I believe I have already spoken about the tragic death of my brother-in-law that resulted from a shooting in his tattoo shop on March 13, 2015. I am sure that I have also conveyed that this event forever changed the lives of a wife, three kids, and everyone who knew Kevin or my sister. As a brother, this event served as a further strengthening of the bond between two siblings who were already very close to one another. For me, this event and the days following became a catalyst for answering the call to ministry and to dedicating my faith work to peacemaking and the eradication of violence in all its forms. On July 18th, we will attend the sentencing phase of this journey as we sit and await the judgment of the court as to the amount of time the person who pulled the trigger will spend in prison. As a big brother, a minister, an uncle, and a citizen of this human reality, I am offered a chance to observe and to engage this terrible chain of events from a diverse set of perspectives. In the end, this is very much my sister’s story and so much of how she has dealt with this has framed my understanding of what it means to survive and to be a person of peace.
I could speak to the creation of the Croney Foundation that Sis founded to turn this tragedy into a call to act with generosity. I could speak to the fearless and remarkable way that Sis has faced each day devoted to making the world a little better than it was the day before. I could speak to my sister as a mom who made it clear that this tragedy would not be an excuse to give up and who leads her family every day toward strength and hope. All of this is true and all of this is amazing to everyone blessed to be a part of it. There is something else that stands out as equally remarkable in all of this. As we approach the sentencing of this man, I have also seen the unyielding capacity for mercy that shines in my sister. I have heard her express deep sympathy for the mother of the convicted gunman and even for the gunman himself. I have listened to her talk about the tragedy of two lives ending because of this terrible moment; a husband is killed and the man who killed him loses his freedom and is condemned to live with the knowledge of this action forever. Sis and I, even as voices of mercy, are not saying that there should be no punishment; however, that doesn’t change the fact that single moment of violence has altered families forever on both sides of the courtroom.
Sis and I have talked openly about the moments we spent during the trial trying to see some glimmer of remorse and the reality that we did not see it. Even so, even in the face of a seemingly remorseless shooter, Sis makes it very clear that forgiveness has already been given. As her seminarian brother, her Jesus man as she would say, my sister has become a lesson in the very core tenants of the Christian faith. We are called to forgive as we have been forgiven, to love as we have been loved, to love even our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us. These ideas are some of the clearest proclamations made by Jesus Christ and they remain some of the most difficult to follow. We, as humans prone to sin, often place conditions on who deserves love, or forgiveness, or grace. We decide that what is unforgivable to us must also be unforgivable to God and we are tragically mistaken.
The enduring grace of God, the reconciling mercy of God, and even the ultimate forgiveness of God are gifts freely offered to the people of God. We may not have seen elements of remorse in the coldness of a courtroom; but, that does not mean remorse is not possible. More than that; however, if we are going to end the cycles of violence that plague our culture, it is important that we begin to examine what role we play in being voices of mercy and forgiveness. The tricky part of the message received from Jesus is the absence of criteria. There are no conditions placed on the call to be merciful or to love and this removes our ability to offer mercy and love in comfortable pieces. In fact, following this commandment is made more meaningful when we do so in difficult and challenging circumstances. Someone has to love first, to show mercy first, and offer forgiveness first and our ability to do so is a powerful way to interfere with the cyclical violence we see too often in too many places.
I have been argued with, called out, and even mocked for what people consider an overly simple response to the tragedies of our world. I am fine with that. I ask you; however, when we walk among the shadows of violence, is there any light stronger than mercy, or peace, or love? If we determine that our response to violence is to thirst for vengeance, aren’t we just casting our own shadows and blotting out the light we have been so freely offered? The commandment Jesus gave us to love, to be merciful, and to forgive is a seemingly simple thing; and yet, it remains the most complex process of human self-awareness we wrestle with each time tragedy occurs. You can choose to love or you can choose to hate, you can forgive or you can seek revenge, you can show mercy or you can take it away; but, you must ultimately understand that by choosing one of these things over the other, you tip the balance of light and darkness in this world. My sister knows this in ways more profound and personal that I can do justice. If she, in the face of true and powerful darkness, can choose mercy, then I am certain all of us can get there.
May the peace of Christ be with you all.