Archive for the 'Forgiveness' Category

04
Apr
11

afterward…on the way home

Last December I introduced peace and justice activists, Mark and Sara, and their friend, death row inmate, William Glenn Boyd. (See: Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas; In the Bulb There is a Flower; State By State )

On March 31st, Glenn was executed on schedule at 6:00 pm. The following day I posted some details in Forgive As We Forgive, along with my thoughts and point of view. Today, I want to share Mark and Sara’s thoughts as they drove home from Holman Prison last Friday.

Hello to all,

The sun is shining and the morning breeze is turning warmer. Rev. Megan is driving, Mark is sitting next to our son, and Grandma is entertaining our grumpy little baby girl in the back seat. Before we head back to home, we thought we would take a quick detour to the beach and see the ocean.

Glenn’s spirit has been traveling around—making lots of stops and visits. He is now free to go see loved ones he hasn’t seen in years.

We had a wonderful visit with our brother Glenn yesterday. He was in good spirits. We talked, laughed, prayed, and had communion together around 10:00 am. We even had a last supper together, around 3:00 pm. Glenn had requested fried chicken, french fries, tomatoes, and apples for his last meal.  He knew he wanted to share the meal with all of us, so that’s why he ordered some vegetables—to appease the vegetarians amongst us. They brought it into the visiting yard. We bought a couple of sandwiches from the vending machine to supplement. There were eleven of us and not enough food, so each just had a little bit…symbolically sharing the meal together. We kept encouraging him to eat the chicken and he insisted that we all share it and eat together. so we split up all of the food, shared and communed together. It was absolutely beautiful.

Be still and know that I am God.

I want to give a shout-out to the corrections officers who were part of the ‘execution’ team. They were so kind and compassionate towards us and Glenn—so deeply respectful. I would never have expected to experience God through them, but I did.

Glenn was strong through to the end. We left the prison around 3:30 pm. Two of his spiritual advisors stayed with him in the death cell until 5:30 pm.  They then moved him to the death chamber. His pastor and another of his spiritual advisors were in the witness room. Glenn was able to focus on them until his last moments.

We were out in a pasture near the prison, praying and reading psalms 23 and 91. Shortly after 6:00 pm, a hawk flew towards us and circled over the pasture a few times and then flew on towards the creek. We stayed, prayed and sang Amazing Grace. Just as we were about to leave, his pastor, Don, came to the pasture and shared with us that Glenn was strong and at peace up until the very end. He did not have any last words, but that is normal—most guys don’t. He imagines that there are so many thoughts going through their heads.

Glenn had written a letter to the victim’s family. His plan was to read it as his last words, because nine members of the victims’ families came for the execution, but was not allowed to do that. Glenn’s lawyer now has the letter and we will be sending it to the victims’ families. It was a short, but beautifully written apology. At the prayer vigil, while sharing about what a great and wonderful person Glenn was, Mark started to say, “…and Glenn was…”

Glenn’s brother, Billy, piped in and just said one word: “Amazing.”

Glenn was amazing.

Love,
Sara and Mark

*****

This account puts a very human face on what has been reported in the news. No gorging of food, no cowardice, no lack of repentance…only compassion, generosity, truth, and God’s loving presence. Sara’s letter ended with this postscript to her church family and friends:

I had a moment where I nearly broke down before entering the prison on Thursday morning, but I felt your prayers. One of the corrections officers ministered to me, and I felt your prayers through her as well. Thanks to all of you who have sent us prayers. They were…and are felt.

*****

Yesterday, at church, I learned that a few days before the execution, a bereavement card addressed to Mark and Sara was waiting for them when they returned home. It was from Glenn, carefully sent a few days earlier. It was simple and sweet…consoling them for the loss of the friendship they had shared together over the years. As I remember the weeks and days leading up to the death of my adopted daughter Bettina, I know how important it was to Glenn to be able to make that last gesture. I remember saying tearfully to Bettina, that I would miss her. Her reply was: “I’ll miss you too, Mama.” We needed to tell each other…to assure ourselves connection over the great unknown. Death, however it comes, is a sacred mystery.

