Today was supposed to be my day to write about forgiveness. This coming Sunday, I’ve been invited to preach at Xavier’s new weekly ecumenical worship service at 8pm in the Clocktower Lounge called Common Ground (Rev. Abby King-Kaiser from the CFJ is expecting her second child any day now, hence the need for some guest preachers). I chose forgiveness as the theme for Sunday night, mostly because forgiveness was a major focus of my spiritual journey while I was a student at Xavier. As I chose some scripture on which to speak and began reflecting on my own journey, two things kept elbowing into my consciousness: Martin Luther King Jr Day is right around the corner and the State of Ohio executed another person this week.
Let me start with that execution. You can read more about it all over the internet. The gist of the story, though, is this: Dennis McGuire admitted to raping and killing a pregnant woman named Joy Stewart in 1989. Terrible, terrible crimes. The State of Ohio is running out of methods to execute people as lethal injection drugs become harder to procure. The State’s latest execution of Mr. McGuire this week used an experimental mixture of drugs, which according to witnesses, caused McGuire to gasp for air for 10 minutes before he died.
“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
When I look at my own story, I know the truth of King’s words. I know it from the story of my own broken relationships. When I have clung to hatred, when I have withheld forgiveness, when I have delivered violence through my words or deeds in retribution for the hurt caused to me – I have known nothing but more darkness, hurt, anger, and brokenness. That cycle eventually dragged me down to a point in my early life when I had to finally surrender that anger, relinquish my grasp on it, so that love could enter back into my heart. Anger really just masks a deep sadness beneath the surface of our lives. Instead of lashing back, I eventually had to learn to search for and find the deep sadness within me, grieve it, and then find the courage to pursue reconciliation and healing, step by step. Even after a decade or so, it is an unfolding story, but it is one that has given me respite from the cycle and allowed me a bit of peace. Only light can drive out darkness.
I don’t know where you fall on the death penalty debate, but consider this: 18 States have abolished it and most developed countries have abolished it and there seems to be good evidence out there that it does not serve to deter future crime. And consider again the story of Mr. McGuire’s death this week. Though punishment was warranted for such horrendous acts, was this the wisest path forward? As we get ready to commemorate Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the way he stood up against racial injustice and the way he did so with a steadfast commitment to non-violence, is this who we want to be? This is an important public and political debate that must continue in Ohio and elsewhere in the days and weeks to come. But we can even pose the questions to ourselves: How do we perpetuate the cycle of violence through our words or deeds in our interpersonal relationships? Do we ever withhold our forgiveness? Do we ever multiply the very things that burden us?
Anger, when it festers in our hearts, clouds our vision and cloaks our ability to love. Sadly, I think Ohio’s hate and anger only multiplied itself this week. On the contrary, King’s love overcame hate. We must not only celebrate that on Monday, but we must also begin to practice it in our lives. We must find better ways, both individually and collectively as states and nations, to say “that was wrong” and to find better ways that restore justice in our world through love instead of multiplying the violence through retribution.
Of course, there is much more to say, but I’ll save it for Sunday night at 8.
Greg Carpinello is the Director of the Dorothy Day Center for Faith and Justice at Xavier University. Greg will be a guest this week at Common Ground, Xavier’s weekly ecumenical worship service. Join us this Sunday at 8pm in the Clocktower Lounge of the Gallagher Student Center for student-led music and prayer.