What Brandt Jean Taught About Forgiveness
Some weren’t satisfied with the ten-year sentence Amber Guyger received for killing Botham Jean.
Law professor Kami Chavis saw the sentence as “inadequate.” Chavis said, "People are angry, and I would think understandably so. Because in our community, we have seen people spend more time in prison for nonviolent offenses than she will spend after murdering a person."
Is Chavis seeking justice to compensate for black individuals who have received unfair sentences… or is she seeking vengeance?
In the courtroom, Botham’s brother Brandt Jean saw justice through a different lens. I would imagine that Brandt would say to Chavis: Injustice is not remedied by more injustice.
During Guyger’s sentencing, Brandt Jean said to Guyger, “If you truly are sorry, I forgive you. I know if you go to God and ask him he will forgive you.”
Brandt added: “I love you just like anyone else. I'm not going to say I hope you rot and die just like my brother did. I want the best for you. I don't even want you to go to jail.”
On Facebook, I noticed that admiration for Brandt Jean’s courtroom act of forgiveness often came with a qualifier: I couldn’t have done that. He’s a better man than me.
Anne Lamott in her book Hallelujah Anyway, offers guidance for those who want to turn away from dark wishes for vengeance. For those who want to drink from the same well of forgiveness that Brandt Jean does, Lamott provides inspiration and leads us past our tired cop-outs.
Lamott shares the words of biblical Old Testament prophet Micah: "What doth God require of thee but to do justice and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Lamott returns to Micah’s question to be reminded of her “path and purpose.”
Being reminded of our path is not the same as easily walking the path. Lamott suggests we know to choose forgiveness, but we do the opposite: “[W]hy today is it absolutely all I can do to extend mercy to myself for wanting to nip an annoying relative’s heel like a river rat?”
Lamott encourages us to notice that along with our open hearts is an often not-so-secret wish that bad things happen to people we hate:
I came here with a huge open heart, like a big, sweet dog, and I still have one. But some days the only thing that can cheer me up is something bad happening to someone I hate, preferably if it went viral and the photo of the person showed hair loss and perhaps the lifelong underuse of sunscreen. My heart still leaps to see this. I often recall the New Yorker cartoon of one dog saying to the other: ‘It’s not enough that we succeed. Cats must also fail.’ This is the human condition, that in the face of death, cats must lose.
“Mercy, grace, forgiveness, and compassion are synonyms,” Lamott writes. Mercy begins with “radical kindness.” Lamott continues:
Mercy means offering or being offered aid in desperate straits. Mercy is not deserved. It involves absolving the unabsolvable, forgiving the unforgivable. Mercy brings us to the miracle of apology, given and accepted, to unashamed humility when we have erred or forgotten.
The offering of mercy blesses the other person and us. Lamott writes:
As Father Ed Dowling said, sometimes heaven is just a new pair of glasses. When we put them on, we see the awful person, sometimes even ourselves, a bit more gently, and we are blessed in return. It seems, on the face of things, like a decent deal.
But instead of blessing and being blessed, we want to be right. Lamott writes:
Kindness toward others and radical kindness to ourselves buy us a shot at a warm and generous heart, which is the greatest prize of all. Do you want this, or do you want to be right? Well, can I get back to you on that?
Lamott observes that her “unloveliness…—[her] boring self-obsession, pettiness, and schadenfreude” is always ready to act and justify itself. In a state of unloveliness, she writes, “Wearing my bad pair of glasses, I look around and see that I am surrounded by swine. How do you expect me to react?”
No matter how many times we fall, life offers yet another chance to forgive:
But God… gooses me, and I accidentally let go. I take a break from being prickly and judgmental. I stop, pull back, take a breath. The next thing I know, I let others go first, or see that perhaps now is not the time to demand an explanation or an apology. Against all odds, I’ll somehow stop the campaign for now. I start over. I’m able to keep the patient more patient. And I get me back.
When my mind is relatively empty, I see the infinite variety and beauty of human beings. Everyone seems likable to me. When my mind is full of myself, I’m a nit-picking complainer. Lamott writes, “When we manage a flash of mercy for someone we don’t like, especially a truly awful person, including ourselves, we experience a great spiritual moment, a new point of view that can make us gasp.”
Lamott believes our true self is naturally forgiving. She cautions that when we lose “contact with the truth of our innately merciful selves, it [is] almost impossible to have self-respect.”
No matter what they achieve, those who don’t forgive will never have self-respect. Brandt Jean has both self-respect and the admiration of a nation.
[Image Credit: YouTube]
This post What Brandt Jean Taught About Forgiveness was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Barry Brownstein.