 

 

Be still and know that I am God

Be still and know that I am

Be still and know

Be still

Be…

 

If you would like to contact Mark or Sara concerning Christian Peacemaker Teams, the death penalty, or other peace and justice issues, here is the contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

10
Mar
11

state by state

It took 11 years, but Illinois has finally abolished the death penalty. This is not happening in Alabama, where Glenn of the Red Velvet Cake and the Flower in the Bulb is facing his execution date of March 31, but it is an important step forward for the country as a whole. I wish this step could include Glenn…I wish all of humankind could step away from the faulty premise that an eye for an eye is a restorative measure of justice. Our justice system is far from perfect…far from the taint of revenge and the power-grab. Mistakes are made. Judges and juries are fallible. Evidence can be twisted and turned. Innocent people are put to death and that in itself is murder. (I downloaded a fact sheet from the Death Penalty Information Center. Take a look and see for yourself.)

It’s time we, as a so-called civilized society, come to terms with our investment in this practice. It is draconian, violent and irreversible. The penalty of death appears to have little effect on the incidence of violent crimes. Our prisons are overflowing. They are warehouses and hotbeds for increase in crime, not decrease. How do we reconcile ourselves with the innocent victims of this practice…those wrongfully accused? Execution is irreversible. Execution is not at all what the God, Jesus so loved, would do. We may not all be able to forgive as beautifully as the Amish did after the school shootings in 2006, but we can take a look at our own investment in our judicial system, both individually and collectively.

When a loved one is murdered or otherwise horrifically abused, one’s hurt runs deeper than words can say. If the perpetrator is put to death as a penalty, does the memory of pain and loss disappear? My own experience is that it does not. Living by the revenge principle hardens my heart and locks in the pain.

Yesterday began the Christian Lenten season: ashes to ashes and dust to dust…remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return. The message of Lent is repentance. This word is a translation of the Greek word, metanoia. It means turning around, doing it differently…seeking forgiveness. How meaningful it is that the governor of the State of Illinois signed this legislation into effect on Ash Wednesday! I’d like to think that there is hope for the world. Who knows…in time, maybe we’ll even understand that war, far from solving problems, creates them. It could happen—someday.

20
Dec
10

red velvet cake and the spirit of christmas

I have a lovely Christmas story to share and a fine storyteller to introduce, but first I must give some background.

In the mid-1980s, members of the historic peace churches began seeking new ways to express their faith. Out of this desire came the Christian Peacemakers Teams, an organization, which seeks to embody an inclusive, ecumenical and diverse community of God’s love in partnership with local peacemakers worldwide. Denominations and organizations supporting active CPT chapters are—Church of the Brethren, Friends United Meeting, Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Congregation of St. Basil, Every Church a Peace Church and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

My friends Mark and Sara—peace and justice (CPT) activists from my church—entered a letter writing program to prisoners through a Church of the Brethren friend of theirs. Through this program they met Glenn, an inmate at Alabama’s Holman Prison, where he has been on death row for the past 25 years. Mark and Sara have visited him 3 times since 2002 when their correspondence began. Each time, they found that they were the only visitors Glenn had that year.

A couple of days ago Mark sent this remarkable story….Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas…to the congregation through our listserve :

Glenn called today and left a voice mail saying, “Brother, I have something important to share with you.”  I called him back.

He said, “You know what my favorite dessert is?” He’d told me some time ago, but I couldn’t remember. “Red velvet cake. Everyone (the inmates) around here knows that. Today, a ministry (program) was here distributing food packages.’

(Aside: there are a few ministries that distribute such food packages throughout the year. The inmates look forward to these. On death row, I’ve learned, food is a BIG deal. The daily prison food is awful, so anything normal is a major event.)

“Sister Antonia gave me my package and I told her my date was around the corner. I looked through the package and saw that there were a lot of good items. It was a pretty good collection.  And the dessert was…red velvet cake…home made!  Of all the desserts to be in there….I told her it was my favorite.”

