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March 2009

World Magazine Reviews As We Forgive

March 27, 2009
By Catherine Larson

I'm very thankful for the string of positive reviews As We Forgive has been getting. Here's another from the latest edition of World Magazine. This is by Susan Olasky:

As We Forgive | Catherine Claire Larson
Catherine Claire Larson traveled to Rwanda to learn about the forgiveness journeys of both victims and perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. She tells the victims' brutal stories of murder, rape, and betrayal, and also tells the murderers' stories of joining the killing madness and (in some cases) becoming weighed down by guilt and shame. Larson describes face-to-face meetings between the guilty and the innocent, and how repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation occurred. She sensitively conveys her subjects' stories and pulls from them lessons about forgiveness that all of us must learn.

Corroborating "The Truth About Forgiveness"

March 27, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Since Sunday, folks have been telling me about the Washington Post Magazine's piece The Truth About Forgiveness. I finally had the chance to read it today and was blown away. The story follows Bernard Williams and the murder of his son nicknamed Beethoven by a neighbor William Norman. The writer, Karen Houppart, does a fantastic job recreating not only the crime, but the subsequent meeting in prison between this bereaved father and the neighbor who killed his son. I won't give away the ending but there is definite movement toward forgiveness and reconciliation in this piece.

It struck me while I was reading it that this is the same story I've told in As We Forgive, only in a different context. The chronology is even the same. This murder happened in Baltimore in 1994. The murders I write about happened in Rwanda in 1994. And so the length of time that has gone by for the bereaved is also the same. The methods used to bring healing are very much the same: restorative encounters between offender and victim, marked by remorse and repentance on behalf of the guilty and risk and radical grace on behalf of the offended. The truths that get them there transcend context.

The writer mentions a movement in our society toward embracing forgiveness, not just for those from a religious background, but by scientific research also. Here's a snippet:

While spiritual leaders have long asked folks to accept the benefits of forgiveness on faith, the secular world has lately jumped on the bandwagon -- and proffered scientific evidence to support this view.

She goes on to cite some studies by Dr. Everett Worthington, one of the leading researchers on forgiveness, and an expert I also frequently cite in my book.

I'm delighted to see mainstream media picking up on stories like this because it brings restorative justice to the attention and understanding of ordinary people, and holds out an alternative to the bitterness that can hold the victim in bonds as strong as those that bind the perpetrator.

Here's a great related video the Post linked to on restorative justice efforts:

And a second video:

Publishers' Weekly Plugs As We Forgive

March 25, 2009
By Catherine Larson


Books Bring Home Wrenching Conflicts in Africa
by Elizabeth Eisenstadt Evans -- Publishers Weekly, 3/23/2009

Neither author Chris Herlinger nor photographer Paul Jeffrey could have predicted that their book on Darfur would be published just as events in the Sudanese region hit still another crisis point, with Sudan President Omar Hassan-Al Bashir responding to his arrest warrant by expelling humanitarian aid groups. Where Mercy Fails: Darfur’s Struggle to Survive (Seabury Press, March) illuminates both the plight and the resilience of the millions of refugees who have fled in the face of attacks by government forces and militia known as Janjaweed.

“There’s a tendency to convert these people into helpless victims. They’re not,” said Jeffrey, a photojournalist for the United Methodist Church. Of the 60 countries he’s covered, he added, Darfur’s images of suffering and struggle stayed with him long after editing the pictures back in the United States. Herlinger’s narration features extensive interviews with refugees and aid workers, while it also explores the dilemmas faced by Westerners attempting humanitarian intervention.

Bill Falvey, publicity and special sales manager at Church Publishing, which owns Seabury, characterizes the book’s market as humanitarian. Special outreach to faith-based groups includes author appearances and signings at offices of Church World Service, where Herlinger works, and to Schools of Christian Mission, educational programs offered by United Methodist Women. “Both evangelical and mainline news associations are included in this particular (publicity) campaign,” said Falvey, underlining the book’s emphasis on how Darfur has provided common ground for humanitarian activism by both groups. In addition, there is “fairly significant” marketing to secular media and readers that includes an early April launch event in New York.

Rwanda, another African country with a history of bloodshed, is the subject of two new Zondervan books. As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation from Rwanda by Claire Larson (Feb.) examines reconciliation in the lives of 14 Rwandans -- victims, orphans and perpetrators of the massacre that killed 800,000 of their countrymen. Mirror to the Church: Resurrecting Faith after Genocide in Rwanda by Emmanuel Katongole with Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (Feb.) explores the meaning of global Christian hope in the wake of the mass killings.

