Friday, July 3, 2015

A Peaceful Kingdom

"A shoot shall come out from the root of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord."(Is.11:1-2)

By now, most have heard the news that The Episcopal Church in both its House of Bishops and House of Deputies at General Convention has adopted resolutions that permit two new trial marriage rites and instructs an understanding of marriage that would include same-gender couples by eliminating the words "man and woman." These votes did not happen willy nilly. There was time for discussion. There was time to file amendments. There was most definitely time for prayer. And then there was time for voting.  And the outcome was for marriage equality in the sacraments. 

There are some who don't see it as equality. There are some who think this is a rush toward changing centuries of tradition in favor of a minority within the church. They feel as strongly in their righteousness as I feel in my convinction that the righteous act is to include all who are baptized into all the sacraments. 

There has been much ink written by people on both sides of the political spectrum of the church about this issue, and I don't need to rehash all that, or engage in arguments about the many definitions of marriage over the centuries, not to mention how marriage came to be a sacramental rite to begin with. I am happy to leave that to others to parse out. Instead, for me, I am interested in the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court presented our country with a new reality, for all of us, where I am afforded the fundemental civil right of marriage in all 50 states. This reality has been recognized by the Episcopal Church as it seeks to minister to the LGBTQ+ community which has been so hurt by the institutional church. Whether any one person or bishop agrees with this reality or not is immaterial; it is the reality. And so where do we go from here?

"The wolf shall lie down with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a child shall lead ." (Is. 11:6)

As one who has been in the minority for a long, long time in the church, both at the intersection of being a lesbian and being a woman, I certainly understand what it feels like to be getting the short end of the stick on any particular matter. So, to the ones who are hurting at the moment, I know you are. And to the ones who hold the longer end of said stick, who continuously feel the need to remind me how to be generous to those who are hurting, thanks, but please stop lecturing me on how to exhibit Christian love. Again, I have had ample opportunity as a lesbian in the church in a much more conservative part of the country to know the pain of those who have experienced being in the minority. I am willing to listen to what pains the more conservative person about this vote. What I am not willing to do is to say that their pain is reason for me to continue being denied my place in the body of Christ. We all are part of this body, the conservative and the liberal, the wolf and the lamb. And in God's economy, everyone is a stockholder and there are no "sides"; only people. 

This is why I think the first step for those dioceses where there is still a lot of hurt and division over the Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell and the passage of resolutions A054 and A036 is for there to be a listening process across the diocese where everyone who wants to say something is given that opportunity. I believe this may serve two important purposes: one is to allow people the opportunity to give voice to their fears as well as their hopes in the march toward more faith in our risen Christ to guide us toward respecting the dignity of everyone. Some bishops may also take this opportunity to hear the full range of the voice of the Spirit as he or she discerns the best way forward for their diocese. The Holy Spirit dwells within all the faithful; listening to all the faithful of a diocese is one way to hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

This will take time. It will take effort. And it will be worth it. If people are heard, both in their hurt and their joy, it will make whatever is the final decision of the bishop something more palatable. The only ones who won't be satisfied are the ones who insist it's their way or the highway. 

At a pre-convention forum at St. John's Episcopal Church in Tallahassee, someone asked if the resolutions were going to result in people leaving the Episcopal Church. After the rector gave his polite answer, I gave the answer inspired by the words of a crazy Christian, the late Fr. Lee Graham:

"Oh, people have been leaving the Episcopal Church for decades over all kinds of things!" I continued, "We shouldn't be focusing on our fears. We should live into the faith that we have." 

"The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder's den. They will not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain; for the earth shall be full with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea." (Is. 11: 8-9)

I cannot promise that there will not be attempts to hurt and destroy. It is my hope that, as people of God, we will refrain from attacking one another and instead make a true commitment to the belief that God is working God's purpose out, and put in the time and effort to meet one another and see Christ in each other through honest discussions.  In God, as in the Episcopal Church, there are no outcasts. This is my prayer for those dioceses where there is strife and discord. 

