“WRATH v. LOVE” by George

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

I woke up the other morning with that snippet of a song from the musical Hair looping in my mind. Funny what one’s mind captures, stores, and then releases from Past’s vault. I put my Walkman’s ear buds in and searched the airwaves for something new. Even with that, I couldn’t shake it, or replace it with something catchier. Were my synapse just misfiring long neglected memories, or was my soul trying to tell me something?

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Standing against the wall of my housing unit’s day room, I tuned into the morning TV news hoping it would keep the Hair from running through my mind.

The host’s meaningless banter segued between regurgitated sound bites of social media trends: concert video of Kanye West demanding his audience stand before he continued with the next song – to the point of unknowingly shaming someone in a wheelchair who “wouldn’t” stand up; a four year old girl denying she had used her mother’s lipstick even though her mouth was widely ringed in ruby red gloss; a Miss America contestant giving her opinion of the domestic violence scandal swirling around pro football player Ray Rice, his then fiancée now wife, and the NFL at large.

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

I watched as the blonde beauty queen touted her domestic violence platform’s platitudes ending with “he should not be given a second chance,” her bright smile glinting.

Hmm, no second chances?

As a rousing hand of affirmation and cheers surged from the audience, I couldn’t help envisioning her as a form-fitting evening dress-clad barbarian brandishing a pike with Ray Rice’s bloody head skewered on its point, demanding more than a pound of flesh. She gave the Atlantic City plebeians what they craved – no mercy!

My heart sank. I took out my ear buds and walked back to my room, disappointed.

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness… in deed.

Domestic violence is a serious issue. It is an outward display of deep inward hurt wrongly expressed toward a supposed beloved. Often it demonstrates a behavior learned throughout childhood development. When a child’s emotions build to the point beyond an ability to process, he often does one of two things – cries or strikes out. For a boy, society’s norms dictate that crying is weak; striking out is therefore by default the re-enforced response.

Many state laws allow spanking as an acceptable form of child discipline – society condones it.

If raised in a household where discipline, often administered in anger, was delivered physically, it is not hard to conclude that the child’s naturally learned response to displaying anger would be to violently strike out. Repeat those experiences and examples day after day, month after month, year after year, until it becomes second nature for a boy to become a man who only knows one way to act when angered. Now add a successful career, built over that same time period, whose core attributes of dominance and aggressiveness are celebrated and rewarded, is it any wonder that domestic violence can be an issue?

Society is hypocritical. We seem to be saying, “Spank a beloved child, okay; spank a beloved adult, head on pike.”

I would be just as appalled and disappointed had the now infamous elevator security camera footage showed his then fiancée now wife knocking him out, or him striking a man. The “shock” of the video should not be gender based. Violence is violence and should not be condoned. Period. However, I am of the Christian mindset that he should not be crucified for his actions, nor should she be condemned for forgiving him if her heart led her to that decision.

I do believe in second chances.

~~~~~~~ 

“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Psalm 34:14 (KJV)

~~~~~~~

Recently an Arkansas newspaper printed a “sound bite” blurb of a paragraph about Alabama Federal Justice Mark Fuller, who also had a domestic violence encounter with his wife in an Atlanta hotel elevator, caught on security camera footage too. However, unlike Rice, there is no national outrage about Judge Fuller’s wrongful actions.

Presidentially appointed to a lifetime position of deciding judgments justly, Fuller’s daily task meaningfully affect the lives of the accused – discerning between the innocent and the guilty. Rice’s daily task as a pro ball player is to assist his team in winning games – generating millions of dollars in profits. Though I am a football fan, Fuller’s career seems in the balance, one of much greater importance to the common good. Yet, a federal judge does not bear society’s burden of the badge “HERO” like a sports figure does.

Regretfully, this causes disparage between their punishments for the same act of violence. Fuller, only charged with a misdemeanor, faces no loss of salary or job, and must undergo domestic violence counseling. His punishment is redemptive in nature and tone. Though tarnished, his reputation and garnered respect still have room for repair. His “life” has been spared, allowing him to focus on healing without having to also struggle with complete financial demise. His punishment, “sentence,” seems fair.

