Thinking Out Loud

January 21, 2017

When the Cause is Worth Jail Time

january-17-2017-supreme-court-death-penalty-protest

There were 18 people arrested this week protesting the death penalty on the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, but it was Christian author and social activist Shane Claiborne who got my attention. Maybe it’s because I’ve read his books or that we met once briefly. Coincidentally, I was combing through old blog posts here looking for something else, and I stumbled across something we ran by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove — who is also a friend to Shane — explaining to his kids why he was in jail after a different but equally important event. I thought I would re-run that here today, but then I found something Shane posted upon his release, so today you get both.

First, Shane’s video: (Posted January 19, 2017.)

Second, the piece from Jonathan:  (This appear on his blog on June 5, 2013; it was a different issue, but action borne from equally strong convictions.)

A Letter to My Kids: Why I Got Arrested

Dear JaiMichael and Nora,

Since we went to Moral Monday together a couple of weeks ago, I’ve wanted to sit down and write to both of you to tell you why I got arrested—why I wasn’t home that evening to read you your stories and say prayers with you. I’ve rarely felt happier than I did that evening when the bus pulled out to take us to jail. I looked up and saw the two of you standing with mom, waving good-bye even though you couldn’t see me through the wire mesh of the bus window. Thank you for being there for me.

As you both know, we live in a hospitality house and share our life with other people because God has given us this way of life as a gift. It’s not always easy to greet every knock at the door, eager to see Jesus in the stranger. But that’s what we try to do because this is where Jesus promised to meet us. Indeed, the two of you are teaching me much about how to do this as you grow up at Rutba House.

One of the things we know about God’s family is that we don’t all look the same. Even though you are brother and sister, your skin is not the same color. Uncle Matt and Uncle Vern are not the same color. This is how it is in God’s family.

You also know the story of how Grandma Ann, when she was working to integrate the schools here in Durham, became friends with a white man who had led the Ku Klux Klan. Some people say strong black women and white men in the KKK shouldn’t become friends. But Grandma Ann and Mr. Ellis realized that when poor black people are pitted against poor white people, all children suffer. They became friends because they learned a better way.

Some people say that parents should work as hard as they can to give their kids all the opportunities that are available in our society—that this is what it means to be a good parent. I know you’ve been disappointed at times when you didn’t get to have a video game or wear the coolest new clothes. But your mom and I believe that the best life for you (and for us) is a life in the beloved community that Grandma Ann and others worked for—the life that God wants to give us in relationship with others who are not like us.

The men who run our Legislature in Raleigh right now are people who love their kids like I love you. They are afraid because they believe that the inheritance they have to pass on to their children is the wealth that they’ve been able to accumulate. They do not want to see that inheritance squandered by others whom they think undeserving. They are determined to defend their way of life at any cost.

But we believe they are wrong because we know a better way of life. We have asked them to consider the pain they are causing others by pursuing their own interests. They have refused to listen. Because they have power right now, they don’t have to listen to what we say. They can have us arrested and taken away.

But what they are doing cannot last forever because it is not true. God will stop them; we don’t have to. But I chose to get arrested because I don’t want those men to miss out on God’s great party. I want them to know that there is a better way—that they do not have to listen to our worst fears and re-play the worst chapters of our past.

I want them to know that God has invited them to be part of the beloved community too.

Thank you both for being there in Raleigh with the thousands of others who want a better future for our state. And thanks for helping mom get everything done at home while I was gone. I know it is not always easy to invite everyone in—even the legislators who do not want to listen. But, like I said, I’m grateful to both of you for showing me how to extend the invitation with enthusiasm.

I love you both,

Dad

Two other arrest perspectives appeared on Jonathan’s blog around the same time; from a Political Science professor, and a School Board member

Third, back to the present, here’s the perspective of another one of the 18 people arrested which describes in detail the ordeal the protesters went through following their arrest. (There are other articles at the same website, RedLetterChristians.org) (Excerpt below.)

january-17-2017-protesters-arrested

Would you be willing to do this for something you believe in? 