We're all going to be OK. Really, we're all going to be OK. Trust that the shoot coming from the root of Jesse will only be made stronger if we all commit to making it work.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Stars Aligning

It was as beautiful as I could have hoped for on a muggy evening in North Florida. Venus, the planet of love and sensuality, was appearing in the sky to be so close to Jupiter, the planet of high intellect and spirituality, that they looked like dance partners. Jupiter would wink and Venus would glow. Being at the beach gave us a great opportunity to witness this phenomenon which some say may have been the star that guided the Magi to Jesus in Bethelehem some 2,000 years ago.

I'm glad that the movement of the planets seemed to correspond with the movement of legislation in Salt Lake City at the Episcopal Church's General Convention #78. Love and Higher Intellect appear coming closer together as the House of Bishops moved along legislation to allow Episcopal priests to perform marriages and not just bless them. That may seem really wonky, insider-baseball-played-with-a-verge for some readers, but there is a difference. In the latter case, lesbian and gay couples were allowed to get their necessary marriage license and then go to a civil authority to get married. Once that's done, they could seek a blessing on their marriage from a priest. In some dioceses, the bishops authorized a provisional blessing rite which allowed the priest to conduct a ceremony, but could not declare the couple married. Again, only a civil authority could do that. What's being proposed now are two trial liturgies that allow priests to actually marry and sign off on the state's paperwork for a couple. In addition, there is a change to the words as stated in the Book of Common Prayer about marriage being a "man and a woman," and offering an alternative opening of the service to something a little more palatable on the ears of a same-gender loving person. I, personally, have found it very hard to hear the story of the miracle of Cana as one that backed up heterosexual marriage instead of God taking what was undrinkable, sin-filled ritual water, and making it into a delicious Cabarnet. It's not a miracle about a wedding; it's showing the truth of how God can take the bad and make it good.

The votes on both resolutions were overwhelmingly positive. And there is an "out clause" provided to bishops with objections. They can refuse to let the liturgies be used, but they must help couples denied a chance to get married a way to have that happen. They can't simply say, "No" and be done with it without facing some serious problems. This gives comfort to some. For me, I pray for those LGBT couples living in dioceses with bishops who might take advantage of this "conscience clause." I see little difference between this and refusing to let divorced people remarry, or denying the sacrament of marriage to let an inter-racial or inter-faith couple wed. Those kinds of exceptions would not be tolerated by most people today. Why is this OK to do to lesbian and gay couples who, otherwise, meet all the requirements of the church's expectation of marriage? 

The stars aligned to put love and higher intellect so close together. As these resolutions move on to the House of Deputies, I pray that the movement of the planets might mirror the movement of the hearts and minds of those in the chamber of clergy and lay deputies. And for the bishops: perhaps ponder that image of this astronomical occurence as a metaphor for this marriage debate. If this is a reproduction of the Star over Bethlehem, what a guide to be in the sky for the General Convention as it draws to a close on Friday!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Supremely Joyous and Awaiting Translation

The wait is over. The United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, has made marriage equality the law of the land in all 50 states. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court's majority, found that denial of marriage licenses to LGBT couples is in violation of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. And Kennedy wrote:

"The challenged laws burden the liberty of same-sex couples, and they abridge central precepts of equality.The marriage laws at issue are in essence unequal: Same-sex couples are denied benefits afforded opposite-sex couples and are barred from exercising a fundamental right. Especially against a long history of disapproval of their relationships, this denial works a grave and continuing harm, serving to disrespect and subordinate gays and lesbians."

This from a man who when he sat as a federal appeals judge in the 9th Circuit back in the 1970s ruled against one of the first married gay couples forcing them to leave the country, and then re-enter it illegally. Forty years have obviously given Justice Kennedy time to reflect and see a new way. It is possible, and we must never lose hope that reasonable people can change.

I hold that same hope for those meeting right now in Salt Lake City, Utah, at The Episcopal Church's General Convention #78. With the Supreme Court having made the final say on our secular law, the Church's large bicameral body is weighing what to do with its sacramental marriage rites. Will they make changes to Canon Law to allow for marriages to take place? Will they adopt concurrent resolutions designed to give some ease to potential language conflicts in the Book of Common Prayer? Will they defer and insist on more theological study, more evidence that the sacrament of Christian marriage can extend to two people and not just two people of opposite genders?

