Catherine Larson Chat Transcript

Transcript, with links added, of the April 30 chat with Catherine Claire Larson, author of As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation From Rwanda (reviewed here).

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[Tom G] Good evening, Catherine, and welcome to Thinking Christian!

[Catherine Larson] Thanks Tom, I’m really glad to be joining you tonight!

[Tom G] It’s a privilege to have you here. We can wait a few moments, I think, and see who else may join in.

[Catherine Larson] That sounds good. I’ll stand by…

[Jay Jordan] join

[Tom G] Welcome, Jay.

[Catherine Larson] Welcome!

[Jay Jordan] This is my first visit.

[Catherine Larson] I thought that might be you! Did you see it on Facebook?

As We Forgive Book Cover[Jay Jordan] I sure did. I am very happy that your book is doing so well.

[Tom G] How are the sales going?

[Catherine Larson] I think they’ve been going well. The numbers on Amazon have been really strong. And it has already gone into a second printing.

[Jay Jordan] I never got any figures but understand they are in the second printing?

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[Tom G] Welcome, ahc!

[Catherine Larson] Glad you could make it!

[ahc] Me too! Andy Crouch here. Such a fan of this book I just had to sign on and say hi.

[Catherine Larson] Aw, it’s great you could drop by!

[Tom G] Catherine, could you share with us some of your personal experience of what it was like researching this book?

[Catherine Larson] Sure Tom, let’s see where to begin. For one thing, interviewing Rwandans was a really emotional journey for me. I had to really deeply enter into their personal stories of grief and tragedy.

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[Catherine Larson] And then as I tried to put their stories to words, I really felt like I had to, in a sense, walk their journeys vicariously. It was a very heavy several months of writing. But at the same time I also saw how clearly the hope of Christ shines through these men and women. I was so blessed to see real life examples of the grace of God right before my eyes.

[Tom G] It sounds like a wonderful but wrenching kind of experience.

[Catherine Larson] I spent a lot of time reading and researching before I left for Rwanda.

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[Catherine Larson] Once there, it was just a whirlwind of non-stop interviewing. I really didn’t have a lot of time to process while I was there, so a lot of that had to happen when I came back.

[ahc] [hoping I’m not interrupting … not sure of the chat etiquette] Have any of you had the chance to read Philip Gourevitch’s piece in the New Yorker this week? Catherine, I’d be really interested in your take on it.

[Catherine Larson] I’ve only read the abstract online. Did you get to see it AHC?

[ahc] I just read it this morning. It’s pretty interesting . . . among other things he didn’t find anyone who was really happy with the gacaca system . . . . . . neither victims nor perpetrators . . . . . . though he seems to think it is an acceptable solution. But he definitely doesn’t see it as real reconciliation, which leads to my question . . .

[Catherine Larson] Gacaca has a lot of faults, even for its good points.

[ahc] . . . which is how do you think the kinds of personal, church-mediated reconciliation you describe in your book fits with the gacaca system?

[Tom G] It may be helpful to define gacaca for those who might not have read the book

[Catherine Larson] I really think gacaca is only the beginning. For those of you who may not be as familiar, gacaca is justice on the grass. It is an ancient tribal system of justice that was resurrected to deal with the genocide cases. In it, they elect elders from the town who hear the grievances and then work toward solutions. But in gacaca there is no formal representation as there is here in our legal system. Getting back to the question, gacaca was put in place because Rwanda’s legal system was wiped out after the genocide. Most of the lawyers and judges were killed and those who weren’t were exiled. They had hundreds of thousands of crimes to deal with and no system to bring justice. When you look at how slow the International Criminal Tribunal has been you see also that that would be no way to bring justice to the masses. They needed something and this was what the war-torn country adopted. But from everything people told me gacaca only brought people so far. It brought criminals forward to confess and ask for forgiveness. It brought them face to face with survivors and other extended family, but in most cases it didn’t get them all the way.

[ahc] So would the stories you describe have taken place largely after the gacaca process had played out?

[Catherine Larson] Yes.

[Tom G] What made the difference when it did get them all the way?

