Thinking Out Loud

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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December 26, 2013

Rethinking a Sanitized Christmas

Filed under: Christmas — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:45 am

This appeared three years ago as a special article to CNN’s Belief Blog. The authors are well-known to readers here: Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove.  This is not the full article, you need to click through to read the remaining two-thirds of the piece.

It’s not all that strange this time of year to see Christians outside in bathrobes, trying to keep a little baby warm in the straw of a cattle trough. (Truth be told, it’s usually a doll; but we get a real donkey from time to time.)

We Christians like to re-enact the birth of Jesus and hear the angels sing again, “Peace on earth, good will toward men.” This is our good news. It feels good when our neighbors pause to listen.

But we rarely tell the whole story. The baby in a manger is cute. The shepherds in their field are quaint. The magi from the east give the whole scene some dignity.

But most of our churches are “seeker sensitive” when it comes to retelling the Christmas story. Our kids don’t dress up like the undocumented workers who do shepherds’ work today. We often fail to mention that Mary was an unwed mother. When we re-create the manger scene, we don’t reproduce the odor. We like to clean the whole thing up a bit. It makes it easier to go home and enjoy Christmas dinner.

As much as both of us love a good meal with our families, we’re pretty sure Jesus didn’t come to initiate a sentimental pause in holiday consumption. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” John’s gospel says. Jesus moved into the neighborhood, and it wasn’t necessarily good for property values.

Christmas reminds us how Jesus interrupts the world as it is to reveal the world as it ought to be. When we pay attention to the story, it exposes our desperate need for a better way. This always makes some people mad.

When King Herod got the news that Jesus had been born in Bethlehem, he issued a national security directive that every boy two and younger should be killed. As we remember this part of the story, we take in the harsh truth that there was and still is a political cost to the incarnation of God’s peaceable love.

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June 5, 2013

Wednesday Link List

This is a picture Shane Claiborne posted on Twitter of the community where The Simple Way ministers in Philadelphia: Sprinklers open for cooling on a hot day

This is a picture Shane Claiborne posted on Twitter of the community where The Simple Way ministers in Philadelphia: Sprinklers open for cooling on a hot day

Be sure to read the post which immediately precedes this one, about Calvinist propaganda for kids… And now for another day on the links…

  • “If a church tells the Scouts they are no longer welcome to use their facilities a whole bunch of kids, most of whom are not gay, are going to get one clear message: You’re not welcome at church. Fighting the culture war has already hurt the Christian image, as we are much more recognizable for the things we are against.” Before your church has a knee-jerk reaction to the situation, take 90 seconds to read this including the updates in the comments.
  • And speaking of people we make unwelcome in the church, here’s a story like no other: A particularly buxom young woman (i.e. size DD) unravels a sad tale of a lifetime of being marginalized by the local church.
  • Another great, concise (about 12 minutes, I think) sermon by Nadia at House for All Sinners and Saints on Hope. Realistic church motto: “We will disappoint you.” Click this link to the text, then click the internal link to listen, then click back to follow along as you listen. 
  • 30 Churches in Holland, Michigan are covering their individual church signs this week with burlap on which is painted “One Lord, One Church.” This is a movement designed to promote unity between the denominations.
  • The White House has issued a statement pressing the Iranian government for the release of imprisoned pastor Saeed Abedini, but Iran does not recognize his U.S. citizenship
  • Yesterday’s Phil Vischer Podcast was the best so far! Phil and panelists Skye Jethani and Christian Taylor are joined by anthropologist Brian Howell discussing short-term missions.
  • Teapot tempest or major issue? A Methodist pastor refuses to stand for God Bless America. Hours later, The Washington Post has to run a separate article to showcase all the responses the first article got.
  • For the pastor: A different approach to mapping out your fall (and beyond) adult Christian education program
  • Also for pastors: What to teach about tithing? Andy Stanley teaches percentage giving. But as Jeff Mikels points out, some people don’t like that concept.
  • The K-LOVE Fan Awards are out! Guess what? They like Chris Tomlin. Wow, there’s a surprise! See the winners in all nine categories.  
  • If you don’t mind wading through a lot of posts to unearth some classic wit and wisdom — and several bad worship team jokes — there’s always Church Curmudgeon’s Twitter feed.
  • Rob Bell is on the ‘cover’ of Ktizo Magazine, an e-publication built just for tablets.
  • Porn is an issue for women, too.  Maura at the blog Made in His Image shares her struggle and suggests that step one is sharing your struggle with another person.
  • Also at the same blog: Christian women, should you buy that itsy bitsy teeny weeny yellow polkadot bikini? Rachel says its a matter of exercising God-given responsibility.
  • We mentioned the blog Blessed Economist once at C201, but I’m not sure if we did here. It’s economics — the real thing, not personal finance — from a Christian perspective. Here’s a short piece to whet your appetite, there are some longer case studies there as well.
  • A friend of ours who graduated recently in film studies has posted a 17-minute short film about a band of orphans Fleeing through the wilderness of post-apocalyptic British Columbia in search of food and shelter who take refuge in an abandoned church and face a horrifying choice.
  • Also on video, a group of high school teens at Camp Marshall got together in 2011 to produce a rather artistic video of the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing that serves as a music video and a camp promotional video
Found at Postsecret, but this post actually isn't very secret; a lot of people express this same sentiment online

