"Forgive us our trespasses": The complexity of forgiveness
Apr 20, 2011
Forgiveness is such an obvious part of religious commitments and human sensibility that the conversation around giving and getting forgiveness is often mechanistic, sentimental or superficial. Fortunately, veteran filmmaker Helen Whitney is offering a rare chance to shine a clear light on the question of forgiveness in all its complexities, horror and hope in her two part series entitled: Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate to be shown on April 17th and 24th on PBS stations around the country.
....Whitney's film takes the viewer on a slow roller coaster of emotions. Instead of finding hundreds of talking heads and moving speedily from idea to idea, the documentary lingers on a relatively few cases; letting the viewer sift through the layers of complexity and raw drama. The shooting of the Amish School children, a victim of a brutal attack with an axe, the murder of a police officer by a 1960's revolutionary, a woman knowingly infected with AIDS -- different life situations that challenge the breezy rhetoric of 'forgive and forget' and move deeper into genuine wrestling with the emotional and spiritual demands inherent in forgiveness.
While the first part of Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate focuses mostly on personal interactions, the second segment pulls back the lens to include forgiveness on the national and international level. The viewer watches German Chancellor Willy Brandt fall to his knees at the monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as one step in the long and unfinished process of Germany's repentance and atonement for the Holocaust; and witnesses excruciating footage from the Truth and Reconciliation efforts in South Africa; and the tribal courts or 'gacaca' after the Rwanda genocide.
Familiar terms such as acknowledgement, repentance, contrition, atonement and reconciliation may seem to forge a well-cleared path towards forgiveness, but in case after case the depth and magnitude of the pain inflicted and evil endured serve to severely complicate the question of forgiveness. As the film proceeds, the viewer begins to appreciate that forgiveness on the national or personal level is tenuous, non-linear, specific to any situation, and requires the will to endure the hardest emotional and spiritual work humans can do on both the part of those asking for and granting forgiveness.