A full house chiefly composed of attendees from outside the University of Redlands community congregated in Orton Hall on Nov. 19th. They came to receive the thoughts of the evening’s speaker, Dr. Miroslav Volf. The event was titled, “Bridges of Peace from Shadows of Grief: An event with Miroslav Volf to Reflect on the Events of Last December.” The night was co-sponsored by the Redlands Area Interfaith Council and the University of Redlands. This event functioned as a community response to acts of division and violence, specifically as consequence of the public shooting that occurred in San Bernardino on Dec. 2, 2015.
Professor of Religious Studies, Bill Maury-Holmes initiated the event. Following was a panelist of speakers each representing one of the world’s principal religions, including Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Sikhism. They vocalized their personal thoughts and channeled the messages of the Dalai Lama, the Koran, and other world leaders and influential texts.
Soon after, St. Cecilia’s Children’s Choir assembled on the stage, performing a peace song accompanied by Pianist, Jeffrey H. Rickard, and Flutist, Victoria Batta.
After a few more speakers, Dr. Miroslav Volf entered the stage. Dr. Volf was the son of a Pentecostal pastor, and his coming of age took place in Croatia, where he experienced an environment of social unrest. He acquired his Masters Degree from the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif. and his PhD from Germany’s University of Tubingen. Now, he is an author and professor of systematic theology. In the following hour, he delineated a lucid intellectual sermon. He spoke with a gentle, but enthusiastic humility.
In his opening remarks, he acknowledged and thanked the unseen work of the event’s organizers. He then framed this social gathering as a communal, intentional act of remembrance. He recognized a variety of subjects to be remembered: the lives lost, the lives closely intertwined with those lost, the hours, days, and months spent in mourning, torn social fabric, and those who build bridges. Additionally, we remember so that those gone can live on in our memories. In the body of his speech, he detailed a few avenues for response and action available to those who have suffered trauma and acts of terror. Specifically, he explicated the intimately intertwined relationship between the concepts of identity and memory.
First, drawing on the history of his mother country, Dr. Volf explained the danger of memory. The Yugoslavian wars, he said, resulted from people remembering all too well. They used those memories to justify actions of vengeance. Furthermore, memories are pliable, they can be molded to serve and benefit the individual. They can be conflated to leverage the victim’s sense of nobility. Just as a fisher’s description of his catch embellishes upon each narration, he said, we too, conform memory to our own expectations and hopes. These are what he called, “unjust memories.” He also explained that one can be mercifully unjust, pardoning someone who has committed harm.
Given these dangers, Dr. Volf emphasized an opposing concept: “remembering rightly”.
Three elements–truth, freedom, and solidarity– compose remembering rightly.
Remembering is not mere repetition of the past, he said. The process of freedom is to resist the colonizing endeavors of memory. Memory has the capacity to colonize one’s entire identity in the present and future. The hand of violation reaches into the future and colonizes the very project of life itself. Additionally, remembering rightly means guarding ourselves from repeating the patterns we have suffered from a third party. Remembering, however, can be an act of therapy. He continued to say that we must resist the idea that we must organize our lives around ensuring our safety.
The foundation of peacebuilding, Dr. Volf stated, is forgiveness. The action of forgiveness confers power from the perpetrator to the victim, because it asserts that something wrong was committed and shifts the perpetrator into a position of accountability. Through forgiveness one claims the moral high ground. As a product, one can be susceptible to a form of self-important forgiveness, which, Dr. Volf said, undermines the very goal one hopes to achieve with forgiveness. Its aim, ultimately, is to reestablish the wrongdoer back into the community through a path of restoration.
He warned of the susceptibility of losing one’s humanity if overtaken by memory. If one follows the three-pronged structure Dr. Volf outlined in his concept of right memory, one can actively negotiate the development of one’s identity, and mitigate the persisting effects of violence. In his closing remarks, he shared the idea that peace is a journey, and not an end. In response, the Redlands community affirmed its commitment to infusing peace into the culture of the city. A group of students read a written proclamation, establishing the week of Nov. 27 to Dec 3 as an inaugural Redlands Peace Week. The vision of this document is as follows:
“The citizens of Redlands desire to enhance mutual understanding, promote non-violence, and encourage goodwill at a time when our hearts turn in compassion toward all who have been the victims of terror…. We desire to make peace a way of being in our city of Redlands”.
If you wish to read the entirety of the proclamation, please follow this link:
[image used is not the property of the University of Redlands nor the Redlands Bulldog]