Wednesday, February 26, 2014


Of all the demands of being a Christian – being merciful, welcoming, hope-filled – is not the hardest of them forgiveness?  I can believe in the Resurrection, come to my neighbor’s side, fight for justice in society and even give of out of abundance for the good of the world – and still deny what is given to me by God in Christ in bucketfuls. Forgiveness.

In counseling others through the real-life workings of forgives, I have quipped: “I am not Amish.” What I mean by that is that, for me, forgiveness is less a knee-jerk, hardwired, built-in posture that I have heard about and marveled at in the Amish who forgive after horrendous things have happened to loved ones. Forgiveness looms over me. It will not allow me to relativize or rationize. I either forgive or withhold forgiveness.  I either let go or hold on.

In my life, I would say that my scorecard on forgiveness is flawed and incomplete.  And there have been moments of grace that have surprised me.

As New Hampshire debates whether or not to repeal the death penalty, a common moral refrain is how might we feel if an evil-filled convict murders a loved one of ours? We imagine the worst thing that could happen to one of our own and then put a hypothetical to the test: would we forgive a murderer?  A murderer who took a life of a spouse or child? How could we?

I heard the following story on the Moth Radio show as I was driving back from Vermont last week. The Moth is a fantastic production that I highly recommend: you will laugh and cry as you listen. (The Moth comes to Portsmouth March 8) Hector Black has been involved with Civil Rights and justice issues for decades. He shares a personal and heart-wrenching story that had me amazed and teary-eyed. The other two stories are good, and do listen to them, but make sure you listen to Hector.

God can do miracles. Forgiveness may be the ultimate gift for us to make our way though life in this world that can bring us unspeakable and even ordinary pain and loss.  

Download here or
Click here and find Hector's story of Mercy

Hector Black is an organic farmer who lives outside of Nashville, Tennessee. He served in the army during World War II and graduated from Harvard in 1949.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Holy Ground: Not Stand your Ground

Stand your ground.  What is going on in my one-time state of Florida?  (I graduated from Florida State University and was sponsored for ordination from the cathedral in Jacksonville. My two sisters live in Florida).

It started as a legal defense that allows someone to use force – deadly force if need be – when they feel threatened by another person. In all other states, a threatened person must retreat to safety. At least that is the presumption. The law in Florida is: "A person is justified in the use of deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if: He or she reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself.”  In Florida, there is no “duty to retreat.”

So case after case we hear the ways in which this law is being used and, to many outside observers, abused.  What began with the tragic death of Trayvon Martin and the hands of George Zimmerman has expanded to the death of 17-year old Jordan Davis – another young African American male, and Chad Oulson, who has shot dead after a texting dust up in a movie theatre.  Madness. With media hype the rule of the day it is hard to dissect the law here with any real impartiality. 

We hear a lot about road rage and anger management classes in our society. It is hard to get at the root of the problem.  Are we getting too isolated and alienated from one another? Is technology interfering with normal interaction? Or is all of this blown out of proportion because, in truth, people probably always have “lost it” in the heat of the moment. 

Yet, with this talk of stand your ground, I thought of a notion in Scripture that resonates through time.   Recall the story of Moses at the Burning Bush in Exodus 3. When the LORD saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush and said, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." Then He said, "Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." He said also, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

I recall an encounter I had with a Hindu man in a very cold cathedral in England. During a meeting we were having in the large space, the man entered from the street – he clearly looked like he was having a tough time of it. His clothes were quite dirty and he appeared a bit what one might call “unstable.”  Yet, from his tradition, he knew what to do when entering a temple or any holy space. He took off his high top tennis shoes and placed them in a corner. His socks may have been less than clean, but his shoes were off. His feet certainly felt the cold unheated floor of that English cathedral.

The Lord said: “remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground."

I hope Florida changes its Stand your Ground laws. And I hope we remember that we cannot fight every battle or enter with tempers flaring into each conflict situation.  The ground upon which we all stand is not ours to defend. It is God’s and our desire should be to seek unity with the Holy and peace with one another. 

Do we feel that we are standing on holy ground?