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June 26, 2009

Suzanne’s First Day Out

Suzanne-W300 Suzanne Johnson swirls around in the salon chair. A clip restrains some wayward waves on top of her head, the rest of her tresses falling in just-straightened rows down her back. She’s a pretty 34. Long lashes, full pink lips, rosy cheeks. A strange contrast to her drab sweatshirt and jeans, the final reminder of her last day as Oregon inmate number 16047521.

The three other women in the room—two of whom are prison hair stylists—gaze curiously at her. Perhaps wishing they were in her shoes. Perhaps dreading the day it will be their turn.

One of the women cheers her on: “Enjoy your freedom!”

The three words resound down the prison hallway as Suzanne steps out into the sunlight, just 20 minutes away from her release from Coffee Creek Correctional Facility on March 30, 2009.

Read the rest of the story here, in Inside Out.

(Image © Inside Out)

May 26, 2009

Handling Temptation

In his book Conformed to His Image, Ken Boa writes about using our identity in Christ to help us resist temptation:

Who we are in Christ is not shaped by what we do but by what he did on the cross and continues to do in our lives. Our performance does not determine our identity; instead, our new identity in Jesus becomes the basis for what we do.... In him, we have been granted great dignity, security, forgiveness, unconditional love and acceptance, hope, purpose, righteousness, wholeness, and peace with God. We may not feel that these things are so, yet Scripture does not command us to feel the truth but to believe it....

When we are tempted to covet, lust, lie, become envious, or succumb to any other work of the flesh, we should say "That is no longer who I am." While we are on this earth, the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life will be constant snares, but we are more than conquerors when we remember that our deepest identity is in Christ and invite him to rule and live through us.

The proof is in the penitent

Brotherston When Billy Barclay's mother saw her son's killer on TV singing praise songs, the only thing she could find in her heart was disgust. Apparently, convicted killer Garry Brotherston became a Christian in prison and is now openly discussing his conversion on Christian TV. But, for Billy's mom, it doesn't sit right.

“There is nothing that he can say that will convince me he’s a Christian," she told the Clydebank Post.

If we believe anything at Prison Fellowship, it's that people can change--that bank robbers can become philanthropists, that drug dealers can become pillars of society, and that murderers can become peacemakers. But ... it must start with repentance. And that means not simply repenting before God, but also repenting before those one has most grievously injured--in this man's case, to the family of his victim.

Brotherston's transformation might indeed be sincere, but the proof lies in actions of remorse and repentance. In an interview, Brotherston claimed to think of his victim's family every day. But has there been a letter of apology? Nada. Has there been any attempt at communication? Zip.

In Catherine's As We Forgive, we learn of a man named John who waits more than 10 years to seek forgiveness from a woman whose father he had murdered during the Rwandan genocide. At first, the woman--Chantal--rebukes him in her anger, accusing him of false repentance. But John doesn't leave the apology there--he follows up by visiting Chantal to help her cultivate her land, demonstrating by his actions that his remorse is linked to his soul. Over time, Chantal finds the strength to extend forgiveness to John, and she, herself, is transformed by the freedom it brings.

Conversion must be punctuated by remorse. I don't blame Billy's mom for her skepticism. I'd probably doubt the man's sincerity too.

(Image courtesy of the Clydesdale Post)

May 08, 2009

A. N. Wilson’s Return

Following up on Kim's post, Dr. Benjamin Wiker has a wonderful article on Wilson's recent re-conversion to Christianity. He quotes Wilson's description of the cultural conditions that first led him away from Christianity, conditions we recognize all around us: 

Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe..., I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti. 

To my shame, I believe it was this that made me lose faith and heart in my youth. It felt so uncool to be religious. With the mentality of a child in the playground, I felt at some visceral level that being religious was unsexy, like having spots or wearing specs.

This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians, and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio.

It also lends weight to the fervour of the anti-God fanatics, such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, who think all the evil in the world is actually caused by religion.

I celebrate Wilson's return to Christ, but I wonder how many of us -- even those who have never turned away from our Savior -- are affected by that same negative culture. How much do I allow this subtle and not-so-subtle prejudice against Christianity to lead me to be less trusting in God, less bold in my witness, and less likely to see the need to think Christianly about all of life? To what degree am I more concerned with what the world thinks of Christians (and me) than I am of what Christ thinks of me? Food for thought...

From Atheism to Christianity

I've just seen the conversion story of die-hard atheist A. N. Wilson. What strikes me is that it was the everyday beauty of life which caught Wilson's heart. 

Let us all shout from the rooftop with our brother--Christ has risen!

May 05, 2009

The Blog Tour Continues

This week I'm talking with Dan Cruver at Together for Adoption about As We Forgive. Here's a little from their website on what they are all about:

Together for Adoption (T4A) sponsors adoption conferences that focus primarily on vertical adoption (i.e., God adopting us in Christ), with a secondary focus on its implications for orphan care and horizontal adoption (i.e., couples adopting children). In fulfillment of our objectives, we desire to see conference attendees walk away from a T4A event:

  • understanding why it is that vertical adoption is the highest blessing of the gospel
  • rejoicing afresh in the gospel
  • moved to act on James 1:27 both locally and globally

I'm giving special emphasis in this interview to the stories in the book that center on the lives of Rwanda's orphans.

Also, yesterday, the book got a mention at Touchstone's Mere Comments. Thanks to Jordan Ballor of the Acton Institute for the shout out!

April 27, 2009

The Soloist

The-soloist To fix or befriend? That is the question that plagues journalist Steve Lopez (played by Robert Downey, Jr., in the poignant true-story film The Soloist, which premiered Friday).

When Lopez, a popular columnist for the L.A. Times, stumbles across Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Foxx), a schizophrenic homeless musician, a story is born. Soon, Lopez finds himself caught in the tension between crafting a brilliant story about a Juillard student turned homeless man, and looking out for a guy who simply needs someone to care.

But for Lopez, that tension is soon overshadowed by a deeper tension: to help Ayers or simply be his friend?