“Right now, there is significant mainstream media interest as well as Christian media interest for both books,” said Karen Campbell, Zondervan director of public relations, adding that the publisher anticipates heightened interest as the 15th anniversary of the slaughter approaches. Author appearances and book-signings are scheduled across the country and both volumes are doing well, she said.

Relevant Magazine Reviews As We Forgive

March 25, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Review: As We Forgive, by Josh Wilson, Relevant Magazine online

To most people, the horror and aftermath of genocide is a completely foreign idea. It’s a newspaper headline, a faint memory of a missionary story or an unknown crisis altogether. For Rwandans, it is an unforgettable part of daily life. Catherine Claire Larson outlines the situation of Rwanda’s 1994 genocide and its lingering presence in her recent book As We Forgive.

The book, which is based on Laura Waters Hinson’s film, is a collection of first-hand stories of those most directly affected by genocide’s ruthless blade: the orphans, widows and killers. Life goes on after the genocide, but now former murderers must coexist with victims. Larson explores the only solution capable of peace and healing for Rwanda’s deep wounds—forgiveness.

Larson relates beautifully written stories of pre-genocide home, family and daily Rwandan life to a recent event that changed everything. In 2003, 40,000 convicted genocide perpetrators were released back into society due to overcrowded prisons. Larson writes of the unavoidable interaction of these prisoners (and those that continue to be released since then) with those they previously hunted, the Tutsi people.

Larson tells the escape stories of seven main characters who narrowly survived the native Hutu people’s attempt to eradicate the Tutsis. The narrative follows the survivors and their difficult journeys gradually leading to forgiveness of those who wronged them. Larson includes survivors’ stories that range from their escape, the slaughter of their family and friends, physical injury and torment, and hiding in the mud or brush for days. These survivors escaped death, but their family, friends and former way of life did not. The author shows how the shattered lives of these victims are being restored through forgiveness and reconciliation. She shares their stories of facing the very ones responsible for killing their loved ones and destroying their lives. In the process, the victims as well as the offenders find peace.

The sheer dramatic nature of these stories is enough to keep your interest. In the complexity and gravity of these stories of forgiveness, the reconciliation that Larson writes of is almost ironic or unnatural—former murderers and their victims’ family members living side-by-side in peace—but beautiful. Comprehending these scenarios gave me some insight into the nature of forgiveness that I hadn’t thought of before. If the reader is struggling with some kind of forgiveness, they only need to look at these lives to realize that their struggles pale in comparison.

In telling the accounts of real-life forgiveness, Larson analyzes the spiritual and psychological struggles and solutions of victims between chapters of her stories. She breaks down what the reader may initially tend to simplify and shows the nature of forgiveness and how people get there. Her analysis strives to go beyond skimming the surface of forgiveness and establishes the path to reconciliation and peace. She outlines the efforts, people and organizations that are reaching out to surviving Rwandan victims. She shows through her characters that the only way to experience complete forgiveness is through God’s grace.

As We Forgive sheds light on the movement in Rwanda toward reconciliation and explores personal stories of healing in the most unlikely ways. Throughout the book, an extreme importance is placed on forgiveness—something that is so often overlooked or buried for those living without such extreme circumstances. These are stories that most people will never know or experience, but Larson hopes they can inspire her readers to experience reconciliation in their own relationships.

As We Forgive Book-signings

March 23, 2009
By Catherine Larson

I had two book-signings this past weekend. The first one was at my local Borders Bookstore in Sterling, Virginia.  This photograph below with my husband was taken at the end of my four hours there. As you can see, at the end of the time, there were only 3 copies left on the shelf--so all in all a good showing. It was encouraging to talk with several book-lovers who had an interest and curiosity about Africa and what is happening today in Rwanda.

Borders pic   

Also, this past weekend, I signed books at Immanuel Bible Church in Springfield, Virginia. What a joy to meet so many there who have traveled to Rwanda and who have likewise been touched by the forgiveness they have witnessed in the heart of the Rwandans they have met. It was an honor to share with the Women of Faith group a little bit about my experiences, and hear of theirs.

