Sailing the High Seas (Midwest-Style)

The following is the next installment of what is now the woefully, embarrassingly out-of-date travelogue of the 2013 Rempe vacation.  In today’s episode, we ferry ‘cross the Mersey Lake Michigan to visit the land of a thousand cheeses, and seventy-or-so cousins of Scandinavian descent.

Lake ExpressWhen it comes to traveling across this great country of ours, there is no shortage of modes of transportation available to the sojourner.  Each has it’s own particular charm and/or appeal.  There is, of course, the car – the very symbol of American independence – riding the highways and byways of the land and experiencing roadside America up close and personal.  There is the airplane – the fruit of Orville’s and Wilbur’s collective labors – which shortens travel time and offers the unique view of the land from 30,000 feet above.  There’s the romantic notion of “riding the rails” and reminiscing about a bygone era when the “iron horse” connected coast to coast.  (As Kipling famously wrote, “East is East, and West is West, and the twain runs on the twacks.”)  There are those who prefer to traverse on two wheels, with the wind in their faces and bugs in their teeth.  And, in some places,  there is the option to ride the waves, sailing across the country’s lakes and waterways.

Now, when traveling with small children, these options are reduced.  Motorcycling is right out – there’s no good way to put five people, no matter how small, on one bike, and even if there were, a bit of the biker mystique would certainly be lost in the process.  Flying is possible, but the thought of having to check three different car seats and at least one stroller in order to subject total strangers to my amped-up children in close quarters (not to mention the cost of doing so) usually causes me to break out in a rash.  The train is a great option – provided you’re going where the train is.  (They tend not to take detours to your aunt’s house.)  So, when all is said and done, we usually end up loading up the family car and pray that we can make the whole circuit without busting a fan belt.

However, when the opportunity to actually combine modes of transportation avails itself, it’s hard not to jump at the opportunity.  So when I learned that there was a ferry that ran from western Michigan to Milwaukee, I couldn’t say no.  (Also, there is the added benefit of not having to drive through Gary, Indiana, and not having to experience rush hour on the Dan Ryan Expressway.)  So with Wisconsin in our sights, we headed out to Muskegon to catch the Lake Express.

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The Power to Forgive

A version of the following post originally appeared on the Prison Fellowship blog (a/k/a, my day job).  Check it out sometime!

“How do people forgive a crime like murder?”  The headline from a BBC News Magazine story asks a question that most of us hope we never have to answer, but it is a question that we would all be wise to ponder.

The BBC article interviews Bill Pelke.  In 1985, Pelke’s grandmother was brutally killed by four teenaged girls in her home in northwest Indiana.  Fifteen-year-old Paula Cooper, viewed by prosecutors as the leader of the group, was convicted of murder for the stabbing death of the 78-year-old Bible teacher, and sentenced to death.  A subsequent appeal based on Cooper’s age reduced the sentence to life in prison.

At the time of the conviction, Pelke said he felt the conviction was appropriate.  But after reflecting on the values he had learned from his grandmother, and seeing the impact the sentencing had on Cooper’s grandfather, Pelke began to reconsider.

“My grandmother would not have wanted this old man to witness his teenage grand-daughter die,” he says. “Everyone in north-west Indiana wanted Paula Cooper to die – Nana would have been appalled by the anger.”

Pelke decided that forgiving Cooper was what both God and his grandmother would have wanted him to do.  For eight years, he attempted to meet with Cooper, only to be denied the opportunity by prison officials.  Finally, on Thanksgiving day in 1994, Pelke was allowed to come face-to-face with his grandmother’s killer.

“I walked in and gave her a hug,” Pelke recounts.  He then offered her his forgiveness.

Pelke’s act of mercy was not without its detractors.  His relationship with his father, who found his mother’s body after her murder, was damaged for years following the decision to forgive Cooper.

“I knew I was doing the right thing,” says Pelke, “and later my father forgave me for forgiving Paula Cooper.  He came a long way.”

Such a desire to offer forgiveness to someone who has done something as unconscionable as murder is difficult for many to understand.  Was Cooper not guilty of the crime?  Had she done anything to warrant Pelke’s forgiveness?  To hold out the promise of compassion in the face of such evil seems unjust – even unnatural.

And that’s because it is unnatural.

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