Thursday, December 2, 2010

Youth, Justice and Giving in Way too soon

One thing I have experienced my first couple of years as a young lawyer and a young minister is that you have to go a little over board at the start on issues of fairness and on your willingness to challenge authority and the way things are or else you will never amount to much at all. After 20 years as a minister and 16 years as a lawyer, I can usually find a milder, gentler way to get where I need to go, but in the early days, you don't know the territory as well, and if you are going to seek what is just, you have to stir the flames a little.

Ministers who come to their first church ready to compromise on every issue, and who appear "to be wise beyond their years" are usually gutless and don't do much good for church or society. Lawyers are the same way. If you don't get a little out of hand as a young criminal defense lawyer and get a judge mad at you or get into a flat out battle with the D.A. or get some law enforcement guy to really hate your guts . . . well, if none of these happen in your early practice, it is probably because you don't have the guts to really push for justice. Because, judges and established attorneys get pissed off when new attorneys come forward and challenge them. Law enforcement officers, though sometimes a little more level-headed about the challenge, can be the same way. And, then at church, it can be ever more pronounced, because feelings run high about the relationship of religion to matters of social justice.

I am really worried about the young ministers and young lawyers I see coming into our churches and into our courts these days. But, then I have also seen some young lawyers come into the Public Defender's Office who really have a deep commitment to justice and will "go to the mat" for their clients. So many other young lawyers I am running into - well, they are not going to rock the boat. Apparently they have learned that the number one goal is to keep everybody in authority happy in the church and the courthouse, not to seek justice for your clients or in the community.

In many ways, I think it is up to us older lawyers and ministers to stir things up in our day. But, most of us are getting a little tired, and the younger generation is just a little too smooth and well-adjusted to cause much trouble. The middle aged lawyers and ministers and doctors and probably all kinds of other service professionals need the inspiration of a new generation coming along and reminding them why they became lawyers, ministers and doctors in the first place.

Of course, I do have two children coming along in professional fields that serve the needs of others. And, that gives me some hope. I think they both have enough of me and my Dad and their own individual rebellion to make conformity an impossibility. Thank God. I wish there were more young people like them. Our professions are dying out because of a lack of guts and independence and true commitment. Now, we have so many ministers/lawyers/doctors who are savy in business and politics, but not committed to caring for their fellow human beings. I remain grateful to those committed doctors, lawyers, and ministers who continue to give their hearts and minds in devotion to guiding their patients, clients and parishioners towards health, justice and wholeness.

What really lifts my heart is seeing a young minister or young lawyer get so upset they are ready to explode over one poor person getting treated badly or over one injustice or another in church or society, and sitting down and resolving: "not on my watch . . . this is not going to happen on my watch!" Resolutions like that might be hard to keep, but they sure do make life worth living.

One More Day in Court this Week

It has seemed like a pretty long week, with some ups and downs in court, two nights at church. What is difficult as a criminal defense lawyer, and especially as a public defender, is that you have to work very hard to keep your client's interest at the forefront of what is going on in court. Because, at times, it gets to be about finishing court quickly. So often, you get your best deals by pretending you are just part of the court system, and want it over quickly like everyone else. And, truth is, you get to where you do want to be done with a docket where you are trying to represent 20 people.

But, in our public defender's office, we want to get a good result for our clients. And, sometimes that means pretending a lot in front of other people, but telling it straight to your clients and to each other. It takes a lot of humility to become a good public defender, because your best work is usually something that is never seen, and depends upon your ability to focus almost exclusively on how the case is going for your client, and not how you are looking or seeming to do professionally.

The best public defenders are the ones the D.A.s only think are pretty good lawyers, but who are cleaning up in reality. Because a good defense attorney forgets a great job once he or she has it finished and focuses on the next case at hand.

