Archive for April, 2014

Oklahoma’s failed Execution raises serious legal and moral questions.

April 30, 2014

As a former member of the ACLU National Board and one-time recipient of the Abolitionist of the Year award from the Arkansas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty, it is not possible to stand by silently after last night’s hideous mishandled execution by lethal injection in Oklahoma. The procedure used is an unspeakable offense against human dignity and out status as bears of teh image of God. You can read the grisly details on the link below and, if you look around, you will see that last night’s scheduled double execution was a political farce and an opportunity for an ambitious office holder to gain some sort of advantage.

Oklahoma Botches Clayton Lockett’s Execution.

I have developed an interest in Britain’s most famous executioner, Albert Pierrepoint. He came from a family of executioners and was personally responsible for over 200 hangings of German war criminals after WWII. There is a movie, “Pierrepoint: the Last Hangman” on YouTube that gives a generally accurate version of the Pierrepoint story. The most interesting aspect of this life is his devotion to the once ultra-secret English procedure of carrying out the death penalty. When Mr. Pierrepoint stepped into your death row cell, you already had less than a minute to live. Every time. This man lived in a fascinating and dark world.

One may wonder if hanging would be a better alternative for the American system. Two observations. Washington State horribly botched a hanging about 20 years ago and it scared the daylights out of everybody. Secondly, Pierrepoint’s execution journal contains the physical information of each condemned prisoner. Relying on personal memory, I do not believe there was a 200 lb man on the entire list. Modern Americans are quite a bit heavier than the Brits prior to 1954, when Pierrepoint did his last “job.”: The British chart of drops, and the executioner’s professional observations, are directed to a concern that the prisoner’s head not be ripped off (as apparently happened in Washington State). A professionally conducted hanging takes a lot of experience and a sharp eye. We are not up to that.

I do not want to be gross about this, but please note that ,when things got really nasty in the Oklahoma death chamber, the blinds were pulled down. In other words, the witnesses were prevented from performing the single task for which they were present. There are witnesses for a reason. The correction department said a lot when it chose to conceal the inmate’s death. If it is too inhumane to be viewed by witnesses, it is unconstitutional.

But what about the bible? Does not the holy scriptures demand the death penalty. There are two answers, “yes” and “no.” The demand to take the lives of killers is clear in the covenant between God and Noah. Even though the Creator did not demand the life of Cain in exchange for Able, things changed. Whether this demand for blood vengeance should be transferred into the New Testament may be an open question. I refer you to Stanley Hauerwas, now retired from Duke. I would not presume to state his argument here, but it is a good and measured bit of scholarship.

Here is what I do know. The Old Testament law demands there be no distinction in the administration of justice (Deut 16:19, Mal 2:8). The principle is even carried to the point that we may not favor the poor (Ex 23:3). This country is a very long way from these standards and has no business putting anybody to death.

UPDATE: Donald Sterling’s alternatve universe #NBA #racism #DonaldSterling

April 27, 2014

Donald Sterling ain’t living on the same planet with the rest of us. This has beenĀ  exposed in a tape recording which is nothing less than a set up job. Listen to the dialogue. Catch how the “girl friend” leads the conversation. You don’t need to be a senior NASA jet propulsion engineer to figure out that the female employee (sex slave?) is on her way out and getting the final gotcha’ in on Sterling.They are both worthless pieces of trash fallen human beings in need of a Savior.

Forget about Donald Sterling for just a moment. This kind of personal betrayal of trust makes me very uncomfortable. Even if Sterling is an irrelevant old man with more money than brains and hopelessly detached from the circumstances of everyday life, the getting of this evidence is part of a growing practice of personal destruction that ought to make everybody a little sick.

One certainly cannot ignore the high-powered owner of the LA Clippers, although you have to wonder if he has ever glanced down at the court to observe the flesh tones of the talent that makes him millions. He says he knows, but the disdain for black people is unbelievable. Still, he is a pathetic load of ignorance. Sterling’s employee tried to trick him into comments offensive to Jews and even attempted to draw him into some gross sexual discussion. She must feel a little disappointed, but it seems the older gentleman never fails to go off on his distaste for African-Americans.

