Mark 4: 30-32.
Yes, “from little things ,big things grow”.
As regards the “forgiveness “ phrases in the Lord’s Prayer, Richard Leonard SJ reminds us of St John Chrysostom’s Easter Sermon(c.AD 400):” Let no one mourn that they have fallen again and again; for forgiveness has risen from the grave”.
Richard also recalls how St Augustine reflected that forgiveness was like a mother who has two daughters named Justice and Compassion. In using such a metaphor Augustine knew that forgiveness was not a one- off event. It was a process that involved other virtues as well.
Relatedly, Richard reflects that “we will know when we have forgiven someone when we can recount what was said or done to us without rancour or bitterness.” ( Richard Leonard SJ “ The Law of Love” Paulist Press 2021).
This later reflection reminds us of the need for our culture to recover and practice the principles of giving and forgiving which bring us health.
A Fourfold path for healing ourselves and our world is given to us by Desmond and Mpho Tutu in “ The Book of Forgiving”.
A number of you will know this wonderful book by the Tutus.
It definitely gives us a process to follow as we apply Jesus' principle that we choose to heal and not to harm. Given their background in S Africa , the Tutus know well how complex and demanding this choice can be , even if intellectually we recognise that a refusal to forgive is self- poisoning.( As Nelson Mandela once stated ,hating somebody is like drinking poison and then expecting the other person to die!)
The Tutus convey the importance of safely telling one’s story; of naming and feeling our hurts on the way to giving forgiveness ( with an enhanced understanding of our shared humanity). Thereafter , the choice is how to renew or release the relationship so there is a more peaceful future.
Desmond and Mpho tell vivid stories .
Our friend John Hendry has taken their diagram of that fourfold path and adapted it to his pivotal work which helps schools foster positive relationships of care and forgiveness. His motivation, in our Church Schools, is to help our schools live the Gospel beyond the chapel. In John’s summary, “ culture” is the prevailing relational behaviours clustered within a context. “The way people behave, one with another and with all, defines the culture of an organisation.”
Rob Warren of “National Forgiveness Week” is another who has learned the importance of us sharing our stories on the way to a healthier culture. Stories cut through where words like “ Forgiveness “ may face resistance or indifference.
Leila and Danny Abdallah’s story that led to i4giveday ,next on 5 February 2022, is of that quality ,heartfelt! https://www.i4give.com
Another of our team, Father Hugh Kempster reminds us that trying to introduce the Fourfold Path can produce unexpected resistances. There may be many reasons for this but one is that it can challenge the narrative by which people are living.
That is, a narrative which questions whether a giving and forgiving culture is possible ; that considers “ forgiveness “ is neither warranted nor possible for them.
The Tutus help us work our way through such issues in their wonderful book, if we choose to do so.
Cultivating that choice is why these local Conversations can be so important.
Can we create a space so that those we invite to our Roundtable , do this work together ?
We at the NCCA can make the recommendation and provide resources ( as in this Note ) but the cultural change will come as we do this locally.
The need for such work continues to be obvious.
Be it so families can find healing and the renewal of relationships .
Be it so as to help prevent the dangerous folly of a more militaristic “ choosing to harm” relationship with the CCP.
Two stories to close.
The first: when I ordered the Tutu book ,the book seller said ,” It’s a wonderful book “. When I went back for the book, she said the same thing.
I asked why. “ Because it is such vivid common sense..It’s practical….”
She closed by saying quietly,” The section on forgiving oneself is so helpful”.
As for her , so for ourselves. In other conversations with our expert group this week, we have all reflected on how doing this work brings to mind matters unresolved and in need of our practiced giving and forgiving.
Long ago I did research on clergy faith journeys .One question I asked was regarding the pivotal teachings of Jesus for respondents .An older priest said for him it was Jesus teaching on forgiveness “.
I asked why. “ Because the older I have got ,the more there is to forgive.”.
Poignantly , the second story comes from the distress caused by the news of another Aboriginal death in custody - Ngemba man Frank ‘ Gud’ Coleman, the 480th since the Royal Commission of 1987. ( There have been no convictions of perpetrators to do with any of these deaths.)
Speaking with our NCCA Board member and First Nation elder, Felicity McCallum , we wonder whether we can form a network of Churches who will ring their bells ,across the nation , should there be other “ deaths in custody”.
Deaths of our First Nation people in custody brings us to our knees. We rise to do all we can to prevent any further suffering.
We are all on a long pilgrimage but we start with the steps that are available to us.
One other conversation this week about our pilgrimage was regarding a possible physical and prayerful pilgrimage to the Cross recently being placed on Memory Mountain ,Haasts Bluff , west of Alice Springs and home to the Ikuntji and Papunya communities.
We shall keep sharing about all aspects of this work towards a more loving, forgiving and understanding culture ,as the days go by.
With agape love and prayers,+Philip Huggins.