Healing Hatred in Rwanda: a book review

When John Steward arrived in Rwanda in 1997, three years after the genocide, he was greeted by Rwandans who told him in a friendly, but direct manner, “Welcome to Rwanda. You have a difficult job— and please don’t ask me to forgive anybody” (11). He was there to coordinate reconciliation and peacebuilding work. He began searching for models that emphasized ‘the process of healing, the journey of forgiveness and the possibility of reconciliation (13). He also wanted to sensitive to the African culture and context. Building on the work of Rwandan psychologist, Simon Gasibirege, they began holding Personal Development Workshops (PDW) which helped Tutsis, and Hutus work through the pain of genocide and racial tensions.

9781783688838From Genocide to Generosity tells the stories of those impacted by Steward’s work in Rwanda, testimonies of those who faced grief, rage, and deep wounds, and took steps towards reconciliation and healing. In his prologue, John Steward shares how he was prepared for his Rwandan work when eighteen months prior to his trip to Rwanda when his wife told him he needed to work on his attitude. He began attending a workshop called, “Men Exploring Non-Violent Solutions”—an anger-management course. Through doing his own inner work and observing the emotional healing of other participants (many of whom were court ordered attendees), he built a foundation for his Rwandan work.

My own understanding of the Rwandan Genocide has been mediated through films like Hotel Rwanda (2004), Beyond the Gate (2005), and books like Roméo Antonius Dallaire’s Shake Hands with the Devil (2003) and Jean Hatzfeld’s Machete Season (2003). Of these, only Hatzfeld’s book does the best job describing the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda, and from the perspective of convicted perpetrators of violence. Steward casts a wider net, sharing about the healing journey of both the victims and victimizers.

This book is part of the Langham Global Library (a ministry of the Langham Partnership) and was a 2015 INDIEFAB Book of the Year: Gold Award Winner in the category of Grief/Grieving. It is both heart-wrenching and inspiring, as you hear stories of how people have picked up the fragments of their life after a profound tragedy. I give this four stars. ★★★★

Notice of Material Connection: I received this book through the SpeakEasy Blog Review Program in exchange for my honest review

Beyond Just Indignation

It is an election year and I’m angry. You are too. The candidate who will win this election is the one whose supporters are most angry at either Trumpty Dumpty or Crooked Hillary. We are not all angry at the same things or for the same reasons, but we are mad. We may be angry because:

  • 2016-07-15-1468607338-43291-donaldtrumpangryTrump’s sexual-assault bragging and his cavalier dismissal of it as mere “locker-room-talk.”
  • The party of “family values” has chosen a serial adulterer, chauvinist, casino and strip-club owner as their champion.
  • Hillary’s 30,000 emails and the security risk they posed and the failure of the justice department to prosecute her.
  •  Those “illegal immigrants” that are over running our country and taking American jobs.
  • “Chai Nah.”
  • The demonizing of immigrant communities and xenophobia and failure to care for widows, orphans and  the alien.
  • The way rural Americans are excluded from political discourse.
  • The Republicans’ continuing failure to  take climate change seriously.
  • The Democrats’ failure to champion the unborn and  their support of late-term abortions.
  • Prolifers who don’t care about criminal justice reform, refugees and other vulnerable members of society.
  • Hillary Clinton is a two-faced politician with a public and private persona and she lies.
  • Trump’s near inability to tell the truth.
  • Hillary cheating to get the Democrat nod and manipulating the system and your vote.
  • hillary-angryThe Russians are trying to rig the election.
  • Security lapses  which led up to the Benghazi attacks while HRC was Secretary of State.
  • Racial bias in policing African American communities continues and has led to unjust killing of African Americans
  • Black Live Matters activists have the audacity to declare that black lives matter.
  • Obama doesn’t call a press conference when a police officer gets shot.
  • The way politicians pander to special interest.
  • The Main Stream Media’s bias strains credulity.
  • Common Core math is so hard right now.

