Saturday, April 02, 2005

Mule Day

Today is Mule Day in historic Columbia, TN. I ran the Mule Day Kick 5k in a worse time than I expected... though 2 different guys with GPS told me that the course was 3.23 miles, not 3.1, so maybe I did better than I thought.

I've been reading poetry today. Thats alright since the cold weather of the UK decided to follow us to Tennessee. The temp at race time was 45 degrees F, and the high is supposed to be around 53. I thought it was April.

Now I'll make a belated response to BK's musings on Romans 13, justice, and the death penalty.

1) Romans 13 - Like any good historian, BK notes the several evils done by various governments and leaders over the centuries using Romans 13 as a justification. He's right. But that doesn't change the text. And BK hints that he thinks that the text seems to indicate some justification for capital punishment. His problem is with the author, Paul, and not the text (but he admits it freely). His reasoning follows that of much of modern biblical scholarship in creating a sharp distinction between Paul's thinking and Jesus'. However, new insights are being made into this subject, with NT Wright having the best stuff to say about it, IMHO.

2) Justice - No doubt that Jesus was a "turn the other cheek" kind of guy, all the way to his own death. However, from a state perspective, there is a difference between mercy and justice. If you steal my car and I forgive you, the state may or may not have the ability to show mercy. As a Christian, I have an obligation to show mercy and forgiveness to you. However, if you steal my car, and I forgive you but still want my car back, the state would harm me by offering you mercy by allowing you to keep the car. State forgiveness and mercy to one party quickly becomes oppression of another party. The state should follow Jesus' concern for justice, making sure that those who are wronged are not ignored. I firmly believe that, if I am wronged, I can forgive the offender and at the same time expect him/her to face the consequences.
So, in BK's scenario, if I knew without a shadow of a doubt that a certain individual killed a loved one of mine, I believe two things are appropriate. 1) I must forgive and I will spend the rest of my life trying to do it and 2) the murderer should pay with his or her life. The 'eye for an eye' notion which Jesus taught against was what we might call 'vigilante justice' . In the OT, God laid the 'eye for an eye' (henceforth EFE) rule down to make the point that the punishment should fit the crime and NOT EXCEED it. This inherently carries with it an element of justice for the offendee. By Jesus' time, the EFE principal had become an excuse to personal retaliation, ie revenge. This is what Jesus taught against, IMHO. And, on another note, punishment need not be about revenge. Ideally parents punish to change behavior, not to get back at their kids.

And I promise not to blog about this again.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005


We made it home last night. Mary and Helen flew with Mary's parents out of Birmingham to Nashville via Newark on Continental. They departed BHX at 1:30 and arrived in Nashville at 10:15, an hour late. Mary said that Helen was happy and excited the entire time. Mary's dad did have to face some questions (for the second time) because his name, William Robinson, is on a no-fly list. I can't help but laugh.

My morning started at 4:30 am. I showered and clothed myself, took a swig of coffee, grabbed my satchel and began the one-hour walk to my bus stop (the local bus wasn't available yet). The Megabus arrived at 6:10 a.m. and I was off to London. I had our recently repaired MP3 player with me and enjoyed many favorites en route. We arrived in London just before 9:00. I stopped at a McDonald's and ate the second Egg McMuffin of my life... nasty. I had some time, so I walked a mile or so and saw Buckingham Palace. I boarded the Tube and made it to London Heathrow by 11:30. My flight didn't leave until 3:40 so I had time to kill.

There was a serpentine line of at least 200 people at the British Airways area. Thankfully, because I had no baggage to check I got to enter the small line, the one with only one person ahead of me. This was only the beginning of my flight luck yesterday. The BA representative told me the flight was booked solid, but she was still able to get an aisle seat for me and my long legs. My gate was at the opposite end of the airport, but that was fine because I was in no hurry and it happened to be right beside the "quiet sitting" area. In this area, no announcements are made and comfortable lounge chairs were provided. There was room for 60 people or so, and only 15 people took advantage of it. So I relaxed well until my boarding time.

This is the best part. When I started to board, the attendant told me that my seat had been changed. I asked if I still had an aisle seat, and he said I'd been upgraded. When I arrived at seat 28J, I discovered I was in the only single business class seat. Now, on BA flights there are 3 classes -- first, business, and commoner (or something). I'd always been a commoner, but yesterday I was in the biggest, most comfortable seat with an infinite amount of legroom. BA flights are nice (everybody gets there own little TV screen with 18 channels!), but the food in business class was even better than the other stuff. I occassionally peeked my head through the curtain to see how the little people were getting on. Our flight took of on time and landed 15 minutes late due to strong headwinds... not bad. I can't complain... this was the second-leg of the ticket I'd only paid $282 for.

I arrived in DC at approximately 6 pm eastern time, puttered about the airport for 3.5 hours and boarded the little United Express flight to Nashville. This flight was as expected and, most importantly, it arrived safely at 10:20 p.m.. After a quick orientation on how exactly to get to long-term parking, I picked up Mary's parents car (Mary's sister Helen picked them up about 15 minutes before I landed) and headed to Columbia, arriving at approximately 11:30 pm.