Humility and concern for your client are the two big characteristics you need. Most other things come out of that. If you are humble enough, you won't mind others hating you some or even mocking you some if you need to take that on to uphold your client's rights. And, if you care enough, you will find the guts to stand up to authority in a way that doesn't toot your own horn, but in a way that stands fast by your client's rights. In the end, it is really about if you care enough. If you do, you will find a proper dose of humility - the dose that helps you remember that you won't back down from anyone who thinks they are going to run over your client.

Sunday, November 28, 2010



I think a lot about what is fair in my dealings with other people, whether it be family, clients, parishioners, co-workers at church or public defender, opposing counsel, judges, law enforcement, and others I deal with less regularly - like someone who is doing work on our church building or on my house. Trying to reach a fair way of doing things is a deep concern for me. Maybe it is somewhat of an obsession, and it is certainly a challenge, because I find that the normal and accepted course of life in this world leads me into ways of unfairness with others.

My Dad and I used to talk a lot about what was fair in this or that situation we were dealing with, and I know my Mother worries about things like this as well as we have had many discussions about fairness over the years as well. My concern over fairness comes from the deep influence of my upbringing. In my family fairness was emphasized as a matter of duty to God. And, when Sue (my wife) and I discuss things over and over, we are almost always trying to reach some result that we feel is fair. Sue has reminded me over the years as I respond to people’s requests for help that fairness to family is something that should not be lost sight of in the process of responding to the needs of others outside the family. My Dad was big on always keeping family first in his heart and mind, but Mom and Dad found a way to help many outside the family as well.

Often when you are a person who is concerned with being fair to others, you have to watch out because it can end up not being very fair to you and your own family. Because a large majority of people think it their duty to be fair to themselves first or to a couple of their favorites and then let everyone else get the leftovers. If you always consider fairness in your dealings, it can result in limiting resources to yourself and your own family. I have learned this over and over in my life. It is just the way life is. You can learn some things and minimize the damage, but fairness doesn’t maximize your financial profits, nor does it usually help you climb the ladder of success. It does tend to produce a stable life, and a few good, reliable friends. And, peace of mind.

It is a challenge to gain a perspective that fairly considers others interests. Certainly we all see through cloudy lenses on this issue. But, I don't know anything else worth striving for quite so much as fairness in all of one's dealings. And, there is no area in which the test is quite so severe as in dealing with money.

Besides the emphasis on fairness in my family, I was also raised with a Calvinistic sense of the tragic nature of sin in human life, which is to say, I was raised knowing that no matter how much you try to be fair, you are certainly going to be unfair at times, but that doesn't mean you don't strive as hard as possible to be fair and that doesn't make it any less painful when you realize you have been unfair with someone.

Why Many People Stay Away from Religious Gatherings

I am coming to believe that there are a lot of people who avoid church (and, probably other religious assemblies), because they don't like being around people who try to do violence to their souls.

This is just a sense I have been getting lately.

There is something that smacks of force and disrespect and psychological violence that characterizes much of the Church's preaching and teaching. And, people feel it when you are trying to mess with their souls whether you know them well or barely even know them.

Another thought about this: So many people for good reason feel very confused about God, faith and religion. And, when you are confused in an area of life, you can be quite disturbed by people who try to convince you of their philosophy about that area of life, especially when their efforts to convince are very forceful.

The truth of God, however, comes showing respect for each individual person, and does not come as manipulation or force in any way, but as the opposite of such psychological oppression. When people begin to feel that their souls are being honored and respected, those people begin to recover a sense of deep self-respect. The truth of God comes through a humble approach to other people, whether those other people claim to be religious or irreligious or somewhere in between. If my approach to another does violence to their soul, then it is not of God, from God or about God, but from some dark place in me that sadly needs to raise myself above others.

Jesus said that his "yoke was easy and his burden light" compared to the "heavy burdens" the religious leaders of his day put upon people's souls. Instead of trying to manipulate people into following him, he warned them that it was going to be very hard, and that they should count the cost before making up their mind. Passages like this are almost never preached about, because these teachings of Jesus expose our arrogance in the church and then "the game is up." Then, we would have to start treating people with respect - all kinds of people that we have no idea how to understand and so continue to alienate and put down.