Our "Saint of the Day" at the 12:10 Eucharist today was Isabel Florence Hapgood, an Episcopalian with an affinity for the Russian Orthodox Church and its Divine Liturgy. Hapgood, after extensive study and travel in Russia in 1887-89, sought and received permission to translate the Orthodox liturgy into English. Her skills in language (Russian, Polish, French, Latin and Church Slovanic) made her a translator of note at the end of the 19th Century. That idea of "translator" resonated with me as I continued to offer up constant prayers for those examining the questions about the marriage rites in the Episcopal Church and the canonical and constitutional authority. I think what's needed most in this debate is that ability the Spirit provided in the upper room at Pentecost to translate and allow all parties to hear clearly the power of God. We need a translator to take our sometimes cumbersome language and practices and make them real and spiritually relevant to a world that is moving at a faster pace toward full equality. In other words, we need to have the ability to translate the Love of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit in ways that are understood by generations who don't see a difference between the relationships of their LGBTQ friends and their straight friends. To keep treating them as separate and distinct is to create a further disconnect with the people who are seeking and searching for the God of Unconditional Love that they have heard tell about.

Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The Length of a Second

The church bells, both in the tower and the handbell choir, rang out in memory of the nine people executed at Emanuel AME church last Wednesday evening, and prayers were said for them by name as well as their killer during the Prayers of the People. 

And I wept. The tears just flowed from my eyes. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine anything more horrific and senseless than that unleashing of hatred on a group of innocent people gathered for prayer and study. 

I was struck the other night when on the CBS Evening News, they reported that the white supremecist who shot and killed nine people at an AME church told the police that he had actually thought for a moment about not going through with his planned attack. He had been sitting with a group of people in a Bible study. But then he thought, "If I don't kill them, who will?"

This chilled me to the bone. 

For a moment in time, perhaps a second or a minute, Dylann Roof considered abandoning his premeditated murderous plot. Was it the experience of being in the presence of Christ that made him pause? Was it that these folks welcomed him in to their circle, trusting that he had come there with an intention of good and peace? How long or how fleeting was that moment that raised the question for him, 'Is this the right thing to do? Should I really shoot innocent people who I don't know at all and have done nothing to me'? I have no idea. Such a sociopathic mind that chooses death over life totally eludes me. 

The family members of the slain individuals spoke to Roof via an audio interface. He could not see them and he stood motionless in front of a video camera during his arraignment. He listened to the victims' families strain to keep their voices from cracking into sobs of grief. They spoke words of forgiveness and Love to him. But if you listen to them, you have that sense that even as they strived to forgive, they were battling against that rage that would take them away from the Love they hold dear to in times of trouble and sorrow. I can only imagine how difficult it is to find words to speak to someone who betrayed trust and wrecked havoc on the people of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. He made them, and their beloved people, his target for his warped vision of racial hatred. 

Many Episcopal Churches used the story of David and Goliath today, where David, a smaller in stature man defeats the Philistine warrior, Goliath, with a slingshot. As I listened to that story, I contemplated the many Goliaths that face us out of this tragic event and the many others like it. There is the obvious and ongoing problem of racism and race-based hatred. Some are quick to point out that "race" as in "skin color" is a social, not a biological, construct and that we are one human race. That is true. But we humans are more interested in finding those things which divide us rahter than unite us and so we cling to our social constructs to disasterous ends. We have another, equally as menacing Goliath called the National Rifle Association which continues to spread the false security of gun ownership. The NRA lines the pockets of Congress with dollar bills stained in the blood of those who have died because of the gun manufacturers' products. Everyone's afraid to take them on because, well, they've got money and weapons. But at some point, it has to be as socially unacceptable to own multiple guns as it is to be a chain smoker. These are two Goliaths we must be willing to tackle in the same way that David overcame the odds and defeated the Philistine. 

The church doors were open at Emanuel AME Church this morning, as they have been for many a Sunday year in and year out. This iconic photo, captured by Joe Raedle for Getty Images, tells the story of how a house built on Love will continue, and the old will welcome in the new. A new generation is coming and with that is the hope that these Goliaths that their ancestors have grown weary fighting will finally be laid to rest. This is my prayer. This is my hope. This is my cry in the wilderness.

