Brokenhearted Theology, Contemp Culture, Crazy Bible, Eucharist, Leadership, Meaning, Peacemaking, Quotes, Ramblings, Resurrection

Christians, Let’s Stop Encouraging People to Kill Other People

What a silly, absurd, and heart-wrenching thing to have to say in a tweet or blog post.

The tweet is in response to a sad article on CNN’s Belief Blog today from a leader within conservative American Christianity in support of the death penalty. It’s an article that strives for balance but fails to make a “Christian” argument (in the etymological sense of the word – relating to or resembling Christ). There is very little “Jesus” in this article which encourages Christians to “rightly” and “justly” support the killing of other human beings.

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In my first college semester, I took a seminar focused on the history of punishment. Our readings, lectures, and discussions focused on the way societies and cultures have viewed and used punishment throughout history – to control, to manipulate, to seek vengeance, to restore, to harm and to protect. We studied schematics of prisons, read Foucault’s haunting Discipline and Punishment and engaged historical viewpoints on punishment, crime, and violence. We talked about how penitentiary is rooted linguistically with penance and how rarely the two are connected in our country’s understanding and practice of justice.

One of our readings was Albert Camus’s Reflections on the Guillotine. Especially in light of Tennessee’s recent botched execution, his words are particularly appropriate:

When the extreme penalty simply causes vomiting on the part of the respectable citizen it is supposed to protect, how can anyone maintain that it is likely, as it ought to be, to bring more peace and order into the community? Rather, it is obviously no less repulsive than the crime, and this new murder, far from making amends for harm done to the social body, adds a new blot to the first one.

I’ve written before and still believe that

The death penalty says that:

  • the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid
  • some people are beyond redemption
  • our prison system is incapable of protecting society from violent offenders
  • ends can justify means
  • the shedding of blood can mend broken hearts
  • vengeance is ours.

The more time I spend looking at the life and teachings of Jesus, the more I wonder how out-of-place he’d feel in our world, or at least in the world of American Christianity, where we are encouraged by denominational leaders to pray and strive for a society that can perfect the art of justly killing our enemies. 

You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you so that you will be acting as children of your Father who is in heaven. He makes the sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the righteous and the unrighteous. 

If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? 

Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.

– jesus

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Brokenhearted Theology, California, Church, Contemp Culture, Equipping, Eucharist, Global, Leadership, Meaning, Ministry, Narrative, Peacemaking, Pedagogy, Prayer, Ramblings, Resurrection, Spirit, Urban

Poetry and Place: Listening to Your Neighborhood’s Voice (Part 2)

Last fall I spent a week in the Mission District of San Francisco and spent time exploring and listening to that neighborhood. Part of that week was spent learning to

hear the sounds of the streets

listen to the voices of the people

taste the city’s flavor

see the sights of everyday life

feel the sidewalks, the fabrics, textures, the pain and the beauty of a place

recreate the voice of the neighborhood with a bit of poetry.

The product of that experience was a poem – the colors scream – but also a desire to recreate the experience and invite others to listen to their neighborhood’s voice in all its beauty and brokenness.

This month, I’ve been meeting together with a group of friends who are exploring and experimenting with our neighborhoods and our role as a neighbor in that place. Our “homework” the first week was to map our neighborhood/place and spend time listening, exploring, and creating some kind of artistic response to what we heard/saw/tasted/smelled in that place.

Here’s a poem I wrote inspired by my place:

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walk up, time to see the day
the neighborhood awaits our presence
in its beauty and in its pain

vacant lots, echo chambers
locked up toys and runners
runners in pink, runners in green
big runners, small runners
costumed runners, laughing runners
all just passing through

‘the spirit of God is upon me’
her voice cuts through
the runner’s drone and the drum’s resound
her words call out, I am recognized
‘be careful,’ a Siren sounds

to protect my child or 
protect this stranger?
the cruelest of choice
a Siren sounds, ‘be careful’
our wheels roll on
my heart lingers

the lilies of the field
the lilies of the field
and the birds in the air
will they be okay?
will she be okay?
will we be okay?
a Siren sounds

East Hollywood, California // April 2014

 

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The Death Penalty is Wrong; Vote Against It

Last month, I wrote about the question of justice for mass murders (Is Life Cheap in Norway?).

All our attempts at justice – whether it be community service hours, prison time, or the death penalty – fall short. And they don’t just fall short because we lack complete knowledge over the situations we’re judging. They fall short because our attempts at justice are rooted in fear and vengeance. To speak of “justice being served” is nothing but a myth on this side of redemption.

Last year, I wrote about the death penalty in light of the Troy Davis execution (The Death Penalty is Wrong).

The death penalty says that:

  • the nonviolent way of Jesus is stupid
  • some people are beyond redemption
  • our prison system is incapable of protecting society from violent offenders
  • ends can justify means
  • the shedding of blood can mend broken hearts
  • vengeance is ours

So now here I am, writing about the death penalty again because it’s a dated, unjust, arrogant, and shameful policy the USA should cease immediately.

And I’m writing about it because those of us in California have a chance to stop further state-sponsored executions with the passage of Proposition 34.

California has an infamous number of initiatives and propositions on each election ballot, and this year is no different. As I see it, a ballot initiative is a chance for relatively simple issues to be so muddled up in legalities and technicalities that no one understands it and then ridiculously politicize the once-simple issue to the point that no one wants to vote for anything anymore because there is no way to know what you’re really voting for.

