Sunday, November 21, 2010


Sunday Reflection: Loss, forgiveness, and the terrible unknown [UPDATE: Now with a comment from Marrieta Jaeger-Lane]

Many of my posts this week were about the Kairos Conference in Atlanta, and there is a reason for that-- it was transformative for me in ways I did not expect. Frankly, I expected to go down there, give my lectures, and talk to like-minded folks about the death penalty. All that happened, but that wasn't all.

Sometimes a conference like that goes off in a direction you don't expect.

The moral core of the conference was seized, gently, by the surviving victims of murder victims, whose stories were more compelling, complex, and convincing than any of the arguments the rest of us might have made.

Bud Welch talked about his daughter, Julie, who died in the Oklahoma City bombing. He did describe going to meet Tim McVie's father, and his evolving feelings about the death penalty, but mostly he talked about his daughter. With each layer of detail, she became more real and complex and missed, and the entire discussion more important and troubling. Troubling, because it does matter what we do in criminal law... it is all tragedy, all of it, and all of us and the judges and juries were not going to bring that girl back, ever.

Marrieta Jaeger-Lane, in turn, told the story of her daughter, Susie, who was abducted and killed at age 7 during a family camping trip. The anguish of a mother was hard to hear. But it turned to something else, somehow-- before the killer was captured, Marrieta came to forgive him and pray for him. It was confounding. She might as well have described how she learned to fly or become invisible for many of us. It was the best kind of challenge.

Faith (if it is faith) takes us to inexplicable places, and drags us to moments of meaning we long to avoid. My own life has taken me to the tragedies of others, but few of my own; I don't know the lingering stench of unfair death. My faith has not confronted that challenge, and I wonder how I would do. Could I forgive? Would I become hard and cold? Julie and Susie and Nancy and the others are gone, but those left behind have a rare power within them, unimaginable to me. If I were one of them, would I be brave, Christ-like, forgiving? I hope that I would, but fear that I wouldn't, and that makes me admire them all the more.

It is not so much about our faith, though that is an interesting question to ponder. Rather, it is about the faith which God has in us and the love and grace that God pours into us.

Keep wrestling.
"If I were one of them, would I be brave, Christ-like, forgiving?" As we say out here in Montana, you betcha!
True, initially, you would probably rave and rant -- a perfectly normal valid human response. However, you, Mark, already have a foundation of facts and even moreso, faith, which would eventually rise up within your broken, bleeding heart with a calling power graced by a loving God, who grieves more than any of us, and who desires that all God's people not be kidnapped from God's Tent by an unforgiving spirit. (See John 1: The Word became flesh and pitched its tent among us.)
'Tis my fervent prayer that the above never be your experience, but thank you for your affirming words and enjoyable company!!

Yesterday (Sunday), as we do every month, we went to Montana State Prison, spending half time with guys from low-side and half with high-side folks. I was the designated speaker this time and told pretty much the same story you heard, with emphasis on the healing power and freedom of forgiveness rather than the dp. 'Twas very moving to look out on the men's faces with tears runing down their cheeks, or all squinched up to prevent same from happening. Go, Susie!!
How can I get one of your books referred to at the Kairos Conference (autographed, please). I'll be pleased to send a check, just need to know where. Blessings, Marietta Jaeger Lane,
I'll send you one, Marrieta...
Wow, it is like the last day of Professional Responsibility, Professor! I was about to comment on this amazing lady, Ms. Jaeger-Lane, and...there you go!

I am humbled by those who not only proclaim to follow Christ's teaching, but actually carry His cross. Ms. Jaeger-Lane put it beautifully, "By becoming that which we deplore -- people who kill people, we insult the sacred memory of all our precious victims."
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