26 September 2008

choosing life, pt. 2

read pt. 1 here.

When I arrived at seminary, I made a conscious decision to not put on the activist t-shirt. My time at Elon had spent doing a lot of activist work. And, for some reason, I was eager to shed that defining trait, and try on another one--any other one. Activist work is exhausting. There is so much to work for, and so often, it feels like there are so few working for it.

I had been receiving calls for the past day or so from friends who knew that my college days included work against the death penalty. I wasn't able to make any of the rallies or banner painting sessions, but when I was informed of the prayer vigil to be held outside the state prison as Davis was being executed, I felt something inside me switch--I needed to be there.

I talked to my pastoral care professor that afternoon, and he gave me the go-ahead to miss class. "What kind of pastoral care prof. would I be," he asked "if I made you miss this for class?" So I ran home and started preparations.

I stopped by Kroger on the way, and bought some bread and hummus. Sometimes, in the midst of hard times, we forget simple nourishment. And, as Christ showed us, the breaking of bread together is a powerful way to connect. I made it home, and filled bottles with water, and made t-shirts reading "I have a brother on death row. So do you." I like statements like that--ones that catch you off guard and in the process remind you of the universal family, the one we are all a part of.

Soon, my friends pulled up in a Toyota mini-van. You know the kind, it looks like a moving set of parentheses. I climbed in, and we made our way through rush hour Atlanta traffic to Jackson, GA where the state chooses to execute its prisoners.

We were an unexpected bunch. Two from Indiana had driven all day to make it. Three of us were from Candler, one brought his wife (who is from Ireland!) and to top it off, we had someone who was surprisingly well connected with the campaign to save Troy Davis' life.

About twenty minutes from the prison, our surprisingly well connected friend received a call from (as it would turn out) one of Davis' lawyer. The Supreme Court had granted a stay. Davis would live, at least for the moment.

Because of our proximity to the prison, we kept going. Once we arrived, we weren't allowed on the premises, so we went to the next obvious gathering place--the Hess station and Wendy's across the street.

Here we celebrated with other folks who had made the trek out there. Davis would live! In the midst of hugs and frosties, the crowd parted and Al Sharpton walked through. He left soon, though, and we were left in a parking lot, glad to be with each other.

24 September 2008

choosing life, pt. 1

A cool September morning, much like this one, three years ago saw my friend Grady and I lost in downtown Chapel Hill, NC. We were in a class entitled Christianity and Social Justice, and as part of the class we were expected to participate in service learning.

I had worked with the anti-capital punishment activism peripherally before my junior year. While working for Elon's religious life center, I hosted Sister Helen Prejean's (author of the fantastic book Dead Man Walking) visit to Elon. So, when my professor informed us that we would each be working with a faith-based non-profit organization (the service learning component), I jumped at the opportunity to work with something I was at least vaguely familiar with and certainly interested in.

We parked in front of a plain, ranch-style office building which, according to the signs out front, housed a plethora of non-profits. We followed signs posted for the slightly hidden offices of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. Over the next months, Grady and I called, stamped, licked envelopes, copied, and faxed. We also stood outside Central Prison in Raleigh until 2 in the morning holding candles, standing in solidarity, and praying for mercy--not just for the soon to be executed, but for all of us, all of our hands were guilty.

The past few days, there has been an urgent push to save the life of Troy Davis. Davis was convicted of killing a police officer over 15 years ago. Since then seven of the nine original witnesses have recanted or changed their original statements in sworn affidavits. The case has captured the attention of global leaders like Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, and Pope Benedict XVI.

A small, dedicated group of Candler students took up this cause. Last night, returning to my roots of anti-death penalty I activsm, I joined them.

08 September 2008

The God Who Nudges

I have all of my classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On Tuesdays, I've got courses at 8, 9:30, 1 and 6pm. Thursday is the same minus the 6pm marathon class that lasts until 9.

So, add it up, I've only had two days of classes, although we've been in school for just at a week.

I'm already behind.

I should have expected this. It is graduate school. I should have readied myself more by dusting off the alarm clock, warming up my typing fingers, and practicing skim reading (because, let me tell you, there ain't no way I'm gonna read every last word I'm supposed to read!).

But, as often happens, in the midst of overwhelming moments, God sends a little relief. A little nudge here or there to remind us of where we are going, and that, somehow, we know we're on the right path.

Each morning, I read small reflections from two books. The first is from a collection of of thoughts called Bread for the Journey by Henri Nouwen. The second is Glimpses of Grace, a collection of the writings of Madeline L'Engle. I've posted from these separately before, but today both of these writings were a little nudge toward the Divine. I share them with you here.

It is an ongoing temptation to think of ourselves as living under a curse. The loss of a friend, an illness, an accident, a natural disaster, a war, or any failure can make us quickly think that we are no good and are being punished. This temptation to think of our lives as full of curses is even greater when all the media present us day after day with stories about human misery.

Jesus came to bless us, not to curse us. But we must choose to receive that blessing and hand it on to others. Blessings and curses are always placed in front of us. We are free to choose. God says, Choose the blessings!

"Choosing the Blessings," Bread for the Journey, Henri Nouwen

All I have to know is that I do not have to know in limited, finite terms of provable fact that which I believe. Infallibility has led to schisms in the Church, to atheism, to deep misery. All I have to know is that God is love, and that love will not let us go, not any of us. When I say that I believe in the resurrection of the body, and I do, I am saying what I believe to be true, not literal, but true. Literalism and infallibility go hand in hand, but mercy and truth have kissed each other. To be human is to be fallible, but it is also to be capable of love and to be able to retain that childlike openness which enables us to go bravely into the darkness and towards that life of love and truth which will set us free.

"Mercy and Truth Have Kissed," Glimpses of Grace, Madeline L'Engle