Like any well-intentioned citizen, Lopez tries to help Ayers find housing, medication, and cello lessons. Those good designs end with Lopez lying flat on the floor under Ayers's foot. Here, Lopez must make a choice: to give up on Ayers because he is beyond changing, or to love him unconditionally, schizophrenia, homeless shopping cart, and all.

As the curtain closes on Ayers and Lopez sitting next to each other enjoying the glorious strains filling an L.A. concert hall, it becomes clear that helping and befriending aren't all that distinct. Perhaps, they are even one and the same.

I usually dread paying $10.50 for movie. But this film earned every cent. It's not an armrest-gripper, but rather, a simple story of friendship that transforms. That's one plot that never grows outdated. In short, go see it!

(Image © DreamWorks)

April 23, 2009

Daily roundup

April 21, 2009

What Social Conditions Promote Reconciliation?

As We Forgive 2 Jordan Ballor over at Acton's Power Blog turns his attention to As We Forgive in week two of my fourteen-week blog tour. (Aren't familiar with a blog tour? It's the poor man's--er woman's book tour.) I'm hoping to use these 100 days to raise awareness and support for reconciliation in Rwanda. As the week unfolds, look for a review of the book on Acton's site, some personal reflections, and some Acton Institute folks weighing in on a recent trip to Rwanda.

Ballor introduces the Power Blog's question of the week: What social conditions promote reconciliation? I'd be interested in hearing our Point readers weigh in on that one as well.

By the way, I just heard that As We Forgive has already gone into its second printing!

April 20, 2009

There’s a Thing Called Grace

09speaker_joe After spending many years living a sordid lifestyle and promoting the same through his art, by the grace of God, screenwriter Joe Eszterhas had a change of heart. 

On April 25th, Biola University is hosting a conference about faith and the entertainment industry at which Eszterhas is the keynote speaker. 

If you can't make the conference, you might consider purchasing Eszterhas's book, Crossbearer: A Memoir of Faith.

(Image courtesy of Biola University)

April 17, 2009

A prodigal returns

Wilson The very last thing I ever imagined myself saying to A. N. Wilson was "Welcome home, brother." God is good!

(Image © Sutton-Hibbert/Rex USA)

April 14, 2009

’As We Forgive’: Glimpsing the face of Jesus

Speaking of As We Forgive, Mary DeMuth has the sixth and last part of her interview with Catherine up at the My Family Secrets blog.

Resurrection Hope in the Valley of Dry Bones

Ezekiel Speaks to the Dry Bone

The hand of the Lord was upon me and he brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley, it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, "Son of man, can these bones live?"

I said, "O, Sovereign Lord, you alone know." (Ezekiel 37:1-3)

I had an email yesterday morning from one of the Rwandans I interviewed in my book, As We Forgive. As you may or may not know, this is an especially hard time in Rwanda, as this April marks the 15th anniversary of the genocide. My friend was particularly asking for prayer amidst this season of remembrance, and shared with me that they've just unearthed some more bones and will be able to finally bury his fiancée's father.

In Rwanda, so many bodies were dumped into mass graves. When I read a passage like Ezekiel 37, I can't help but think of these piles of bones bleached by the African sun in open graves. Here's the thing that gets me: The hope of the resurrection amidst a picture like this. 

Continue reading "Resurrection Hope in the Valley of Dry Bones" »

April 09, 2009

My Own Prisoner

Suzanne1-W300 I’ve met so many prisoners and ex-prisoners, I hardly blink anymore. As a writer for Prison Fellowship, I’ve interviewed lifers in Louisiana, call girls from Michigan, meth dealers from California, bank robbers from Iowa, and sex offenders from Oregon.

And then I met Suzanne.

Last week I was shipped off to Portland on an unusual story assignment: to shadow a prisoner on her day of release. Thirty-four-year-old Suzanne Johnson was my story subject. Pretty, put-together, and polished, Suzanne didn’t fit the bill. No tattoos (as far as I could see), no missing teeth, no lengthy drug history. She came from an upper-middle class family, a good church home, and a substantial job history. She could have been my childhood babysitter, my dental hygienist, my big sister.

But here I was at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon, watching Suzanne change out of her prison sweatshirt. It shook me to see someone so much like me marching out the inmate’s rhythm.

A few years earlier, a gambling addiction had sucked the vivaciousness out of Suzanne’s steps. When she was caught stealing from an employer to feed her addiction, everything was ripped away from her—her two children, her reputation, her freedom.

Continue reading "My Own Prisoner" »

April 08, 2009

The Economics of Reconciliation

Rsz_coffeeshop__017 The other night I had the privilege to speak on a panel at the Center for American Progress. The event, titled "15 Years Later: The State of Rwandan Reconciliation," was sponsored by Indego Africa and the Rwanda International Network Association, a group of Rwandans living in the United States. Its intent was to mark the 15th anniversary of the genocide and to present an in-depth look at the state of political and ethnic reconciliation in Rwanda. 

Jackson Mvunganyi, co-host of Up Front on Voice of America radio moderated the panel, which aside from me included:

  • Matthew Mitro, Founder and CEO of Indego Africa
  • Karol Boudreaux, Professor of Law at George Mason University; Lead Researcher at Enterprise Africa! a project of the Mercatus Center
  • Augustin Mutemberize, International Trade Specialist, Africa Trade Office; formerly of the Rwandan Ministry of Finance
  • Andrew Jones, Director of Policy Analysis, CARE USA; former Program Director, CARE Rwanda.

When I wasn't speaking, I was listening intently! There's a lot of fascinating research happening today in the intersection of social entrepreneurship, economics and reconciliation.