Some Notes from 17 or 18 years ago

Here is the Preface for a proposed book entitled the Unproclaimed Gospel. I wrote this preface when I was in law school around 1992 or 1993. Then I have included some rough notes after this preface setting forth the topics I intended to cover in this book.


“In my teenage years I began to experience a contradiction between my attraction to both the life of the church and the life outside the church’s faith. I experienced God as somehow free to move in both realms, equally at home on this earth within or without the church. I felt the goodness and mystery of God with believers and with unbelievers, but found that there was no place to express such a feeling.
“In highschool, I attended Younglife meetings, but the character of the fellowship simply mirrored the social structure of high school. Besides, I was particularly offended at the way they packaged and sold God to suit young people. I attended revivals where preachers tempted me to distrust God and “be saved.” But, I trusted God and I loved God. I was looking for a way to please God and to know God more fully.
“In college years, I was told by those who considered themselves ‘spiritual’ Christians, that I needed to attend their Bible studies and forsake friendships with atheists and worldly people. They told me that I needed to live a disciplined life for God. But, their discipline demanded that I close myself off from much of God’s creation that is good, and to close myself off from much of the mystery of God. I knew God to be an incredible, surprising and wonderful God. And, I found that the more I experienced God’s presence and calling, the more I was drawn to all sorts of people, including believers, unbelievers, moral and immoral persons.
“Those who knew nothing of the church’s teaching and renounced the faith often seemed to me closer to God than many believers. Of course, I began to develop my own clear set of beliefs about God, and I am sure at times that I began to think that my beliefs about God were quite infallible. This confidence in my own beliefs was eroded again and again by experiences of God’s judgment and grace. Deep down, what I would not let go of was my experience of God as lover of humanity and as mysterious and wonderful ruler of all life.
“Through Biblical study, relationships, and struggles, I have taken hold of a powerful and deep experience of faith especially through contact with the Reformed tradition of Christianity. In this historical expression of faith, I have found expression for the wonderful longing, love and hope that God has touched me with. “To glorify God . . . – that is the purpose of human life within which human beings realize who they are and what type of community they can be. As I see so many persons running far away from the church, I am struck once again with a seeming contradition: many of these non-church people seem to be exactly those who are ready to celebrate the God I know – the God who wills the salvation of all people, and the God who brings the princes down from their thrones and raises the needy up to places of honor. Of course, there are many non-church people who do not want God’s kingdom of mercy and justice to come. But, there are a great number of “unbelievers” who do hunger and thirst for righteousness, and I believe that it is God’s will to satisfy this hunger and this thirst – and, so I write The Unproclaimed Gospel. Perhaps, it will be of some help to believers in clarifying the nature of Christian faith. I have given thanks to God for the kindness and integrity and love of so-called “unbelievers” for years. And, now I am determined to express as clearly as I can – the living faith in God which I believe is already at work in the hearts and minds of all those who hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God, whether they confess Christ in word or not. For all who yearn for goodness and justice and mercy in human life, Christian and non-Christian, I write this to celebrate the hope we share. For all whose hearts have lost such desires, I write to reawaken such hope. I write to emphasize Jesus’ teaching over against the confused “evangelism” of our day. Jesus said: “Not all those who say, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my father who is in heaven.” Sadly, we in the church have often twisted the truth of God so much that the gospel we have proclaimed is not the gospel revealed in Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. The beginning of evangelical faith is the sure and certain belief that all human beings are one in Jesus Christ. There are no outsiders and insiders, only those who celebrate this unity in Christ through showing mercy and love and those who deny it by showing condemnation and hatred. Through Jesus Christ, each and every person is claimed by God to live in his kingdom. In this faith I write. In repentance and hope, I offer this.”

