Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Harmon's Whispering in My Ear

     If you've ever had a mentor...someone who helped give shape and direction to the raw material that's you, you get it.
     The imprint of their counsel on you is not confined to time and space.  It's not like you had them in your life for a finite time and the benefit of their lives intersecting yours is subject only to your memory's recall.
     Like the voice of Obi-Wan (the Sir Alec Guinness version, please) that seems to come to Luke in the moment of greatest import offering the guidance so sorely needed, the mentors of our lives continue to speak to us even when they are no longer physically in our presence.
     I've been hearing the voice of one of mine the past couple of days--my friend, Harmon.
I written about my relationship with Harmon previously - click here for those posts.
     I think it started during one of the recent debates for the Republican candidate for the presidency.  It's the one than when the moderator, as preface for a question to the candidate who is the current governor of Texas, commented about the 230 some odd executions that have occurred during his tenure as the executive of the state.  The opportunity for the moderator to actually ask the question was interrupted by applause from the crowd at the mention of the number death orders this governor has signed.  Even more perplexing was the claim by most in that hall that they were disciples of Jesus.
     I heard Harmon whisper, "Jesus was once asked for his position on the death penalty.  He said, 'Let the one of you who is without sin cast the first stone.'"
     I've heard him again today as the state of Georgia prepares to execute Troy Davis, a man convicted of killing a Savannah police officer.  In a case in which:
  • the vast majority of witnesses have recanted their testimony, 
  • most of the witnesses commented that they were coerced by police hell bent to pin this horrible crime on someone, because, by God, somebody had to pay, 
  • the former head of the FBI has commented at how "pervasive and persistent" were his doubts about Davis' guilt, 
  • a former US President and the Pontiff have called for a stay, 
  • several jurors have commented that they would have voted differently,
  • the state board of appeals proceeded with their blood lust, which they mistakenly call "justice," and barring a stay from the US Supreme Court, Troy will die today.
     I hear Harmon whisper, "his guilt or innocence isn't even the issue, the state taking upon itself the role of final arbiter of who lives and who dies is beyond what any should have.  For the state to kill in my name lessens us all and makes us culpable for it."
     That there is a strong case to be made for Davis' innocence, I mean, really do I really have to spell out how screwed up this whole thing is if they're going to kill him anyway?
     I hear Harmon whisper, "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth is not license to kill, rather it is a code of reprisal that punishment cannot exceed the crime, but that the biblical standard is always to show mercy."
     He would remind me, "the Bible says that 'vengeance belongs to God alone, not to humanity.'  and that "regardless of what the state says 'justice' is, the biblical standard for what is just is not retribution, but it does always look for restoration and reconciliation."
     The wisdom mentors whisper in our ears is not something we've never heard before.  No, it's the words spoken by them in our past that ring so true that their impact cannot be overlooked and will not be ignored.  Our mentors whisper in our ears what we need to be shouting.
     This execution of Troy Davis is wrong.  The execution of even the worst of us is wrong.   We are better than the most base temptations we each have to get even and mistake that for justice.
     When the sentence is given for a capital case, the judge offers words as a buffer between the sentence spoken and the removal of the convicted to death row.  It's usually something like, "and may God have mercy on your soul."
     I'm here to tell you, the soul of the convicted is not the soul we need to be worried about.
I know this to be true, Harmon whispered it to me.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Testify or Objectify

PREFACE - I've not pushed "Publish" in quite some time.  I've written a good bit, but have kept several posts to myself in the "Draft" section.  Don't know why.  I've developed a good case of ambivalence about many things.  Whether or not to write.  Whether or not I want other people to read what I've written.  Whether or not to....even care.

Anyway, prompted in part by friends who matter to me, I'm digging into the draft file and pushing "Publish" today.  Here's one that sat there for a couple of months.  It is what it is.

I never got an A from David Buttrick.

It wasn't for lack of trying.  I did get a hard earned A- and you'd a thought I received highest honors!

I followed his method (still do, for the most part).  I learned about homiletical moves and how their construction and sequencing, if done well, can spark the consciousness of the gathered people.

My problem with Buttrick, or better stated, his problem with me, was that I found it difficult to proclaim Gospel absent the context of the lives I knew, including my own.  Any homiletics professor will tell you that making yourself the storied example for your sermons is too easy.  Too often we do it when we've not done the due diligence to find resonant stories in the world in which we live that transcend the particular to reach the universal.

The other danger of placing self as the prime example of too many stories is that after a while it makes the listener wonder if there's anything or anyone more important in the preacher's life than the preacher---and how good he or she looks by having told on themselves or how heroic they are after having yet again come to save the day, in Jesus' name, of course.  Or, the other end of the spectrum is making one's self the butt of every joke, the case study of what not to do and who not to be, the perpetual martyr.

Don't let the pretense of modesty fool you....preachers can be and often are driven far more by ego strokes than living the sacramental life. (Oops...was that too much?)

And then there's the other danger about stories told.  It's the story you tell that's not yours to share.  Contrary to what many may think (including and especially preachers), not every story you hear or over hear is yours for the taking--or better stated, for the stealing.  Not every story we could tell we should.  Not every story is in the public domain, and there are very good reasons for that.

And yet, at the core of our common life and mutual commission is "story."  And it's a doosey!  It's one we are to tell, one we are to live.  It is the very thing that informs every story we tell and just as every story we tell is to inform it.

So, when I observe the objectification of a story, ostensibly to magnify "the" story to which we've pledged our offends me to no end.  Because to tell someone else's story as if it's there's to tell is to be less than truthful.  It lacks integrity, and it harms "the" story we're supposed to tell.

And it's done way too often by those who know better.

Anybody in Paducah last June?  There you go.

It matters not if the one telling it carries the label of Rev'd, Lay Leader, cool Guest Preacher wearing indigenous attire, or Bishop. If in the telling of a story the person being talked about is referred to less as a person and more as object of the life they've lived, then you have a clue.

Drug pusher.  Crack whore.  Drunk.
Might as well call them tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners.
And yet I'm reminded of how Jesus related to those folks...not as objects, but as people.

The ones telling stories that are not theirs to tell often reveal way too much of themselves unaware.

It happened often at Annual Conference.  Sometimes the person being objectified was someone I didn't know.  Once it happened and the person was someone I did...someone I call "friend."

It's one thing if the person who is the subject of the story seeks to bear witness to that in their lives from which the grace of God liberated and is liberating them.  It's quite another if someone else does it without foreknowledge or permission.  It could be argued that the story was so compelling it just needed to be told because people got so much out of it.  But whether or not the masses liked the story is no excuse for telling that which is not yours to tell, especially when the one being objectified is in the damn room.  What is popular and what is right are not the same.

To witness something so "violent" under the auspices of the "holy" shocked me.  It's not the first time I've heard it done.  Truth is, I've probably done it myself.  I suspect my sensitivity to such things is higher than it's been in the past.  But what I came away with from that experience was that the chasm between where the Church thinks it needs to be, and is out of systemic desperation "calling us to action" to abide, and what I believe I'm called to bring to it is ever widening.

The transition from "relevant" to "relic" is not nearly so far as one might think.

Hmm, object esteemed and venerated, no; a remnant left after decay, perhaps; a trace of some past or outmoded practice---there it is, that's the ticket.