Blog: Here's what Tom says about that!

Five Minutes of Heaven

Posted August 5th, 2010 by

Every time I’m tempted to believe I’ve encountered a model of healing that will work for people who have been seriously damaged by oppression I”m slapped upside the head by a reminder of just how difficult healing is.

In Ireland during the 1970’s, Catholics and Protestants were attacking and killing each other. People were dying in the streets and in prison. Five Minutes of Heaven is the story of two Irishmen. One, an eleven-year old Catholic boy, witnessed the brutal murder of his older brother. The other, a Protestant at age 17, is the man who fired the shots. More than thirty years later they continue to try to cope with a past filled with extreme violence and psychological damage from which neither has healed.

Much of this story is fictionalized but is based on the true story of Alistair Little and Joe Griffin. In real life the two men have never met but both met with the screenwriter, Guy Hibbert, in a series of separate interviews over the course of three years. The result is a story of the complex relationship between the oppressor and the oppressed and the damage that both experience.

For anyone interested in truth and reconciliation, in the human impact of guilt, thoughts of revenge, and in healing, this film will force you to question things deeply; to test your assumptions. Can all wrongs be forgiven? Should they be? How do we move on when the past won’t let us go? What is at stake? Is healing even possible?

There is nothing simple or predictable about Five Minutes of Heaven. There are definitely no easy answers. This is a classic Shakespearean tragedy of two men whose destinies are forever intertwined as the result of one tragic choice. They both want relief and neither knows how to get it. They are destined to crash into each other. They want relief through revenge or forgiveness; something… anything.

This universal story could just as easily be set in the Middle East, Rwanda, or Montgomery, Alabama. My strongest personal interest in truth, reconciliation, and healing is connected to the legacy of enslavement and racism in the United States. Change the names and location and a few other details and the same story took place in the American South in 1950’s and 60’s. It’s a story about people, their families, their fears, their hopes and their tragic losses. It’s an intense experience for the two main characters and for those of us who witness this powerful film. It reminds me of how complex the impact is from deep damage, of how to repair the damage, and of just how difficult the challenge of reconciliation truly is.

We shouldn’t give up hope; in believing that healing is possible. It is critical to understand how hard it is.

2 responses to “Five Minutes of Heaven”

  1. Julie Roberts-Fronk says:

    Tom,
    Your words are a good reminder. I have come to believe that for some people and circumstances, reconciliation and true healing may not be fully possible this side of eternity. Still, that shouldn’t keep us from doing the hard work required of us in the life we’ve been given. You might be interested in the work of Carolyn Myss, medical intuitive. (She actually works with surgeons, etc.) She has observed that people don’t heal (from physical ailments) often because there is something they need to forgive/let go.
    Below is a section from a sermon I did two years ago with info about a book you might already know about, but in case you didn’t, thought it might be interesting for you. Example of incest survivors-study.

    ” a study reported in Exploring Forgiveness by Robert Enright and Joanna North. Philosophers, ministers and therapists who work in the area of moral development and forgiveness consistently praise Dr. Enright’s work as being the standard for taking theoretical conversations about forgiveness and moving them to real world situations

    One of the studies Enright and his students did involved women, ages 24 to 54, who were incest survivors. They took detailed case histories of the women. “The only thing worse than being raped is being killed. How on earth can someone so thoroughly violated approach forgiveness? “According to their data, all of the women were “anxious, depressed and suffering from low self-esteem when they entered the program.” None of the participants had forgiven the perpetrator. (Why should they, right?) All participants had been given instruction on the forgiveness process and received a manual that described the process in detail. “After forgiveness therapy they were, on average, not depressed at all. Their anxiety decreased, and their sense of hopefulness toward their own futures increased.” That’s a miracle. Really, for incest survivors to be done with depression and have hope in their heart – that’s miraculous. “All six were able to forgive the perpetrator.”

    In contrast, the control group showed no measurable psychological improvement. After the experiment, the control group was introduced to the forgiveness process and received similar benefits. A one-year follow-up of the original group indicated that they had retained the psychological benefits. p.28-29

    The process developed by Enright and North consists of 20 guideposts through which a person moves in order to reach a place where they can forgive. There is a hope for reconciliation, that the offender will repent and restore the relationship. The authors acknowledge that doesn’t happen in many situations, but that doesn’t alter the value of the mercy offered and how the person who was hurt now can heal. Ultimately, they demonstrate what Christians often forget is part of our own heritage; forgiveness is not a one time act – it is a journey.

    Footnote 1: Solomon Schimmel, in his book Wounds Not Healed by Time writes on page 90, “Robert Enright and his colleagues have been pioneers in forgiveness research and its application.” Similarly, Jeffrie Murphy, in his book Forgiveness and its Limits, writes on page 74, “Enright is, in effect, the ‘guru’ of forgiveness counseling.” Richard Fitzgibbons, in an essay titled “Anger and the healing power of forgiveness: A psychiatrist’s view” appearing in Exploring Forgiveness comments, “The research on forgiveness by Robert D. Enright and his colleagues may be as important to the treatment of emotional and mental disorders as the discovery of sulfa drugs and penicillin have been to the treatment of infectious diseases. (p. 71)

  2. Tom says:

    Thanks so much for this, Julie. I've read several books on forgiveness, apology, trauma healing, and so on but I wasn't familiar with this source. I recently ran across Forgiveness, by Dr. Sidney Simon and Suzanne Simon. She's a survivor of sexual abuse by her father (as were her brother and sister). The book begins with the three of them standing around his casket. It could've been a really horrible scene but it wasn't because they had all embarked on the journey of forgiveness. One of the core messages of this and other books on the subject is that one powerful reason to forgive is to free oneself from being controlled and re-abused psychologically by their abuser. Not forgiving gives the perpetrator ongoing power over you. Really powerful insights, eh?

    I'm with you. We've been given an amazing opportunity in this life to be models and witnesses for reconciliation, healing, and grace. What a blessing when people choose to live it.

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