Author's Preface
Discovering Forgiveness
Pathways Through Injury, Apology, and Healing

A growing number of publishers have established a series of books in peacemaking and conflict studies. The best volumes, in my opinion, are those which are academically sound but accessible to the non-scholarly reader. They are helpful not only because they present well-researched ideas (theory) to those less likely to avail themselves of more scholarly works (practitioners) but also because they recognize that students and even scholars want clear, readable, and comprehensible volumes on topics of interest. Before I knew that Cascadia would be my publisher, I set out to produce a book of this kind whether part of such a series or not. That is one objective of this book.

At one point in the development of peace-focused series entries, I noted a surprising and obvious gap in the selected topics: no works on forgiveness. I sensed a need for such a volume among both scholars and practitioners and developed an interest in bringing together some twenty-five years of experience and exposure to a variety of perspectives I had encountered during that time. Thus I set out to put my own thoughts on the subject into a single volume. To paraphrase Frederick Buechner, I saw this as a small way to fulfill my calling to peace education by finding a place to have one of the world’s deepest needs come together with my own deep passion.

A key element of my passion is theological. As a follower of Jesus for more than three decades, I have always felt both inspired and challenged by his example and call to peace, justice, reconciliation, and healing. My membership in the Anabaptist faith community was originally and continues to be an affirmation of my commitment to such ideals and practices by my adopted religious tradition, and vice versa. Though my interest led me to a degree in Theology at Fuller Theological Seminary, I am no theologian, nor is this a theological volume per se. Nevertheless, although not all of my peacemaking work, nor that of my students, is rooted in a particular religious or theological context, whether explicit or not, I have felt it important as a follower of the Prince of Peace to integrate my faith theologically with my identified academic discipline and here with forgiveness in particular.

Thus, narratives such as the Genesis (37-50) account of Joseph and his brothers, the Forgiving Father (Luke 15:11-32, typically referred to as the Prodigal Son), and various aspects of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) offer insight and guidance to the other disciplinary perspectives on conflict and forgiveness, even if not explored explicitly or in significant detail here. 

It is particularly satisfying when, in the course of the integration enterprise, one discovers empirical support from the social cciences, for example, for a principle highlighted in these ancient narratives. And still more is to be gained from actual theologians who have worked hard to expand our understanding of such matters. All that to say that I have allowed this work to be theologically informed in the broadest sense of that word, providing both motivation and insight.

As a way of assuring the reader that the feet of this work are planted firmly on the ground, let me note the hope that this book will have practical significance. I hope it will make a difference for those who themselves journey or walk with others in situations where forgiveness is needed or desired. 

This is important for me because I have found myself in such settings over the last twenyt-five years. While serving with the Mennonite Central Committee in Labrador, Canada, I had the enormous privilege of working with people in Aboriginal communities whose very identities were under threat. Historically, these were people who were relocated and suffered all manner of oppression and abuse—not a prime context for for forgiveness. Once a community leader, having been asked by the church for forgiveness of past abuses, simply refused to extend it. And I’ll never forget, returning to the United States to news that a young man from a village I had worked with closely had committed suicide. He had been unable to find freedom from his fear that he might abuse own son as he had been abused when growing up.

These were the kind of realities that opened my eyes to the challenges of forgiveness. But I also knew the Aboriginal communities there to be forgiving of their own and of others (including mef from time to time) out of concern for the healing they knew was integral to their survival no matter the threat. One cannot write a book about forgiveness without constantly holding it up to such experiences and demanding that it wrestle with the reality of the challenges they present.

The reception this work has had even before publication undergirds my hopes for it. Within my network of colleagues, friends, members of my faith community, practitioners and other peacemakers, awareness of my work on this book has led to numerous opportunities to present what I have been learning. Though I wish it were true, because the book has not yet been available I cannot rightly claim that its insight or popularity was the source of this interest. However, it does testify to broad interest, widespread curiosity, and deeply felt need related to forgiveness.

This has very little to do with the existence of books on the subject and virtually everything to do with the almost daily human experience of life as filled with painful and unresolved conflict. I know this to be true in my own life. I have also been humbled by those who have shared the challenges and pain of their experience as they have invited me to discuss what I’ve come to learn about our collective journey down the pathways through injury, apology, and healing.
Larry Dunn, Pasadena, California


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