There is no appropriate punishment for deliberate stupidity. I regretfully suggest that Sterling’s correction consist of having to live with his own abusive, selfish, deluded, disconnected and completely wretched personality until the day God mercifully writes the last line of this dismal biography. Formal sanctions are a bad idea, even though that will certainly be the outcome of this episode. Why should everybody with an impure heart be held up to public chastisement for every poorly considered outburst. Besides, people like Donald Sterling set the standard for unacceptable behavior and it is healthy to know that such corrupt users wield far more power than they should.

Jesus was crucified between a pair of lowlifes. During his earthly ministry, Christ dealt with hookers, tax collectors, foreign military officers, government officials, lawyers, religious leaders, and all sorts of regular folks. He taught, healed and and led by example. One of the bad guys on that Good Friday understood that he was getting the just outcome of criminal conduct, and he was forgiven on the spot. The “good thief” was even promised a place in paradise. We have on this dreadful tape recording the voices of two human beings and each is created in the image of God. None of us can claim to be any better. Either one of these two bad actors could repent.

This leaves two things for the serious Christian. First, we pray that the two offenders find a change of heart and seek forgiveness and mercy. Second, those who follow Christ are careful not to fall into anything as bad – or even worse. Be on guard. The enemy never misses an opportunity to take advantage of our selfishness and prejudice.

UPDATE: The NBA has done the inevitable and made itself the policeman of good taste. The free market was performing well, but the NBA apparently thought more is better. Now, they will suffer the just consequence of interfering with the naturalĀ  course of events. The practical downside is substantial. Now, this throwback gets to continue working his racial mischief from the sidelines. Keep in mind that Sterling has loads of money and his hatred for blacks will only increase. Had he remained in his NBA position, he would have moderated his comments and even tried to show how he has (supposedly) changed. Insincere as hell? Maybe so, but the guys would at least be pointed in the right direction.

The rise of two saints and the demise of authority #JPII #JohnXXIII

April 27, 2014

Can this be me? Is it possible to be sticking up for the heavy-fisted oppressors of the meek. When that hamy hand falls hard, it hurts. When one is robbed of livelihood and reputation by the sinister forces that seem to control the means of survival, it is final. There is no human court of last resort. The wrongful verdict stands and the weak is brought low by the strong. The self-centered world of individual purgative is a garden of delights for the wealthy and well established, but lesser individuals just suck it up. That is why endorsing the notion of authority comes with all the comfort of a sudden leg cramp. This really hurts. One reason we hate authority is that it is so frequently abused.

For those of us who believe in the church, authority is an idea that is held up with the highest optimism. After all, the church is the body of Christ. It is his living presence in the world. Should the church not, therefore, behave itself with as much kindness as is possible when dealing with fallen humans? Should the church not be an example of justice properly understood and mercy for those who turn from evil? Instead, we find bishops devoted to covering up the criminal misdeeds of clerical child molesters. It is not just the Roman Catholics either. The female students at presumably orthodox evangelical schools are not safe from the lewd advances of professors, but these so-called Christian educators are secure from any hint of scandal. There will certainly be no real consequences for the sexually immoral instructors. And then there are the regular crooks and liars. Let us not forget the greedy! They all bring such shame upon the church.

God knows that the wheat grows amongst the tares until the day of judgment when angels will toss the bad ones into the flames of eternal damnation. The church is a very human organization. Sometimes, God must be completely speechless at what the disordered body parts of Christ are doing to his faithful people and the disrepute we bring upon him in society.

Much has already been said about the two newest arrivals in the heavenly court of officially designated saints. Perhaps they get smoking jackets and admission to an exclusive club. You know. It is something similar to the cool digs enjoyed by those who have several times hosted Saturday Night Live. These deceased bishops of Rome are probably good guys and deserve to be luxuriously rewarded. The question of the day is this; among all God’s people, could we have done better? Do John XXIII and John Paul II really set a fine example?