Continue reading "The Economics of Reconciliation" »

April 06, 2009

Hope amidst the Bones

Rwanda_slah This week's Newsweek features the Chairman of Prison Fellowship Rwanda, Bishop John Rucyahana, who returned to his Rwandan homeland after the genocide to help rebuild the broken nation. Ellis Cose documents some of his experiences in this week's piece:

When Rucyahana got back to Uganda in mid-July, he rented a minibus, hired a driver and took to the road with 10 other pastors. They crossed into Rwanda and made their way to Nyamata, near Kigali, the capital. The violence had died down but death was everywhere: "We saw mass graves; we saw dead bodies. In one home, we found 27 dead bodies. . . ."

Rucyahana had to act. Initially, he ran seminars, urging people to repent and rebuild. But that wasn't enough. So in 1996, he packed up his family and returned to the land of his birth to preach hope standing on "a pile of bones," as he puts it. One of his first tasks was to build a boarding school for orphans: "Having lost a million people, lots of babies were left behind." The school in Musanze, near the Volcanoes National Park, opened in 2001. It is now one of the best schools in the country. It is called Sonrise, which, Rucyahana explains, "means the Son of God rises into the misery, into our darkness."

I share part of Bishop John's story, and one of the stories of a student at the Sonrise School/Orphanage, in As We Forgive. To read his full memoir, take a look at his own The Bishop of Rwanda. I'm so glad that the wider world is being introduced to Bishop John, the recipient of BreakPoint's 2009 Wilberforce Award, and to the amazing things God has been doing in the aftermath of this tragedy.

By the way, on this day, 15 years ago, Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana's plane plummeted from the sky after being hit by a missile. It became the albatross around the neck of the Tutsi people when Hutu claimed that the RPF shot it down. The sudden streak of a missile and the fiery light of a falling plane were a diabolical kind of fireworks that night--evil's unseemly opening ceremonies to a hundred days of slaughter that would consume the country.

(Image © Newsweek)

March 30, 2009

Walter Hoye update

Pastor hoye The pastor in jail for peacefully protesting abortion is serving God as he serves his 30-day sentence. Last week, Walter Hoye's wife, Lori, reported, "Walter had already been in Bible study with some of the men in his unit. On Sunday just prior to my visit Walter had led one man to Christ. God is truly blessing Walter's presence in Santa Rita, and many men are seeking his counsel about their lives and situations."

Jill Stanek has contact information for Rev. Hoye at her blog, for those who would like to send him a letter of encouragement.

Last Aboke Girl Returns Home

Mbelz23 The last of the 30 Aboke girls abducted by Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony's thugs 13 years ago, stepped into freedom last month. World's Mindy Belz connects Catherine Ajok's new found liberation to Easter:

Where is this victory o'er the grave when 13-year-old girls are defiled in the death camps of the world today? Let us skip to the happy ending, the winner's circle, the finished work, the empty tomb. There we are tempted to forget the chaos, injustice, abuse, sorrow, and stench of death weighing on the women headed to Christ's grave, weighing on us still. Like the Aboke girls' our hope is that Christ was born, walked our world, died as a sacrifice, and is alive. To practice that hope we make common cause less with the world's winners and more with its losers, practicing what aid pioneer and physician Paul Farmer calls "the long defeat."

(Image © Ronald Odongo for World)

March 27, 2009

Corroborating ’The Truth about Forgiveness’

Bernard Williams Since Sunday, folks have been telling me about the Washington Post Magazine's piece "The Truth About Forgiveness." I finally had the chance to read it today and was blown away. The story follows Bernard Williams and the murder of his son, nicknamed "Beethoven," by a neighbor, William Norman. 

The writer, Karen Houppart, does a fantastic job recreating not only the crime, but the subsequent meeting in prison between this bereaved father and the neighbor who killed his son. I won't give away the ending but there is definite movement toward forgiveness and reconciliation in this piece.

It struck me while I was reading it that this is the same story I've told in As We Forgive, only in a different context. The chronology is even the same. This murder happened in Baltimore in 1994. The murders I write about happened in Rwanda in 1994. And so the length of time that has gone by for the bereaved is also the same. The methods used to bring healing are very much the same: restorative encounters between offender and victim, marked by remorse and repentance on behalf of the guilty and risk and radical grace on behalf of the offended. The truths that get them there transcend context.

The writer mentions a movement in our society toward embracing forgiveness, not just for those from a religious background, but by scientific research also. Here's a snippet:

While spiritual leaders have long asked folks to accept the benefits of forgiveness on faith, the secular world has lately jumped on the bandwagon -- and proffered scientific evidence to support this view.

Continue reading "Corroborating ’The Truth about Forgiveness’" »

March 23, 2009

’As We Forgive’ Q&A, parts 3 and 4

Mary DeMuth has two new installments of the interview with Catherine on her blog, here and here.

March 20, 2009

A threat to Christian books in prison

Prison chapel libraries may soon become sparser if the Bureau of Prisons gets its way. In its zeal to prevent inmates from becoming violent religious radicals, the BOP has proposed a policy that would snatch from inmates' reach any materials that “could” incite, promote, or suggest violence. Religious liberty groups, such as the Alliance Defense Fund, are up in arms. Rightly so.

The Bureau of Prisons’ proposed language casts such a wide net that many Christian books and even the Bible itself could wind up on the banned list if someone can conjure up their possible link to violent behavior. The BOP tried something like this a couple of years ago by setting up the Standardized Chapel Library Project, which created a black list of religious texts to be removed from prison chapels. The list was so extensive that it threatened prisoners’ right to practice religion. Thankfully, the Second Chance Act discontinued the Project. The Second Chance Act also tried to prevent any future BOP schemes by allowing the Bureau to only remove materials that “seek” to incite violence. Apparently, the BOP has little intention of remaining within the bounds of the law.

Keeping inmates from becoming religious radicals is necessary for public safety. But the BOP’s broad, hazy language poses a grave threat to peaceful religious expression. If the BOP is truly interested in protecting us from violence, it will encourage inmates to read books that lead to their moral transformation. 

March 17, 2009

’As We Forgive’ Q&A, part 2: REACHing for forgiveness

We've gotten a little behind (this installment went up last week), but here's the second part of Mary DeMuth's six-part Q&A with Catherine about As We Forgive.