General Thoughts on a Convention

I've been wrestling and thinking about what I want to say in advance of the upcoming 78th General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Others have written quite a bit. There are the commentaries from the people on "the left" and the people on "the right." And, as one might imagine, the biggest topics of discussion (or at least the ones that are the most contentious) deal with the proposed changes in the church structure and the whole reimagining our mission (which fall under the acronym "TREC") and the even bigger subject of what makes a marriage a "Christian marriage" and will the Episcopal Church allow LGBT couples to be part of that definition? My blog has its beginnings in the exploration of my faith journey as a "queer Christian"; hence I'm going to stick just to giving attention to the marriage issue. I am interested in the potential restructuring of the Church, but I also have had enough life experience to be a bit leery of this idea that we're going to do a wholesale reinvention of the Episcopal Church in a 10-day convention. Such ambitious plans often generate a whole lot of heat without much actual fire because these ideas are always dependant on those with power being willing to share some of their authority with others. On the whole, human tendancy is to hoard perceived power and always find such excellent reasons why it can't be distributed more widely. So, I am not going to hold my breath on any big changes occuring soon.

That's what I have to say about TREC. I have a lot more to say about marriage. And I offer my thoughts based on my credentials as a newly-married lesbian and an active life-long Episcopalian who strives to walk closely with God.

A few weeks ago, in the Diocese of Florida, the bishop called a meeting of all the clergy in the diocese. It was not a mandatory meeting, but there was an implied message of "be there or be square!" The topic was not about the current Convention's proposals, or at least, not exactly. The subject up for discussion was the blessing of same-sex relationships. One might remember that General Convention 77 in Indianapolis three years ago already dealt with the adoption of a provisional marriage blessing rite for same-sex couples. But there had been no discussion or dialogue allowed on the issue of blessings nor any attempt to address it for the past three years. Some rectors of churches in the diocese had attempted to broach the subject and asked if they could be test parishes for using the blessing language. Each time, they were told "No." Even at this latest meeting, the ground rules for the discussion apparently began with an assurance that there would be no change in the diocesan rules in re: blesssing same-sex couples. However, a dialogue has started, even if it's years behind where the rest of the church has gone at this point.  

I also attended a meeting designed to let the laity and clergy of the diocese meet with the bishop and deputies heading to General Convention for the Diocese of Georgia. Unfortunately, only the bishop attended this particular session held in Albany, something that distressed a few of the people in the room. From my perspective, I was happy to have a 90-minute free-flowing question and answer period where we got to hear the thinking of the bishop. This kind of transparency is a welcomed change. And while I didn't always like or agree with the things I was hearing from the bishop, I took him at his word that he was remaining open on the question of the proposed marriage resolutions because he said there were many ideas getting floated and he was still wading through them all. He said he hopes that the U.S. Supreme Court settles the issue of marriage equality in favor of allowing LGBT couples to marry. I would imagine if the civil laws change, this will make a difference for those who want to follow the strict rubrics outlined in the Book of Common Prayer. From what I have observed and heard coming from a large number of people and clergy in the Diocese of Georgia, they're ready for the state to give them the go-ahead. The diocese already allows a portion of the blessing rite for same-sex couples to be used. Whether the whole diocese is ready to plunge into declaring that gays and lesbians can enter into this realm of "a Christian marriage" brings back 'round to whatever gets adopted at General Convention and whether it is something the bishop will allow to happen.

This is probably the most confusing and upsetting part for the vast majority of LGBT people who potentially could see themselves entering into a church. According to the latest Pew Research Survey on Religion, almost half of the the LGBT population identifies as having a religious affiliation with Christian being the most prominent choice. Finding a home in a faith community, however, is tricky business for LGBT people. Lots of us have turned or, in my case, returned to the Episcopal Church in no small part because of the posititve publicity generated by the consecration of bishops such as Gene Robinson and Mary Glasspool. We see the headlines about the Episcopal Church passing resolutions at General Convention that are marvelously progressive. We see the famous "The Episcopal Church Welcomes You" signs on the property. If we''re lucky, we enter a church where the people are genuinely friendly and the clergy greet us and soon we find ourselves getting involved and becoming active. 

