As I was driving through St. Martin Village recently, the small community off Georgetown Street with homes specifically built for black families, I remembered the story of the man it is named for.
Martin de Porres Valázque was born in Lima, Peru in 1579, the son of a Spanish nobleman and a freed black woman from Panama, whom he never married.
The nobleman left de Porres' mother sometime after a sister was born, leaving mother, daughter and son in poverty. De Porres was biracial and poor with dark skin. Not a winning combination in those days or many days.
But because of his giving nature and forgiving spirit, he worked tirelessly to give dignity to people of all colors and stations in life. Pope John XXIII canonized de Porres, who became known as St. Martin, patron saint of people who are black, barbers, hairdressers, race relations and social justice.
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At the ceremony, Pope John XXIII said, "He excused the faults of others. He forgave the bitterest injuries ... he provided food, clothing and medicine for the poor; helped, as best he could, farm laborers and Negroes, as well as mulattoes, who were looked upon at that time as akin to slaves ..."
The wife of one of the white developers of the local neighborhood named the community for the first black saint of the Americas. St. Martin obviously held a great deal of influence over a lot of people. He's the kind of person we should try to emulate.
Thinking of him, I reminded myself to forgive quicker, to see that everyone has faults and that we all should be given a chance to change.
I remembered St. Martin and his powerful influence shortly after seeing the name George Zimmerman coupled with the word "regret" in a headline last week.
Zimmerman called in to the "Armed American Radio" show a week ago, saying his life hasn't been easy since he shot and killed 17-year-old, unarmed Trayvon Martin. He said he is not working, he is in debt and family members have had to change jobs, addresses or schools. "I don't really remember what normal is," he said.
He blamed the media for his problems, except for Fox News host Sean Hannity, and he offered this advice to other neighborhood watch wannabes who shoot an unarmed teenager as he or she is walking home: "...I would definitely invest in getting some type of self-defense insurance, and again, arming yourself with the knowledge of what you can do and what you should or shouldn't do after the incident," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman regrets not having self-defense insurance? I didn't even know there was such a thing.
He didn't seem to regret following Martin, shooting and killing him, or bringing hardship to his own family as well as Trayvon's.
He doesn't regret seeing the teenager's grieving mother and father all over TV then and now, parents who also would like to have their normal lives back, as well as the life of their son?
Zimmerman only regretted not having the foresight to purchase self-defense insurance so that he could have a normal life after killing someone whose life should have been just as important to him.
Anger comes quickly, maybe because the number of episodes such as this continue to grow. I wasn't feeling St. Martin's forgiveness.
Pope John said St. Martin "excused the faults of others. He forgave the bitterest injuries."
I said to myself I need to get to that point in my Christian walk where I can forgive and excuse.
Repeat that over and over again, I said to myself. Forgive and excuse.
I recently read where a black soccer player on a Russian team was fined and suspended for three matches for reacting to fans who were racially abusive to him. He showed them his middle finger.
In a similar incident on a different Russian soccer team, a black player was suspended for two matches.
Forgive and excuse.
As I think about the deaths of unarmed black men at the hands of police, I caution myself to forgive and excuse.
Thinking back on the news this spring concerning Nevada Libertarian and tax-evader Cliven Bundy, I hear his comments that black people are in trouble because we've forgotten how to pick cotton, and I must forgive and excuse.
Knowing Bundy also called on supporters to join him, most of them carrying guns, but none of them were shot by police or government officials, makes me repeat forgive and excuse louder.
The words of former Los Angeles Clippers' owner Donald Sterling, telling his biracial girlfriend not to be seen in public with black people, should be replaced in my head with forgive and excuse.
The ridiculed, the de-humanized, the demonized, the oppressed are the people charged to forgive and excuse. St. Martin was of that class. He forgave.
I have no desire to stand at the Great White Throne of Judgment with little to say when my Lord asks me if I loved my enemies and prayed for those who persecuted me.
Right now, looking in the mirror and knowing my forgiveness of my oppressors is not as solid as it should be, I can only see the reflection of someone as unfeeling as Zimmerman, as clueless as Bundy and Sterling, and as filled with the anger of oppression as those soccer players in Russia and demonstrators in America.
St. Martin said forgive and excuse. God said love them and pray for them.
I'm saying I'm trying, but it is taking longer than it should.