“A little while later, she came back, and pushed another piece into my cell.”

“A little while later, another piece came, passed on down the line by the guys, from cell to cell.”

“And a little while later, another, and another, and another, until every guy on the tier had passed their red velvet cake.”

Glenn was choked up at this point in the phone call. He said jokingly, “I must have male menopause.” I told him it was a very touching thing and he was just being human and that the guys were just giving back in a small way what they’d received from Glenn over the years.  Glenn said, “Whatever they’ve received, it has been from God, not from me.”  Glenn is deeply faithful and very humble and attributes whatever positive influence he’s had on others as God’s working through him. And I believe it.

Mark goes on to share some about his friend Glenn:

Here is a story of part of Glenn’s transformation—one that happened in spite of the brutality of the so-called correctional system, and because Glenn opened himself and listened to God.

“When my sister was young, she was put into a mental hospital where she was raped repeatedly by one of the workers. As a young man, I was so angry. I pictured the man in hell, and I wanted to torture him to the verge of death so he’s feel pain like my sister.

“While in prison I asked Jesus into my heart. God said, ‘You shall know the truth and it shall set you free.’ I had to tell the truth before I could be free, and the truth was that I wanted to kill the man. The truth was not that I wanted to try to love the man. I wanted to mutilate him.

“Once I confessed to god this truth the way opened up. In a dream I heard the voice of God say:

“Glenn, there are people in your life that you hurt, not in the same way, but pain is pain, and they want you to hurt. But I don’t want you to hurt because I love you. And guess what, I love that man too, and I don’t want you to hurt him.”

“I Woke up and cried like a baby. I said to God, ‘I can’t do it, but I’m willing to let you, God, do it through me.’ I got to a place where I could envision being in the same room with the man, and telling him that I forgive him and that I love him.

“People who knew me when I was 19 (when I entered prison) will not recognize the person I’ve become; God’s love allowed me to forgive.”

In the 25 years Glenn has been on death row, the courts have denied his appeals and he will be executed in early 2011. Mark and Sara are his friends. They see a deeply wise, intelligent, compassionate and religious person in Glenn…a very different person today than who he was when he committed his crime. I believe this is true and do not understand the twists and turns that keep a redeemed person  pinned to the past. Many people say we are a Christian nation…if so, where is the repentance and compassion that Jesus taught us? He asked  the woman caught in adultery where her accusers had gone and if any condemnation remained. She tells Jesus that no one remains to condemn her. Jesus responds with compassion, and tells her that he does not condemn her either and exhorts her to go and sin no more. (John 8:1-11)

Our penal system practices an ancient code of an eye for an eye. It does not redeem, but God breaks through walls. I believe people can, and do change. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught: “You have heard it said, `an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not set yourself in violent or revengeful resistance against an evildoer.” (Matthew 5:38)

As Christian Peacemakers, Mark and Sara speak for me.  If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

And a little child shall lead them….

05
Nov
10

what sense does it make?

I am an Anabaptist/Mennonite, not by birth as many are, but by God’s leading and my choice. The Anabaptists were so named in the 16th century for their preference for believer’s baptism over infant baptism, but that is only one of the stances taken by these brave souls. Central to the faith are the teachings of Jesus and discipleship. Jesus spoke in love and taught peace and reconciliation. This is one of the core values of the Anabaptist belief. It is not a core value of the social system in which you and I live. The tension is obvious. Search the gospels. You will not find a word from his lips that support violence or retribution of any kind, nor do we.

This morning when I opened my email I found this letter from one of the members of my little church at the edge of the city. He is one of several in the church who are members of our denomination’s Christian Peacemakers Teams. He and his wife believe people can change. So do I. So did Jesus. So does God. That is what Grace is all about. If it were not so, how do we find ourselves still here, chugging along trying to be better people despite our many continued failings? I am not talking about leaving the toothpaste cap off the tube or grumbling about things. I am talking about attitudes, behaviors and actions that wound the spirit in other persons—abuse in all it’s many forms. I have done this many, many times.  I once was blind, but now I see….

