Meditation Monday: Transformation on Death Row

I recently read an article by Shane Claiborne that begins with these striking words, “It’s the first time I’ve counted down the days to a friend’s execution. Unless there is a miracle from God or compassion from the state’s governor, Tennessee will kill Don Johnson by lethal injection on May 16.” Shane goes on the explain about his friendship with Don that developed over the past five years of visiting him in prison. Don Johnson is on death row for the murder of his wife Connie Johnson in 1984. As the article succinctly and powerfully states, “Don’s guilt was never in question for me. But neither was his redemption.” Don Johnson became a Christian and a pastor while on death row. His ministry has impacted the lives of inmates, correctional officers, and staff at the prison. But the most powerful witness of Christ’s transforming power is in Don’s relationship with his daughter,

After losing her mom at the age of 7, she became a champion for the death penalty, especially when it came to the execution of her dad. She wanted him dead. She hated him. The death penalty seemed like justice, at first. Cynthia eventually found that her hatred was not hurting him, but it was killing her. She found herself in a prison of her own anger and resentment, confined, in her words, “to my own internal house of hell.” The justice she sought turned out to be revenge…She forgave her dad, not so he could sleep at night but so that she could sleep at night. Now she is fighting to save his life.Cynthia is fighting for alternatives to the death penalty – for her dad, and for everyone else. Despite its promises of closure and justice, the death penalty extends trauma, exacerbates wounds and creates a whole new set of victims, something Cynthia knows all too well.

The death penalty is wrong on many levels including the likelihood of executing innocent people as shown by recent exonerations of convicted people after years on death row. Even when guilt is not in doubt, the death penalty is applied unfairly based on race and economic condition. But most importantly as Shane Claiborne’s article cleary shows, the death penalty is a refusal to recognize the possibility and reality of redemption, transformation, and rehabilitation. For those of us who believe in the power of God to bring new life, we do not believe that God’s power stops outside the prison walls or even outside death row. Please pray this week for Don Johnson’s life to be spared and that our country will abolish the death penalty. If you want to read the full article by Shane Claiborne click here.



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In this Oct. 13, 1999, file photo, Ricky Bell, left, then the warden at Riverbend Correctional Facility in Nashville, Tenn., gives a tour of the prison’s execution chamber. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

Meditation Monday: D-Day in May

The first week in May is an annual reminder of what became known in the civil rights movement as D-Day, May 2, 1963. This was the first day of the “Children’s Crusade” in which thousands of elementary through high school aged children participated in non-violent direct action during the Birmingham campaign to desegregate public accommodations. Most Americans have seen images of police dogs and fire hoses used against the protesters. What many people do not know or realize is that this violent response by those wanting to maintain segregation was directed mostly at children. By remaining non-violent in the face of oppression and arrest, the images struck the conscience of the nation and resulted in changes to legal segregation laws that were seen as a permanent “way of life’ in Birmingham. The non-violent training and spiritual foundation for the witness of the children and adults in the Birmingham campaign was summarized in a commitment card that each person signed before participating in any direct action. In his book Why We Can’t Wait about the pivotal year of 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. included a copy of that card. Here are the commitments they made then and that still serve as a foundation for Christian faith-based witness for justice today:

I HEREBY PLEDGE MYSELF - MY PERSON AND BODY - TO THE NON-VIOLENT MOVEMENT. THEREFORE I WILL KEEP THE FOLLOWING TEN COMMANDMENTS:

 

  1. MEDITATE daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.

  2. REMEMBER always that the nonviolent movement in Birmingham seeks justice and reconciliation - not victory.

  3. WALK and TALK in the manner of love, for God is love.

  4. PRAY daily to be used by God in order that all men might be free.

  5. SACRIFICE personal wishes in order that all men might be free.

  6. OBSERVE with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.

  7. SEEK to perform regular service for others and for the world

  8. REFRAIN from the violence of fist, tongue, and heart.

  9. STRIVE to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

  10. FOLLOW the directions of the movement and of the captain of a demonstration

 

I sign this pledge, having seriously considered what I do and with the determination and will to persevere.

The video posted below features some of the original D-Day participants. How can we benefit from their witness and continue to build on that legacy of commitment to justice today?