Found at Postsecret, but this post actually isn’t very secret; a lot of people express this same sentiment online

March 30, 2013

Shane Claiborne Knows How to Throw a Party

Combine social activist Shane Claiborne with Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream’s Ben Cohen and you’re left with Jesus, Bombs and Ice Cream; 90 minutes of raw video of a pacifists rally that was as entertaining as it was informative.  Produced by the same film crew that did Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s Awakening of Hope video, J,B,&IC is every bit as much a block party as anything, complete with painters, jugglers, singers, a rapper, kids filling shopping carts and a welder literally ‘beating swords into plowshares’ so to speak. It’s hard to imagine having this much fun about a subject so serious.

Jesus Bombs and Ice Cream - Shane ClaiborneThe subject is decisively American-interest. However, as a Canadian, I’m well aware of the saying, “Every time America sneezes, Canada catches a cold.” That’s true of other countries, also; so whether the subject is armed conflict on-the-ground, or the nuclear build-up, the rest of the world can’t ignore what the U.S. does, and the statistics presented here are –despite the increase in threat level from other countries as I write this — extremely alarming.

The video can be watched as a single film, or broken up into six sessions for small group study, for which a study guide is available from Zondervan. However, there’s no actual book this time around, the movie or curriculum video is the main product. The nature of the filmography means this will appeal to a younger audience; I sometimes wonder if Shane’s (and Jonathan’s) use of the particular film company diminishes a greater potential.

Each section contains scripture references, and while I didn’t have the advantage of seeing the group study and discussion guide, I can see this generating much passionate conversation both inside and outside the U.S., though I might combine a couple of the clips and go with a four-week focus on this topic.

November 21, 2012

Wednesday Link List

Try to have your link suggestions in by 8:00 PM EST Monday.

June 26, 2010

Education: An Often Forgotten Social Justice Mandate

Shane Claiborne guested yesterday at the CNN Religion blog.  It was a great article and well-written.    I’m torn between just linking it (knowing many of you won’t click) and reprinting the whole thing (knowing it’s quite long.)    I guess I’ll have to do my best with the following excerpt.

Historically, churches founded colleges and universities and made it possible for kids to attend.   Recently Evangelicals have rediscovered social justice and we’re working on the poverty problem on several fronts, but education isn’t currently at the forefront.   I’ll let Shane tell it, but please consider reading the whole piece.  His story takes place at Edison High School in the poorest part of Philadelphia…

Out of about 500 kids graduating in that class at Edison, around 40 will go to a four-year college and about 50 will join the military. That struck me. More kids in the graduating class will go into the military than will go to college.

I also learned that Edison High School holds another tragic record – the most graduates to be killed in the Vietnam War of any high school in America (54 kids), no coincidence that it is located in North Philly rather than the suburbs. Heaven forbid Edison end up holding the record for Iraq casualties as well.

It was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who said,

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

And as we see a bankrupt school system we can truly feel the blowback of the bombs in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is that bumper sticker hope that a day will come when the schools will have all the money they need and the military have to hold a bake sale. It’s time for our kids to dream of another future than wars and rumors of wars.

I am reminded of a returning veteran from the Iraq War who told me of how financial difficulties compelled him to join the army. And then my young vet friend said, “We may not have a draft in America, but we have an economic draft… kids like me are joining the military because they see no other future.” And they are dying as they try to build that future. He ended up becoming a conscientious objector and being discharged.

In my neighborhood, military recruitment is very clever and selective – recruiters go door to door with military brochures that say: “They told you to go to college, they just didn’t tell you how… Join the Army.”

It occurs to me that those of us who are Christians and other people of conscience working to end war and violence (and build an “Army of None” as we like to say) have a tremendous burden of responsibility on our shoulders. We must create other ways for kids to go to college than military and ROTC scholarships.

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