On forgiveness


On forgiveness

We are just a little on the other side of remembering the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Of the many words that he spoke and wrote there are none more memorable to me than when he said, "The depth of one’s love is measured by the capacity to forgive."

Those words have stayed with me perhaps more than any others in terms of my own journey as a human being and as a person of faith.

I grew up in the South in a time when segregation was the order of the day. It was an ugly time and very few African Americans escaped that ugliness.

I remember looking into the face of my father, in particular, and seeing how this evil ate away at his manhood and crushed his spirit.

As a child I remember my mother and I having a day at the local zoo ruined by the social etiquette of segregation, which required that we give up our seats if a White person wanted to sit in that place.

And then I remember the "n word," that was hurled our way daily by those outside of our community.

My first real encounter with White people did not happen until I went away to college. It was at a small liberal arts school in the very northern part of Minnesota.

My greatest education was not contained in the books that I read but in my engagement with White people who were nothing like the White people that I had grown up around. I was forced to take a look at the anger that was seething on the inside of me, that caused me to mistrust anyone who did not wear my color.

In one of the coldest places that I had ever been I began to experience a thawing of my own soul. The petition of that prayer that I had been taught as a child and that I prayed, or at least mouthed the words, became real: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”

There on that campus I really learned what that petition meant. A prayer that comes alive and makes us alive when we can learn to let go of hatred.

Everyday I come back to those words spoken by King.

"The depth of (our) love is measured (and determined) by (our) capacity to forgive." Words to live and die by.


Ken Wheeler is pastor of Cross Lutheran Church. He served 18 years as an assistant to the bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA.

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