Bishop Frank Logue preached this sermon for a virtual visitation to
St. Anne’s Episcopal Church in Tifton, Georgia on September 13, 2020.
Forgiving others can be so difficult and yet the only thing harder than forgiving someone is continuing to nurture the injury in your heart so the unforgiveness remains. I want to share with you how to begin a journey of forgiveness, but to do so I need to tell a story from my family history that shows the stark difference between forgiving and not being able to let go. That story will begin with a mule kicking a cow and by the time the story is done, eight people will be dead.
But I need to fill you in on what came before. Some years before our story, my great grandfather, Joe Frank Logue, was stabbed three times and shot. In the trial that followed his death, my great grandmother Annie Logue testified that her husband was a big man and the man who killed him was only defending himself. No good could come, she said, from punishing his killer and so depriving another family of their father. That was one story. Now the mule and the cow.
In September of 1940, Davis Timmerman’s mule got into his neighbor Wallace Logue’s yard in Edgefield County, South Carolina. It was not the first time and Wallace had warned Davis. The mule was given to kicking. The milk cow was a necessity. On this day, my grandfather’s Uncle Wallace came home to find the mule had kicked the cow in the head and the cow had to be put down. He was mad. Davis Timmerman offered Wallace $20 for the cow. Wallace stewed and then went to Timmerman’s Store to get more money. Davis Timmerman was slight while Wallace was 6’3”. Wallace demanded $40 for the cow and then took out an axe handle from a sales rack when Davis refused. He got in a good hit before Davis pulled a gun hidden behind the counter. He shot twice. Wallace fell to the floor and bled out. Timmerman drove to the Sheriff’s Office and turned himself in.
In the trial that followed, the jury ruled the killing had been in self-defense Davis Timmerman went free. Wallace’s wife Sue and his brother George couldn’t sit still with forgiving Davis. They were all faithful members of Little Stevens Creek Baptist Church, but this lesson had not gotten through uniformly.
Sue and George gave $500 to their nephew, also named Joe Frank Logue, to get him to hire a gunman to kill Davis Timmerman. Joe Frank, an officer with the Spartanburg Police Department, hired an out-of-work plasterer named Clarence Bagwell to take vengeance for them. A year after Davis Timmerman killed Wallace Logue, Joe Frank hid in the floorboard of a car while Bagwell went into Timmerman’s Store and shot five times in rapid succession with .38 caliber pistol. The two then went and threw the pistol in a lake. The matter was done.
Bagwell later talked when drunk and the woman he told notified the police. They picked up Joe Frank Logue at work, but news reached the Logues that newly elected Sheriff Wad Allen and Deputy ‘Doc’ Clark were on the way to arrest Sue and George. My grandparents and my dad were in the house. They left. Fred Dorn, a sharecropper on Sue Logue’s land showed up and he and George and Sue prepared to make a stand.
In short order Sheriff Allen was shot in the head and killed, and Deputy Clark was severely wounded in the stomach and arm. Although wounded, Clark managed to shoot both Dorn and George Logue. Clark then left the house and staggered to Hwy. 378 where a passing motorist picked him up.
Law officers surrounded the house, but they also asked the local circuit court judge to appeal to the Logues and Dorn to turn themselves in. Judge Strom Thurmond (who later became Governor and Senator Thurmond) walked unarmed into the home and came out with the Logues. Dorn died the next day, and Deputy Clark the day after that.
Four months later George Logue, Sue Logue, and Clarence Bagwell sat through the three-day trial. In two hours, the jury came back with the death penalty for all three. A later trial for Joe Frank Logue reached the same verdict.
Sue, George, and Clarence went to the electric chair on January 15, 1943 all within an hour of one another. Joe Frank Logue, who had hired Bagwell for the Timmerman killing, was sentenced to die on January 23, 1944. After eating his final meal, he was prepped for the electric chair. Governor Olin D. Johnston arrived at the prison shortly after midnight to visit Joe Frank, and soon commuted his sentence to life.
In all eight people died as a result of a mule kicking a cow: Wallace Logue, Davis Timmerman, Sheriff Wad Allen, Deputy W. L. Clark, Fred Dorn, Sue Logue, George Logue, and Clarence Bagwell.
In the first story, my great grandmother spoke up for forgiveness and understanding when her husband was killed. In the second, her brother and sister in law and nephew couldn’t let it go. Joe Frank was, by the way, transformed and eventually went free. I recall fondly going hunting with my great uncle and his sons when I was growing up.
I know this story is a little extreme. But the body count for not forgiving is very high. Resentment and anger lead to heart issues, cancer, and basically increased risk for whatever might ail you if your immune system is low. If the cost of forgiving someone seems high, you haven’t totaled the cost of not forgiving.
If unhealed emotional wounds could be seen, the way a fresh deep cut can be seen, then our stores, churches and ball fields would look more like the site of a plane crash. The walking wounded stumbling around in shock, not realizing how life-threatening the wounds truly are.
Don’t deal with your Dad’s alcoholism. Never bring it up to him or anyone else. Instead, just ignore your Dad. Cut him out of your life. Then take every opportunity to make your Mom suffer for allowing that man into your childhood home. Never mention why you act like you do. Just get your revenge slowly by slowly. And when the old pain from the times he hit you or the words he said in drunken anger resurface, just stop by the liquor store on the way home. You’ll be fine.
If you act like nothing happened. Or if you heal just the surface, you will leave the hard work of healing undone. Not forgiving is like drinking poison every day hoping that it will kill the person you don’t want to forgive.
So how do we get to real healing? It takes true, lasting forgiveness. Forgiveness of big hurts takes a process in which you come to see what needs to be forgiven, you come to see the person who hurt you as God sees them, you give up on revenge and you let go of the hurt. What you don’t do is ignore the problem.
Please know that forgiving someone does not mean forgetting, or staying in a place where the person can continue to hurt you. You can forgive someone of abuse even as you move away from him or her.
In forgiving someone who has mistreated you, it is best to start by remembering that person is as human as you are. To take but one example, imagine that your father treated you roughly when you were growing up. You can start by recalling that while he tough on you, he treated you as badly as he himself was treated by his own father. By forgiving your father for the wrongs he did to you, you may break the cycle that began generations earlier.
This forgiveness you offer is an act of the will first. The name that first came to mind may be a person that you have trouble imagining how you can forgive. Try it anyway.
The short prayer I found to assist with this is Bless ____, Change Me. Pray for God to bless the person who hurt you. Pray for God to change you. Saying the words has power. For in the end, it is not through your own force of will that the healing power of forgiveness comes. That healing comes from God’s love, which you can begin to release more fully by saying those words. If you can only say the words and not really believe them, don’t fret. Try it again later. Keep coming back to those words of forgiveness. There is power in releasing the other person from that debt they owe you for the suffering he or she caused.
Here is one last truth about forgiveness. The hardest person to forgive is not the one who caused you the greatest hurt. The hardest person to forgive is your self. Seeing others as God sees them, means also seeing yourself as God sees you.
I promise that I have not said all that needs to be said. What you need is to talk to a priest or therapist. You need to lay the hurts out to someone who can help you sort out how you can begin the process of forgiveness. Then you need to take the steps to let go of the hurts.
Here’s how you’ll know you have succeeded in forgiving others from the heart as Jesus teaches in our Gospel reading. If you truly forgive someone, when the old wound resurfaces, you won’t have the anger, the resentment, the negative energy rise up like it does now. You will remember the pain. You will see how you have grown from finding the lasting healing for yourself. Then you will know you have truly forgiven and you are free.