Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Death At Death's Door

It's hard for me to accept what happened in OK last night. It's even harder to hear what people are saying about it.

Clayton Lockett committed a violent, horrible crime. No one denies this. He admitted it.

And he was sentenced to death. In my estimation, he deserved it, too.

What he didn't deserve was: 1) the way we administer capital punishment in the US; 2) the cocktail used in OK; and 3) the ultimate means by which he died.

Let's set some ground rules about the discussion of capital punishment. First, I don't think many would argue there are some crimes so heinous that death is the best -- most just -- response. (If your conscience sways you otherwise, I have no problem with that as it is your right to work to that end as part of the national policy.)

Second, there is zero argument that there is a racial and economic disparity in America over who gets tried, convicted and sentenced as part of a death penalty case. So if you're poor or a minority, you're pretty much gonna rank at the bottom of the Justice Ladder under, say, a Wall Street banker that nearly caused the world's economic system to collapse by taking advantage of unsophisticated investors with complex and dangerously-flawed products designed solely to make money for the bank and -- eventually -- rip everyone else. As of today, not a single person has been charged for that, something that killed real livelihoods, real dreams, real families, real jobs and in some cases real people that killed themselves or delayed medical care to the point of harm. But, hey, the Apostle James warned us of the wealthy who take advantage of the poor for personal gain under the guise of good business.

So, while I have no problem with the death penalty being just, I do have a problem when it looks like most of the people who receive the ultimate sentence do so because of something as arbitrary as race and money. Yes, money talks and money buys privilege but our system should not give the completely obvious appearance of such an evil. Sadly, it does.

What bothered me about the OK event was the way in which Lockett died. It was a cocktail solution that didn't kill him: it tortured him. It was inhumane.

So? He is an animal! He deserved it!
A bullet would have been cheaper and quicker!
What about the victim? He should have died as she died!
Who cares? He was sentenced to die and this will be a message to criminals!

All of those responses sadden me. As a human being, I really cannot imagine that a human being will feel that way as a matter of policy. Yes, I would be angry to the point of wanting to kill the guy myself had it been my daughter, but that wouldn't make my feelings right. As a matter of policy, I have to think beyond myself.

See, I know that we make mistakes. We get the wrong guy. Our prejudices get in the way. Innocent people are often convicted. Death is the ultimate means of depriving someone of liberty and we don't do that lightly.

That is why the process is set up to take a long, long time: mistakes here are more than an oopsie and can't be fixed with an apology and money.

But in the end, we are better than the way Lockett died. Our society cannot prostitute its soul on the altar of revenge, applauding such an awful way for someone to die. We have to maintain humanity even for inhumane crimes. We have to be kind even in the unkind act of administering death. We have to act morally no matter what.

We cannot. We cannot become the very thing we find repugnant in the criminal.

We are better than that. We have to be.

We just have to be.

Botched Execution - CBS News

The Horrific Crime - The Mirror (UK)

Questions About the Execution - NPR News

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

"Resurrection:" An All-to-Familiar Show

I've been watching ABC's "Resurrection" since its premier. Not bad. I actually like it. I know, I know ... it's a little like "Lost" that keeps everyone guessing (and a little ticked off). And, yes, it is based on the French TV series "The Returned" but I don't care about any of that. I'm interested in -- and enjoy watching -- the development of the society around the people who have returned from the dead. The "why" and "how" will be up to the writers and I'm sure they will, in due course, explain all that. What has fascinated me is the response of the community to the circumstance. Really, I've enjoyed that development.

Some people pull together and want to learn and understand. Some react with fear. A few turn violent. There are those that react in mob form and those that react rationally.

Some are opportunists that will use the occasion consolidate some power, especially in a church setting.

It is the last person I want to discuss. Helen Edgerton - played by Veronica Cartwright -- is such a character. I've seen "Helen" many, many times in the form of a church member who seeks to use whatever means possible to bring drama, dissention, and harm. This person will take a truth (usually a half truth) and beat people up with it, under the guise of "telling you what I feel," which is really just an excuse to be rude and very, very mean.

Yes, "Helen," the script writers put you out there in all your glory.

Pastors see these "Helens" (or "Harolds") all the time. These people are a thorn in the pastor and church's side. These individuals keep things stirred up to the point where it is not worth the effort because the church / pastor is sabotaged almost constantly. These people are not recognized until they come out from the shadows, filled with rage, discord and strife. Once they raise their head to strike, the pastor will be able to recognize their subtly, but by then the poison is already injected.

And they use "truth" as a weapon. "The church has the right to know." "Just be honest, right?" "I believe in openness and transparency."

Let's remember the Prodigal Son (LK 15:11-32). According to the older brother, the Prodigal wasted the Father's inheritance money on prostitutes and wild living (Lk 15:30).  Think about it: we never would have know that fact had the older brother not told it. The truth can be just an excuse to be mean, when the Grace Thing would be to just keep it to himself.

Yes, "Helen," I recognize you, but you have had a lot of real-life names in real-life churches, and each time you have caused much harm to real people.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

It's People. That's How Jesus Did It.

I'm prolly gonna get shot at for this one, but here goes.

The blog post below takes about 7-10 minutes to read. Read is slowly. Catch the significance of each sentence. It's really powerful.

It's also not politically correct for most circles -- at least, most Baptist Circles in this part of GA. Why? Well, it basically says that most of our Christian efforts are not effective, and they are not effective because -- well, really -- the ethic of Christ that is relational to those on the margins is lost in the American church. The church today is more concerned with politics, saying "no" to just about everything, or throwing money at programs / politicians / powermongers. In the end, the eternal ethic of Christ is something talked about, but not lived. While most in the church are fighting against the legal contract of marriage being open to all citizens, the least among us are treated with an insidious contempt by neglect. The powerful abuse the poor while we watch the latest mid-term polling forecast.

Worth the read.

Experimental Theology (Richard Beck)