Judging the Jury

Recently I was summoned to jury duty, and despite the claims of some that  pastors are not put on a jury, I was seated on a jury for a criminal case.  This was my first experience on a jury or even being in a courtroom for a jury trial.  

The experience was deeply personal and emotionally exhausting.  I am glad I had opportunity to serve.   In this blog series,  I will comment about what I saw, some comments will be tongue in check.   A court case is not unlike a sporting event, complete with rules, players and judges, yet I am not saying it is a game played for fun – it is part of the game of life and it is played for keeps.  Yet, I am going to use baseball as one analogy for comparing what I saw in court.  This in itself is risky, since I am not much of a baseball fan, but it is appropriate in that at least I can compare two things that I don’t understand very well.

In some ways the jury is like the home team fans, with the difference being that both the defense and prosecuting attorneys are playing to the jury.  They both want to be “your” team and they both want you to root for them.  One complete difference between baseball and the court is that being on the jury is not a spectator sport.  This is an interactive one, in which at the very end the jury, not the attorneys nor even the judge, decides who wins and what that conclusion looks like.  For no matter how well or poorly the opposing attorneys did, it is the jury’s duty to bring to a conclusion in the deliberation room what the attorneys played out in the courtroom.

The jury pool, like the human gene pool, brings together a mixture of citizenry, at least I heard randomly taken from a list of registered voters in the county.   I think the pool was mixed in terms of income levels, education levels and from what parts of the county people came.  There were about an equal number of male and female perspective jurors, but the pool was heavily weighted toward middle aged people, and toward whites.  If I had to guess there were no Hispanics and maybe 5 of perspective 40 jurors who were under age 30.  There were 3 African American women but no Black males, and only one Asian American man.   Of course if the pool truly is random, you get what you get in any one pool.  Twelve were selected, 6 male and 6 female, with my guess at the average age about 50.

Once the jury is picked you jump right into the court case, or “game” if you follow my analogy.  No one explains the rules to you, but you are warned against comparing what you are about to witness with any courtroom dramas you have seen on TV or in the movies (something which I don’t do a great deal – I was the only juror who had never seen a CSI TV show, which was good because we were told to put CSI out of our minds, easily done for me).

Trumbull County Courthouse: Lady Justice

The attorneys really are always addressing themselves to the jury, even when they are asking those on the witness stand questions.   The more practiced witnesses (the police officers in our case) were well aware of this and directed their looks and comments to us rather than to the interrogating attorneys.    If there are rules or even logic to the questions the attorneys ask, that never became obvious to me.  For the most part there were no “Objection!” or “Objection overruled” being called out every few minutes.    {There was one point at which the defense attorney while examining a witness objected to the judge about the witness’s response – she said more than he had asked for.  The attorneys thus all conferred at the “side bar” with the judge while static was played through the PA system so we could not hear the discussion.  This lasted for several minutes, after which the judge ordered us to disregard the witness’s last comment.  Easily done for I had already forgotten what she had said last or what the question had been, or even the general direction of the questions.  And, no, they did not have her repeat the comment which we were to disregard}. 

A court trial is a “gentleman’s” sport, except for the fact that all the attorneys save one and the judge were women in the case we were dealing with.   Even the women attorneys wore suits that looked gentlemanly.  Unlike TV shows which are scripted and which you only see the final and edited version, the court session is painfully human perhaps like the actual recording of any media drama – human delays, human confusion, attorney’s losing their place in the questioning, attorney’s reading their own notes or consulting with their team while the jury sits and watches,  questions of procedure (which are discussed at the “side bar” out of the hearing of the jury), memory lapses, lots of repetition in questioning.  Despite the human factors (which are eliminated from the broadcast versions of TV and cinema courtroom dramas as those cases have to be resolved within the length of the show or movie), the court session is still like a scripted show in that anything which has a law governing it, has to be in its place before the show can go on.

Next:  Judging the Judge: The Black Robed Attorney

Freeing the Theological Mind from the Effects of Original Sin

This is the third and final blog in a series based upon my reading of Alan Jacobs’ book, ORIGINAL SIN.    The first blog is How Original Sin Impacts Christianity with the 2nd being, Original Sin: The Allure of Death

 I think it can be safely said that Genesis does not teach the idea of “original sin” as Western Christianity shaped by St. Augustine’s interpretation of St. Paul has proclaimed through the centuries.   God in Genesis is sorrowed to the depth of his heart and troubled by the wickedness in the human heart;  the Lord offers no explanation as to the cause of this wickedness.  Genesis is descriptive more than prescriptive when it comes to noting the human penchant toward sin. 

For St. Paul, Torah turns out to be neither a curative nor even a palliative to the human problem.  For Jews continue sinning just like Gentiles.  So what is the Law and why was it given?  St. Paul offers several ideas to explain this, but his bottom line, and his revelation is that the Law was a temporary help, to prevent the Jews from totally falling away from God, so that they could recognize the cure when it came.  The cure comes in the true Physician of humanity, Jesus Christ.

If Jesus is both Physician and cure, then what is He curing?   The answer in St. Paul is that inner heart of humanity in which wickedness works and draws us away from God, and convinces us that being free and being human resides in throwing off any allegiance to or faith in God.    The autonomous human, freed of the lordship of its creator, is the idol which has deceived humanity.  And Torah, which was as a tutor to keep us every mindful of God, turns out not to unite us to God but to reinforce our ideas of autonomy – WE are doing what must be done – we  focus so much on what we are doing (our autonomy – we are not dependent on God) that we lose sight of God.  When God does appear on earth in the Messiah Jesus, He is not recognized, wanted, or believed to be needed.  “We are doing just fine without God – our righteousness is what we do.”  Thus Torah has actually contributed to humanity’s autonomy from God!

Christ healing the blind

St. Paul is offering to his fellow Jews an explanation and a cure for what has gone wrong with their spirituality.   In so doing, he offers thoughts about all of humanity for he understands Jesus as being a universal Physician and cure, not limited to the Jews only.   What ails humanity, is obvious from the beginning in the book of Genesis.  What perhaps is lacking there is a causal logic, which is what Augustine tried to offer with notions of original sin.   Perhaps in the Eastern Christian sense of ancestral sin, we find less a desire to provide causality for everything that happens and encounter rather the description for what is: the mystery of human wickedness, which in Genesis even God does not attempt to explain, even though He tries to eradicate it.

The trouble with the idea of original sin lies in the belief that it can explain everything about human sin and failure.  It takes on a life of its own, however, when it is seen as necessarily and logically explaining everything about humanity – including what happens to unbaptized babies, and how to deal with criminals and children.  The Enlightenment, thinking it could shake off the shackles of original sin, saw the cure for humanity as education/enlightenment.  Education and reason ignores that same mystery that God noted in humanity from the beginning:  in the human heart lies a wickedness which cannot be drowned or commanded away, nor will we be rid of it through human education.  Fascism and communism are both the legitimate children of the Enlightenment, and both fascism and communism showed that humanity believed death to be the very means to cure what ailed humanity – the death of all those who disagreed with their ideologies.  Their belief in death as a curative led them to commit wickedness on an unbelievable scale.  The allure of death caused them to sin, as the Eastern Christian theologians said in their interpretation of Romans 5:12.