Religion

In Two Honest Moments, Brandt Jean and Patricia Heaton Show Us How to Live

Botham Jean’s younger brother Brandt Jean hugs former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger after delivering his impact statement to her following her 10-year prison sentence for murder at the Frank Crowley Courts Building in Dallas, Texas, October 2, 2019. (Tom Fox/Pool via Reuters)
A brutal world needs Christian mercy and the joyful rigor of the examined life.

I’ve been overwhelmed lately with this “cancel culture” business. If someone discovers you’ve looked the wrong way once in your life, it’s all over. People set out to destroy you. That’s not the way we are meant to live. We’ve all looked the wrong way. We’ve all made mistakes. We’ve all sinned. And we all will again. One of the great glories of life is that we can begin again. Our sorrow for our sins and awareness of our weaknesses keeps helping us get better and be better on this journey of life with all its challenges. But increasingly we forget this. More and more, it seems, the loudest voices in culture won’t make room for growth and redemption. And so people despair — they think they are stuck. And things on the news don’t help, as we’re all sucked into more terrible news and anger.

But did you notice the breath of fresh air recently? It was the day of the sentencing of that former Dallas police officer, Amber Guyger, who killed a man, Botham Jean, thinking he had invaded her apartment when she was actually in his apartment. I hope you’ve heard by now his young brother’s testimony of forgiveness. Brandt Jean said to Guyger, for all the world to see, because there were cameras in the courtroom: “I love you just like anyone else. . . . I personally want the best for you. . . . I don’t even want you to go to jail. I want the best for you, because I know that’s exactly what Botham would want.” He went on to encourage her to give her life to Christ.

And then, as you may have seen, he hugged her. That was the love of God he displayed, and he was able to do so because he’s clearly encountered it in his own life. So many people today don’t truly appreciate the role of the Creator in their lives, that he loves us into existence. And you don’t have to believe in God to have some awe and gratitude about so much that exists, including the incredibly complex and wonderful human person!

And then the judge! She went and got one of her Bibles to give the woman she was sentencing to ten years in prison.

This message of forgiveness and the invitation to give your life to Christ is powerful. And you don’t have to be Christian to appreciate it. We need this kind of radical love and forgiveness in our culture and in our lives.

One of my favorite writings of Pope Paul VI, who was on the scene at the heart of the tumult of the sexual revolution, is about proclaiming Christ in the world. It’s a sermon in which he said:

He is like us but more perfectly human, simple, poor, humble, and yet, while burdened with work, he is more patient. He spoke on our behalf; he worked miracles; and he founded a new kingdom: in it the poor are happy; peace is the foundation of a life in common; where the pure of heart and those who mourn are uplifted and comforted; the hungry find justice; sinners are forgiven; and all discover that they are brothers.

You hear so much of the love story that is Christianity in that, and for all humanity. What Brandt Jean showed us is why we need to embrace this as an essential element of our culture. It makes for people who are leaven. It makes us more tender. There’s too much brutality. And here, even in the face of it, there is love!

The other cultural-breather moment came around the same time, but in much lighter circumstances. It was on late-night television. On The Late Show, Stephen Colbert was interviewing Patricia Heaton about her new comedy show, Carol’s Second Act. They had bonded during an earlier interview, about their shared Catholic faith. They had a lot of fun with it last time, and this time the conversation turned much more reflective. With joy radiating from her, Heaton talked about getting older and taking stock. She talked about having given up drinking, having come to realize it was a little too much. And that it wasn’t necessary to have in her life. She thanked the audience for applauding that news, explaining that some of her friends were disappointed, thinking she wouldn’t be as much fun. We do do that to people — make them feel uncomfortable for the kind of serious examination of habits and motives that is the healthiest way to live life. Heaton had a real love about her in that interview — as she frequently does in her own social-media presence and in her talent for making people laugh.

They say that God writes straight with crooked lines, that He works in mysterious ways. How many of us know that to be true? And, goodness, did I see that truth the night I happened upon Brandt Jean’s witness, and Heaton’s, too. These came as a pair, no doubt, as a reminder: Love is for the unthinkable times and for the everyday. There are constant opportunities to strip ourselves of the world. This is what both of these people were doing and sharing.

We need more reflection and self-awareness and mercy in the world. People feel as if they are drowning in small and in monumental ways. We’re in this together. Lend a hand to help life someone above water, even if for a moment. It may make all the difference. After seeing Jean and watching Heaton, I woke up one morning, thinking, Can we give one another a break already? Can we encourage one another while it is still today?

Thanks be to God for cultural moments that help up see and be light when there is so much darkness.

This column is based on one available through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.

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