Here is the letter that came by email to my congregation this morning:

Alabama killed Phil tonight, November 4, 2010, to my church…

Tonight the state of Alabama killed Phil who was on death row at the prison where our friend Glenn is also awaiting execution.

Earlier this year Glenn was originally scheduled to receive a ruling mid-October which would have set his execution date, possibly as early as mid-November.   And then in August, Phil was assigned a death-date of November 4, and Glenn knew he would live to see another Christmas and New Year, because Alabama only kills one inmate each month (Phil in November) and they don’t kill people in December (too close to Christmas — after all, it would be un-Christian to kill someone so close to Jesus’ birth.  Best to have a little distance…..).   And then, in addition, Glenn’s court ruling was postponed until later this month (at which time he will get an execution date).   But if things had fallen differently, Phil’s execution could have been Glenn’s.

I Googled Phil, and this is what I found.  Phil has been on death row for over two decades.  The information focuses on what he did many years ago; who knows who he is today.  I have learned from my conversations with Glenn that people can change in amazing ways while on death row.   The death penalty is wrong because it denies the possibility of God’s transforming love for victim and perpetrator.   More on that in a later email or other sharing in church.

I talked to Glenn tonight, he was somber, as were the rest of those on death row.

After I hung up with Glenn, I went to sing Eli songs as part of his good-night routine, and Eli asked to sing “Alleluia, the Great Storm is over.”

The thunder and lightning gave voice to the night;
the little lame child cried aloud in her fright. .
“Hush, little baby, a story I’ll tell,
of a love that has vanquished the powers of hell.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Sweetness in the air, and justice on the wind,
laughter in the house where the mourners had been.
The deaf shall have music, the blind have new eyes,
the standards of death taken down by surprise.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

“Release for the captives, an end to the wars,
new streams in the desert, new hope for the poor.
The little lame children will dance as they sing,
and play with the bears and the lions in spring.

Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!
Alleluia, the great storm is over, lift up your wings and fly!

09
Aug
10

another word to ponder

Today I am turning over the word, betray. What does it mean to betray? The word is colorful and has variant usages. I’m partial to this set of definitions from Free Dictionary.com:

be·tray  [bih-trey]

–verb (used with object)

1. to deliver or expose to an enemy by treachery or disloyalty: Benedict Arnold betrayed his country.

2. to be unfaithful in guarding, maintaining, or fulfilling: to betray a trust

3. to disappoint the hopes or expectations of; be disloyal to: to betray one’s friends.

4. to reveal or disclose in violation of confidence: to betray a secret.  (synonyms: bare, expose,  tell, divulge / antonyms: hide, conceal)

5. to reveal unconsciously (something one would preferably conceal): Her nervousness betrays her insecurity.

6. to show or exhibit; reveal; disclose: an unfeeling remark that betrays his lack of concern. (synonyms: display,  manifest, expose, uncover / antonyms: hide, conceal)

7. to deceive, misguide, or corrupt: a young lawyer betrayed by political ambitions into irreparable folly.

8. to seduce and desert.

I think we all have committed at least one of the states of betrayal on this list at one time or another. I do not like to think of myself as having done so, but the truth is that I have, sometimes purposefully, sometimes unwittingly, as in not allowing conscious recognition of my purpose. I am far from good…as Jesus said in Luke 18:19 “Why do you call me good?…No one is good except God alone.”

Except for the Benedict Arnold type of action in usage #1, betrayal is a slippery thing that hides out in the outer reaches of our human selves. It is beguiling and seductive. Betraying ourselves as in usage #5 is a private matter—of lesser impact than usage #2 or #7—these generally having some personal gain attached to them. We all do this. Some one shares a bit of information with the caveat not to tell anyone. Sometimes that person really expects confidence, sometimes not. In any case, many of us find ways to pass the information on. I find it morally useful to ask if I may tell my partner. I do not like the tension involved in having to keep a solitary confidence and am grateful if told I may share with my partner. For this reason, I rarely ask a confidante to keep information completely hidden from a partner. I pretty much expect it will be shared, so giving permission keeps me in charge of at least a small part of what can become a daisy chain of information and mis-information.

