Why I’ve change my mind on the death penalty

In honor of my good friend Mark, who, I’m pretty sure is the only person who checks my blog now and then, I write this, my first post in almost a year. He called me one day a few weeks back to let me know that my blog had been hacked. So, I finally got around to fixing it and in honor of this new, clean, web-log and a good friend noticing, I write this post.

I, like Mark, though we be on different sides of the political spectrum, care not what others think if we dare to think openly and change our mind on something. Believe it not, “changing one’s mind” is not a crime. I’m not running for office, though, even if I were, I’m not sure it should matter much. There’s such a false stigma associated with it as if it were actually important what I thought in the first place. This is, of course, why we think it matters if a candidate changes their mind, in that they, unlike you and me, actually could affect some changes in the law based on their changing their minds. This is true, no doubt, but I see no evidence that it is somehow dangerous or even prevalent. So, friends seem to somehow hold other friends accountable on the big issues. This is what I’m claiming just doesn’t matter much.

The topic is the death penalty; capital punishment.

I’ve change my mind on capital punishment. I used to support it, now I don’t. Here’s why:

It all started when the introduction of DNA evidence began uncovering innocent people being wrongly incarcerated, some on death row. I’m sure there are many other Christians such as myself who had managed to convince themselves that a small number of mistakes were inevitable and acceptable. But, they kept coming, more and more. I soon supported the calls for a moratorium on all executions. We were in uncharted territory with DNA evidence and it was time to just stop until society could catch up with the science.

Well, in the meantime, I continued to reflect on capital punishment. My Bible is full of ideas and concepts about punishment. I’m sure you’re aware that the Old Testament prescribes the death penalty for all kinds of things that we would never accept in today’s society. But, it’s also full of ideas about the concept of punishment in general. We Christians use words like Grace and Mercy and have a little saying to help us keep it straight: Grace is receiving something you don’t deserve and Mercy is not receiving something that you do deserve. Our God is both full of Mercy and full of Grace.

That being said, we don’t believe in sin without consequences. In fact, we believe that consequences inexorably follow sin. (Look up Jonathan Haidt’s talks for a good secular explanation of this. Especially his Bill Moyer interview. He uses the word Karma, or “what goes around, comes around.”)

But, these consequences come along with the Mercy and Grace; so, one can be both guilty and forgiven. The Bible is full of these illustrations too: Jesus interfering with the capital punishment of the prostitute; he did not claim she was innocent, but forgiven, and she was shown mercy.

So, let us consider a person incarcerated in our country today and on death row. Let us also consider him guilty. The reason for this little thought experiment is to turn the corner from the above mentioned moratorium to the final abolishing of the death penalty. So, our hypothetical person is indeed, very, very guilty. He’s a monster. He’s confessed. The DNA evidence is in and convincing. Whatever you need to conclude that he’s guilty, there you go. Why shouldn’t he receive the death penalty?

The fact is, he should. Rather, he deserves it.

And, this is how I turned the corner on this issue. Since I actually believe in a loving and just God, I actually believe that his sin has consequences for him personally. So, I’m convinced that he really does deserve the death penalty. I no longer need to jump through moral hoops to says that. He really does deserve it.

If you’re a Christian, I’ve got some bad news for you: you deserve it too. Furthermore, you’re gonna get it. You’re going to die. Your Bible tells you why in Romans 6:23: “For the product of sin is death…..” And don’t act like your shocked by all this; the very earliest parts of the Bible tell us we’re gonna die because we disobeyed God; commonly referred to as “The Fall.”

A note to my secular friends who may be put off by all the religious-speak: if this is something you’re actually interested in, as in, why the Bible says things like this, you cannot dismiss it easily as outdated crazy-talk. Very learned and experienced people throughout all of history have contemplated and written on these subjects, and continue to do so today. If you start with the assumption that it can’t mean anything for you today, then I can’t help you understand it. A better starting place would be: that all sounds like crazy-talk, I wonder if it mean anything to me today? If you sat in on one of my Bible studies, we would acknowledge that it sounds like crazy-talk, but since we know it’s not….thus begins the study.