I am not a Roman Catholic and if you want to know what I think of the Church of Rome, check out the 39 Articles of Religion. Still, the Pope occupies an important role as the most important Christian in the western church. These two men have done a great deal of harm to the religious institutions. One may not believe in certain aspects of Roman doctrine (check the Articles!) but, darn it all, Christians need the Roman Catholic Church. Who else can muster an intellectual army that defines and defends our commonly held beliefs? There is no other similar international organization of believers.

John XXIII was wrong. There is no need to open the windows to worldly influences. The people of the church meet the world in everyday life and attests to the resurrection of Christ by the quality of their good works. The worship of the church is directed to the Almighty God who has made us all and became one of us so that we might be saved. Worship is about salvation. It has nothing whatever to do with how one feels, whether we enjoy the music, whether the sermon has satisfied the high standards of lay critics. The decline of Roman Catholic ceremonial is the first movement in the fall of Christianity.

Now, there is a distinction that must be made here. Ritual performed for its; own sake becomes mere entertainment and is meaningless. The Roman failure is not the use of ritual, but the inability or unwillingness to teach the meaning of liturgical worship. All of the little gestures mean something and have a historical context. Anglicans are equally as guilty of tearing down liturgical worship. Since Gregory Dix was an Anglican, my people may be more guilty. Dix took the liturgical movement forward into outright consumerism. The older rites of churches following ancient patterns were centered on the idea of salvation. The newer rites are centered on human experience of worship.

The concept of teaching authority is very much part of this conversation, first, because liturgy teaches theology and, second, liturgy reveals the dignity and respectability of the church. There is an unworldly quality to liturgy when it is correctly presented. This quality is what the world needs to approach the wicked influences that surround us. Liturgy is part of the active work of God on earth through the agency of the body of Christ. Genial John XXIII started the ball rolling on the destruction of his own ancient style of worship, and the subsequent harm done to the rest of Christianity.

And then there is JPII. He did much to change the world in a positive sense. Give him credit for going after the godless Commies. What a shame that his record is so marred by mediocre appointments and the criminal conspiracies to protect pedophiles. It may be that many will be thrilled by the elevation of these men, but no amount of spinning can conceal the sorry record of devaluing an essential expression of Christ’s presence.

 

“Black Box” debuts with excellent script, plenty of potential #Blackbox

April 25, 2014

Kelly Reilly may be the female incarnation of House. She portrays a bipolar neurologist. Some of the most negative, reviews got it wrong; the Lead character is not a neurosurgeon, That’s Dr. Big. Perhaps we will have more on him later. Black, not unlike Gregory House, has a very high opinion of herself. It is possible to say that she places too much emphasis on the supposed connection between her mental disorder and her ability to deal with patients. It may also be that she sees the possibility of an inform human value and a natural ability to build mechanisms for dealing with hard situations.

We better be careful here because the conversation is moving dangerously close to Gen 1:26. That’s the bit about man being created in the image and likeness of God. That likeness has a lot to do with our need to control both our own circumstances and the relationships with others. If a diseased brain sees something that is not there, a hallucination, Dr. Black is open to the idea that the mind is working out a personal relational problem. One would not be so foolish as to claim that Catherine Black sees the Divine in others, but she is certainly closer than the ever-dominant Dr. House.

Black has her moments. When she flushes her meds down the drain, we are left with an unfiltered, out-of-control, slut. So, nobody’s perfect. This seems to be a good story of figuring our a personal life of high professional achievement and difficult personal relationships. There is a great potential in this fine script to encounter the invisible world of Powers and Principalities. Who knows? We might find a shadow of Jesus somewhere in the story.