Notes for an Outline of a Book to be Called “The Unproclaimed Gospel” (notes written around 1992, 93, and never developed further). The preface explained why I was interested in writing this book. Problem is I can’t write too well once what I am writing gets any longer than six or seven pages. But, I may see if I can write something longer someday.


1. “Making the good bad?” (challenging the theory that everyone has to be brought to the point of a groveling, nasty sinner before he or she can experience the grace and claim of God). Dietrich Bonhoeffer challenges this and refers to this type of evangelistic practice as “Methodism.” See Letters and Papers from Prison. Also, if I only know God’s grace when I’m in the pit, perhaps my religion leads me to the pit over and over again.
2. “Selfishness raised to an eternal plane” (challenging the idea that my own personal salvation is the primary issue of faith, and setting forth the Biblical emphasis on the glory of God). Westminster Shorter Catechism 1st Q and A: “What is the chief end of man? To glorify God and enjoy him forever.” The emphasis on the kingdom of God is a thoroughly communal vision of salvation, the salvation of this creation of which I am a part. Rudolf Bultmann (German Theol.) summarized the freedom of the Gospel as “freedom from self-concern.” It is very important on this matter to realize that the Biblical hope is for the kingdom of God to come as this creation is redeemed. As the Blumhardts never tired of saying: the gospel is not about us leaving this world for heaven but about God and heaven coming to this world.
3. “God, the enemy” (challenging the evangelistic practice of portraying God as our enemy, Christ as friend, as if God and Christ were/are at cross-purposes). The evangelism of Billy Sunday epitomizes this, but I think it is still very popular on the evangelistic circuit and in conservative churches. The “God is out to get you and is ready to send you to hell,” but Jesus stands between you and God and satisfies God with his blood sacrifice. Now, I know the judicial imagery is present in the Bible, with Jesus’ death set forth as propitiation for our sins. But, the Bible is quite clear that Jesus is sent directly from God, is actually the presence of God, reconciling the world to God, etc. And, as John Calvin so clearly proclaims: “God so loved the world that he sent his only son . . . .”
4. “God, as a means to our ends” (challenging the role of religion as a help in achieving human goals, as the icing on the cake of human culture, with a lack of reverence for God and God’s name). The practice of thinking God is always in our camp, on our side, for our team, and tacking God’s name onto everything we do. The misuse of God’s name for nationalistic purposes, etc. is involved. The violation of the third commandment is at the heart of this. The Barmen Declaration of Faith (written to oppose Nazi take-over of churches).
5. “Morality that produces hatred” (challenging the teaching of Christian morality in such a way as to make oneself feel superior to others, and as a way to judge, condemn and control others). This ethical stance creates a strong ‘insider-outsider’ outlook. Also involved is the feeling that “one bad apple spoils the whole bunch” and a little uncleaness contaminates a lot of cleanness which is the opposite of the teaching of Jesus in which holiness has the power to mix with unholiness and sanctify.
6. The Unproclaimed Gospel/The Liberty of the First Commandment (The freedom of the gospel begins and ends with praise and reverence for the One Living and Holy God of all creation) The first three commandments contain the power of freedom from all oppression within human life. It is the particular force of the first commandment – politically, socially, theologically, psychologically – that sets free human beings, internally and externally. I have expressed this faith in protest and anger often, in defiance of those who arrogate authority to themselves. “The Lord alone is God,” is always part battle cry against unjust authority. It is this one allegiance and the destruction of all false allegiances, and the demotion of all other allegiances that paves the way for human freedom and dignity. This is a positive expression of the theology underlying the critique in other sections set forth above. I have not really developed this theme, except that I have written a preface which gives a summary of the positive themes I wish to express.
* I suppose the whole theological point could be summarized as “Christology begins and ends with the Doxology,” i.e., The first three commandments find their supreme expression in Jesus Christ life, death and resurrection which leads to praise and honor and glory to the One Holy God of all creation.

I will reflect in my next post on some things these notes bring to mind now.