A few weeks ago I found myself deeply affected by the impending execution by the State of Georgia of Kelly Gissendander who was convicted of participation in the death of her husband. My denomination, The United Methodist Church, and my personal beliefs are against the death penalty, no matter who the person is or what they have done. I have not been an activist against state executions in a number of years.
But hearing the story of Kelly Gissendander and seeing pictures of her smiling face in her graduation from Chandler School of Theology hit me in a different way. I found myself watching the clock, refreshing my Twitter feed in order to find out what was going on, and praying, praying, praying. Kelly was not put to death that evening and has had a temporary stay put on her execution.
I have been wondering about why I was so captivated by Kelly’s story when there are so many facing the same fate. I confess: I think it was because she looks like me, she’s not that different from me. In the right (or wrong) circumstances, it could have been me facing death on death row.
I was reminded of this quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn:
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1918-1956), The Gulag Archipelago
I truly believe that we all have within our own hearts the capacity for both good and evil. So how can I condemn and condone the state killing of someone on my behalf?
Since that evening of Kelly’s reprieve, Manuel Vasquez was killed by the state of Texas and I didn’t hear a thing about it. There are 13 other executions scheduled in the United States this year. Thirteen other children of God facing death on my behalf as a citizen of the U.S. Lord, have mercy. Show us the way.
Let’s continue to fight for life. In the name of the executed and risen Christ. Amen.
– Shane Claiborne
This was my first-ever published writing — in the “Patterns” issue of alive now! J/F 1985. I wrote this following my mom’s last trip to Colorado before her death in 1983 from a brain tumor. This piece speaks to me today as I prepare the “Living in the Present” issue, J/F 2011.
Yesterday at the top of the Trail Ridge, I was getting really frustrated because Mom was so slow. I had to walk her to the bathroom and wait while she went and washed and dried her hands. I walked out. Dad wanted to go to the gift shop, but Mom wanted to look at the display in the visitors’ center. So I stayed with Mom.
I was so angry because I did not want to see the display — we’ve seen it so many times before — every year the very same display of stuffed tundra birds and pictures and charts. As I watched her walk around and read each display like it was the first time she had read it, it all of a sudden hit me that she might never see it again. Each trip for her could be her last.
The reading of the display, the rituals that we participate in as a family — certain things to be done (mail a postcard to Aunt Eileen from the top of Trail Ridge, read “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”), certain things to be said (“When are we gonna get there?” “Smell that cool mountain air.” “We’ll have these moments to remember.”) — all these things take on new importance as we/she lives every day as a holy one. Mom is the keeper of the ritual right now. In the participation in these family rituals, there is a combination of such pain and joy, such comfort and such vulnerability.
I’ve been so social, soextroverted(!!!) since the beginning of Advent that today felt a little odd. On this day after Epiphany, I felt sort of like — “Where’d everybody go?”
I asked my Facebook friends about life after Advent and here’s some of their collective wisdom:
Bob: Yes, most certainly!!! I think it is something about discipleship.
Micah: Yeah, it’s called Mardi Gras!!!
Pam: I on the other hand think its about sleeping… until the Annunciation wakes you up.
Debbie: Absolutely, there is life after everything!
Ann: Good question.
Lynda: There are wonderful ordinary days which are relaxing and can be spirit filled. I remember our student preacher, Rachel, say in a sermon that God can come in the ordinary days of January as much as in December when we are overwhelmed with it all. Was comforting to me to hear this since I love the quietness of Jan. and Feb.
What about you? Tell me about your life after Advent.
I’ve been “doing Advent” for several weeks — preaching, teaching, answering emails, posting comments on the website, leading workshops and Sunday school. Trying to unclutter my heart, despite having a bit too much to do.
The day I led an Advent retreat for colleagues at the General Board of Discipleship, I was sitting up front while my boss was introducing me. A photographer friend came up beside me and I moved back so she would have a better angle for her picture of my boss. In a few seconds, she moved. I moved back a bit farther. She moved again, and I moved back a few more inches. Finally, I looked at her and she mouthed to me, “I’m trying to get a picture of YOU.” We both laughed. I stopped moving.
When I shared the story with a good friend of mine, she said, “I hope you are still backing up ten years from now.” And I think that was the perfect metaphor for the writer, the servant, the person I want to be. In ten years — or twenty years — I hope I’m still backing up.
The books (The Uncluttered Heart) are being ordered. My calendar is getting full. Must be the season of preparation — for Advent. (Funny that you have to prepare to Prepare.)
We’ve launched the web site for The Uncluttered Heart. Here’s a link to it. At the web site, readers can sign up to receive communications from me during the period that they are reading the book (from Advent — November 29 — through Epiphany — January 6). People can receive a text sometime each day — with a short reminder of the focus of that day. Or they can receive an email that has that same reminder and also a photograph. If readers are so inclined, they can have a conversation about the readings at The Uncluttered Heart web site. I hope you’ll check it out.
I’ll be preaching at West End United Methodist Church on November 29 (the first Sunday in Advent). If you are in Tennessee, come and worship. Services are at 8:45 and 11:00. I’ll be doing a book signing in between.
On Tuesday, December 1, I’m leading a 1/2 day retreat at The Upper Room on the book. If you’d like to join us, you are welcome. The retreat is being opened up to the community in Nashville. We’ll follow the morning retreat with lunch and then we’ll be going out into the community to do service. Contact me or Sherry Elliott if you’d like to participate.
On Wednesday, December 9, you’ll find me at Belmont UMC for their Wednesday night gathering. Or you can join us for Sunday school at Edgehill United Methodist Church during each Sunday in Advent. Judy Smith and I will be leading the classes.
(OK — I’m tired just writing this. Pray for me, ya’ll. I may need some extra help this year to make space in my heart for the coming of the Christ child.)
Ok — It was really a vacation with a book signing thrown in. But I did get to talk about The Uncluttered Heart, pass out some cards, and have a book signing (I even signed a few books). I went to Colorado for the first couple of weeks in September. While I was there, I attended a conference that was carrying my book in the bookstore. (I think that Advent/seasonal books are a bit hard to promote like other books. I mean, who really wants to buy an Advent book in July — or September?)
For any of you who have blogs, write for newspapers or newsletters, etc., if you’d like to review the book or interview me, please shoot me an email – email@example.com. I’ve got books to send to the first 20 who contact me.