Discovering the risen Christ

April 21, 2014

This blogger has been away for too long, but for a good cause. The “greater good” was an opportunity to present the traditional service of Evening Prayer to the people of St. Andrew’s Anglican Church in Little Rock. Along the way, I was foolishly led into the world of self publishing a set of modest worship leaflets for the five consecutive “work” days. An intelligent man would have handed the task over to professionals. The positive side of the experience was a warm interaction with musicians, clergy, readers and appreciative Anglicans. The scripture readings of the Daily Office are always confrontational in a positive sort of way and uplifting. I am a much richer Christian for paying attention to these wonderful voices.

Being reimmersed in the flow of scripture that is at the heart of the Anglican Daily Office has caused me to read the gospel accounts of the resurrection. It is a useful exercise. The Matthew rendition has two Marys showing up at the tomb around dawn, and just in time for an earthquake. It is a curious thing that the women encountered not Jesus but an angel, who sent them to quickly inform the disciples. Along the way, they do meet Jesus and embrace his feet. Mark reports Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James (this raises questions!) and Salome come to the empty tomb and meet the angel inside. They are dispatched to inform “the disciples and Peter” of the momentous news. (Isn’t Peter a disciple?) The “alternate” Mark recounts Jesus meeting Mary Magdalene first (16:9). In the Lukan account, the women from Galilee found the tomb opened and conversed with two angels inside. They were sent back to the disciples, who seemed not to care much for the story. However, Peter ran to the tomb and looked inside before returning home marveling. As John tells it, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb alone and saw the stone removed, but no angelic visitor. She ran to tell the disciples, which led Peter and the “other disciple” to race toward the tomb. The “other disciple” outran Peter and waited for him to enter first. Immediately afterward, Mary Magdalene rises from weeping and enters to discover two angels. Departing, she faces the risen Lord, but does not recognize him. Finally, she falls to her knees and takes hold of Jesus, but (contra the Matthew version) he instructs her not to touch him. Interestingly, it is Mary Magdalene who is assigned the duty of reporting the resurrection to Jesus’ followers, even though she has already informed them of the missing tomb!

The discrepancies found in the Gospels suggest God’s use of human authors to tell the essential truths of what he is up to down here. Jesus meets believers walking around, walking through doors, over breakfast, and in the upper room. Jesus seems unrecognizable to the people who knew him. He did not meet the temple Jews, Pilate, Barabbas, or any Roman executioners. Unlike what one might expect in an appealing story of human accomplishment, there was no payback.

We do not recognize Jesus today because his face is concealed in the destitute and disrespected. As Jesus says repeatedly in Matt 25, “as you did it to the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me.” Around these parts, Jesus is a household name. He is often ignored and discounted, even among his own disciples, but he will send the Holy Spirit who enlightens the mind and opens the eyes.

What will a Christian do with the gift of the Holy Spirit? If one has a true faith, this means acting on God’s word. Jesus is risen indeed and very much alive in this world. Actually, he is alive in two ways. He is visible in the poor who still bear God’s image. Jesus unequivocally identifies with the downtrodden. These are more than the objects of charity, they are to receive respect and true kindness.

The other way in which Jesus is present in the world is in his church, the very body of Christ. You can find the idea in 1 Cor 12 and Eph 2. Christians, united in a faithful spiritual fellowship, are the visible working living presence of Jesus in the world today. That is why we may never give up on the church, no matter its’ failings. Anglicans do have this part figured out. According to the 39 Articles of Religion, the church is the divinely authorized location where the word of God is faithfully preached and the Sacraments are duly administered (Article 19). This is not to say that the Anglican tradition is the only true faith. It means that the church of the gospel is devoted to preaching the whole counsel of God’s inspired word and faithfully performing the sacraments.

One particularly mysterious way in which the resurrected Lord makes himself made known in the world today is through the Eucharist. Somehow, and we are not able to say how, Jesus comes to be with his people when they gather for the remembrance of his death in the Lord’s Supper. It is our spiritual nourishment that assures of us God’s favor and gives strength for those good works toward the downcast. In Holy Communion, believers become one with Jesus and united with one another. So we have not been left in that upper room, but we have the assurance of God’s good will and encouragement of one another to move out in a troubling world. Jesus has not been left in the tomb, but he is present in every humble and truly converted Christian.