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Author: Tim

Senior pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ. Ordained in May, 1983. Called to First Congregational UCC in August, 1994.
barbaric

barbaric

Last night, Arkansas executed two men by lethal injection, after carrying out its first execution in twelve years last Thursday, making three men put to death in five days. It seems the state will not achieve its objective of executing eight men in eleven days, but a fourth is scheduled to be put to death later this week.

Is this justice? Arkansas governor, Asa Hutchinson, says it is: “After more than 20 years, justice has prevailed for the family of Stacey Errickson. I reviewed this case thoroughly and determined that clemency should not be granted. I appreciate the patience and long-suffering of the Errickson family through this ordeal. This is a serious and reflective time in our state and it is important for the Errickson family and all Arkansans to know that in this case our laws ended in justice.” Will justice not be satisfied, can an aggrieved family not heal, unless and until a life is taken? Can we only absolve blood by taking more blood?

Aren’t we better than that? Can’t we be better than that?

Here is the roll call of the countries of the world which carried out the most executions in 2016: China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Pakistan, Egypt, North Korea, and the United States. Is this the company we want to keep? Are these the nations whose justice systems we want to emulate? Granted, we do not carry out the nearly the number of executions that China and Iran and Saudi Arabia do, but killing is killing. Killing more or less doesn’t make it better or worse.

One hundred and seven nations of the world have absolutely prohibited capital punishment. Because they understand it is barbaric …

a human agenda

a human agenda

I, along with many EPA staff, are becoming increasing alarmed about the direction of EPA under your leadership. The policies this Administration is advancing are contrary to what the majority of the American people, who pay our salaries, want EPA to accomplish, which are to ensure the air their children breath is safe; the land they live, play, and hunt on to be free of toxic chemicals; and the water they drink, the lakes they swim in, and the rivers they fish in to be clean.”

These are parting words from Mike Cox, a retiring twenty-five year EPA employee, part of a letter sent to EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt.

Clean air is not a liberal agenda; it is a human agenda.

Clean water is not a liberal agenda; it is a human necessity.

A clean environment, an environment as free as possible from toxins harmful to life, human and otherwise, is not a liberal agenda; it is a human agenda.

The Environmental Protection Agency is not the enemy; not the enemy of progress, not the enemy of profitability. The EPA is the friend of the people, the friend of the earth, the friend of our children and grand-children. Only a fool would poison his own family for a short term gain. I pray neither we nor our elected leaders will be foolish …

i was hungry

i was hungry

“I was hungry and you fed me.”

It’s clear.  It’s specific.  It’s indisputable.  Jesus said this is what righteous people do.

The author of the gospel of Matthew places this message at the end of the twenty-fifth chapter, just before  beginning the account of Jesus’ last days — his passion, his arrest, trail, and execution.  These are Jesus’ “final words,” his “parting message,” to his followers.  This is what matters.  It is by this standard that you will be measured.  “I was hungry and you fed me.”

But when did we ever see the Lord hungry and feed him?  Whenever you did this for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did it for me.  That is Jesus’ message.  Clear.  Specific.  Not metaphorical, but quite literal.  You see a hungry person?  Feed her and you feed me.

I was overcome with grief and horror when I read about the plight of the people of the Horn of Africa as I was doing research for last Sunday’s sermon.  Twenty million people in Somalia and South Sudan and Yemen at risk of severe famine.  The equivalent of the entire population of Iowa and Wisconsin and Minnesota and Missouri combined, all starving to death.

If that were indeed true here, we would think it a crisis of apocalyptic proportions.  It is a crisis of apocalyptic proportions!  I could not do nothing: “I was hungry and you fed me.”  If you want to do something, consider a gift to the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa (ARAHA), a relief organization based in Minneapolis.  A gift of $150 supplies one family with a relief package that includes a “food basket, nutrition packs for children, and water“ (https://araha.org/drought-relief-2/).

heron

heron

A great blue heron frequents the pond behind our house in Cedar Falls. Magnificent bird! Here is a photo taken last Monday …

as yourself

as yourself

Jesus put it simply: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”

As yourself …

How do you love yourself? Out of pity? As a duty? Because you have to?

Or is your love for yourself a desire for well-being and happiness, just because you want well-being and happiness? Don’t you defend yourself because you believe you deserve to be treated fairly? Aren’t you patient and kind with yourself, because you understand your own strengths and weaknesses and know you are still learning, still becoming? And don’t you accept help, when you do, with gratitude, believing it is offered not out of pity, but out of love, because people care about you like you care about them? Because you matter?

Isn’t your love for yourself based on a belief in your own inherent dignity and worth?

A friend shared an article with me today. You should read it. It is subtitled:

We need to change the conversation about poverty and inequality. It starts with compassion and kindness.

We need to change the conversation, to see poverty, not from the outside, but from the inside, to set aside stereotypes and see our neighbors as they are, to lead with compassion, to learn to love our neighbors … as ourselves.

An excerpt from the article …

When researchers at Princeton University showed two groups of viewers the same video of a little girl answering questions about school subjects, they told the first group that her parents were affluent professionals. They told the second group that she was the daughter of a meat packer and a seamstress.

The girl, named Hannah, performed right at grade level on the videotaped test, answering some questions correctly and missing others. But when asked about her performance, the first group, primed to believe she was wealthy, felt that she had performed above grade level. The second group, primed to believe she was not, felt that she had performed below.

It was the same video, mind you — the same girl, answering the same questions in the exact same way. But their conclusions were totally different.

Sometimes we see what we’re looking for …

a tale of two florida prosecutors

a tale of two florida prosecutors

1) Miami-Dade prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle declined to press charges in the case of Darren Rainey, a schizophrenic prison inmate who died in June 2012 after being locked in a hot shower for two hours, saying that “the evidence does not show that Rainey’s well-being was grossly disregarded by the correctional staff.”

However,

witnesses [interviewed by the Miami Herald] including a nurse on duty that night, and several inmates interviewed by the Herald over the past two years, have said that two corrections officers, Cornelius Thompson and Roland Clark, forced Rainey into an enclosed, locked shower stall and that the water had been cranked as high as 180 degrees from a neighboring room, where the heat controls were. … Rainey screamed in terror and begged to be let out for more than an hour until he collapsed and died.

And,

when his body was pulled out, nurses said there were burns on 90 percent of his body. A nurse said his body temperature was too high to register with a thermometer. And his skin fell off at the touch.

Rainey was serving a two-year sentence for cocaine possession.

When a mentally-ill minor drug offender is imprisoned, does he forfeit all his rights, all his human rights, including the right to live? Who protects him? (If not us?) Who will ensure him justice? (If not us?)

2) Orange-Osceola State Attorney Aramis Ayala announced last Thursday that she will not pursue death sentences for any capital cases during her time in office. That earned her a angry rebuke from Florida governor Rick Scott who removed from her jurisdiction the high profile case of a man charged with killing a police officer, saying she “has made it clear that she will not fight for justice.”

Because only a death satisfies justice? If blood revenge is the only means of “fighting for justice” (which is what the death penalty is, after all, blood revenge), what does that say about us?

Death sentences are notoriously inequitable in their application, do not provide any deterrence, cost taxpayers more, do not bring “resolution” to grieving families, rather, and as Ayala observed, “cases drag on for years, adding to victims’ anguish.” Could it be that refusing to pursue death sentences is in fact “fighting for justice?” Because the question remains, beyond any concerns about fairness and effectiveness, is killing by the state just? Or is it an overreach and abuse of power and a corrosive threat to our humanity?

Which of these prosecutors is fighting for justice? Which showed courage? Which represents the best of who we are as human beings?