I watched a little ESPN, slept for 5 hours or so, and then joined everybody else. Our internal clocks are really messed up now, so we were bright eyed at 5:45 this morning. I drove my piece-of-junk trunk into town and got a haircut this morning. Did I mention that I hadn't had a haircut in three months? I felt like Captain Caveman.

This is a beautiful spring day and I will spend much of it outside. I suspect that my blogging will be negligible until we return to England on April 20th.

Sunday, March 27, 2005


As I suspected, alot of people forgot to "spring forward" here, so I preached to a smaller-than-usual crowd. This is still somewhat counterintuitive... Easter Sunday is always the biggest worship attendance day in the States. I preached on Mary Magdalene's encounter with the resurrected Jesus in John 20. I'd preached this text on Easter in Moulton in the past, but I promise I didn't just use the old sermon. In fact, I don't have access to it right now.

Mary and Helen are still suffering from a tough cold, but Helen is almost completely better and Mary is getting there. They stayed home while we went to church. After church Mary's parents and I went for a fellowship meal at our friends Ricci and Mandy's house. Mandy was just baptized a couple of weeks ago by Ricci (the guy who gave me the bicycle). We had a great time and came home around 5:30, calling it an early night. I needed some veg-time, and took it.

I'm looking forward to coming home on Tuesday, though being here has been a nice reprieve from constant TV coverage of the Jacko trial and Schiavo ordeal that folks in the States must be getting.

Warwick Castle and a rant

We did Warwick Castle today, with a brief swing through Stratford upon Avon which was of no consequence. While Helen appears to be feeling better, Mary is feeling worse. So once again I took the in-laws. Friday marked the beginning of the tourist season, so ticket prices were up (but worth it... 10.95 pounds for me as a student, 13.95 regular admission). There must have been 2,000 people there, among which I heard several American accents. Aside from the enormity of the castle, the gardens, conservatory, dungeons, and various exhibits were great. The pleasant weather was a bonus, though I must admit that I am growing more and more tired as each night I fail to get enough sleep, what with an ill family and all.

On to other things... BK has blogged about the death penalty and I figured I'd weigh in with my two pence worth. I believe in the validity of the death penalty and that it is endorsed in some form in the New Testament in Romans 13. I think the two main purposes of the death penalty are 1) justice for the victims/victim's loved ones and 2) to serve as a deterrent for those considering murder. A good argument for the death penalty in some cases can be made using the recent case of Brian Nichols, the Atlanta courtroom shooter. He is obviously guilty but, in addition, he was facing life in prison for raping and kidnapping his former girlfriend. If he is found guilty of these crimes and then is not executed for killing four people then he will not be punished for the murders (though we know exactly how he performed them). He is already a lifer. He'll simply get more "life sentences" added on. Will that be justice to the victims' spouses and children?

Now that I have laid this out, I think our current system for capital punishment is broken (and here come two more reasons)... 1) the lag between the punishment and the crime keeps the notions of justice and deterrence far removed and 2) the two-tiered justice system where capital punishment is most often used. It is a well-known fact that poor people don't get the same quality of criminal defense that the rich do (a la O.J.). Many of the accused are poor and ignorant and don't have the first clue how to avoid the death penalty. Add to this the fact that their government-appointed defense is so inept that it misses glaring errors in the case. I don't think that this applies to most of those sentenced in capital murder cases, but enough to raise serious questions (for example-- the story which BK quotes). I think it is appropriate for all state governments to call a moratorium on the death penalty until some things can be looked at and changed.

First, at the least each state should set up a panel of independent judges to review all death row cases. There are not that many on death row in any one state, so this is less burdensome that it might appear... we're talking teens or hundreds here. Many states already have safeguards like these to a certain degree, but probably not enough. The astonishing number of death row inmates who have been exonerated by DNA evidence (which was not available when they were convicted) over the past few years demonstrates the problem. How many innocent people have we executed in recent years? I fear the answer is not zero. Ultimately, the use of better investigative techniques such a DNA examination also lends more credence to the notion of finding the guilty party and thus ultimately strengthens the validity of the punishing the correct person.

Second, if the USA is to be the only major world power which still uses the death penalty then we have an obligation to demonstrate to the world that it can be done in accordance with our founding principles. What this means is that we must be willing to pay the high financial bill that needs to be incurred to adequately defend everyone accused of capital crimes. We must offer good defense lawyers incentives for defending the poor. The problem is that many of the poorest states also have the death penalty and they are the states that can least afford to pay. But no one said that justice is cheap. States such as Alabama can't have their the luxury (bad description) of the death penalty without the obligation of a fair judicial process.

Third, the entire process must be streamlined. I have no idea how to do this, but when a man waits 25 years to die for mudering someone, it is doubtful that the victim's family feels much justice has taken place or that any other potential murderers are encouraged to think twice. The Chinese government can accuse, arrest, and kill an accused criminal within a week... this is obviously wrong. But is it unrealistic to expect the punishment to be meaded out in 5 years or less? It is under current expenditures.

Until steps such as these are taken, I can't endorse the death penalty in the U.S.. But, if other countries are willing to have these and similar measures, I think that they should have the death penalty. And my opinion on this has been the same for over a year now... England hasn't made me soft or anything, My experience watching the evening news in the UK is that a murder will usually get a criminal 7-10 years in jail. That is a mockery of the notion of justice, too.