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The Alternate Juror

September 15, 2010

I have never been summoned for jury duty before.  So imagine my surprise when I was first called for state jury service, only then to be summoned for federal jury service 6 weeks later.  Few United States citizens have been so lucky.  And because federal duty trumps state duty, there I was on a brisk east coast morning, walking myself and my backpack into the federal courthouse.  After hours upon hours of sitting in the “jury selection pool,” all 50+ of us were herded into the courtroom like frightened cattle.  As the clerk randomly called out 12 juror names, the tension in the room was so palpable that I left dark, sweaty hand prints on my charcoal grey dress pants.  When people realized their name was not called, I watched eyebrows relax back to place and lower lips release from between clenched teeth.  It was a shared anxiety rivaled only by the tension of dodge-ball teams being chosen in elementary school (see previous posts to figure out how that scenario worked out for me).

If watching my fellow potential jurors wasn’t unsettling enough, the defendant was sitting in a rigid wooden chair directly in front of me.  He rubbed his eyes constantly with his right hand, and I was unsure whether he was crying, bored, or trying desperately to distract himself from the thought that 12 random strangers were going to decide his fate.  I watched this man, whom I knew nothing of until this day, who I would never have crossed paths with aside from this courtroom, and who was now dependent upon me to make heads or tails of his life choices.  Since when was I “fit” to condemn a man or set him free?

I couldn’t help but think of my own formative moral upbringing.  Apparently I had once thought myself fit to judge everyone.  When I first became a person of faith, I was just plain crazy.  No, really.  I was crazy.  I was one of your stereotypical, Bible thumping, hands-in-the-air, praise-band-rockin Christians who felt it her duty to argue a “non-believer’s” way to God.  Looking back I can’t remember much except my need to prove myself right, to talk at people rather than with them, and the lie that was ingrained in my head that I was speaking “the truth in love.”  To this day, that is my favorite Christian phrase.

Oh, I know you’re gay and that is who you really are, but the truth in love is that there is no place for you in my church.”

“I know you’re my sister, but the truth in love is that you’re going to hell.”

“Oh, I’m sorry the boyfriend you were sleeping with dumped you and you need our support, but the truth in love is that you are sinful, and you can’t come back to our girl’s Bible study until you turn back to God.”

“I know you serve in the children’s ministry center every single Sunday, but we need you again this week.  You really need to take a look at the attitude of your servant’s heart, and that’s the truth in love.”

“You’re going through a hard time?  Have you prayed about it?  It hasn’t cured your pain?  Well, I’m telling you the truth in love that you need to examine your relationship with the Lord if your prayer life isn’t working.”

There is a small twinge of hyperbole in there, but sadly, that seems to be the perception and experience many people have with Christians.  The Truth in Love.  The judgments without relationship.  The arguments without the conversation.  But do any of us honestly know what the truth, if spoken and lived out in love, would actually look like?  Sitting in that courtroom, staring at this man I didn’t know, the only answer that came to mind was the need to hear his story before delivering a verdict.  Because everything changes once you know people.  Perspectives shift, questions get asked, and suddenly the foundation you were so sure to build your house on, is separating like sand.  It’s easy to Truth in Love the gay community, but have you ever sat down and cried with a gay friend?  Have you ever felt his hand tremble while you held it?  And what about those “non-believers”?  What if they are your family?  What if they are the people you have grown up with, who have taught you more about grace and forgiveness than anyone else you know?  What if they are the people who show you God’s character, without even knowing it?  And of course we have our own spiritual lives.  We should all be prayer warriors through everything, right?  But what do you say to the doctor who’s lost a patient?  What do you say to the friend who is watching her father struggle through cancer?  Can such pain be prayed away?  Can a Bible verse on a note card erase the memory of seeing the bruise on your student’s arm?  If I sit with my gay friend, if I believe I’ll see each of my family members in Heaven, if I refuse to send this man to a prison cell, if I cry because of those things I am helpless to overcome – is that not the truth in love?

The courtroom was a place of facts, incriminating evidence, and right from wrong.  It was a place already set up to prove the wrongdoing of the man who sat in front of me.  I was excused that day, and I was grateful.  As I walked back to my car, through the damp coastal fog that both invigorated and oppressed me, it occurred to me that the power bestowed upon me in the federal jury system was not the same as the power bestowed upon me by God.  The courtroom gave me the power of seeing things in black and white, of making quick, cold decisions that should be completely disconnected from this man’s human experience.   But God gave me the power to see things through the lens of faith.   He called me to relationship.  And faith and relationships, as I have come to know, are more about living by grace than living by legalistic certainty.  I would never have made a very good juror.  There are simply too many shades of grey in my life, and my faith, for the black and white walls of the courtroom.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Amy G permalink
    September 18, 2010 12:06 am

    Me too. This is why I am SO thankful for Gordon, because I feel it was the place that I learned small small measure of humility in conversations and relationships with people.

    I learned it’s more important to listen than to speak, and that being “right” isn’t as important as really, truly, deeply loving people. I still love to debate for fun, but there are some things that can’t be debated, and I have no desire to logic people into the Kingdom of God.

    No, I think I’d rather flesh it out in every aspect of my life.

    You know what was a great book for that too? Silence in good ol’ CCC and Dan’s discussions about it. That book is phenomenal.

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