Killing Me Softly?

I just got an appeal in my e-mail asking me to contact my governor because the state is poised to bring back an old method of execution.  Specifically, the e-mail calls this method of execution “barbaric” and says that we need to act fast to prevent the state from taking this giant step backwards. Which got me thinking. Is it?

Why are we debating about the methods we use to kill people? Let me say that again – why are we focusing the debate on the methods we use to kill people? Has anyone noticed that we’re still killing people? Why should we be making it more socially acceptable? Why should we be making it more palatable for the public?

We don’t like to say that we kill people, so we use the word “execute.” But what does that mean? The word means to carry out or carry through.  It’s come to mean “to put to death according to law” or “to murder or assassinate” because we keep using it that way – but it’s a euphemism.  So I say if we’re going to do the deed, let’s call it what it is.  Putting to death according to the law.  We are killing people.

Now, I understand why attorneys who are appealing death sentences often appeal on the grounds of the methods used. If I were trying to save someone’s life I would use every method open to me, and that would include going after methods. But for the rest of us, I think it is distracting from the real issue. While we debate whether it’s better to hang people to death, or electrocute them, or stand them in front of firing squads, or give them lethal doses of drugs, we are still killing people. We put 28 people to death in the U.S. in 2015 (overwhelmingly black and latino).

Let us consider Exodus 20:13.  Much depends upon the translation of the Hebrew here.  Some translate ratzach as murder, and some as kill.  But the form of the verb is clear.  It is not an intense form – there is no intensity added.  The command is You shall not do ratzach.  Further, the command is in the second person singular.  It is aimed at each one of us individually.  YOU, yes YOU sitting there reading this, YOU shall not kill. Perhaps you translate that as you shall not murder.  But where do we draw that line?

When we kill people, we are diminished. J.K. Rowling has told us that this is how we create horcruxes – we divide our own souls. And we have done something irreversible. We cannot say “I’m sorry” and make it all better. It doesn’t matter how we do it. We can give people teddy bears and tuck them in and kill them in their sleep, and they will still be dead. And we will still be responsible.

Perhaps we ought to stick with the more gruesome methods of putting people to death. Perhaps we ought to go back to firing squads and hangings. Let us keep the hard truths in front of the people. Dead is dead.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.


How to Keep Christ in Christmas

It’s December 23 and I should be writing a sermon. I should be. But I’ve become distracted by a story about a lunch lady in Pocatello, ID who was just fired for feeding a student. Wait, what? Let me repeat that. Dalene Bowden, who until last week worked in the cafeteria at Irving Middle School, gave at $1.70 lunch to a hungry 12-year-old girl who had no money. If children come through the line with a tray and have no money, the workers are supposed to confiscate the tray and throw it out (because once food’s been served you’re not allowed to give it to someone else). So instead of throwing the food away, she allowed the hungry girl to have lunch. And she was fired for it.

It’s two days before Christmas, and I’ve seen plenty of “Keep Christ in Christmas” bumper stickers and posts on Facebook, and buzz in the media. And this happened in Pocatello, ID – a fairly religious city. A little over half of Pocatello is Mormon, and a majority of folks are some variety of Christian. So I’m going to go out on a limb and say that people in Pocatello are professing to be Christian. What’s that got to do with lunch? Well, this.

First, we need to understand the commandments. The commandment says “Do not steal.” This does not mean don’t go stealing bread when you’re hungry. This is about not taking advantage of the poor. We know this because of all the other commandments (there are 613 in the Hebrew Scriptures) that prohibit any sort of taking advantage of the poor, plus all the commandments that expressly tell us to take care of the poor. We also know that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was a failure to care for the disadvantaged and a failure to be hospitable (Ezekiel 16:49). So any stealing would have been on the part of the school district here, removing food from a hungry child.

Ms. Bowden had, according to her, a spotless record, except for a verbal warning for once – giving a child a cookie. Yes, friends, she has committed the horrible sin of being compassionate!

But this is about keeping Christ in Christmas. So let’s consider what Jesus would do. Well, Jesus fed the hungry (Matthew 14 – feeding the 5000, Matthew 15 – feeding the 4000) and also healed the sick, and ate with sinners. When Jesus fed the 5000 and the 4000, he didn’t tell his disciples to make sure everyone could pay first, and to throw away the loaves and fishes if people didn’t have $1.70.

So here this, Pocatello, Idaho:  If you’re interested in keeping Christ in Christmas, you might want to start by feeding the hungry and not firing the cafeteria worker who was doing this – and who, by the way, offered to pay for it herself. Because, news flash – she’s not the thief! You are!

Merry Christmas.

That’s all I’ve got. That’s my mite.

Update: December 24:  It seems that the Pocatello school district, under pressure from people around the country who were outraged at this action, have offered Ms. Bowen her job back. Ms. Bowen has not decided yet whether she will accept. You can read the Washington Post article here.