Rice, due to the sentence demanded by the court of public opinion, has been fired from the team, permanently suspended from his career, and has lost all sponsorship. Though he and his wife have been attending counseling for months after the elevator incident in February to overcome the obstacles and heal toward improved decision making, people like Miss Beauty Queen – and maybe you – level their crowd-pleasing vilification of “no second chance.” But without that opportunity for repair, for redemption, how can we expect him to learn a better way?

Heroes are mere men – sinners – not gods. We all stumble in error. No person is without sin. None.

~~~~~~~ 

“You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord abides forever.’ That Word is the Good News which was preached to you. So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.” 1 Peter 1:23-2:1 (RSV)

~~~~~~~

As I sit in prison, a convicted sex offender sentenced by a federal judge, you might expect me to believe that Fuller, a federal judge, should be punished more for his crime. Not so. I believe Rice is paying too big a price. Both need and deserve healing and forgiveness.

I think a lot about judgment, redemptive punishment versus destructive punishment, and forgiveness. Looking back, as a child I often wondered about the same things, though obviously from a much simpler point of view and understanding. The subtle shades of fairness, equity, and balance, have always struck deep chords with me, especially when I saw their virtues absently displayed in the striking hues of unfairness, inequity, and misjudgment.

In second grade, Billy sat across the aisle from me in the next row. He was fun – a fidgety kid who always pushed the boundaries. Even at this young age, his mouth was often too eager to express his quick wit; something teachers hate, especially when trying to maintain control of the classroom.

One day I smarted off to our teacher, which erupted the class into hysterics. She scolded me and the class before proceeding with the lesson at hand. The next day Billy, with his keen sense of timing, smarted off to her much the same way that I had the previous day. But instead of being scolded, Billy was sent to the principal’s office. When Billy returned to class with his eyes puffy and red from crying (he had received a paddling), it struck me as unfair punishment.

His “crime” had been no different from mine. In fact, mine had gotten a much bigger reaction, so it was much more of a distraction. But I was a “good” student with excellent grades; Billy was not. His home life was much tougher than mine too. He often suffered discipline at the hand or switch or belt of his father. His welts bore witness.

For all of his rough edges, Billy did have a kind heart and an eager mind. But as we grew older, his past seemed to hang and build upon him in a way that did not encourage his heart. Instead, it built walls of toughness around it, and that toughness always garnered him more pain.

Today I can’t help but compare Billy to Ray Rice and myself to Judge Fuller. Much like me and Billy back in class, Fuller was only scolded while Rice was paddled. How much more room, freedom, is there for healing for Fuller by not having to recover from utter destruction at the same time? How much more beneficial would it be to Rice if he could seek healing in an uplifting, redemptive, and freeing atmosphere?

We can correct with wrath or we can correct with love. Man demands wrath; God demands love.

~~~~~~~

“If, because of one man’s trespass death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:17 (RSV)

~~~~~~~

My prayers for the Fullers and the Rices, plus all those struggling with domestic violence, is that they will learn and heal from their ordeals with redemptive support, and not from sheer desolation. Also, I hope that Judge Fuller, from his seat of judgment, remembers his failures and the merciful opportunity he received, as he continues to consider the failures of the accused that stand awaiting his verdict. I hope he is wiser than that beauty contestant, and believes in second changes. He is in a position to provide those.

I pray also that we, the court of public opinion, would cease to sentence those of us who fall short, who slip down a slippery slope, who lose our way along the path of “you should have known better,” who fail, to a fate of personal annihilation. If we could remember our pleading desire for forgiveness when we have sinned and could apply that empathy to those who desire forgiveness from us, wouldn’t we all be more blessed?

How much I desire for us to think with our hearts before we raise our voices or hands in anger, and that caused us to extend a helping hand and a comfortable word to assist each other back onto the path of happiness.

~~~~~~~

“Behold, we call those happy who are steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5:11 (RSV)

~~~~~~~

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

 

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