finding forgiveness in the footnotes

Today is Wednesday. Wednesday is a study day. Usually I do not like Wednesdays. Today I have enjoyed the day because I guess, for the first time in ages, I am starting to look at something that really interests me because this investigation, for sake of a better term, has arisen out of my normal everyday stuff that I do as the pioneer curate from Rochester Cathedral.

I have become very aware of confession and forgiveness. A good number of encounters I have had with people has involved people ‘confessing’ and, I think, wanting to hear from another human being that they are ‘ok’. That’s pretty basically outlined although in reality I think what I have an am experiencing is much more complex that that.

As a spin off this whole area actually excites and interests me because I don’t think the church is seen as a place of forgiveness. In my conversations with various characters it is seen very much as the place of condemnation with people feeling unable to walk inside through fear of being judged. Jesus is, however, all about forgiveness and acceptance. If some people are seeking forgiveness and acceptance then interest in the character of Jesus, away from the church, may well help those people in their personal quests.

I have lots of questions around this issue, such as ‘what are people looking for with ‘forgiveness’?’, ‘why do people feel a need to confess?’, ‘what is a priest or anyone doing in absolution and with what right?’, ‘is forgiveness/confession more beneficial to the person being forgiven or to the forgiver?’. Those are just a few of the many I have in my growing list.

One surprising thing I learned recently was that there is precious little research on this and no one really started to investigate forgiveness until the 1980’s. Today I discovered a gem from the John Templeton Foundation (its amazing what you can find if you browse the footnotes). Between 1999 and 2005 they funded 46 scientific research projects that were primarily looking at forgiveness. You can see these projects here. I have not looked in any massive depth yet, but it looks to be some quite interesting and unique stuff here.

I’m off to read some more …. but if you have any reflections or know of any research that may be useful for me I’d love to hear from you – thanks!

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