So, considering a death row inmate, they really do deserve the death penalty, if they’re guilty. For me, it’s no longer an issue if the guilty deserve to die or not; they do. But, the combination of doubt and the valid Christian debate as to whether or not the state has the right to justifiably murder a criminal has led me to change my mind on supporting the death penalty in my state.

If a truly guilty criminal is executed tomorrow, I will not shed a tear. But, we know that DNA evidence is resulting in more and more innocent people being let out of prison and the thought of a person being unfairly incarcerated for years is more than I can stand. The thought of the state executing an innocent person? That possibility has to stop.


John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer

I am no longer my own, but yours.

Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;

Put me to doing; put me to suffering;

Let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,

Exalted for you, or brought low for you;

Let me be full, let me be empty;

Let me have all things, let me have nothing;

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

You are mine and I am yours.

So be it. And the covenant made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.

Real Men

I saw a story listing 20 things all men should know how to do. On the list was operate a chain saw and it reminded of a story.

We had a medium-sized tree in our yard that needed to come down. I knew my dad had a chainsaw, so I called him to borrow it. He was about 75 years old at the time and legally blind, so I was a bit taken aback when he volunteered to come over and help me.

He asked, “have you ever cut a tree down before?”

“No,” I replied.

Later, I was complaining to Annette about it and she asks, “have you ever operated a chain saw?”

“No,” I replied.

“You’d better let him do it,” she advised.

Anyway, I still need to cross that one off my list.

A Prayer for the homeless

As I get to work each morning, I enter the Post-Dispatch and take the stairs on the south-side of the building. The stairwell includes large windows that look out towards the St. Patrick Center and Interco Plaza. The St. Patrick Center is a provider of services for the homeless and some of these homeless had taken to camping in this little plaza right outside the center.

One day last fall I stopped on the second floor window to peer out onto this sight and say a quick prayer for the people living on the plaza. As is typical of my prayers, I didn’t include any specifics, just that they would know God and see that He loves them.

Imagine my surprise when, the next morning I walked up the same steps to find that the little plaza was swept clean. It looked like no one had ever “lived” there.

“Whoa,” I thought, “…God, what did you do?”

A bit later it in the day I realized that it was all the talk on the local radio waves. Turns out, some rather insensitive park rangers had orders to move the residents out of the park and had simply thrown away all the belongings of these homeless individuals. The homeless folks were even there while the rangers tossed everything in the compacting trash truck. Well, needless to say, there was outrage across the board, including the Mayor’s office. I felt sure the outrage would turn into something positive for these people and felt confident that God was looking out for them.

From today’s Post:

ST. LOUIS — The two men once bounced from one downtown park to another, sleeping in tents or under cardboard in relative anonymity.Then last fall, Tremayne Gates and Clint Smith briefly became the center of a debate over how the city should treat its homeless and their possessions. …read the rest of the story -

An evening with David McCullough

David McCulloughJohn and Marjie were gracious enough to consider us when they had two extra tickets to hear David McCullough speak down at Powell Hall tonight. And, though I am woefully behind in reading most of his books, I, like you, have seen and heard many of his endeavors on PBS. And, when I saw an hour of him on the Charlie Rose Show, it really inspired me. He has a love of history coupled with some very, very good communication skills.

He spoke most passionately and emotionally on the subject of Public Education. No matter where the speech took him, he always seemed to come back again to the subject. His overall sentiment was, it’s up to the parents. Some of the biting criticisms he had were along the lines of “less soccer for the 6th grader and more family field trips” or “when you go the parent-teacher conference, ask the teacher ‘what can I do to help you.’ ”

That was also his answer when he wondered aloud what he would say to the new president. He claims he would simply say, “what can I do to help.” And, as long as one does not interpret that statement as “when can I get on the Federal payroll?” then, I most heartily agree with it.

But, what can you do to “help?” Well, help what? right? Isn’t that the question?

Anyway, listening to Mr. McCullough has inspired to write a bit, so there you go.

If Jesus could do it

I figure if Jesus could get up after three days in a tomb, I could maybe write a blog post.

I had my usual Holy Week schedule this past week: Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. For me, the usual combination of playing guitar and cooking. It’s what I do.