Read more: Additional pictures and video of Sojourners’ Lisa Sharon Harper arrested at the protest.

July 11, 2016

Shane Claiborne’s Treatise on Capital Punishment

Executing Grace

Shane Claiborne’s latest, Executing Grace is a well-written, well-researched and well-annotated look at the history of capital punishment in the United States. It is both gently persuasive and passionately persuasive at the same time. It is a thorough, exhaustive treatment of the subject from a perspective that is both Biblical and Christ-centered. It’s definitely one of the best books I’ve read on any issue. End of review…

…Sitting in my backyard, on Canadian soil, reading Executing Grace: How The Death Penalty Killed Jesus and Why It’s Killing Us, by Shane Claiborne (HarperOne) is a rather strange experience, especially in the wake of a week of violence in the U.S. that has fueled discussions on racial discrimination and injustice. I don’t usually cover U.S.-interest books, preferring to devote my review time to things that are of equal interest to people in Canada, the UK, Australia, New Zealand, etc.

I made an exception to this partly because I’ve tasted the writer’s passion after following him on Twitter for a few years. No execution in the U.S. escapes his gaze, and with each one, there is horrible lament. You feel Claiborne’s pain with every new case, and then, after the act is carried out, his sorrow. He’s like one crying in the wilderness, but for him, it must feel like spitting into the wind. There are churches in many southern states who I expect are definitely not keeping him on their short list as a guest speaker any time soon. Such is the life for those who choose to speak with a prophetic voice.

The book brings together an avalanche of material, there are simply so many cases to draw on. Again, from my backyard chair, I have to ask, ‘Why am I even allowed to read this; why would the powers that be allow this book to be exported out of the U.S.?’ The situation is one that I believe any self-respecting nation would find — how do I put this — rather embarrassing. These are not stories you want the world to read, even one at a time, let alone assembled in a single collection. America’s history, on this issue, is rather stained; the atrocities of the era of lynchings only replaced by a more civilized-looking substitute containing an air of due process.

While the book has more than a dozen chapters — each fulfilling a specific function — they are united in their presentation of the contrast between capital punishment as a means of avenging or making right a capital crime on the one hand, and the idea of grace and mercy on the other. You have to ask yourself which side of the issue you’re on.

The reading of the book eventually becomes subjective. I’m getting angrier and angrier as I read of cases where innocent people were executed for crimes they did not commit. Or spent decades of their adult life behind bars until their innocence was finally proven to be true. Or tortured on death row with dates for their execution that were constantly revised and pushed back. Or executed by so-called modern, sophisticated means which prove to be barbaric; the death process dragging out to 30 minutes or an hour or perhaps not working at all.

But the very anger at injustice that I’m feeling lands me solidly at the point of recognizing the system as flawed; yearning for reforming the system. I’m not a U.S. citizen, but it makes you want to work for change. How does my own country fare? While there are references to capital punishment’s top five nations, I don’t recall a reference to Canada, and England is only mentioned in passing. This is a Made-in-America problem which requires a Made-in-America solution.

As with the situation in the U.S. last week, the church can be the leading agent for social change, but unfortunately, we don’t speak with a single voice on this issue. The greatest number of state-sanctioned executions take place in what is termed the Bible belt, and last year one prominent Southern Baptist leader wrote a piece for a major media outlet on why he supports the death penalty.

If you read this book, it will make you angry as well, frustrated, and rather sad, however you can’t not read something like this. As Claiborne states so clearly, knowing what is going on — having the information — is vital to a change in attitudes and practice to take place. For those of us who claim Christ as our Lord, we are complicit in the killings if we remain silent, or simply defer the matter to elected officials. 

The penultimate chapter is a crash course on restorative justice. For some, raised and saturated in a world of eye-for-an-eye, punitive justice this will be a stretch; an awakening. It proposes a paradigm shift of epic proportions, and yet is strangely appealing, offering the hope of a new way forward.

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