In Brian McLaren's book A Generous Orthodoxy (Zondervan 2004) there is a chapter, towards the end, called Why I Am Depressed -Yet-Hopeful. It is a remarkable piece of writing and in the final paragraphs he implores the reader not to read on without pondering, praying, reflecting or taking a walk to breathe.
About what? Well many of us repent in order to forget. We say a quick sorry and put the offence out of our mind. McLaren's thesis is that the stories we tell, from individual, community and nation should, if they are to be helpful, include stories of repentance.
So he points out that Jews constantly remind the world that the Holocaust should not be forgotten but that actually this should be Germany's job. Afro-Caribbeans want the world to recall their origins in the slavery diaspora, but it should be the white westerners who do that.
So what are the stories of my past that I should constantly tell to remind the world that I am part of an individual and corporate repentance?
There are two. Firstly I live in the Bristol area. Much of the wealth of the city was built on slave-trading. Our stories about how we got here should always include that, with appropriate shame and penitence. It should leave us a strong desire to use our wealth, indirectly-generated, for the good of all people without exception.
Secondly, a grandfather I never met went to prison for business fraud in the 1930s. It is quite possible that some of the things I enjoyed as a child in the 1950s were, at least in part, ill gotten. I cannot undo this. But I can be open and honest about it and be as sure as I can, as my father did before me, to live generously and nowhere near such a crime.
It gives me a whole new angle on repentance. It also reminds me that the more I tell the stories the more they lose their power to harm me in the future. For nobody can drag up my past if I have walked with it as a constant companion.