But when God's love for us results in the decision to baptize a child or get married or even feel a call to enter the ordained priesthood, too often in too many pockets of the church, the welcome and the warmth suddenly turns cold and unfriendly. We are welcomed to take part in the life of a church community as long as we don't let ourselves get too carried away with following the Spirit of God. We can play the organ, be in the choir, serve as an usher, but some of the sacraments of the church apparently come with fine print and restrictions. And this happens even after the General Convention has spoken in an affirming way about opening the doors of sacramental life to LGBT people. What the New York Times and Chicago Tribune don't explain is that, often times, the language of these resolutions makes sure to include  a "conscience clause" that allows individual bishops to opt out of conforming with what the General Convention has done. Progressive supporters of the LGBT community have said this is necessary in order to get these resolutions passed. But what they haven't considered is what happens when they give bishops such latitude in determining what would constitutes "generous pastoral care" in their "context" and how that just compounds injury to the LGBT faithful who find themselves in a church that nationally boldy proclaims a Gospel of Unconditional Love but locally it is Love predicated on whether we will agree to be "not so gay" or "in your face" (whatever that's supposed to mean!)

I see the same scenario brewing with this Convention and the adoption of a resolution changing the definition of "Christian marriage" to be "marriage between two persons" as opposed to the current "male and female" language. I see the church adopting this change to Canon law, big headlines, and then a refusal to implement in many dioceses that are South of the Mason-Dixon line. There is much fear about what will happen if the church opens this door: will gay people overrun the churches with marriage requests? Will a bishop get sued for failing to comply with this canonical change?

Let me answer the latter with simply referring people to a more knowledgable blogger on this point, Tobias Haller, who is a clergy deputy and served on the task force that has been examining the marriage issue: 
In A Godward Direction. I've linked part two of the three part discussion. Well worth the read if you want the academic and theological arguments.

On the former point, I go back to the statistics that show only 49-percent of LGBT people identify as being a member of a faith tradition. That's a larger number than I would have thought, and yet it also reflects a sad and disturbing truth about the churches: they have been so successful at making LGBTQ+ people feel as though they have no place at God's banquet table that the queer community has desserted the churches. Why, then, would they demand a church marriage ceremony when a civil marriage meets all the important legal needs? Our marriage was a civil ceremony, and yet it was, for me, a sacred moment in which the God of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and manifested in Jesus Christ was present and a witness to our relationship. At times, I sometimes think that some in the church believe themselves to be more relevant to the LGBTQ+ community than they really are. Meanwhile, these same folks would be willing to withhold sacramental marriage from people who they know and see and live alongside in the pews. It all comes back to being afraid.  

Fear is a crippling emotion. And the more we stare at what we fear, the larger that fear seems to grow until it is a big looming monster that we can't possibly deal with and we freeze like a deer caught in the headlights. But just as love drives out the darkness, love will help us conquer our fears if we allow it to be the more dominant emotion. Love that is perfected through God casts out fear. These are not just platitudes and words culled from the letters in Scripture. This is the truism every time a person gives over the fear and allows him or herself to step out in faith. 

There are those who think we need to slow down and give more time to this discussion. One person actually told me that I need to acknowledge that there are people on the other side, and that anything worth doing takes a generation to get it done. Well, the issue of marriage equality actually kicked off in the country in 1975. The Episcopal Church has been pledging full inclusion of LGBT people since 1976. And if my math is correct, that's 40 and 39 years respectively. A generation is roughly 28 years, so we're already into our second generation. It's time for us to get serious about fulfilling the promise to our community that we have the same access to the sacraments as all other people.


Saturday, May 23, 2015

Come, Holy Spirit

 The vote is official: 62-percent of the electorate in Ireland has approved marriage equality for the Emerald Isle, making them the first country in the world to approve by popular vote a constitutional change in favor of lesbians and gays getting married. It was such an overwhelming majority that the opposition leaders conceded defeat before all the votes were in because the writing was so clearly on the wall.

“The people have spoken,” Irish Senator Fidelema Eames, an outspoken opponent of the referendum campaign, told the English newspaper The Telegraph. Eames says all the polling had shown support for the referendum but added that some of the No voters were afraid to express themselves because they felt intimidated by the other side.
 In both Dublin and Cork, people reported seeing rainbows in the sky, a sign that even the heavens were rejoicing in this amazing moment.

The Anglican Church of Ireland, however, was not as excited by this development. In a news release put out today, the Church remained firm in its opposition to marriage for same-sex couples:

The archbishops and bishops of the Church of Ireland wish to affirm that the people of the Republic of Ireland, in deciding by referendum to alter the State’s legal definition of marriage, have of course acted fully within their rights. 