Meditation Monday - More Powerful Than Hate

Once again the power of hate is in the national news as a white supremacist opened fire in a synagogue in Poway, CA killing a woman and wounding three others. Lori Kaye lost her life when she put herself between the gunman and the rabbi who was the intended target. Even as we denounce the racist bigotry that led to her death, may we also lift up the courage and love that allowed Lori Kaye to give her life to save others. This tragedy happened on the last day of Passover, the Jewish celebration that commemorates God’s deliverance of the Hebrew people from 400 years of slavery in Egypt. Up to that point, the power of domination and violence represented by Pharaoh seemed invincible. Yet Moses dared to believe that God was more powerful than Pharaoh and that God called him to act on that belief by confronting Pharaoh and leading the Hebrew people out of Egypt.

The power of hate seems nearly invincible today. In our country and around the world, words and acts of racist and religious violence happen with alarming regularity. We are tempted to “normalize” this situation as “the way it is.” Yet the presence of God is still at work in our world calling us to believe and act on a power greater than hate. Most of us will never face the situation of literally giving our lives for another as Lori Kaye did. Yet each of us is called to commit our lives to the power of God’s non-violent, self-sacrificial, inclusive love. As stories of hate and violence fill the airwaves, I urge us to ask this question, “What is one step I can take today to show my commitment to the power of God’s love?” I believe that if we ask that question sincerely, God will show each of us the step we need to take individually and in community. Whether that step seems small or big, it will be more powerful than hate.

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Lori Kaye

Meditation Monday: Resurrection Partners

Yesterday was the high point of the Christian year as we celebrated the resurrection of Jesus on Easter. Yet the resurrection is not a one time event or an annual celebration. In the great chapter about the resurrection in I Corinthians 15, Paul proclaims that Jesus’ resurrection is the “first fruits.” In other words, God’s resurrection power continues to be at work in our lives and in our world. This is true not only for us as individuals but also for our society as we are open and committed to God’s will for our lives and our world. Last week on Good Friday, I read an article from the April 19, 1968 edition of Life magazine. It was written by Coretta Scott King 51 years ago just a few days after the murder of her husband Martin Luther King, Jr. Here are some of her words:

How many times have I heard him (Martin) say that with every Good Friday there comes Easter. When Good Friday comes there are moments in life when we feel that all is lost, and there is no hope. But then Easter comes as a time of resurrection, of rebirth, of hope and fulfillment. We must carry on because this is the way he would have wanted it to have been. We are not going to get bogged down, I hope, and this moment when we are going to go forward, we are going to continue his work to make all people truly free and to make every person feel that he is a human being.

The power of the resurrection is not just or even primarily about going to heaven after death. It is the way of new life right now. At the time of greatest loss and grief in her own life, Mrs. King reminds us to trust God’s power to bring new life out of what seem the most hopeless situations. She also reminds us that God calls us to be resurrection partners by committing our lives to working for love and justice for all people. Easter Sunday is past for this year. The power resurrection continues today and every day. The question of each of us is, How is God calling me to be a “Resurrection Partn

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Mediation Monday: Accused, Executed, and Innocent

For millions of Christians around the world, this is Holy Week when we reflect on the last week of Jesus’ life from the time he entered Jerusalem to his death and resurrection. This story is so foundational and familiar that it is easy to “go through the motions” of observing this sacred time. Yet as we enter this Holy Week, I was struck by the realization that Jesus is the most famous victim of the death penalty. He was tortured and executed by the Romans based on false charges brought by religious authorities who accused him of claiming to be a new king challenging the authority of Caesar. Even though the Roman governor Pilate believed Jesus was innocent, he gave into political pressure and authorized Jesus’ horrifying execution by crucifixion. Although God redeemed this tremendous miscarriage of justice through the resurrection, it is a vivid example of the reality that the death penalty is liable to human error and manipulation. This is just as true in the United States of 2019 as it was in first century Israel. Organizations such as the Equal Justice Initiative and The Innocence Project have worked to exonerate innocent people on death rows in various states showing that innocent people continue to be accused of capital crimes. Even when defendants are guilty as charged, there is an obvious disparity in who receives the death penalty based on racial and economic factors. The video by Bryan Stevenson posted below is a brief introduction to this ongoing injustice. As followers of our Lord who was falsely accused, tortured, and executed; we are called to advocate for justice that is truly fair and equal. The death penalty throughout history including our own nation has never been fair or equal.