DeMuth: On page 91 of As We Forgive, you describe Dr. Everett Worthington’s path to forgiveness. What is the acronym he created?

Larson: Dr. Worthington, one of the world's leading researchers on forgiveness (his work is sponsored by the Templeton Foundation) uses the acronym REACH to talk about the forgiveness process.

The R is for recall the pain. He says that we need to go back and remember the event, remember what happened and allow ourselves to feel that pain. I would add here that when peace, or shalom is broken, that there is a righteousness to our anger and grief. If we didn't feel those emotions, there would be something broken in us. The evils done to us are "not the way [it's] supposed to be" to quote Plantinga's Breviary of Sin. But [it's] what we do with those emotions.

The next step, E, is empathizing with the offender. This doesn't mean excusing or condoning what that person did. It does mean thinking through the wrong from that person's perspective, trying to feel with that person, even imagining the circumstances, events, and emotions that led that person to that place.

The third part, A, is Altruistic gift of forgiveness. At some point, you extend the gift of forgiveness. I like that he uses the word "gift" to describe forgiveness. Forgiveness is a gift--one of the costliest gifts any of us ever offers.

The next letter, C, stands for Commit publicly to forgive. Worthington believes that a public commitment to forgiveness helps us when we come back and doubt ourselves. Committing publicly makes us not only more accountable, but also makes this act of the will tied to a specific time and place in our minds.

And finally, the H is for holding on to forgiveness. So many times when you hear people talk about forgiveness it sounds like this one time act that you do. I suppose in some cases that's true, but in many cases fresh memories or pain is going to resurface and we're going to have hold on to that [commitment] we made to forgive. That's one reason I often talk about forgiveness as a journey.

Read more.

March 04, 2009

Crisis + Corrections = Opportunity?

In light of California's budget crunch, the Washington Post reminded us here and here that crisis can mean, well, opportunity. Though California's predicament is the most severe, it is by no means an isolated one.

To address ubiquitous budget problems, strapped states are now looking to save money through their prison systems. Indeed, corrections budgets, usually quite large, are being considered by several states for cuts. This move is not always a politically easy task, as no one when pressed is willing to sacrifice public safety by hastily chopping corrections budgets.

So what if we can save money and make our communities safer?

As Stateline.org suggests, the economic crisis is providing new political momentum to bring innovative reforms to the table that can go a long way in reducing recidivism--and keeping expensive prison beds only for people who truly need to sleep in them.

Lest the terms "cost savings" and "public safety" become sterile, let's not forget that public safety means transformed lives--individuals who are empowered to avoid the revolving door of crime and begin contributing to their communities. In the interest of not only saving money but also helping offenders turn their lives around, Justice Fellowship is one of many organizations working with policymakers in the states to make the most of this crisis-induced opportunity.

To learn more about promising criminal justice reforms, read my colleague Karen Williams's recent piece in Prison Fellowship's Inside/Out Magazine and Pat Nolan's feature at Bacon's Rebellion.

Six-Part Q&A with Mary DeMuth on ’As We Forgive’

Each Monday for the next five Mondays, author Mary DeMuth will be interviewing me at her newest blog, My Family SecretsThis six-part series will particularly focus on what the stories of reconciliation from Rwanda can mean for those struggling here with difficult things in their past.

I just finished Mary's newest book, Daisy Chain--another example of why DeMuth is gaining such a following for her work. I'll have more to say on that later, but for now here's an excerpt from what's up this week on Mary's blog (I've added the speaker tags):

DeMuth: Earlier, I reviewed the phenomenal book As We Forgive by Catherine Claire Larson. You can read my review here.

I contacted Catherine directly and asked if she'd be willing to answer some questions regarding forgiveness and reconciliation. She kindly agreed. Stay tuned for the next five Mondays where Catherine shares from her heart.

What compelled you to write this book?

Larson: I strongly felt this was a story that needed to be told. When I heard about murderers and survivors living in relative peace in the same community just fifteen years after one of the worst atrocities of the past century, I wanted to understand better what was going on in the community that was enabling this to happen. Working with Prison Fellowship which is active in Rwanda, I’d heard stories about prisoners repenting and sincerely seeking to show their remorse and victims who were coming to grasp onto forgiveness. I wanted to find out more for myself. When my friend, Laura Waters Hinson, went to film her documentary of the same name in 2006, I heard again first-hand of these miraculous stories unfolding. Inspired by her film, and the work of Prison Fellowship Rwanda, I traveled in 2007 to follow up with the people interviewed in her documentary along with several others.

DeMuth: Some readers and all posters at My Family Secrets wrestle with pain from the past and struggle to be set free. How has writing As We Forgive helped you on your own forgiveness and freedom journey?

Larson: You know, wherever evil has occurred there is a shattering of peace—or shalom. I think writing this book showed me that even though you can come to the place of being able to extend the gift of forgiveness, sometimes there’s still a lot of brokenness that needs healing. In my life, before I’d gone to Rwanda, I had been able to forgive one of the deepest wounds against me, but it didn’t mean that there wasn’t still a lot of brokenness inside of me. Writing this book, taught me something about the place for lament when peace has been shattered, about the righteous anger we feel when something beautiful is lost, and about the One who not only carried our sins, but also every one of our sorrows to the cross (Isaiah 53:4). Being able to let him carry the weight of not just my sin, but my sorrow was a pivotal point in my healing process.

Read more here.

February 23, 2009

Novelist Calls ’As We Forgive’ Life-changing

Novelist Mary DeMuth just posted a fantastic review of As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda over at RelevantBlog. Check it out:

As We Forgive by Catherine Claire Larson is one of those life-changing books that will linger with you the rest of your life. It’s not for the fainthearted. It’s not for the hard-hearted or those bent toward stubborn unforgiveness. It’s primarily a story of hope.

