At the Corner of Grace and Justice

grace and justice  I did not know her, but the death of Meg Menzies haunts me.  It reminds me how fragile, beautiful and fleeting life can be.  My friend Bradley knew her and his grief makes my sadness double. Another friend knows the son of the Dr. Michael Carlson, the drunk driver who killed her,  and her witness to this tragedy deepens my sorrow.

On Monday morning at 8:15 AM a young mother of three went for a morning jog. She was an experienced runner, on the correct side of the road – doing everything right. A drunk driver – a medical doctor on his way to work – lost control of his car and hit her. She later died at a local hospital.

The facts are clear. The grief is unfathomable.

Enter the media. Enter the social media. Enter the dialogue.

He needs to go to prison forever.

Other people have been killed on that road. It’s  Richmond’s fault.

 He was driving under the influence with alcohol and pills in the car!

He says he had been drinking the night before.

He blew a .11 at 9:00 AM. What was he the night before???

He takes chemotherapy. That means the effects of alcohol last.  

No, that means he probably shouldn’t be drinking and definitely shouldn’t be drinking and driving!

He is a good man. He didn’t mean to hurt anybody.

He was going to work as a doctor while intoxicated. He was definitely going to hurt someone.

He has had a lot of loss in his life.

Now we all have loss.

Then it trails off into a weird fight about Obamacare and birth control…

Quickly the posts are hijacked by people saying we need remember both sides and feel bad for everyone involved. By Sunday the preachers are writing messages and giving sermons about grace – forgiveness for everyone.

 “Grace, Grace, Grace,”  the preachers say. “We must pray for him.”

“Amen, Amen,” the sheeple bray. “There but for the grace of God go I.”

(Does it every strike anyone else that it’s not comforting to hear if it wasn’t for some kind of divine intervention we’d all be drunk drivers? Can no one make a better decision?)

Here’s the thing:  I don’t want to pray for Dr. Michael Carlson. I want to punch him in the gut, slap him in the face, spit on his medical license and THEN I will freaking pray for him. Because I am human. And that’s okay too.

Fast grace isn’t really grace. It’s like fast food – a cheap, gross knock-off that isn’t really food for the soul and doesn’t make anything better in the long run.  We need to process before jumping on the grace train.

At some point the church needs to let us feel what we feel and express what we express. Don’t damper our anger with what we should feel. Surround us with safety so we can feel what we do feel. Stop cramming grace down our throats and start giving us permission to learn to reconcile feelings, faith, and fate.  Give us wisdom, examples, and time. We will get to grace.

It’s normal for preachers to talk about grace. But – when are we gonna talk about justice?

There is nothing that will bring Meg Menzies back to her family. But there should be justice for the person who took her away. Folks were furious when he got bail less than 24 hours after her death. They want the trial today and the life in prison without parole to be sentenced tomorrow.  There is a lot of frustration with a system known to be unbalanced by things like race, money, and status.  Those folks need to slow down too.

Fast justice isn’t really just. Our flawed system is all we have – and it may actually work better when the raging crowd isn’t turning the crank.

It’s a challenge to all of us when Grace and Justice seem to come at each other in perpendicular tension. At the corner of Grace and Justice stands the truth.

The truth is: Meg Menzies is gone too soon. Dr. Michael Carlson killed her.

 And all the rest will take time.

Time to be angry.

Time to be sad.

Time to honor her.

Time to hold him accountable.

Time to learn from her life.

Time to learn from his life.

Time to let God forgive until we can forgive.

Time to forgive.

Time to love…

Time to love…

Time to love…

In the end, as much as we all grieve the unfair loss of this young woman, we will always be thankful for the time she spent among us and the way her love – for God, for her children, for running, and for the world made us want to love too.

In the end, whether Dr. Carlson gets a slap on the hands and six weeks in rehab, or prison time to reflect on the nature of selfish bad decisions – I commend him to the legal system in which I have no power.  But I will continue to hope that the arc of history really does bend toward justice – whatever that means in this case.

My partner Cathy is running for Meg like thousands of others on Saturday.  I can’t run – but I am running in spirit.  I hope you will move – in some way – too.

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2 Comments on “At the Corner of Grace and Justice”

  1. Anonymous says:

    I was a patient of dr Carlson he saved my life twice due to his devotion and concern for his patients he is a sweet human and knowing him he has prosecuted himself more than anyone of could do

    • I’m sure that he is. However – prisons are full of sweet, devoted human beings. Good fathers, and caring professionals. Those people committed crimes and prison is the right place for them. A week ago Dr. Carlson was re-arrested for tampering with his court-ordered alcohol band and possibly drinking. He’s an addict. He need helps. Prisons have AA programs that can help him. He is God’s child. He needs Grace. God is able to give him Grace in prison.

      Bottom line: He may be punishing himself. But the Justice System doesn’t allow people to punish themselves. They created it for Justice. The place for an addict who knowing drive intoxicated and murdered an innocent mother is prison – no matter how nice he is.

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