Warning: This is a critique in process. The final verdict remains uncertain.
That's because I'm going to highlight an ongoing Dallas Morning News narrative series that launched Sunday with Part One and continued today with Part Two. The next installment is scheduled for Tuesday. I don't know exactly how many total chapters are planned.
But this much is already clear: There seems to be a strong religion angle to this in-depth project. The story focuses on a father whose teenage daughter and her boyfriend plotted 25 years ago to kill his wife — and did — and tried but failed to take his life.
Already, forgiveness has emerged as a major theme of the father's journey. But that angle remains largely unexplored.
"Betrayal" was the banner headline Sunday as the project opened with this dramatic scene:
Gunshots startled Buz Caldwell from sleep. They filled the room with hot light and blew him from bed. He came to on the floor, his feet toward the headboard. Blood soaked the carpet.
Buz shouted to his wife, Rosalyn, who had been asleep next to him in her pink nightgown.
He tugged open the nightstand drawer and reached for his pistol. It was gone.
So was the intruder. Buz never saw the shooter.
He checked his digital alarm clock: 11:47 p.m. He struggled to his knees, then crumpled. Somehow, he inched toward the phone across the room.
Every breath hurt. When he tried to raise his head, he blacked out again.
A light flicked on in the hallway just as he reached for the phone.
“Krissi, is that you?” he called out. The shadow of his 16-year-old daughter filled the doorway.
“I need your help,” he said. “I’ve been shot.”
Krissi called 911. Her words were so matter of fact, so calm, that the Frisco police dispatcher at first believed the call was a hoax.
What the dispatcher heard in Krissi Caldwell’s voice was not deceit but disappointment. The teenager entered the bedroom expecting — hoping — to find both of her parents dead.
Read a bit more, and the writer presents the thesis of the series:
Krissi had committed the worst kind of betrayal. Once, she had been Buz’s baby girl, but now, he grew determined to seek vengeance. He testified against Krissi and demanded the harshest possible sentence. He got what he wanted, but for years after, his heart remained cold.
Then something happened to Buz Caldwell.
Think of the worst thing a loved one ever did to you. Think of the shock and pain you felt when you saw this person’s other face. How long did you carry that rage, that scar on your heart? Do you carry it still? What would it take you to forgive?
Here’s what it took for Buz Caldwell. If there’s hope for him, there’s hope for the rest of us.
That hope ... that forgiveness ... what role, if any, did religion play?
In Part Two, the newspaper addresses that question, but in a way that feels — at least to me — more philosophical than theological:
Prophets and poets have written about mercy and forgiveness for centuries.
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama and the prophet Muhammad have spoken of the need to forgive and be forgiven. No less a sage than Willie Nelson sings that forgiveness is “the only way that I’ll find peace of mind.”
In religion, forgiveness is often associated with purification: Sin is a stain on the sinner, and forgiveness is the cleanser. Buddha overcame anger before he found enlightenment. Jews ask God for forgiveness on Yom Kippur, but only after requesting the same from those they’ve wronged.
When God says “vengeance is mine,” he is not just issuing threats; he’s taking on the burden of anger to lighten our load. The rage is too much for us to carry.
The lesson in all of this: Forgiveness is something you do for yourself. Those who forgive are no longer defined by how they were betrayed.
We have all borne witness to astounding acts of forgiveness by seemingly average people. The families who forgave the man who slaughtered their loved ones inside Charleston AME Emanuel Church. The wrongly imprisoned North Carolina man who hugged the woman who misidentified him as her rapist and said, “I’ve never been mad at you.”
Then there is Buz Caldwell, who no longer goes to church but still holds to the Southern Baptist faith he grew up with.
“I believe God sent his only son to die on the cross for our sins,” Buz said. “If he could send his son to the cross to die, how was it that I could not forgive these kids? I either had to practice what I believed in or had to stop believing — and I wasn’t going to stop believing.”
OK, that's a start, but I'm a little unsure how one holds true to his Southern Baptist faith without going to church. Please tell me more.
As the series resumes, I'd love to see the Dallas Morning News delve deeper into Caldwell's religious beliefs and spiritual journey. Those aspects of his life and character seem crucial.
This is the focus promised for Part Three:
Buz finds that forgiving his daughter and forgiving her boyfriend, Bobby, is a package deal.