Forgiveness and Reparation: The Dance Begins with Love

WE KNOW IT instinctively. We feel in our bones that what was taken can never be restored. And there is no payment that is an adequate price for even a single human life. On either side of our great divide, we misinterpret the goal.

White people pull out their spreadsheets trying to tally up a total of misery minus the years between them. What, they wonder, is the remission of this half-step towards equality, this gesture of reward?

Affirmative action, shelving, preferential admissions that are handed out shrouded in resentment. In one documentary, the white girl sits by the side of the pool, the black servants silently sliding in and out of frame to attend to her needs. “I wasn’t even alive during apartheid,” she says. ” I did not do anything. It wasn’t my fault. Why do I have to pay?

The irony of his situation slips before his eyes. The older generation of whites is suspicious: “This ‘reparation’ is like a bribe. We are paying now and for a while you are silent. But you will come back. You or your children will come and pretend that it was not enough.

“We know you are right. How could that ever be enough? And because we know we can never pay enough, we refuse to start paying.

People of color of all shades come out of catalogs of doom. Scrapbooks filled with unnamed ancestors and unborn children. They tell family stories that have never been written. They talk about demolished houses, demolished communities and displaced people.

They talk about stolen youth and stolen work. They speak of stolen land and stolen hope. They talk about stolen lives. They speak in stolen voices. They talk about being silent or being silenced. They speak in the wind. And they create their own cards of resentment that no payment will erase.

” And U.S ? asked the young man. It was still early. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa was always unchallenged as a miracle of human healing both globally and within South Africa. “And me and people like me? My mother was an anti-apartheid activist, a freedom fighter.

“She was imprisoned, tortured, finally killed. I was young. I did not understand. I didn’t know where my mother had gone. My grandmother raised me. When the Commission was created, she went there. She told the story of the daughter she lost.

“She confronted the attacker. She forgave him. But what about me? I never told my story. No one has ever heard me say how much I miss my mother. Nobody asked me for forgiveness. My grandmother told her story and granted her forgiveness. The attacker got amnesty and left. I never even met him. I did not understand.”

Let’s start with the word, repairs. We read repairs. But we do not hear of reparation. One side hears the loud angry demand to return what was stolen. They hear the resentful sound of protest before they see the faces in the crowd.

They read reparations, but it sounds like a punishment and a reward, an ounce of gold for every ounce of flesh bought or sold; a salary, with compound interest for each unpaid or underpaid minute; one acre with interest for each acre taken.

We read about repairs, but for each of us, wherever we are, the meaning of the word changes like sand. One moment we remain solidly certain of what reparations mean and what they must accomplish, and the next moment the ground crumbles beneath us as the winds of a new opinion blow.

What seemed clear and simple is suddenly nebulous and complicated. Complicated by everyone involved. Complicated by the lack of clarity on what repairs are meant to accomplish. Complicated by which of the series of wrongs that reparations are meant to address.

Because we disagree on the goal, we disagree on how to achieve the desired result. We struggle with the idea of ​​reparations sometimes in good faith, sometimes in bad faith. But we struggle. And we all bring our hopes, our fears, our worries and our resentments to our fight.

Our speech experience now has everything to do with what we know and imagine about the life experience of our then ancestor. So let’s start with the word. Let’s turn our ears to hear it well.

Let’s resolve to listen to the music. Let’s listen to the multi-tonal melody of repairs. Let us hear the discordant note of what is broken. And let’s hear the brilliant sound of what rings true.

Perhaps we can only properly hear reparations if love is anchored at the heart of reparations. The apostle Paul reminds us: “If I speak the tongue of mortals and angels, but have no love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. . .”

Repairs without noise of love. The point and purpose of reparations can only be healing and love, for what creation tends toward, toward what all that is aspires, toward what salvation leans, is God, and God is God. is love. Love is the point and goal of every life, and is the whole meaning of life. As Paul said, “If I give all that I have, and if I give up my body.” . . but don’t have love, I gain nothing from it.

