|Jeff the Baptist, vol. 1, #6
I was born a prisoner of a violent world.
So they found him guilty. Death by lethal injection. I can only cry inside when I think of the whole affair. Tears for the poor victim, dragged in chains behind the pickup until he was decapitated in a gruesome death. Tears for this unrepentant murderer who passes the time quietly in his cell making a shank for who knows what purpose.
We can only mourn the loss of James Byrd. What a bright life, cut off in its prime. What dreams, unknown to us, could he have lived! What aspirations, what horizons to cross in adventure! All gone now. All cut off with a couple of loops of chain and a accelerator stomped to the floor.
However, I also mourn for John King and any helpers that he had. Whoever he was before, now he is known as the first white to be condemned for the murder of a black in the state of Texas since they reinstated the death penalty. What dreams did he have, now changed forever? Would they all have been nightmares for the rest of us? Given the chance for a last statement before being taken away, he scribbles a note of defiance about a proud death. Heir to the tradition of other white supremacists before him.
Where did we go wrong to produce such an animal, such a monster? Frightening though he may be, he, too, has the presence of God within. He, too, may experience grace. I pray that he does before they plunge in the needle. I pray that he does not return to God in the state of hell that he has chosen for himself thus far. I pray that he does not leave this world without realizing that joy of experiencing grace within others. We've let him down so far, I pray that we don't let him down further.
Oh yes, I hold us at fault with him, too. We helped him wrap the chains around James' neck. How so? Every time that we put the sanctity of life second. Every time that we shut our eyes to the cult of violence that we have created in this century.
It is a commonplace that we have killed more in this century, through warfare, than in all recorded wars in the past. It is a truism in diplomacy that the only way to go to the negotiating table is from a position of strength, hence the slaughter intensifies just before the peace talks begin. Are we so surprised to find that John's heroes worshiped Hitler? Do we, who heap laurels on our own surgeons of slaughter, think we are so far from him?
Every time we take delight in the degradation of the gift we know as life, we bear down on the accelerator.
Our movies, our television shows, even much of our music is filled with, even depends on, violent images for content. How did we ever get to the point that we found gunfire entertaining? How did we ever convince ourselves that watching regular simulations of rape and assault is a good thing? As if we are better off because we are exposed to such naked brutality. As if we have found a better answer to this mystery that we call life. How dare we be surprised when we produce such monsters in our midst?
Every time we make a profit off of the denigration of human dignity, we loop another length of chain.
There is big money in prisons these days. In some communities, it is the only industry known. Vending services, security, construction, salaries, the list goes on. It is the new military-industrial complex. And, just like the old, this one comes robed in the stripes and hues of an ideal. This time however, instead of patriotism and national security, the mantra is law and order. Also, just like the old, we cannot question the logic of adding further to an already gargantuan monolith of cruelty. To question means to be soft on crime. Perhaps it is fitting that our proud nation, which leads this planet in so many other areas, decides that it wants to lead in the matter of percentage of population incarcerated, too.
The greatest heresy of all, it seems, is to question the wisdom of a "Fryday" punishment. Never mind the arguments of cost (as if a price may be put on human potential!). Never mind debating the merits of revenge. Never mind recitations of those sanctimonious scriptural beliefs in an eye for an eye. I simply cannot believe that we just give up. As a society, as a nation, as a community. We walked on the moon. We clone tissue. We guesstimate the age of the universe and origins of our species. But when it comes to murderers like John, we simply give up. What makes them tick? We don't know. How can we prevent it? We have no idea. We've barely tried to understand. Worse yet, when it gets too difficult, we not only give up, we pick up the shank and do the deed ourselves.
Where is the church in all this? Quietly going to Sunday service, I suppose. Preparing for Easter worship. Decking out the altar in splendid hues of purple to symbolize the time of Lent while arguing over whether this should be the time of fasting or meditation. Why do we fail ourselves here? I dream of a day when an understanding of how our cult of violence wreaks great tragedies is just as commonplace as saluting a bloodied flag. I dream of a day when we turn to that presence of the Divine within us so often and so deeply that we find ourselves able to trust that presence in others without thinking. I dream of a day when the ugly torments of people like John do not go forgotten. I dream of a day when they are readily taken up with loving arms and soon soothed into peace.
I mourn for James. I mourn for John. I also mourn for us, especially for us. Until we realize that it lies in our power to prevent tragedies like this one, maybe not all, but certainly more than we try to now, we will keep helping make them happen. Knowing this brings about the bitterest tears of all.
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