The Church of Ireland, however, defines marriage as between a man and a woman, and the result of this referendum does not alter this. 

The church has often existed, in history, with different views from those adopted by the state, and has sought to live with both conviction and good relationships with the civil authorities and communities in which it is set. Marriage services taking place in a Church of Ireland church, or conducted by a minister of the Church of Ireland may – in compliance with church teaching, liturgy and canon law – continue to celebrate only marriage between a man and a woman. 

We would now sincerely urge a spirit of public generosity, both from those for whom the result of the referendum represents triumph, and from those for whom it signifies disaster.

Disaster? You would have thought this public exercise of democracy had been a terrorist attack.
The Church of Ireland is not alone in the Anglican Communion in holding this type of attitude about the advent of marriage equality. Even in the United States, where 37 states have adopted marriage equality, there are Episcopal dioceses that are slow to change or are flat out refusing to reflect the reality that is around them.

This stuff was very much on my mind as I served at St. John’s 12:10pm service on Friday. The Gospel lesson was from John 21, the portion right after Jesus has prepared a fish breakfast on the beach. He takes Peter aside and quizzes him:

 "When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep." --John 21:15-17

I thought about that mantra, “Feed my sheep; tend my flock; feed my sheep” and reflected on the state of affairs for the LGBTQ+ faithful. There are those sheep who are there, week after week sitting in the pews, waiting to be fed. There are many who have been scattered and haven’t heard the call to come home or, in some cases, they have come home only to be run off again because the shepherds left in charge haven’t tended to them, but instead used their crook to strike them. Not many are going to stick around a place where they’re going to get beaten up in the name of God. They are in need of shepherds who will feed them and tend to them and be willing to be led into places where the shepherd may not want to go but has to if he or she is going to tend to these “other sheep.”

A prayer that has been on my lips this week is the Thomas Tallis piece my choir at St. Thomas will be singing this Sunday:

“If ye love me keep my commandments and I will pray the Father will give you another comforter that he may bide with you forever e’en the spirit of truth.”  

If we keep the commandment to love one another as we are loved by God, then that love must continue to extend. One of the complaints I have heard from those who are “Millennials” is that we, who call ourselves Christians, are hypocrites. We say we love and God is love, and then we fight against marriage equality or letting lesbians and gay men adopt kids, including their own! They see that as judgmental because, well, it is. And there’s been so much time and effort put into keeping the LGBTQ+ community out that they aren’t anxious to come back in and neither are their many straight ally friends.

So here we are on the eve of Pentecost, and the Church of Ireland is using words such as “disaster” to describe the reaction of those on the losing end of the referendum, and making sure everyone knows that just because secular law is changing, their canons have not changed. Are they not sensing the power of that blowing wind?

As we prepare for the arrival of the Holy Spirit, I would hope that those who have such fear of the change that is bringing about marriage equality in places such as Ireland might remember that the promise Christ gives to all of us at the end of Matthew’s gospel is that he will be with us always to the end of the age. His presence is not absent in these votes or these changes or in the years of struggle that got us to this new place. The Holy Spirit has blown a new wind into the Emerald Island. That same wind is blowing across this nation, and it is even reaching into states such as Florida which cannot withstand the hurricane of change that is coming. Resisting the reality that is to come and is now here is futile, and only serves to feed the belief that the church is irrelevant.

Come, Holy Spirit. Breathe new life into these places and give them the courage to live into a gospel of love and freedom.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

The Pain of the Penalty

I thought that when I sat down to type out a blog post, the thing that would want to come out is my response to the Pew Research Study on religion in the country. That is on my mind, and I am sure I will write on that soon enough. But after some exchanges on Facebook last night, I feel that the more pressing need is to spell out why I am sorry that the jury in Boston returned the death penalty in the case of Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokar Tsarnaev.

Let me start with saying that I don't like him. In fact, I find it very hard to find any love for this guy. He killed people, maimed many others, and he scarred a city and an event that is usually a really joyful time in the spring. I don't call him a monster. But I do see him as a force for evil. The fact that he doesn't seem to care about anyone beside himself is proof to me that he is residing in Hell and doesn't seem to mind that. Do I believe he should pay for his crimes? Absolutely! I am glad that he, unlike his brother, was captured and made to stand trial for what he did. That is much more satisfying than allowing him to go out in a firefight with police officers, or taking his own life. I want him to pay for what he did.