During 100 days of 1994, 800,000 people were brutally murdered in Rwanda—a genocide swifter in execution than Nazi gas chambers. Imagine Denver and Colorado Springs—every man, woman and child—suddenly gone from our population and you’ll appreciate the scope of the horror. (And go look on a map of Africa. Trace your finger due South of Uganda, due West of the Congo and you’ll appreciate how little this country is.)

As We Forgive shares the stories of genocide survivors, recounting the unspeakable. But it does not stop there. Larson pulls back the curtain of the most ostentatious acts of forgiveness I’ve witnessed, where genocide survivors choose to forgive those who perpetrated such violence.

Together, through reconciliation practices and restorative justice, they are rebuilding their country from the ruins of hatred—all on the back of the One who still bears the scars for our sins today.

I came away from this book changed, deeply moved, and inspired. Having seen the power of God to help people forgive the seeming unforgiveable, it gave me hope that my own wrestling with forgiveness would end in hope. I also appreciated that none of the forgiveness modeled was simple or easy or quickly won, nor does the book purport that reconciliation is merely forgiveness while forgetting. For true restoration to occur, the person perpetrating the atrocity must first fully own his/her own sin and grieve it as such. And for the person who was sinned against to heal, he/she must revisit the place of grief in order to heal.

All this dovetails beautifully into the message God’s been birthing in me—to help people who suffer silently to tell the truth about their pasts, to choose the difficult path of forgiveness, in order to heal.

If God can reach into a genocide victim’s heart and offer peace; if He can transform a murderer into a productive member of a reconciled society; then surely He can transform your pain today. That’s the patent hope this book gives. It’s a gift to all of us. And I pray it’s a gift all open.

DeMuth's latest novel, Daisy Chain, hits stores in March. In it she explores the suffocating power of family secrets in a novel that some are comparing to To Kill a Mockingbird and Peace Like a River. DeMuth's Family Secrets blog is seeking to help others who have struggled with a secret that has a death grip on their lives. Obviously there's a clear connection to the secrets which plague us and a need to forgive ourselves, others, or confess the guilt we carry.

(Originally posted at www.asweforgivebook.com)

February 06, 2009

’The Real Scandal of Religion’

The Pope's recent decision to revoke the excommunication of Bishop Richard Williamson, who has denied the Holocaust happened, has opened old wounds that never truly healed. As a result of the Pope's actions, Michael Gerson wrote this article that employs a sledgehammer against Christians who stood by, or even aided the killers, during two periods of mass murder, the Holocaust and the genocide in Rwanda.

Gerson writes, "It is difficult to understand how those who worship a man on a cross could help to drive the bloody nails themselves. But the record is clear. When religion is infected by racism, ideology or extreme nationalism, it can become a carrier of hatred instead of conscience. And when churches are concerned mainly for their institutional self-preservation, they often end up neck-deep in compromise or paralyzed by cowardice." 

It doesn't take much effort to come up with plenty of examples that back up his judgment. Nor does it take much thought to come up with examples that refute his judgment: there are many stories of Christians who did not stand idly by while the Nazis carried out their "final solution" or while the Hutus slaughtered the Tutsis. (Gerson mentions only one "rare" exception during the Holocaust, which suggests that he may be woefully ignorant of the story of the more than 10,000 rescuers who have been honored by Israel as "righteous Gentiles.")

What I found most convicting, however, was a comment voiced by a reader at the end of Gerson's article. The reader first cited a favorite passage from Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place and then added, "Those whose hearts have been transformed act like Christians.... Those whose hearts have not been transformed act like pagans." Exactly. 

None of us knows what catastrophic events history may bring to our door, but we're all called to act like Christians -- transformed people, Christ-like people -- regardless. Gerson's criticism stings, and it makes me want to immediately leap to defend my faith by trotting out a list of exceptions. However, I think it's far more important that I simply live out my faith here and now.

We can't change what happened in the past. We can, however, make certain that when future generations look back on our time, they have better proof of the power and beauty of Christianity and of Christ because of how we lived. 

February 05, 2009

Bishop John in the ’Washington Times’

Rucyahana Today, the Washington Times ran a wonderful profile of our very own Bishop John Rucyahana, Chairman of Prison Fellowship Rwanda. One haunting quote:

I was speaking to prisoners at Gitarama. And I said to them, "Close your eyes. Remember yourself hacking people. Remember them lifting up their hands begging for their lives, and you hacking their hands and arms and cutting their necks."

In about 10 minutes, everyone was crying, sobbing. I said, "Open your eyes. That which makes you cry is what God wants you to repent of."

(Image © Kevin Morrow for the Washington Times)

February 02, 2009

Running with Endurance

Running club Being a distance running enthusiast, I deeply appreciate the physical, mental, and emotional refreshment that comes from a long workout. Carol Hill's idea to bring the benefits of exercise to inmates by starting a running club in a women's prison reflects just the kind of creative care and encouragement that contributes to transformed lives.

Hill says, "It's about so much more than running...Running's an opportunity for them to do something they never thought they could do...Some have reconnected with their kids and have made plans to run with them when they get out." As Hill jogs with the women around the prison's newly renovated track, she is helping them prepare to "run with endurance the race marked out for them."

(Image © Keith Myers for the Kansas City Star)

January 30, 2009

Forgiveness: ’A Miracle to the World’

Today's BreakPoint commentary, "Love Your Enemies," discusses a man who is a hero to many of us, Bishop John Rucyahana. Bishop John was a big part of the reason I took my journey to Rwanda to write As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda, which will be released on Sunday. I share a part of his story in my book. If you haven't yet read the BreakPoint commentary, read it.

Also, in this video from PFI you'll see Bishop John talk toward the end and you'll see the kinds of stories I traveled to write about.

January 26, 2009

A Weekend to Remember

Mi dr uchyahana The weekend of January 16-18 found, I'm sure, many Americans eagerly preparing for the Inauguration of our new president. However, three members of my family (my husband, daughter, and I) were happily doing something else that weekend -- attending the Wilberforce Weekend Conference where Bishop John Rucyahana of Rwanda was honored as the recipient of the 2009 Wilberforce award: "As chairman of Prison Fellowship Rwanda, Rucyahana organized the Umuvumu Tree Project, a nationwide program to prepare perpetrators and victims of the genocide for face-to-face meetings."

