Forgiveness conference brings stories, understanding

From stories of how kindergartners learn to deal with death to workshops on the physical implication of a burdened mind, about 100 participants -- from doctors to scholars -- came together last weekend to lean more about why people should forgive.
   The Health Benefits of Forgiveness Conference, sponsored by Mountain States Health Alliance, the Mountain States Foundation, the International Storytelling Center and East Tennessee State University's James H. Quillen College of Medicine, brought together experts from both coasts in what is believed to be the first such event merging the clinical aspects of forgiveness with the ancient practice of telling stories.
   "Once you share stories with somebody, that takes care of everything," acclaimed storyteller Donald Davis told the group Friday night at the International Storytelling Center, Jonesborough, during the conference kickoff.
   Relaying his own tales of being a child and facing such issues as death, his father's physical handicap and the unknowns of a changing world, Davis said as we move through life, we create our own personal mythologies which can either burden us or help us.
   "We have to learn to forgive history itself," he said, adding as we face unknowns as adults -- such as personal loss or illness -- we become like children again. "It takes what comes out of kindergarten to handle those kinds of things."
   Mountain States Foundation Vice President Larry Warkoczeski said the conference was held to emphasize the need to look beyond just the physical and find the connections emotions have on the healing on the body.
   "The conference dramatically showed that storytelling and forgiveness can have a major positive impact on patients and their healing," Warkoczeski said.
   MSHA Pastoral Care Director Carl Petering said he was very pleased with the conference and a follow-up event was already being planned for Sept. 11.
   "The Faith in Medicine Institute we have established looks at the intersection of body, mind and spirit," Petering said. "Since periods of pain and hurt are some of the most intense stressors for people, finding a method of releasing those emotions through forgiveness is an important part of the healing process."
   The chaplain said Dr. Fredrick M. Luskin, a Clinical Science Research Associate at Stanford University School of Medicine and author of "Forgive for Good," discussed Saturday during the workshop at the Centre at Millennium Park the physical dangers that occur when people are unable to forgive those who have hurt them.
   "Luskin did a good job summarizing the findings that connect forgiveness with reductions in stress and the increase of other health benefits," Petering said.
   Other faculty members who spoke at the conference were Peggy Matteson, Director of the Certificate Program in Congregational Health Ministries and Parish Nursing as well as the Coordinator of the Nursing Education Program at Salve Regina University, Newport, R.I.; Ted Hagen, a parish minister and licensed psychologist; and William Kirkwood, a professor of communications at ETSU.
   The main presentations of the conference were recorded and are available for checkout through the Faith in Medicine Institute Library.