[Mr. Tumnus] join

[Catherine Larson] Well, forgiveness and confession are processes. You don’t usually just wake up one morning and say, “I was wrong about my whole way of thinking.” Many of the offenders who have had true changes of heart have had a time of learning about the history of Rwanda. They have also learned about the nature of sin and they’ve learned about the grace of God. For the people I interviewed who have been able to forgive, they likewise had a process, one which usually included someone mediating or at least suggesting that forgiveness could be an option forward. [some words lost here] reconciliation, in my opinion, are doing the heart work–and the hard work of bringing Rwandans together. Does that make sense?

[Jay Jordan] join

[Mr. Tumnus] join

[Catherine Larson] oops, I just lost connection, but I’m back. I guess we all did.

[Mark] join

[Main Chat Admin] I’m not sure what caused that… glad we’re back.

[ahc] join

[Catherine Larson] We’re doing pretty good though for a first time chat, though, right?

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[sabarbra] join What you were just saying does make sense, in context of the book especially

[sabarbra] join

[Main Admin] Hope this doesn’t lose connection again! There’s no indication of the cause for that happening.

[Mark] join

[Catherine Larson] I’m back.

[Tom G] join

[Tom G] Did you have opportunity really to see that a Christian context for forgiveness made a difference, as compared to other approaches?

[Catherine Larson] I would say that I really saw Christian contexts creating true reconciliation. And I would say that others commented frequently that there were two types of forgiveness going on in Rwanda today one is a forgiveness from the heart and the other is a technical forgiveness, it is more like what we’d call a pardon When people talked about the latter, they meant what was happening in gacaca. When they talked about the former, they meant what was happening through the work of churches and other mediation groups. They meant a true, from the heart forgiveness. I did interview Christians and non-Christians alike. I did not find any stories that were compelling enough to pursue among those who did not profess faith.

[Tom G] When I was writing a synopsis of the Rosaria story, I wondered, “will people think this is too good to be true?” This blog has a number of atheist/skeptic readers…

[Catherine Larson] In a sense, the Gospel is too good to be true.

[Tom G] But there is, in many of the stories you related, an amazing happy ending.

[Catherine Larson] I would say a hopeful ending. They still have to wrestle with their decision to forgive when new wounds emerge.

[Tom G] That’s a good way to put it.

[Catherine Larson] And there are many financial and physical tolls to what they went through. I could give lots of examples of that. But I wanted to show readers what I saw and that is there is hope in the eyes of the people who are reaching toward the light. And that hope is the breeding ground for more hope. By the way, Tom, thank you for sharing a bit of your own personal experience in your review. I’m sure what you’ve experienced makes that difficult.

[Tom G] You’re welcome. It doesn’t compare with the Rwandans’s stories, but it does show it’s not just “over there” somewhere.

[Catherine Larson] Yeah, I’ve been amazed as people have shared how these stories touch them.

[Tom G] The book was an emotionally wrenching read for me, but the hardest part wasn’t so much in the stories of pain and loss… It was in recognizing the sheer power of the Gospel at work. It made me wonder how much of God’s greatness there is, that I’ve never yet experienced or imagined.

[Catherine Larson] I agree.

[Tom G] The stories were awful in the beginning, awe-ful in their outcomes. I mean in the sense of “awesome” of course.

[Catherine Larson] Of course.

[Tom G] Mark and sabarbra, do you have any thoughts or questions for Catherine?

[Catherine Larson] I had to laugh when Publisher’s Weekly called my stories “awful” in the same sense.

[Tom G] I can imagine!

[Mark] I’m just enjoying the conversation.

[Catherine Larson] Glad to hear it!

[Tom G] Where do you go from here with this, Catherine?

[Catherine Larson] How do you mean?

[Tom G] I know you’re promoting the book, of course. Is there a further tie-in to Prison Fellowship and its North American Ministries, too? Or more advocacy for Rwanda and its people… Or helping others learn to discover peace? Or….?

[Catherine Larson] Well, right now I’m really promoting ways for people to get involved in the ongoing work of reconciliation. I’ve done this all on my own time, and I’m trying to give visibility to all the groups doing good work there, not just Prison Fellowship. One exciting thing is the launch of the Living Bricks Campaign. My friend, Laura Waters Hinson, whose film of the same name inspired my book has worked with Prison Fellowship International to launch the Living Bricks Campaign. Basically, it’s an opportunity for people to give to help ex-prisoners visibly show their remorse and repentance by building homes for survivors. They supply the labor and man-power and we help to supply the material costs. The villages being built are like the one that Rosaria and Saveri are now living in. They are villages of reconciled communities. So I’m really excited to help promote that.