It was an honor to meet a man who has led so many others to find forgiveness and redemption, not only in God's sight, but in the sight of those they have harmed. His is a powerful witness to the true power of Christ to change hearts and minds and to heal our most grievous wounds. In his acceptance speech, Bishop Rucyahana made one statement I will never forget. Christians tend to say "I accepted Christ as my Savior." But Bishop John reversed that. He said, "Christ graciously accepted me and has called me to a mission." (And all God's people said, "Amen!")

While attending the award ceremony was certainly a highlight of the weekend, it was not the only bright spot. All the conference speakers -- Chuck Colson, T.M. Moore, Mark Earley, Ken Boa, Glenn Sunshine, Robert George, Fr. Robert Sirico, Art Lindsley, as well as a host of my fellow Centurions -- brought incredible words of hope and encouragement for the dark times in which we live. 

Chuck likened these times to a "perfect storm" -- one that offers Christians great opportunities for demonstrating the goodness of God and the greatness of Christ to our friends, family, and neighbors. He reminded us that "Christians do the best of things in the worst of times," and he encouraged us to let God consume us, for "if God consumes you, there's no room for worrying about yourself." 

My family flew out of Washington, D.C., on Sunday night as many supporters of our new president were flying in. Don't get me wrong:  I'm praying for President Obama because I love my nation. But this weekend reminded me that his power -- whether he uses it for good or ill -- is minor compared to the power we have in Jesus Christ.

As circumstances in the nation continue to decline, and as more and more Americans suffer as a result, it would be easy to give in to the sin of despair. Instead, we need to see this "perfect storm" as a chance to be "the good news incarnate" as Jesus intends for us to be until He returns to establish His Kingdom. For all these reasons (and more), January 16-18, 2009 will be a weekend I will remember forever. Even more importantly, I'm praying that God will show me how to live what I learned: this is certainly no time to be a "hearer" only.

(Image courtesy of ASSIST News Service)

January 14, 2009

More on forgiveness

Raising Flagg I also have a brand new copy of Catherine’s book. I’ve not yet had time to give it more than a brief skim, but Catherine is a talented writer (of course, regular readers of this site already know that) who brings the stories of people shattered by evil acts of murder and mutilation to life. 

The book, as you know, is about the Rwandan genocide and the healing of a nation. While most of us will never perpetrate acts of genocide, sin cuts through every human heart. Catherine's message is profound: It is only through forgiveness through Jesus Christ, that any kind of reconciliation can occur. 

She says that by extending forgiveness to the wrongdoer, the injured person can help toward the healing of the offender’s sin-sick heart. As one of the victims of malfeasance put it, “Forgiveness is a gift one gives to change the heart of the offender.” 

Catherine presents readers with a larger picture of forgiveness. “Forgiveness is,” she writes, “a social action with social ramifications.” 

This concept might be easier to understand on a smaller scale. In the movie Raising Flagg, Flagg Purdy (Alan Arkin) and his longtime friend Gus Falk (Austin Pendleton) get into a fight over checkers, sheep, and a water well that soon comes to a head in litigation. The whole community becomes embroiled in the affair and chooses sides. Purdy wins the lawsuit—but becomes the community pariah. 

When Purdy realizes that the whole community is against him, he experiences a crisis which leaves him depressed and convinced he’s dying. 

Fortunately, Purdy's stalwart wife, Ada (Barbara Dana), helps in reconciling the two warring friends. Even though Purdy took Gus’s property through a legal technicality, Gus makes the first move toward reconciliation. Eventually, Purdy does ask Gus to forgive him, and the two resume their friendship.

In her book, Catherine relates stories of people who have started the hard work of forgiveness and reconciliation. These are real people who have had heinous crimes committed against them or loved ones. Some of the people have had their whole family murdered, and most of them knew the perpetrators. Is forgiveness easy? No, but as shown by both the works I've mentioned, it is necessary for reconciliation--and it is through this act that what Satan meant for evil, God will use for good. 

I urge you to buy a copy of Catherine's book and read about how the Rwandans are going about the task of healing the nation fractured by evil, one person at a time.

(Image © Cinema Libre Studio)

Virtue at Its Testing Point

Main-book1 So, I'm excited to announce that I've received my very own advanced copy of my book! It was an awesome feeling to actually hold it and thumb through the pages of almost two years of work. As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda will be released by Zondervan on February 1st, just a few short weeks away. The book tells the stories of seven survivors of the 1994 genocide and their journeys to forgive the unthinkable.

Last night I was emailing with one of the Rwandans whose story I recount in my book. His name is Phanuel. He is a man of such courage. As a Hutu teenager, he took several bullets in his body rather than point out his Tutsi classmates to the rebels who invaded his high school in a 1997 post-genocide attack. When they demanded the students divide into their ethnic groups, the students in that classroom would only say, "We are all Rwandans." Any one of those students could have potentially saved themselves, by outing others. But none of them did. Several of them died because of that courage.

When I think about Phanuel, I can't help but think of what C.S. Lewis once said: "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point."

If you haven't pre-ordered your copy, I'd love for you to do so. You can get one through Amazon. If you do, I'd love for you to share your thoughts on it by posting a customer review there. Or you can wait a few weeks and get one at your local Barnes & Noble or Borders or Books-A-Million or Target. If you're on Facebook, you can also become a fan of the book and I'll send you updates from time to time. Just look for As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda by Catherine Claire Larson among the pages.

(Image © Zondervan)

January 13, 2009

Smackdown

 "Who Would Jesus Smack Down?" sounds like a pretty provocative title for an article. But when the subject is Mars Hill's Pastor Mark Driscoll, somehow it fits. (Free registration may be required.)

January 12, 2009

Blogger roundup

Some more full-length articles from your Point bloggers . . .