Saturday morning I was watching the History Detectives on PBS and one of the stories got me thinking about mythology and religion.  The story starts like this:

George Washington’s cherry tree, Betsy Ross’ flag, Paul Revere’s ride…now Muhlenberg’s Robe may be added to the list of debatable Revolutionary War legends.

The story goes that in January 1776, Lutheran Reverend Peter Muhlenberg turned his pulpit into a recruiting station for revolutionary fighters. During a fiery sermon, he tore his robe from his shoulders to reveal a uniform, and at once rallied 300 able-bodied congregants to the patriotic cause.

So, off go the history detectives to discover that a.) Though the robe is made of the right material and is of the right age to be the robe, there’s no way to prove whether it really is or not and b.) Rev. Muhlenberg most certainly did not tear it off during the sermon to reveal the uniform and likely did not rally the 300 right there on the spot. The story is probably a concoction derived seventy-plus years later when German immigrants needed to feel special about their role in the war up there in Pennsylvania.

But here’s my beef: we all too often ignore the plain obvious facts right in front of our face. 1.) Rev. Muhlenberg was a Lutheran Minister who lived and preached during the birth of our nation 2.) He gave up (took off?) his robe to wear the uniform of revolution and 3.) he convinced many of his congregants to fight against the British.

So, you see how the “myth” compacts and teaches us the story? The real story. The myth is good. Leave it alone.

On another note, I felt obliged to defend the Methodists a bit during this story. As the story goes, the “American Anglicans” (aka Methodists) would not fight the king. This is true enough. One must look inside John Wesley’s head a bit for the answer though.

I won’t bore with all the details, but we could safely say the Wesley simply did not like our founding fathers. He thought them buffoonish hypocrites. His main moral contention was, of course, their ownership of slaves. They demanded “freedom?” …right. The Wesleyan movement had already played a role in abolishing slavery in England years before.
Anyway, sometimes it’s healthy to read about people that our history books tell us are heroes, saints practically; to read Wesley just cut them down and insult them…well, it’s good for you sometimes.

It was raining in the city

It was raining in the city. A hard rain.

No, really, it was raining hard. I was staring out the sixth floor hospital window onto a big, old, dark city. A river bending around us like some monster’s sinew. In the bed, my seventy-eight year old mother currently enjoying her morphine drip. She deserves it; she’s spent Christmas night in the ER of this equally big, old, dark hospital and now, a couple days later, just got out of surgery to have a colostomy bag hooked up. We’re all saying to each other, “she is not going to like that.” Flash forward a couple more days and after eating some dinner, the bag begins to fart. She says, “Oh, I hate this bag.”

It’s Christmastime and I’m watching the Sound of Music with her in the hospital. Then, it’s time to leave and she says, “I’ll finish watching and see if they still fall in love.” They do, I watch it every year. I always make everyone in the room stop and take notice when the scene comes where the Captain is singing Edelwiess and Maria is off stage. Then the moment comes. I say to mom this year, “here it comes…wait for it…there it is! She’s fallen in love with him.” What a woman that Julie Andrews is. She’s on my list, you know.

We all hated the hospital, but kept it to ourselves. You want the best for your mother, right? Well, this wasn’t it. But, it was her hospital. Kinda like her car. I want her to have a better car, but she doesn’t and she won’t. And, after a couple of nights of all night partying by some of the guests, she’d had enough and asked for a private room. Much better. We told her when you go back for your surgery, you may as well just ask for a private room right of the bat.

The first surgery (for the bag) went well. The night before, my dad pulled me aside to whisper, “you’re gonna be with her tomorrow morning, right?” Even now, I’m proud to say, he wanted to make sure I was going to do the right thing.

Tonight, the new year is here. She looked really good tonight. Almost back to normal. She really is in good shape. After the tumor comes out next Friday, a couple of weeks of some slow recuperation and some pain, she’ll be back to this point, but for good.

Yes, it’s been hard seeing her like this; in the hospital and nursing home. But, it makes us ask the hard questions of ourselves. Will we be ready for this? First, will we be ready for our parents’ passing. Then, will we be ready for our own infirmities? Where will we go? Who will take care of us? I’ve very proud of her for taking care of herself through the years. I hope I can live up to that high standard.

