Archive for July 2015

I was pulled over the other day for a violation related to my vehicle registration. I have no doubt that I was uneasy. From what I believe was mild food poisoning, I had left work before lunch and had serious concerns about making it to the bathroom in my home on time. I was sweating, distracted, worried, and impatient.

I challenged the officer from a nearby sheriff's department, questioning his facts and his approach. 

The good news: despite having my car towed, needing a family member to pick me up, and struggling to fully note the "popcorn trail through a dark maze" of steps that needed to be followed to pay late fees and get my car back ... I didn't lose my shit on the spot. I mean that literally. Delaying the inevitable diarrhea as long as I did was arguably a miracle.

The better news: I didn't die that day or a few days later in the custody of law enforcement officials. 

I have seen the Eric Garner video last year from New York City. A case could be made that I should have been strangled to death last week. I know too many people who have tried to justify the police actions because he was "uncooperative" or resisted arrest. If failing to be perfectly cooperative when you think the police are confused or making a mistake is a death-penalty offense, then it is definitely a miracle that I am alive today.

I have read the more recent accounts about Sandra Bland's arrest, which seems to have led to her death. Based on evidence, we should be investigating whether she died at the hands of law enforcement officials or by others through their indifference to protecting people in their custody. It is also possible, though less likely, that she committed suicide after being traumatized by her encounter with police. 
Again, if "nature called" and forced a (to be fair, very patient) law enforcement officer to deal with that mess, could I have mysteriously breathed my last breath that afternoon? 

I've described myself before as the kind of person that the American political majority is inclined to be patient with: white, married, family man, politically moderate (until people figure out what that means), deeply religious, very comfortably middle class or above average in that regard, steadily and gainfully employed, etc. 

Did this officer's patience, which I mentioned above, have more to do with me than with him? 
Did I get lucky by being pulled over by this man at that point in time? 
Or would I always be lucky for reasons that society is calling "privilege" on several levels that fall outside the legal dictionary?

And, I wonder, what would have happened if I had been unable to immediately pay more than $250 to get my car back? Surely, the choice would be "pay day loan" (so-called legal loan sharking in the opinion of some, which I cannot corroborate as it's outside of my experience) or loss of job due to loss of reliable transportation.

It's a game of inches, to use a sports analogy.
 A piece of mail delivered or not.
 A neighbor putting that official document back into the postal system, if mis-delivered, or not.
 Keeping my cool in a stressful situation, or literally losing my shit.
 Or simply the fact that my stress level was perceived as the concerns of a responsible citizen, while the same physiological response from someone else -- of a different age, race, gender, economic stability level, etc. -- might be perceived as deeply suspicious, disrespectful toward "the badge" or even criminal. 

I do not believe that I committed the crime of "resisting arrest" in this situation and clearly neither did the sheriff's officer. For me, this only further underscores how subjective that criminal charge clearly is and how wary we should be when it is used as an excuse for using too-often deadly force.

"If only she had shown more respect, then Bland would be alive today," I've heard commentators say about the recent Texas case. Sorry, once again this makes "attitudes" like impatience and distrust a death penalty offense. Even in Texas, such "attitudes" are not a crime, and even in Texas assault of a police officer or resisting arrest are not grounds for execution.
Or they shouldn't be.

You can almost divide Christianity into two camps. One group, including the Apostle Paul, believes that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled all of the Jewish Law. There are details, of course. Did this happen through his life, at the crucifixion, through the resurrection, only completely at the point of ascension or even afterward, at Pentecost?  Details, details. The point is that Jesus gave us two commandments that fulfill all of the law: love God and love your neighbor (Luke 10: 25-28). Loving your neighbor as you love yourself fulfills “all the law” meaning not just 10 Commandments but hundreds more (Romans 13: 8-10).

The other group believes that Jesus did not fulfill all of the law, despite what Paul and others have taught. Using an extra-Biblical concept of “civil and ceremonial” laws versus other commands found in what Christians call the Old Testament, only some of those laws were fulfilled. This group of believers is not interested in the idea that loving God and neighbor covers all of the “moral law” ground, as Paul explicitly taught the Roman church.

For this second group, Jesus’ statement in the Sermon On The Mount (Matthew 5: 17-18) about “not one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (King James Version) means that The Law must still be in effect. For them, Jesus saying “It is accomplished” from the cross just prior to his death had nothing to do with those laws.

One little problem, though: those “civil and ceremonial laws” are absolutely jots and tittles, dots and iotas, the smallest letter, the least stroke of a pen, the least point, the smallest detail. Jesus cannot be saying that such things will not pass from The Law if the interpretation of the second group is valid.

From a New Testament perspective, at least through the letters of Paul, Christians are under no obligation to bear the burden of The Law. The entire letter to Galatians hammers this point home repeatedly. What about those who choose instead to embrace the non-Biblical concept of “some laws still being in effect”? Jesus is pretty clear. Every jot and tittle applies, and Christianity has long failed – intentionally failed – to measure up to that standard.

Of course, the Sermon On The Mount in context doesn’t expect us to walk that line. That yolk doesn’t come from Christ. It comes from Christians who clearly love The Law more than The Lord.

Jots, tittles, dots, iotas.

Whether a sense of patriotism invalidates the separation of church and state or similar founding principles in the United States of America?

"O Master, Let Me Walk With Thee" (Washington Gladden, H. Percy Smith)

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