So far as I can remember, and today it feels like I can remember pretty darn far, I’ve never done anything that would have likely gotten me any jail time. I won’t debate which forfeited opportunities for such owed to strength of character and which ones owed to lack of courage; the net result has been a life lived beyond the bars. However, and it’s a very significant however, I have done things that would have resulted in my execution had I lived under the Levitical Law recorded in the Old Testament.
Don’t bother holding your breath or licking your lips in anticipation; I’m not going to offer any hints regarding that particular history. I bring it up only to show some basis for empathy, for understanding, for compassion.
My colleague and friend, B. J. Smith, cannot make the same claim in regard to legal record. He recently pled guilty to a few felony charges, what people generally call “white collar crimes.” Although these things have nothing whatsoever to do with his coaching role at the College, there is no dispute that he broke the law, no argument that he did some things that he should not have done. He has admitted that; it is public knowledge. It is, in fact, quite a bit more public than B. J. or many of the rest of us would prefer; it was on the front page of the Saint Joseph News-Press earlier this week.
I suspect that many of us are quite thankful that our sins, mistakes, errors and faults have never been chronicled in the local paper. That gratitude should not lead us into a sense of superiority but rather humility and understanding. In the words of The Carpenter, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.”
I cannot say that I am unbiased in this matter; I have to admit that I really like B. J. Smith. Not because of his being named National Junior College Athletic Association-Division II “Coach of the Year,” not because of taking our women’s team to the national championship playoffs two years in a row, not because of the parallel consecutive Jayhawk Conference championships. It’s not even because of the tremendous positive influence to which players, parents and friends testify.
It’s much more selfish than that; it’s because of the way his remarkable positive attitude has helped me. It’s because of the fact that he tells people, “There is always something positive in your situation, no matter what your situation is.” It’s because of the fact that every time that I have a conversation with him, I gain respect for him. It’s because of the fact that the longer I know him, the more I like him.
One of life’s simple and powerful truths is that when you love someone, it’s easier to forgive. When you love someone, it’s easier to choose compassion. When you love someone, it’s easier to choose forgiveness, mercy and understanding.
Perhaps at this point in my life I find it easier than some to choose the path of peace but I did not come to this place easily or quickly. I know that the seeds of mercy that I have sown have produced good fruit. I know that sowing forgiveness yields forgiveness. I know that I owe my soul to God’s good grace, mercy and love.
And on behalf of my friend B. J., I plead with the people of Doniphan County, the much wider circle of those associated in any way with Highland Community College, and the even broader community of life: choose mercy.