Spring 2017 News Letter

(Excerpt from News Letter)

Greetings Brother,

A women took her pet duck “Fluffy” to the vet because she thought it was sick. The vet took Fluffy and put her on the exam table, pulled out his stethoscope to listen to the heart and lungs. After examining the duck he turned to the women and says, “I’m sorry, your duck is dead.”

“But doctor,” the women says, “aren’t you going to run any tests?” So the doctor leaves the exam room for a couple of minutes and returns with a Labrador Retriever that walks over to the exam table, rears ups up and puts its front paws on the table top and sniffs the duck. The Labrador then looks at the vet, shakes its head, puts his head down and walks out of the room.

The vet turns to the women and says, “Your duck is dead.” “Please doc,” the women says, “are there any other tests you can run?” So the vet walks out of the room and returns a few minutes later with a cat which he sets down on the exam table next to the duck. The cat sniffs around the duck, stares at it for a moment then looks up at the vet, shakes his head, jumps off the table and stalks off.

The vet again turns to the women and says, “I’m sorry, but your duck is dead.” He then turns to his computer and prints out a bill and hands it to the women. She looks at the bill and exclaims, “$150!” The vet says, “It would have only been $50, but you asked for additional tests. So I charged you $50 for the lab report and $50 for a cat scan.”

Pastor Bob E.

I can’t resist a bad pun, especially as the punchline to a joke or a funny story. As a sermon starter it serves to get the listener’s attention, so that they will be engaged to hear what the preacher wants to communicate to the congregation. On the evening news, the newscaster likes to start with dramatic footage of breaking news to get the viewer’s attention. Newspapers do the same thing by putting a big picture and large bold print with the title of the lead article to get the reader’s attention.

I watch the local and national news on television and read the newspaper almost every day, the USA Today and Detroit News usually. I have been taken by the number of articles I read about criminal justice and prison reform. I can’t help but notice that they are rarely on page one and hardly ever the lead story. This is a subject that apparently, while important enough to make the news isn’t headline worthy. People are hearing about the problems in the prison system and the calls for reform, I’m just not certain how well they are listening.

Like the political divide between the Republicans and Democrats, the country seems to be almost evenly divided between those who believe in retributive justice and those who want to reform the criminal justice system. However, the number of advocates for each perspective are relatively few, outspoken and highly polarized. The vast majority of the population falls somewhere in between with their personal opinion and tend to rank the importance of the issue below things like the economy, war, sports, and pop culture.

I am currently reading a book entitled “Pursuing Justice – The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things” by Ken Wytsma that has some really powerful statements about Christianity and Justice.

“Justice is the sum of many parts, with similar overlapping concepts including: love, mercy, service, charity, ethics, truth, integrity, laws, and righteousness.”

These concepts represent the character of God that we are called to emulate. The Old Testament is the story of God’s justice from Adam in the garden to Moses and the children of Israel in the desert to the kings in Jerusalem to the diaspora of Judah and Israel. The New Testament is the story of God’s redemption through Jesus Christ his Son. Together they tell a story of how hopeless, fallen man can be rehabilitated into the children of God.

In Luke 18 Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge. The reasoning of the judge is most interesting. Verse 4-5 says, “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!'” Justice doesn’t necessarily come easily, quickly or cheaply, so you must be committed to its cause. In verse 7-8 Jesus gives us God’s perspective. “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

Justice is not just the criminal justice system, there is also social justice and economic justice to name a few. Justice is the process by which those who are in need of relief from a situation seek remedial action from those in authority. It could be sought through the courts, the government bureaucracy, the legislature or public opinion. Justice is a process that must be worked through. (Except in the court of public opinion.)

“Race, gender, class, and education shape us to recognize some facets of justice and injustice more readily- and to be blind to issues that are clear to those who are different.”

As I am sure you can attest, spending time in prison brings you into contact with those who are so very different from ourselves, and that their beliefs about justice and injustice are a real eye opener. Jaded jailhouse lawyers who fight not just criminal convictions, but institutional issues that they don’t like just for sport. Cynics who hate everyone and everything around themselves. Sociopaths and psychopaths who have no conscience, morals, limits to their actions or an understanding of the repercussions. Gangsters who think they are slick but live in paranoid delusions that everyone else is a snitch. Drug addicts and alcoholics that will do anything for the next high. The one thing that they all have in common is the belief in their own innocence and the guilt of others.

Then there are the guards.

“It’s much easier to see someone else’s acts of injustice when they’re written on a piece of paper and disconnected from our current context.”

This takes me back to my newspaper reading. There are two types of news articles about criminals: those calling for their heads and those calling for their release. Some paint the accused as the devil incarnate, wholly unredeemable. Others question everything from the facts of the case to the motives of the police and prosecutor. However, it is the context of the reader: race, gender, class, education, and character that informs the acceptance/rejection or alteration of the truth in any given story. Notice that logic and reason are completely absent from the discussion. In the days of alternate facts, fake news, and relative truth, logic and reason cannot be relied on to reach consensus or agreement on the real truth of guilt or innocence.

I believe this is why so many people reject the Gospel of Christ. Faith isn’t faith until you accept the story as Truth. During this holy week we are reminded of this, not as a function of modern society, but the condition of man since the fall. The religious and political leaders in Jerusalem couldn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah because he didn’t fit their expectations or their own agendas.

Jesus was the victim of retributive justice. When the authorities reject the truth, innocence becomes irrelevant and that speaks to the character of the judge, jury and executioner (the High Priest, the Sanhedrin, and Pilot.) It seems that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Which as why after 2000 years it is the greatest story ever told. So I encourage you to continue to tell this story. I can think of no group that so desperately needs to hear a message of grace, mercy, redemption and forgiveness as those who are there with you.

You are not forgotten. Greet all the Brothers for me. He is risen!

Your Brother in Christ.

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