In my lifetime (7 decades) I have experienced several life-changing, egregious, betrayals of trust. Each one has left its mark in the cells of my body, despite the forgiveness I’ve tried to practice. The most recent betrayal caused an enormous amount of damage to me, my family and friends. I dare not think of it, for when I do,  my breath becomes labored and my heart sinks in my chest. By God’s grace we forgive, but the cells of the body remember. The heart grieves to hear the spoken apology that is a balm for healing and reconciliation. Not my will, but yours Lord (Luke 22:42). These words sometimes stick in my throat. I am not good. Only God is good. I can only do as I am able…by Grace.

05
Aug
10

What’s in a word?

Words are units of language from which sentences are made… tools that we humans use to communicate thoughts and emotions. They function in a strange way as symbols of meaning and are not static. Their meanings have no particular permanence beyond their continued usefulness. When we hear such words as forsooth, meet, wist, we think them quaint and find little meaning outside of theater usage. But in their day, forsooth meant in truth or indeed; meet meant fitting or proper and wist meant to know. Today we have words that even a few decades ago would not have been understood. How about infomercial, cyberspace, blog, cisgender, meme, remix, podcast? Words convey the ideas and rhythms of our culture.

BTW…the spell checker on this blog site does not recognize the word cisgender, but I didn’t either until a few days ago. And just to add a note of color to all of this: BTW could have been an acronym for British Telecom Wholesale, or Behind the Wheel (driver’s ed.) prior to the popularization of the internet.

Words come and go, just as we and our bright new ideas come and go (wax and wane). My mother used to say that there was nothing new under the sun. She could say that because Ecclesiastes said it first in chapter 1, verse 9. That was eons ago, but some people still say it. Must be something to it…

I am sorry and I regret, are words expressing sentiments that I am currently turning over in my mind. What is meant by the use of these words? What do people mean when they say to another, “I regret”? Do they mean they are sorry? I don’t think they necessarily do, but those words can carry that meaning (sorrow-repentance) if the recipient understands them in that way. But what if they don’t? I think it may be cultural—some cultures being more reserved than others—more private. But even in such cultures we do not teach our children to say “I regret hitting you over the head, Tommy.” We ask them to say “I am sorry I hit you over the head.” We teach that and the kids learn to say it whether or not sorrow exists as repentance. Those children forced to offer that I’m sorry when they are not, or do not understand the value of the transaction, often grow up hoping never to have to say it because of the humiliation revisited. And so we have a culture that claims, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.” But I say being sorry for causing pain, discomfort, distress, etc. to a human or animal can only deeply be expressed with the words that most clearly express sorrow. Of course, if one feels only mild sorrow, then regret is the appropriate word.

Definition of regret from my Mac dictionary:

regret |riˈgret|
verb ( -gretted , -gretting ) [ trans. ]
feel sad, repentant, or disappointed over (something that has happened or been done, esp. a loss or missed opportunity) : she immediately regretted her words | [with clause ] I regretted that he did not see you.
• used in polite formulas to express apology for or sadness over something unfortunate or unpleasant : any inconvenience to readers is regretted | [with clause ] we regret that no tickets may be exchanged.
• archaic feel sorrow for the loss or absence of (something pleasant) : my home, when shall I cease to regret you!
noun
a feeling of sadness, repentance, or disappointment over something that has happened or been done : she expressed her regret at Virginia’s death | he had to decline, to his regret.
• (often regrets) an instance or cause of such a feeling : she had few regrets in leaving the house.
• (often one’s regrets) used in polite formulas to express apology for or sadness at an occurrence or an inability to accept an invitation : please give your grandmother my regrets.
ORIGIN late Middle English : from Old French regreter ‘bewail (the dead),’ perhaps from the Germanic base of greet 2 .