The world keeps on turning

Well, it’s official. I was laid off last Friday, asked to stay through Wednesday, and hired Thursday. We move down to the Post-Dispatch building in downtown St. Louis in two weeks. “We” being my whole group less three. The CFO, and two clerks were let go. One of the clerks I hired six years ago; the only other guy in the department. I’ll miss him. He never believed me that I hired him because he faxed from a submarine. During his interview, I asked what he did in the office on the submarine and he just kept saying, “you know, filing, faxing, regular office stuff.” Then I’d say, “Yeah…but, from a submarine!” So, I hired him.

My job is a strange hybrid of complexity and dullness. Multiple relational databases that I’m paid to simply understand, but in the final analysis, it’s just counting how many papers went out and how many came back. And now, mix that with the uncertainty of the newspaper business being in a severe, some say deathly, down turn. I’m along for the ride. What else do I have to do? as they say.

Are newspapers going away? I don’t know. Did trains “go away?” Did radio go away? Industries have to evolve to survive. When industry leaders care more about their profit than their mission, then they will cease making profit. Identifying that mission can be a challenge to a multi-generational industry. You hear it, but you don’t believe it.

There is certainly no shortage of news these days. It’s just that the newspapers can’t compete. Their biggest problem? They’re too costly to produce. Our metro daily wholesales for sixty-nine cents and thirty-two cents of that is just newsprint. Throw in the twenty-three cents to delivery it…well, you can add. It’s no wonder that some papers are choosing to cease printing one or more days of the week. The return is just not worth it.

Two Couples

Richard & AnnetteIke & Mamie

Two couples; both married on July 1st. The couple on the left in 1983, the couple on the right in 1916. Both married in the bride’s mother’s living room. The couple on the right, in Denver CO. The couple on the left honeymooned in…that’s right, Denver CO. Supernatural baloney? Supernatural, perhaps. Baloney? Perhaps not.

The Encyclopedia

These days, when you say “the encyclopedia,” everyone knows you mean The Wikipedia of internet fame. I think it’s a great resource. Do it have some issues? Sure, it does. Is it “as good” as, say the Britannica? No, speaking strictly of quality it doesn’t even come close.

First and foremost though, it’s free, and the others are not. I like that. Secondly, it’s much larger that the other encyclopedias. Try looking up “The Morrison Observatory” in a regular encyclopedia. It’s just not there. And, probably shouldn’t be. But, in today’s internet world, isn’t it great that there is a place where I can find such things?
Read this article…

WIKIPEDIA and other online research sources were yesterday blamed for Scotland’s falling exam pass rates.The Scottish Parent Teacher Council (SPTC) said pupils are turning to websites and internet resources that contain inaccurate or deliberately misleading information before passing it off as their own work. (read the rest…)

So, what to make of this? Well, you have watch out for accuracy. But, first, one must ask, how does this accuracy matter? I think this is where the internet generation may be weak. I bring a healthy dose of skepticism to the table when I read anything, anywhere. I don’t care if it’s in the daily newspaper or it’s on the internet. I want to know who wrote it, why they wrote it and what’s their angle? So, it’s not shocking when I learn that an article or even an encyclopedia entry is a bit biased. But, biased is different than inaccurate isn’t it?

The Wikipedia deals with “inaccuracies” by having hundreds or more people looking and editing the same article. Click on the Discussion tab of a large article sometime to see all the wrangling. But, having said that, it couldn’t possibly be accurate across the whole body of articles. A better word would by consistency. Now, if you’re the editor of the Encyclopedia Britannica, you can understand an attitude where inconsistency equals inaccuracy; plain and simple. I agree with that.

However, one should enlighten and encourage young researchers to look out for any “inaccuracies,” for they lay in wait in all sorts of source material. Secondly, you, yourself, may log on to Wikipedia and fix any inaccuracies that you find.

I have written one small entry on Bernice Morrison. I have added to and edited two others. One on the Morrison Observatory (including the photo) and another on Carr Waller Pritchett.

The other day I took a gander at the entry for Dwight D. Eisenhower and about cried. It was horrible. Horribly written. I would assign a letter grade of F to it. I am in the process of completely re-writing it.