Letters - 03 November 2017

From the power of forgiveness to beauty and ugliness

Power of forgiveness

The ‘Thought for the Week’ by Mike Lambrix and the article by Jan Arriens (20 October) highlight the inner struggle we all experience, and the power of forgiveness.

Recently I invited Jean Paul Samputu, from Rwanda, to speak to the West Berkshire Peace and Integration Forum. The audience was deeply moved by his experiences following the 1994 Rwandan genocide when 800,000 people perished. His parents, brothers and sister were among those murdered – by Vincent, his childhood friend. Jean Paul had headed down a nine-year path of self-destruction, of drink and drugs, before realising that his biggest enemy was within himself.

Those in the audience, which was well supported by Newbury Quakers, were riveted by his song ‘You become what you don’t forgive’. One verse goes: ‘The enemy is not the other. The enemy is your anger.’ Jean Paul forgave for his own sake, but his forgiveness also restored Vincent’s humanity.

Another speaker, on ‘The Enemy Within’, was a young Muslim woman who shared the experience of her inner struggle between wanting to party and drink with her friends, but also to be a good Muslim. She related this to the concept of the greater jihad – confronting the enemy within.

The following day Jean Paul shared his story and songs with 200 upper sixth students at a local comprehensive school. The students caught just a glimpse of the realm to which Jan Arriens refers, and were able to ponder the power of forgiveness in their own relationships.

Howard Grace

Border Meetings

Reg Snowdon (22 September) expresses amazement that the Brussels Border Meeting report (15 September) made no reference to Brexit.

Border Meetings have been taking place annually since 1957, when continental Friends decided to meet, informally, to renew the bonds severed by war, emphasising reconciliation. Today, as then, the Friends – continental, British and Irish – attending Border Meetings come, not as representatives, but as individuals who appreciate this unique weekend of communal worship, exploration and friendship. There is neither a standing committee, nor any requirement to write minutes.

In recent years, Brexit has overshadowed the lives of many Border Meeting enthusiasts. Several, in the UK and elsewhere, have been active in protest and in encouraging each other. We grieve for the threat Brexit poses to European unity and peace, for the damage it is inflicting on Britain, and, in the case of expatriates, for the anxiety about our status as citizens or residents of our ‘adopted’ countries.

Our 2016 theme in Strasbourg was ‘Borders’. This year it was ‘Living with the other’, both highly relevant to Brexit debates. In our deliberations Brexit often seemed to be looming over us, a spectre now so familiar and unloved that we evidently didn’t feel the need to mention it by name. But we remain only too aware of it.

Nevertheless the meeting was joyful, with much laughter and real understanding between participants of different ages, languages, nationalities and cultures. Perhaps this is something we Quakers can ‘do about Brexit’.

Janet Kreysa

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