And this begins my disagreement with the death verdict. I am not going to lie: I oppose capital punishment. And I will go into all that in a moment. But one of the chief reasons I oppose it in this case is that I believe it is far too easy for us, the sane people who don't kill other people with homemade bombs, to believe that this is "what he deserves." The fact is that the Tsarnaev brothers were clearly willing to die for their unjust cause. They did not want to be taken in alive, and it probably frustrated the younger brother that he didn't die from his bullet wounds. As such, giving him a death sentence, in my opinion, has just given him what he wanted: a chance to be a martyr in his cause for anti-American Islam-gone-bad. He will be allowed to have his beliefs confirmed that the "Great Satan" is killing him as it has killed so many of his brethern. This was the motivation for the bombing in the first place. Why, then, would we want to fulfill that thought? Would it not be more "what he deserves" if he is forced to sit in a 6x9 cell in Terre Haute, Indiana, contemplating his failed mission for the rest of his life?

In my online back and forth with friends of a friend on Facebook (aside: this is never a good idea to get into one of these, but I just couldn't help myself), I was struck with the fact that a person would think that my position, life in prison with no possibility of parole, would be considered "coddling" the murderer. Others on the thread were putting out the usual misrepresentations of prisons being like a stay at the Ritz Carlton, or maybe even a Motel 6. These are people who have never seen the inside of a prison and have no idea what the conditions are really like. Prison is no picnic. I don't know about the rest of the country, but air-conditioning? No, there is no AC. The state legislature in Florida made sure of that a long time ago. And in Florida, that is brutal. In prison, you have no freedom. None. You are always being told what to do and when to do it. And you are surrounded by sociopaths. If you are someone who has done harm to a child, you are considered vile even among sociopaths, and given that there was an 8-year-old boy among the dead in Boston, you can bet that Tsarnaev will be a target.

Will he be living in prison at "taxpayers expense"? Why, yes, he will. And the post-convinction appeals process will also be at taxpayers expense, and it is very costly as the laws continuously shift like large glaciers. The road to an execution is not cheap, and in the end, comes pretty close to being the same price as if we had locked up the inmate and thrown away the key. His three meals a day, again, are not going to be an All You Can Eat buffet, or sushi or whatever. It will be kind of like gruel. Yuck.

What about the victims and their families? Why don't I care about them? That is probably the most insulting thing to say not just to me, but about them. We have fed the public a lie that the death penalty will be bring about closure. It may do that for some, but only once the execution happens, and it won't happen for several years. So, instead, we make the families relive the horror as the appeals process goes on and on. Some, like a declared candidate for president from a large Southern state, have attempted as Governor to "speed up" that process. But frankly, that's not an answer, especially in a civilized society where we shouldn't be rushing to kill people before every assurance is there that this is the right thing to do. Now, in the Tsarnaev case where his guilt was never in doubt, he may reach his execution date faster. But once he's dead, will this do anything to bring the other innocent dead back to life? No. Will it regenerate limbs on the maimed? No. Will it make him a martyr to madness? Yes. The families deserved immediate closure, and a life sentence without the possibility of parole would have given them that closure. He would be gone, dead to society if not actually dead. Now they'll have to wait. It is interesting to note that the family of the youngest victim, Martin Richard, asked that the prosecution not seek the death penalty. News outlets didn't seem to seek them out on the day of the verdict, but were certain to find those who were pleased with this "eye for an eye" approach.

But this is the jury's verdict and we have to respect that. Well, this is America, and I am free to disagree with the outcome of a jury verdict in the same way that I disagreed with the George Zimmerman case and the O.J. Simpson case. Besides, juries are "death qualified," meaning that when they are assembled, the prosecution has been very careful to find people they believe will return a death sentence. And even though the majority of people in Massachusetts are anti-death penalty, there are still many who have no problem killing a person if they are no longer a person, but a monster.

I am sorry for the victims of this senseless and horrible tragedy. I only wish that the sentencing would have put a real period to this whole mess. Sadly, I don't think it has. And true justice has to wait.