IBC booksigning      Book-signng outdoor sign

Part Four of Six Part Interview with Author Mary DeMuth on As We Forgive

March 23, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Today, part four of the six week interview with Mary DeMuth appeared on her blog, My Family Secrets. The discussion today centered around the eight stages of genocide and the similarities we see in the downward spiral in interpersonal relationships. Here's an excerpt:

1. On page 226, you describe the 8 stages of genocide. What are they?
The International Campaign to End Genocide has identified eight stages of genocide: (1) classification, (2) symbolization, (3) dehumanization, (4) organization, (5) polarization, (6) preparation, (7) extermination, and (8) denial.
Classification involves an us-versus-them mentality. In genocide, these categories develop along racial, ethnic, or religious lines. Such differences may be symbolized in the culture negatively. This may take the form of a literal symbol, such as in Nazi Germany where the Star of David was used to target Jews. Many times a symbol will also be dehumanizing, as in the use of the word “cockroaches” to describe Tutsi in Rwanda.  As the differences between groups are negatively characterized and classified, dehumanization increases as does further polarization between the groups.

2. How do some dysfunctional childhood families emulate some of those stages?
On a much less extreme scale, it is interesting to note the similarities between the downward spiral of genocide and what psychologist John Gottman has labeled the four most likely predictors of divorce: criticism, defensiveness, contempt, and stonewalling. Differences are classified and verbalized with absolute statements such as “You never” or “You always.” Spouses become polarized. Contempt for the other solidifies.  Contempt—an intense feeling or attitude of regarding someone or something as inferior, base, or worthless—is only a step away from dehumanization. The result is that some spouses may stonewall or deaden their feelings toward each. They have closed out the other—a psychological exterminating of the other’s presence. Of course, severely dysfunction families may actually use physical violence as well.

It's interesting how physical or emotional abuse often follows similar patterns of separation and dehumanization before moving to more intense forms of physical or emotional harm. Seeing another person in light of our shared humanity, as another human made in the image of God, can alternatively enable us to treat the other with respect and dignity. For  the full interview, check here.

A Forgiveness as Old as St. Patty's Day

March 17, 2009
By Catherine Larson

Perhaps St. Patrick has a truth we need today. Patrick, the man behind St. Patty’s Day, grew up in an aristocratic family in Britain. But at sixteen, pirates invaded his hometown, captured, and sold him into slavery in Ireland. After six years of captivity, Patrick escaped, but the Irish never left his heart.

At forty-eight, Patrick, motivated by his Christian faith, returned to Ireland. There he spent the rest of his life returning grace to those who had formerly been his captors. The result? In his lifetime 700 churches were planted, and 1000 priests were ordained. So here’s a St. Patty’s Day question: are you a slave to your circumstances or are you taking every opportunity captive for good? When you open the door to forgiveness, there’s no telling how many doors may open to you.

As We Forgive: In Print, On Air, or In Person

March 17, 2009
By Catherine Larson

In the third addition of my six-part Q&A with author Mary DeMuth, I talk about fear conditioning, triggers and unforgiveness. Read part three of the ongoing interview here.

Also, today on The Point radio Mark Earley featured As We Forgive. You can listen to the audio of the short program here.

If you're in the Northern Virginia or Baltimore area, I hope you'll consider attending one of my upcoming events. On Saturday, March 21st, I'll be signing books at Borders Bookstore in Sterling. On Sunday, I'll be at Immanuel Bible Church. And on April 1st, I'll be speaking at a round-table with the Indego group. That Friday, April 3rd I'll be at Howard Community College. Check back to my events page for more details.

As We Forgive: The Journey Continues

March 12, 2009
By Catherine Larson

It's been an exciting week. I've been on the road (seven stops in seven days) and so it's been a bit of a challenge posting regularly. But I want to let you all know of some great coverage As We Forgive has received in recent weeks.

Yestereday on BreakPoint radio, Chuck Colson encouraged listeners across America to get a copy of As We Forgive. Crosswalk picked up the commentary also, so I'm sure there are a few new folks stopping by the website. Thanks for visiting!

On Monday, Jared Wilson interviewed me and reviewed the book over on his blog. Thanks for the great review, Jared, and for helping spread word of the needs in Rwanda today.

Also on Monday, part two of a six part Q&A series with author Mary DeMuth appeared on her blog Family Secrets.  You can read part one here and part two here, and I'll be linking more in the weeks to come. Her new novel Daisy Chain was released March 1 and is already getting excellent reviews.

What a joy it was this past week to connect personally with so many friends and new faces across Central Florida from Tampa to Orlando to up and down the East Coast. Sharing about restorative justice at the Synergy Conference and talking about forgiveness at Reformed Theological Seminary were two highlights of my trip.

Oh and did I mention that as of tonight, As We Forgive is listed as the number 3 most popular book on Africa on Amazon.com? That's a nice way to round out a week that was equal parts exhausting and exhilirating!