I have been one who preferred the I regret option and really believed I was getting down to it. My cancer experience, followed by the 3 years of gut-wrenching pain I encountered in returning to the church has transformed me from I regret… to… I am sorry, please forgive me. And the reason for this is not my doing. God has seen fit to allow suffering to seep into my bones for reasons of God’s own. I’ve been Jonah and I’ve been Job, and to my chagrin, I still don’t seem to rest in the rainbow for any length of time. I get many opportunities to revisit the whale again and again with a Job gig not far behind. The only thing I can say about this is that experiencing deep hurt…holding it without great effort to conceal or discharge…I have come (unwittingly) into an expanded universe, so to speak. I cannot simply regret hitting Tommy over the head if his head is bleeding. And if he is rushed to the emergency room, I am truly sorry…deeply sorry for doing to another what I would not want done to me.

I am sorry for the pain and stress I/we have caused you. These words, so difficult for some to say to us would be so much honey on the wound that keeps opening up as  financial circumstances continue to tie us to the past, leaving marks of desperation. We can forgive, and we do, but it is a 70×7 situation. I do so wish it could all be behind us and we could start living the simple life we set out for 3 years ago.

From today’s Richard Rohr Meditation ( Center for Action and Contemplation), I see I have a very long way to go:

Our ultimate goal is to be able to think and behave like Jesus.  This is a journey toward great love, which invariably becomes a journey of great suffering.  This journey leads us to a divine love where we don’t just love those who love us.  We learn to participate in a larger love—where we experience Someone Else loving through us, in us, and for us.  If we remain autonomous, independent, self-sufficient, we cannot participate in this larger love.

Christian spirituality is a mystery of participation.  Thus the saints and mystics speak so much of surrender, abandonment, and even “falling” into God.

21
Jul
10

going forward while standing still

Last night baby kitty, Bella woke me up  after  only 1.5 hours of sleep by jumping up to nestle down upon my sleeping body. Normally I would manage this but last night and for the past several nights I have been flushed with concerns and anxieties. I am currently overwhelmed with life in general and mine in particular. I would like to know when the golden years begin. I’m thinking this whole golden years idea might have been one of those advertising gimmicks to sell retirement homes or insurance policies. There is nothing golden going on in my life at present. Definitely nickel-plated.

Big Dawg and I still have 2 houses: the big beautiful one we put up for sale 2 years ago when we answered the call to come follow Jesus with the congregation we were attending at the time, and the charming little cottage in which we now reside. There had been ample time for leadership persons to explain to us that the invitation couldn’t include the two of us, but nothing was said until 3 days after we moved and there we were, sort of like your best friend died without leaving you a handkerchief. Two years later, we still have 2 houses and the strain of floating them, along with all the other vicissitudes of 21st century life is killing us. The strain of having lost Adopted Daughter along with what we’d thought would be a church family, comes home to roost quite frequently. I won’t go on. It will sound like a soap opera.

Two and a half days ago I had what we used to call a nervous breakdown—uncontrollable crying, despair, hopelessness, deep depression. I pulled myself up to a level closer to normal with the help of homeopathic medication, but  I am truly tired, inside and out. The prairie style FLW house we rescued from ignominy and poured so much love and money into has slipped from $479K to $300K and still no real buyers. We are reluctantly preparing to seek renters. This is a band-aid and not a good one, but it might lessen the financial leak. The wound remains until such time as the church that invited us, and then uninvited us, publicly accepts and confesses its culpability to us. Although we have extended forgiveness to them, such a statement would be a very healing balm to our battered selves. In the meantime, we practice the rule of 70 x 7.

Tomorrow BD and I will head out to Minnesota to attend the annual conference of Mennonites and Roman Catholics, called Bridgefolk, to be held at St John’s Abbey in Collegeville. We are looking for something more, but don’t know what it is. I have moments of wishing we’d not signed up for this because I feel so out of the Circle of Light, but we will go and God will bless and life will go on…one day at a time.




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