January 09, 2009

Movie poll

Oscar The verdict is in: Point readers want to hear more about ethics and transformed lives. In the age of Blagojevich, Fannie & Freddie, and a general atmosphere of "anything goes" in politics, economics, moral issues, and elsewhere, probably not a big surprise. Thanks to those of you who voted, and we'll try to keep this in mind as we research and prepare future posts.

Now, to go with my post about possible Oscar nominees, we have a new poll up. Go to the right-hand column to vote. And click below to see the full results of the "topics" poll (thanks to Travis for compiling them).

Continue reading "Movie poll" »

January 06, 2009

In the words of a confirmed atheist ...

"Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete."

Huh?

January 05, 2009

What a difference an ’a’ makes

Jennifer at Conversion Diary writes that the best blog post she read last year was the post in which the blogger Raving Atheist -- a participant in the documentary The God Who Wasn't There -- announced that he is now a Raving Theist. To be specific, a Christian. God is good indeed!

(Watch out for some profane remarks in the comments -- not just from the atheists, I'm sorry to say.)

And while we're on the subject of the best blog posts of 2008, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that my own favorite was Jennifer's own "How would you know?"

December 31, 2008

The Best New Year’s Resolutions

Dr. David Jeremiah's latest newsletter offers these "7 Steps Toward a More Energized Life in Christ." It struck me as the best New Year's resolution list I ever saw, so I'd like to share it with my fellow Pointificators. (I can only hope that I'll be better about keeping THIS list in 2009 than my usual one, which includes such perennially unachieved goals as losing ten pounds.)

1.  Spend time with Him. Relationships are made and fostered by the time we spend functioning within them. Spend time with your Lord in prayer and study of His Word  Reconnect through talking with the Lord of Lords. 

2.  Take obedience to the Lord seriously. The Lord's commands are made out of love for us. He laid them out in His Word so that we might best find His blessings, and to help us avoid the pitfalls of living in this world.

3.  Recognize your sinfulness, and recommit your life to the Lord. Make a spiritual contract with the Lord.

4.  Dive into worship. Worshiping the Lord does not have to be just singing along with the choir on Sunday. While that is good and it honors God, you can also worship Him while going for a walk in His beautiful creation, while marveling at the works He is doing around the world, or recognizing and appreciating the provision that He makes in your life.

5.  Start to tithe. The Lord promises to provide for you and bless you when you are faithful in giving back to Him.

6.  Start serving others. Become the hands of Christ as you serve others and allow the Lord to work through you.

7.  Give thanks to the Lord for all the blessings that He has placed in your life. 

While all these goals are worthy ones, I would suggest that we each start the New Year by focusing on number 7. I've recently started keeping a "Gratitude Journal" to keep track of the many blessings God has poured into my life. I find that it's a great counterbalance to the steady stream of bad news that swirls around me daily -- reminding me that I have much in life to be thankful for and reminding me that God is a good, loving, and faithful Father.   

December 18, 2008

Spreading the message of forgiveness

Mainbook1 Congratulations to Catherine on a great Publisher's Weekly review for her forthcoming book, As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda:

This isn’t an easy book to read or digest, yet its message is mandatory: “Forgiveness can push out the borders of what we believe is possible. Reconciliation can offer us a glimpse of the transfigured world to come.”

Click here and scroll down for more (via the As We Forgive blog).

(Image © Zondervan)

Giving the Gift of Freedom

Wonderfullymade "You can't make the difference for all people, but you can make all the difference for one person," said IJM president Gary Haugen at a recent benefit dinner in D.C.

Maybe you can't free every person from forced bondage in India's rock quarries. Maybe you can't drive out every child exploiter in Haiti. And maybe you can't deliver every girl from sexual slavery in southeast Asia. But maybe you can help one.

If you're still looking for last-minute Christmas gifts, consider giving the gift of freedom. Here are a few ideas:

  • Described at once as "funky and frilly," Wonderfully Made jewelry helps create sustainable jobs for victims of sex trafficking. Eye-catching necklaces, bracelets, and earrings range in price from $25 to $325.
  • Similarly, NightLight provides jobs and aftercare for women leaving the sex industry in Bangkok, Thailand. The jewelry includes everything from colorful pearl designs to elegant wood ensembles.

Another way you can give the gift of freedom is to make sure your stores aren't benefiting from slave labor. Before you head to the mall, send an email to your store of choice letting them know that you value freedom over their merchandise.

(Image © Wonderfully Made)

December 12, 2008

Re: Presidential Citizens Medal

Chuckcolsoncitizenmedal Just updating to add this photo that was taken at Wednesday's ceremony.

(Image © White House/Chris Greenberg)

December 10, 2008

Presidential Citizens Medal for Chuck Colson

Chuck_colson Our fearless leader was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal by George W. Bush today, "for his good heart and his compassionate efforts to renew a spirit of purpose in the lives of countless individuals." More information about the award is here. (Dr. Robby George, a friend of this ministry, also received a medal.)

A statement from PFM includes the following quotes from Chuck:

“Whatever good I may have done is because God saw fit to reach into the depths of Watergate and convert a broken sinner,” said Colson. “Everything that has been accomplished these past 35 years has been by God’s grace and sovereign design.”

In responding to the award, Colson directed the praise and accolades back toward the ministry of Prison Fellowship, the ministry he founded in 1976.

“I do not treat this medal as mine,” he said. “It is, like in the military, a unit citation. The staff of Prison Fellowship, the thousands of volunteers and the hundreds of thousands of donors have made this possible. So while I am overwhelmed in gratitude to God, I am grateful to all those associated in this movement called Prison Fellowship.”

Congratulations, Chuck!

Giving Costly Gifts

Having just written a book on forgiveness, I guess I've been thinking a little bit about what forgiveness has to do with the Christmas season. A few of my musings appeared on Common Grounds Online the other day. I thought I'd share.

