In September, St Peter’s Church will be hosting the F Word exhibition, in a joint venture with the Shire Hall Museum. The exhibition has been produced by The Forgiveness Project, which was founded in 2004 by the journalist, Marina Cantacuzino. At its heart is the idea that shared stories of forgiveness and reconciliation can act as a powerful corrective to narratives of hate and dehumanisation and can offer alternatives to cycles of violence, injustice and conflict. The testimonies collected by the Forgiveness Project come from people from a range of faiths and no faith. They bear witness to the resilience of the human spirit and provide a resource to help people examine their own unresolved grievances.
In the Christian tradition, we see Jesus in the Gospels urging us to forgive, not just seven times, but seventy times seven (Matthew 18: 22). We see numerous examples of his own ability to bring healing, forgiveness and reconciliation to those on the margins of accepted society. Yet we know from our own experience that when we feel we have been deeply wronged, forgiveness doesn’t come easily. It can be hard to let go of anger and a desire for revenge. Trauma can make us closed off to the other as we seek to protect ourselves from further pain. It can be difficult to risk lifting our guard enough to see the person who has wronged us as a real person.
Forgiveness is difficult unless we have some awareness and acceptance of our own faults. Jesus famously asked one of his questioners to remove the log in his own eye before worrying about a speck in his neighbour’s eye (Matthew 7: 5). Forgiveness begins with honest self-examination: it takes an open-hearted awareness of our failings and an ability to forgive ourselves if we are to have any chance of forgiving others.
Another important ingredient in our ability to forgive is curiosity. Being curious about the world and about people is an antidote to hate. Being curious fires up the imagination and helps us to ask questions and to wonder why. An openness to wonder and curiosity stops us from behaving as if we have everyone worked out already; it keeps us humble. In order to forgive, we need to move from ‘why me?’ to ‘why them?’ and being curious about the lives and experiences of others helps us to decentre our own hurt and pain and become open to others.
The F Word exhibition is a creative opportunity to explore these issues both individually, through viewing the material and collectively, through conversation and discussion. Schools will be able to book events relating to the exhibition through the Shire Hall Museum.
Revd Claire McClelland, Vicar, St. Peter's Church
- The F Word exhibition at St Peter’s Church 14–21 September 2018.
- Multi-faith panel discussion evening 17th September at 7.30pm – contributors include the Bishop of Sherborne, and the evening will be chaired by Canon Angela Tilby.