Seven Last Words. Seven Executions.

Last night the state of Georgia executed the kid who they let live under a bridge. Joshua Bishop was a person who never had a fair shake at life. He lived with violence. His mother was abusive; she was addicted to alcohol and drugs. Josh didn’t want to leave her because he didn’t want her to be alone. Sometimes she made him sleep under their trailer. He spent his part of his childhood living under a bridge near a grocery store to get away from the abuse. He was in and out of foster care and children’s homes. When Josh was 19, he was high on cocaine and booze and made the horrible decision to take another person’s life – something he quickly regretted. But tonight – the state of Georgia – in a sober and calculated decision took his life with no regret, somehow believing that this would even the score.

#KellyOnMyMind

What follows is a confession – a confession of a social justice loving Christian theologian who for too many years didn’t think much about the death penalty. I grew up in evangelical churches who taught me to be pro-life, but were woefully inconsistent. We cared that babies weren’t killed in the womb, but didn’t care as much that poverty might cause them to live on the edge of death once they were born. When it came to prisons, we visited people in hopes they would be saved, but said nothing about the death penalty that was designed to take their lives.

Jim Crow Again: Lessons for Fighting This Giant (1 Samuel 17)

One in thirty-one. That’s how many Americans are in in jail, in prison, on probation or on parole. In the US, our incarceration rate is 10 times higher than that of other countries while our actual crime rate is lower than those same countries. Citing a 600% increase in the prison population since the 1960’s, with no correlating increase in crime, Michelle Alexander has called mass incarceration “the new Jim Crow.” When people of color represent 30% of the U.S. population, but 60% of those incarcerated, we are in league with David, staring at a towering giant, armed with a prayer and a handful of stones.

Lending Our Voices to Kelly

Last week, I wrote a blog post about Kelly Gissendaner’s life and I’ll admit that when I wrote the post I felt somewhat hopeless. I didn’t think that changing the story would do much to save Kelly. I didn’t think there was much we could do. But then yesterday I learned something. In the state of Georgia, the Board of Pardons and Paroles (who denied Kelly’s clemency) can reverse their decision at any time.

As long as Kelly still has breath, hope is still alive.

Ashes, Sacrifice, and Abundance

Last year I got my ashes at the airport. As I sat in that airport chapel, I halfheartedly listened to a (mostly terrible) litany that was proclaimed in between announcements for gate changes. I was leaving for another campus interview after having been home for only 24 hours since the previous one. The Christian season of Lent came during a time of stress and chaos in my life. That year, when I contemplated what I might give up for Lent, I could think of nothing. So much had been taken away that I had nothing left to give.

Meeting Kelly Gissendaner

Have you met Kelly? Not the mug shot that is in every news article, not the “first woman in 70 years to be executed in Georgia,” not the woman who you might think ordered too much food for her last meal. I’m talking about Kelly Gissendaner, child of God, sinner saved by grace, a minister who was known for sharing Christ’s love with both prisoners and prison guards.

If you haven’t met Kelly you better hurry, because time is running out. On Monday the state of Georgia will execute Kelly Gissendaner, not because she killed her husband, but because she asked someone else to. The person who actually killed Doug Gissendaner is Gregory Owen, a man who is not on death row or in danger of dying. In fact, he’ll be eligible for parole in eight years. He lucked out by being the first to say, “yes” to the identical plea deal both he and Kelly were offered.

Advent, Genocide, and the Baby in the Manger

Advent is my favorite time of year. The idea of waiting for hope to be born is irresistible and wonderful. When I was a kid, I memorized the entire Christmas story from the gospel of Luke for a Christmas event at church. Since my childhood, the words from Luke 2 have never left me. My family still asks me to quote the story each Christmas when we gather on Christmas Eve.

Dare to Sit With Suffering

Abram left his homeland on a promise and a prayer. God called. Abram went. The Biblical text makes it seem so simple. There are no signs of struggle or doubt. There is no grief over what is left behind, only the forward look toward a new land and a new future. Leaving home for Abram seems so easy.
As I reflect on this week’s scripture, I’m in Lebanon listening to stories of Syrian refugees who left their country and their kindred to find a place of refuge. Unlike Abram, they did not leave on the promise that they would become a great nation. They left because bombs fell on their houses. They left because food became scarce. They left because they watched their loved ones die in the rubble as buildings fell to the ground.