THEREFORE, REPAIRS begin with a spiritual posture: the posture of love. And repairs must begin with a mental posture: the posture of humility. Reparations are their own liturgical dance of healing. A dance in seven steps: the prelude in humility, putting aside the arrogance that has corseted us, stiffened our necks and lifted our heads in pride, we recognize the weight of evil that bends our shoulders and bows our back.

AlamyEntrance to the exhibition at the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg

The first step was saying the words “I’m sorry” and in doing so opened a door for the dance to begin. The following stages follow one another, movement and immobility responding to immobility and movement. Through the open door, the dancer enters, leaning heavily on humility and remorse.

Resting on their knees, a penitent executioner could listen at length to the stories of victims and their descendants and dare to hear the harm their actions and the actions of their ancestors have caused. When the story is told and the wound is named, repairs are the common thread that could repair.

Asking for forgiveness will make reparation stronger: a remorseful apology and reparation coupled with gracious forgiveness, strands of hope woven together to make a better future than the past promised us. Our future is to learn together how to love better. We must learn to live love better and to live better in love. We must study how to be love better and how to incarnate love.

I hear the prelude music. Come, let us dance. If my people who bear my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin and heal their land (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Arrogance is a cage and a corset. Its bones and shrouds maintain a straight and unyielding body. Rigid thinness instead of soft generosity. There is something dignified in genuine humility. Perhaps because true humility comes from honest self-evaluation and true self-acceptance.

“For by the grace that has been given to me, I say to each one of you not to esteem yourselves higher than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned” (Romans 12:3).

“WE WANT to forgive them. . . and maybe they can forgive us. She had to learn to walk again. His body was no longer the lean, lithe body that had walked into the golf club that fateful day. She’s been broken in places that won’t heal. For months, she could not eat, bathe or dress herself, and her children had to help her with the most intimate tasks.

She could have been bitter or tilted. Her voice could have let out venom poisonous enough to destroy the bodies of the young men who threw the hand grenades and fired the weapons that got her there. But, instead of the twisted poverty of anger and despair, she radiated the dignity of humility. And, in time, with dignity and humility, she met the men whose attack ended her end-of-year party. With dignity and humility, they met her.

Perhaps it’s the lack of humility that victims hear when politicians say, “I’m sorry. Politicians say, “I’m sorry on behalf of cities and nations. The response of victims can be stony suspicion, open hostility or cold indifference.

Victims and their descendants say, “We’ve heard that ‘sorry’ so many times and in so many ways and there’s no remorse in it and it’s so tasteless that our appetite for ‘sorry’ policy is blunted. Over the years, this “sorry” has broken so many promises that he has been drained of all hope. It sounds hollow.

They turn away, their bodies etched with disdain. “But we’re sorry”: different people stand up to repeat the chorus. Those who thirst for another relationship to the past and another relationship between the descendants of the former masters and the descendants of the subject peoples tear the words out of the mouths of politicians and question them.

They turn them over on their tongue. They bring to words a teaspoonful of recognition. . . There is a past that we have chosen not to know. There are stories we have suppressed or chosen not to hear. After recognition comes an ounce of knowledge, then enough audacity to belie the denial.

We’re sorry, we’ll dig up the story we’ve been hiding. We will dig up the wrongs inflicted in our name. And we’ll face the truths that don’t need to be unearthed because they’re hidden in plain sight.

Systemic evil, Richard Rohr calls these truths: the evil considered necessary to support the “common good”. The systems of racism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and nativism that are woven into the fabric of society to guarantee life as we know it.

The common good is clearly not good for everyone: it is only good for a few. Humility speaks: “We’re sorry. This “we’re sorry” will not stand on the dais to dictate the terms of its own surrender. This “we are sorry” will not attempt to define for the victims the contours of their experience. This “we are sorry” will not weigh on those who have been wronged the weight of waiting. You don’t have to be gracious in response. We hope you will hear that we are sincerely sorry. The door is open. The dance begins.

This is an edited excerpt from Forgiveness and Reparation, the Healing Journey by Mpho Tutu van Furth, in the My Theology series published by Darton, Longman & Todd at £8.99 (Church Times Bookstore €8.99); 978-1-913657-84-0.

Colleen D. Ervin