Generous Orthodoxy  

Saturday, January 05, 2013

"A signpost in the wilderness"

There will be a lot of talk about Paul Tullis' article about "restorative justice" in The New York Times Magazine for January 6, the feast of the Epiphany. What a remarkable article it is. The title is "Forgiven" (evoking Eastwood's Unforgiven?) The principal characters are Conor, who shot his girlfriend Ann in the face, killing her; Conor's parents; Ann's parents; the director of a restorative-justice project, and some others including a prosecutor and an Episcopal chaplain.

Here's what I just wrote Mr. Tullis:

Dear Mr. Tullis,
No doubt I have read your pieces before, but this one about Conor and restorative justice knocked me out to such a degree that I will never forget your name again. I am wondering where you got the theological depth from. That may (or may not) surprise you. I have been working for years on the thesis that "forgiveness is not enough" and you have somehow captured two things at once: forgiveness is necessary and transformative, but it is also not enough. You've gotten that perfectly. It's an extraordinary piece of work.

My only comment would be that forgiveness as the Buddhists understand it is not the same as true Christian forgiveness. The overall thrust of your article illustrates the latter, beautifully...taking the lead from the "strong, protective, powerful father." The story is, indeed, a "signpost in the wilderness," a phrase that echoes the theologian Karl Barth.

Admiringly yours,


(The reference to Buddhism is in regards to the encounter that the restorative-justice project leader, Sujatha Baliga, the daughter of Indian immigrants, had with the Dalai Lama which enabled her to forgive her abusive father.)
Speaking of fathers, the restorative-justice leader made a striking observation about Andy Grosmaire, the father of the murdered girl, who is a devout Roman Catholic: "Andy is a very gentle person, but...There was just this incredible force of the strong, protective, powerful father coursing through him." I haven't heard a better description of fatherhood in some time. When we talk of the fatherhood of God, that's, in part, what we mean.
Among many remarkable things in the article are 1) the obvious point that if Conor's father had not possessed a shotgun, Ann would not have died; 2) a nuanced and discerning distinction between sentimental, bogus forgiveness and the enormously costly real thing; 3) the way that the Grosmaires' forgiveness of Conor was transformative by depriving him of any ability to transfer responsibility by hating and feeling abandoned; and 4) the lasting pain that the parents will always live with.

And one more thing. I was very impressed, years ago, by The Killing of Bonnie Garland, by the famous psychiatrist Willard Gaylin. He was particularly incensed that the criminal trial of a Yale student who murdered his ex-girlfriend, also from Yale, failed to bring a living Bonnie into the courtroom, as though her killer was the only person worthy of attention. By participating in a restorative-justice process, the Grosmaires were able to bring their daughter Ann into the discussion almost as though she were there. She was no longer "that murdered girl"; she was Ann.

In conclusion: the difference between Christian forgiveness and forgiveness in other contexts is that we are able to put our trust in a Lord who has promised to make all things right in the End. As Martin Luther King loved to say, "The arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Our strong, protective, powerful Father in Heaven is able to consummate his purpose with perfect justice and perfect love.

Read the article here: