International theologian Miroslav Volf opened the Week of Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary tonight (Tuesday) with the topic "Remembering Rightly and Justly." It was a treat to meet with him in a small, informal context, as he interacted with the crowd for most of two hours.
Volf, a wiry, energetic, seasoned scholar, spoke of forgiveness and humility, all the while demonstrating his keen ability as both an orator and a compassionate listener.
He opened with an anecdote relating to the evening's topic. Illustrating the complexity of his cultural background and how that context shapes his own theology, he recounted what it was like growing up in Yugolsavia as a German/Slavic/Christian/Pentecostal/pacifist. That amazing conglomeration of cultural context put him, as a "white man," at the bottom rung of society in his country. To further illustrate the complexities of his interest in forgiveness, reconciliation, justice and ethnicity, he then noted his shift in status upon coming to America, where he is received as a prestigious Yale scholar and author--top of the rung!
This reminds me how much geography matters. Context is absolutely critical to the understanding of texts, whether those texts are biblical documents, works of art or people's lives.
Here are some of Volf's comments from the evening (many of which were originally tweets; follow me at @TimothyNeufeld).
What does it mean to remember rightly?
Victims have long memories. Perpetrators have short memories--they are quick to move on from the uncomfortable feelings.
Victims want to remember until there is justice.
Memory and forgiveness are intimately tied. You can't really forgive without remembering.
Every untruthful memory is an injurious memory, hurting the victim over again.
We never really know what we're doing when we forgive, that's what makes it forgiveness.
The command for the Hebrews was not, "Remember that you were slaves," but rather, "Remember that you were slaves AND that you were delivered."
Identity is shaped by oppression and liberation.
The goal of reconciliation is a community of love.
The heart of forgiveness is naming the injustice and not holding it against you,
Hell, a chamber of torture, does not resonate with memory, forgiveness, restoration and justice.
I know plenty of people who are saints whose stories will never be told. I know plenty of people who are made saints by virtue of their position and power whose stories are full of injustice.
Unforgiveness is not worthy of us as people who live in the fullness and new creation of Christ.
Forgiveness works with the past. It never predicts the future. That's why we must forgive again and again and again.
Forgiveness and punishment are not opposite; forgiveness and retribution are.
Truth is found as community brings victim and perpetrator together to write an account of that which is to be forgiven.
Our forgiveness of each other is a dark reflection, an echo, of God's forgiveness. When we forgive each other we participate in God's forgiveness. Ours is a shallow forgiveness compared to God. We will one day experience the fullness of our forgiveness in and through the consummation of God's forgiveness.
You grow into forgiveness after you have made your decision.
Inspiring. Challenging. Volf comes very close to saying that forgiveness is not just an important element of the gospel, but is essentially the entire gospel. It's certainly good news, especially considering our society's obsession with vindication and retribution.
In a post-9/11 world, we often hear the slogan, "Never forget," but this type of remembrance is usually enmeshed with other sentiments of hate, reprisal and revenge, all of which are counter to the Christian nature.
And that has me thinking about another theologian, albeit a reluctant one:
"You forgave, and I won't forget." -Marcus Mumford.