This is not an exhaustive list. Maybe you are angry about something else, but if you aren’t angry you aren’t paying attention. Anger can be a great motivator. When we are angry, for good reasons, our anger can become a force of good, motivating us to action.

So anger itself isn’t the problem, as long as it isn’t motivated out by self-interest. Anger is the appropriate response to injustice. There are times you should be angry! When we see those who are suffering, and fail to “get angry,” we are complicit in systems of injustice (Sarah Sumner’s Angry Like Jesus, Fortress 2015, makes this point. See chapter 9). If we repress anger, it comes out in unhealthy ways.

Be angry, but know we all have blindspots. We side with the left or right and we all ignore inconvenient injustices. We relativize abortion or excuse the poor treatment of women. We claim to be strong on crime but ignore the cries of the wrongfully accused and the unjustly punished. We rage against terror but advocate war.  We champion institutions (Law & Order!) but excuse where systems grind people up. We see the speck in our neighbor’s eye and ignore the log in our own. Be angry but don’t be blind!

And anger is dangerous to our souls. Bitterness can blight the whole tree and we should take care what grows in us. So my suggestion this election cycle  is don’t let the daily news cycle poison you. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said this:

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48, emphasis mine).

Jesus declares enemy love is a defining characteristic of what it means to be children of our Father in heaven! When our anger leads to hate and bitterness, we lose. When anger at injustice drives us to love and pray for our enemies we are enlivened by the Spirit and set free to live towards the Kingdom coming. So does Hillary make you angry? Have you prayed for her? How about the Donald? Have you prayed for him? How do you demonstrate your love to those whose view of the world you find abhorrent?  I confess enemy love doesn’t characterize my life enough. It is easier to write others off and dismiss them. But when God’s anger burned against humanity, his response was to send Jesus to reconcile us to himself. Then he gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:18-21).

Does this mean we capitulate and stop being angry at injustice? Not at all. It means we rage, rant, act, call people to task and pray when people suffer because of the careless or willful actions of others. This doesn’t mean we excuse abuse, assault, lying, bulling, negligence or dehumanizing rhetoric. Real reconciliation will never gloss over injustice, but it will choose enemy love despite it. It means we call them to task while we pray for God’s grace to flood their soul.

Anger is part of what it means to be human. It is often the appropriate response. “Be angry but do not sin” (Ephesians 4:26). In contrast, enemy love is what it means to be a child of God. Don’t settle for just indignation if you serve the one who is reconciling all things to Himself.

Confession is Good for the Soul: an Introduction to the Seven Penitential Psalms

During last year’s Lent, I had a series of posts on the Seven Deadly Sins. Those posts were  a way for me to examine my heart, repent and explore alternative practices. This year I will look at the Seven Penitential Psalms.  These psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 142) were designated the Penitential Psalms in the 7th Century (though four of them were known as such much earlier). because of how suitably they expressed repentance.  In the Middle Ages they were recited after Lauds (Morning Prayer) on Fridays through Lent and were used in Medieval confessions.

These psalms help us pay attention to the way sin feels in us. When I looked at the Seven Deadly Sins, I was exploring how habitual sin affects us.  These reflections are somewhat different. The Psalms name the reality of sin in our lives and express sorrow for it. They also talk about what sin does to our heart, our minds, our bodies and our soul. So I invite you to read these Psalms along with me and trust that through Christ Jesus the grace of God extends to our sin-sick-souls.

The Penitentials  are an invitation to be clean, to be whole, and fully restored. When I compose my reflections on each of these Psalms I will not ask you to do anything. Instead I want to hold out the mercy of God. The Psalms utter our longings for wholeness and freedom. They also instruct us in way of freedom.

But I want to be honest with you. Confession is good for the soul but it is also hard. It is much easier to ignore your sin, shrug it off as no big deal than to take a long hard look at the way Sin stains our best efforts. I am a sinner but a poor penitent.  Absolution comes to those who confess but first we have to take a hard look at ourselves.   I do not know where these reflections will take me (us?) but I hope we will have the courage to repent and turn our hearts to God.