[Tom G] Sounds great–where is this being done?

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[Catherine Larson] I’ve got information on that as well as groups like Land of a Thousand Hills Coffee, which works in reconciliation on my website.

[Tom G] Welcome, Travis

[Travis] Hello!

[Catherine Larson] They’ve only just launched the Living Bricks campaign. I’m not sure yet which part of Rwanda will be the first area where the villages are built. The Umuvumu village is in the south. And yes, welcome Travis! But in terms of next projects for me.. I really like narrative non-fiction. I hope that I can bring other stories to life that will inspire people. My husband and I have already been talking about one project that we think has a lot of potential.

[Tom G] You do well with it. As I wrote in my review, I was impressed with your ability to share the heart of such a difficult situation without sensationalizing it.

[Catherine Larson] Thank you!

[Tom G] Can you share more about that next project, or do we have to wait and see?

[Catherine Larson] I think you’ll have to wait and see. Its still in the embryo stage right now…

[Tom G] Travis, do you have any thoughts or questions for Catherine?

[Travis] Well, I’ve got an inside scoop on some of the future projects…and trust me, they’re great ideas. Catherine is a great writer and it’s a blessing to know her!

[sabarbra] Hello, Catherine. I am curious whether you have any general observations about the African Christians that we here in the US should emulate?

[Catherine Larson] That’s a good question. Those who have been through this process of healing really have a desire that their stories bless others. I was impressed that when I was talking to an orphan like Claude, he was already looking beyond hoping that the reconciliation he was experiencing in Rwanda could bless the Great Lakes region of Rwanda. Joy likewise was hopeful that her story could help people in the West learn to forgive. I think that spirit about the things God teaches us through our trials is a spirit which we would do well to emulate.

[Travis] Did they have any specific vision for “the nations” or were they more concerned (understandably) with fellow Rwandans?

[Catherine Larson] In Claude’s case, his vision is really for the war-torn regions of Congo, Uganda, Sudan.

[Travis] Wow.

[Tom G] There’s plenty right there

[Catherine Larson] No kidding. God blesses vision like that I think. And faith like that.

[Tom G] I’ve been sharing with American Christians that if we think we are the face of Christianity, we’re dead wrong, numerically. And it’s not just numeric, is it?

[Catherine Larson] The Global South God is moving there in amazing ways.

[sabarbra] I was touched by the “no strings attached” forgiveness that accepted the apology as genuine. I think that American Christians often want to do more conditional forgiving.

[Catherine Larson] And also forgiving that is more of a personal internal act… like Dr. Phil says, “Forgiveness is a choice I make to release myself from anger, bitterness, and pain.” It’s a more one-side view of forgiveness. It’s more about “me.”

[sabarbra] That’s very true.

[Catherine Larson] Contrast that with the “costly grace” that Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes about. Forgiveness is costly. And extending forgiveness is a gracious gift. Sometimes even a risky one. Well, Tom, do you think that’s a good place to close?

[Tom G] I do, unless there are any final thoughts from someone else

[Travis] Thank you for sharing, Catherine!

[Tom G] Thank you for being with us here, and thank you for bringing us the stories of reconciliation from Rwanda!

[Mark] I just want to say thanks to Catherine for taking the time tonigt to share with us.

[Tom G] Thank you to all who have been here.

[sabarbra] Thanks! May your book continue to bring hope to its readers!

[Catherine Larson] And thank you Tom and everyone! It’s been a joy to share a bit more about what God is doing in Rwanda today.

[Tom G] You’re welcome!

[Mark] quit

[Tom G] That will end the chat, then, though it will stay open on your screen until you close this window. Good night!

[Catherine Larson] Good night! — Thanks again, Tom.

As We Forgive: Stories of Reconciliation From Rwanda, by Catherine Claire Larson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. Paperback, 284 pages. Amazon Price US$12.47.

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