Here's the quote that I haven't been able to get out of my head since I wrote As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda. It's by Miroslav Volf and is the backdrop to my recent musings:

Under the foot of the cross we learn, however, that in a world of irreversible deeds and partisan judgments, redemption from the passive suffering of victimization cannot happen without the active suffering of forgiveness.

November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Lessons from a Feral Child

Danielle The beginning of this story might make you want to retch, but the ending points to what I'm thankful for this year.

Last July, Lane DeGregory, an exceptional writer for the St. Petersburg Times, pushed investigative journalism to a new height with "The Girl in the Window," a grotesque story of the redemption of a feral girl.

Webster's definition of feral: "of, relating to, or suggestive of a wild beast."

In 2005, some Florida residents reported seeing a child peering out of their neighbors' window. They had never seen the child before, not outside, not anywhere. And the family--a mother and two grown sons--had lived on the premises for three years.

When the police entered the house, they found 7-year-old Danielle in the back room:

She lay on a torn, moldy mattress on the floor. She was curled on her side, long legs tucked into her emaciated chest. Her ribs and collarbone jutted out; one skinny arm was slung over her face; her black hair was matted, crawling with lice. Insect bites, rashes and sores pocked her skin. Though she looked old enough to be in school, she was naked — except for a swollen diaper.

Long story short: the mother was arrested, the girl was put up for adoption, and welcomed by a churchgoing couple, Bernie and Diane Lierow, who said, "She just looked like she needed us."         

Continue reading "Thanksgiving Lessons from a Feral Child" »

October 23, 2008

Fashionable Peace

Amani2 Sankofa reminds me of Chantale.

At a ballroom in Springfield at Sankofa's fourth, and final, stop along its American tour, 10 beautiful African girls glide down a runway, stunning off-the-shoulder dresses gracing their varying figures. But their faces are long, and the baskets they tout on their heads are like the burdens they used to carry.

"Sankofa" means "Look back--Walk forward" and this is the beginning of the three-fold story it tells: separation to transformation to celebration. The clothing, the music, the facial expressions reflect each of these stages.

Sankofa represents 70 women with a broken past. Many are refugees from war-torn African nations (Uganda, Congo, Burundi). They come to Amani ya Juu with tales of violence, sickness, and abandonment. But through Bible studies, prayer, and an opportunity to learn how to sew beautiful fabrics (available for sale), including the clothes the models are wearing, "Amani" ("peace") begins to peek through.

Continue reading "Fashionable Peace" »

October 22, 2008

The beginning of wisdom

Maher2 Take Michael Moore, add a generous helping of Richard Dawkins, and stir in a little totalitarianism ("religion must die!"), and you have Bill Maher's Religulous. There's not much more to the experience than that -- aside from the general annoyingness of being lectured extensively on science by a guy who doesn't believe in germs.

In yesterday's BreakPoint commentary, though, Chuck Colson focused on an aspect of a film that really hit home for him -- an aspect I don't think has been touched on much in reviews of the film.

. . . Maher—himself a former Catholic who admits that he used to try to “bargain” with God—interviews a group of men at a trucker’s chapel. Like many other scenes in the film, this one is carefully set up to make us marvel at the brilliance of Bill Maher and the inferiority of everyone around him. (It’s hard for a viewer to avoid the conclusion that the only higher power in Maher’s universe is his own ego.)

But Maher at least pretends to flatter the truckers and their chaplain. He reminds them that guys in prisons and foxholes hang on to religion because they have nothing else. And then he says, “But you guys aren’t dumb.” In other words, Maher’s point is that the truckers should know better than to believe in God—unlike all those dumb prisoners and soldiers out there who don’t know any better.

Having been in prison myself, let me speak for those prisoners. Recognizing your need for God isn’t a question of “smart or stupid.” It’s a matter of recognizing who you are; your own insufficiency, the sin in your own heart—and prisoners get that. And then you have to recognize your desperate need for a Savior.

But whether you’re a prisoner or a doctor or a lawyer or a comedian, you don’t have to have a gigantic I.Q. to see that it’s necessary because you cannot rescue yourself from your own mortality or sinfulness—that is, you are not God. In fact, realizing your own spiritual need is probably the wisest thing anyone can do.

(Image © Lionsgate)

October 17, 2008

Blogger roundup

More thought-provoking full-length articles from our bloggers:

October 02, 2008

African Fashion Show, Coming to You!

Amani2 ...only there's a lot more to these 10 women from Nairobi than style.

Over the next two weeks, these women will be representing Amani ya Juu as they stop in Orlando (FL), Charlotte (NC), and Washington (DC), to walk down the runway and tell about their journeys from horror--war, famine, poverty, abuse--to healing.

The tour is appropriately titled Sankofa--in Swahili, "Look Back. Walk Forward."

Amani ("Higher Peace") works with 70 women from previously and currently volatile countries--like Rwanda, Uganda, and Congo--pointing them to Christ to help them heal from past tragedy, and teaching them how to make beautiful textiles, from handbags to tablecloths to checker boards.

Here are dates for the upcoming shows:

Orlando, Florida: Oct. 4
Charlotte, NC: Oct. 10
Washington, DC: Oct. 17

Purchase tickets here!

(Image © Amani ya Juu)

October 01, 2008

Bringing Western China out of the Fifteenth Century

Yellow_sheep_river It was because of their faith that two businessmen took on the challenge of bringing technology and hope to the people of Western China who were "trapped in a kind of subsistence economy." The article suggests ways you can get involved in their effort. 

(Image © Ariana Lindquist for the Atlantic)

September 12, 2008

Criminal injustice

On Monday, in a piece on Christians and the inequities in the criminal justice system, USA Today charged that "[Chuck] Colson, the founder of Prison Fellowship . . . washes his hands of the deeper social problems underneath our burgeoning prison population."

Today, in a letter to the editor, Mark Earley sets the record straight:

Since Prison Fellowship was founded 32 years ago by Chuck Colson, we have sought not only the personal transformation of prisoners, but also the transformation of families, neighborhoods and the prison system.

Read more here. Thanks to PFM's Pat Nolan and to Thunderstruck.