But I don’t think Proposition 34 is that confusing.

Even as someone who pragmatically thinks our democracy is fraught with problems and theologically prefers a less-activist stance in the political sphere, I think there is no compelling reason why our government should have the right or the need to kill people and am proud to be listed amongst clergy and community leaders who support this Proposition. We have all the technology and infrastructure to protect the innocent from the guilty without resorting to state executions. We simply have no need for capital punishment and Proposition 34 provides a new way forward that continues to take terrible crimes seriously and seeks the peace and prosperity of our society.

Specifically, Proposition 34 seeks to:

  • Repeal the death penalty as maximum punishment for persons found guilty of murder and replace it with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
  • Apply retroactively to persons already sentenced to death.
  • Require persons found guilty of murder to work while in prison, with their wages to be applied to any victim restitution fines or orders against them.
  • Create a $100 million fund to be distributed to law enforcement agencies to help solve more homicide and rape cases.

In short:

  1. We stop killing people.
  2. Killers stay in jail forever.
  3. Victim’s families are provided some tangible recompense.
  4. We don’t resort to lex talionis eye-for-an-eye vengeance that does not belong to us but to God (see Leviticus 19:18, Deuteronomy 32:35, Psalm 94:1, Proverbs 20:22, Matthew 26:52 Romans 12:17, and Hebrews 10:30 as well as the entire narrative and ethical trajectory of the Scriptures if you want to engage this on a theological/biblical level).

A no-brainer, right? End the death penalty. Support Proposition 34. 

As always, all my writing and ranting on this blog are my own personal opinions, unless otherwise noted. Please try not to assume any organization, entity, or other individuals I may or may not be connected with
hold these same opinions!

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The Hunger Games, A Culture of Violence, and a Way Forward?

It was interesting to see, leading up to the film release of The Hunger Games, a variety of Christian blogs going back and forth about the appropriateness of The Hunger Games (both books and film) for kids and teenagers.

Christians get pretty worked up about sex, so I saw a lot of comments talking about how two of the characters kiss and sleep next to each other but “nothing more.” Many Christians also get worked up about communism and socialism, but The Hunger Games was deemed ok since it, more or less, paints a critical perspective of big government and dictators. A character talks back to her parent a bit, but because the movie is primarily about kids killing other kids, there’s not a lot of poor behavior towards parents that could give watching teens any ideas.

Generally, the discussions I saw ultimately agreed the movie was okay for older kids and teenagers alike, given it doesn’t display gratuitous sexuality, espouse radically liberal ideology, or highlight sassy kids talking smack to their parents.

But I was surprised the issue of violence didn’t come up much as a serious factor in these conversations. Although the movie does not depict the full graphic nature of the book (I’ve heard more than one person describe the movie’s portrayal of the book as “tasteful,” whatever that means in context), this is a violent movie with a violent storyline in a very violent dystopian world. And the Hunger Games trilogy offers little, if any, response to violence by the “bad guys” except for violence returned by “the good guys” – retributive justice at its finest, and bloodiest.

I don’t think we need to censor movies or books because of their violence (though I think we could do with fewer slasher films). I saw The Hunger Games, and I’ve seen movies more violent and more disturbing than this one – but I will say it gave me pause when many people in the theater watching The Hunger Games cheered and clapped when a teenage character’s head was smashed repeatedly against a metal wall.

I don’t really want to rag on The Hunger Games, but I am wondering about the unchallenged and uncontested culture of violence existing all around us.

I tweeted this after seeing the movie: “as we crowd theaters to see a movie about fake teenagers being killed, don’t forget we live in a world where actual teenagers are killed.” I hate reducing something as serious and complex as the Trayvon Martin killing to 140 characters, but violence is very deeply embedded in our culture, and it says something about our inability to have a consistent and deep moral position on violence when we will cheer for a teenager’s death on screen while  tweeting, blogging, or wearing hoodies to protest the death of another (I realize not all of us did the former, and there’s nothing wrong with those of us who did the latter).

I’m just saying our culture and, by association and participation, “I,” “you,” and “we” is/am/are pretty shallow, inconsistent, and downright uncreative when it comes to responding to violence.

Mostly we give in to our broken and misguided base-level response to fight fire with fire, taking an eye for an eye until we blindly and fearfully swing at anything or anyone looking remotely suspicious. So we have dead people on porches and streets and sidewalks and non-dead people who will live the rest of their life wondering why they couldn’t have learned a better way to deal with all of our collective hate and fear towards one another.

I’ve recently been reading through John Howard Yoder’s volume What Would You Do? Yoder is a terribly brilliant Mennonite theologian who, in this short book, offers a wonderful and challenging look at pacifism and non-violence in a culture of violence and a culture of suspicion (suspicion in particular directed at anyone who espouses a path of non-violence). Writing specifically about a Christian way forward, Yoder offers this:

In Jesus’ own life and career and in his instructions to his disciples, the enemy becomes a privileged object of love. Because we confess that the God who has worked out our reconciliation in Christ is a God who loves his enemies at the cost of his own suffering, we are to love our enemies beyond the extend of our capacity to be a good influence on them or to call forth a reciprocal love from them. In other ethical systems, the “neighbor” may well be dealt with as an object of our obligation to love. But Jesus goes further and makes of our relation to the adversary the special test of whether the love we have is derived from the love of God.  (38)

What do you think?

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