Friday, January 30, 2009

You There -- Out of the Jury Pool!

This week was my term of service on the circuit jury for my county. The last time I was liable for service I ended up serving on a jury -- two days of a trial for sexual abuse of a minor.

This time when I called in on Monday, jurors 1-152 were told to appear the next morning for jury duty. This seemed like an pretty high number just to get 12 jurors qualified. I went in, and it was pretty much "hurry up and wait". Well after the time that things should have been underway there seemed to be a flurry of activity in one of the side rooms, and after a while the presiding judge came out and addressed the jury pool with "good news and bad news".

The good news was that we would be going home for the day since the prosecutor had dropped the charges and would be refiling them probably within the day. In any case, this would no longer involve us. The judge then left without delivering the bad news.

The bailiff was able to get everyone's attention as they were putting on their coats and chattering away, and it fell to him to inform us that we still needed to call in every evening for the remainder of the week. That turned out to be good news in disguise, since no other jury trials were scheduled for this week.

So what was this all about? I read the local afternoon paper later Tuesday and learned that this was to have been a first degree murder trial resulting from a shooting that occurred in the past couple years. The judge in this case had ruled that the defense could raise issues related to a Missouri law that allows deadly force when there is a danger to one's own life or the lives of others. (This is a fairly recent law that makes it a little easier for such people as battered spouses or other abuse victims to take action when they feel immediately threatened. My personal take on self defense or defense of others is that my threshold for acting is set significantly higher than what the law apparently permits. )

So I breathed a sigh of relief. It is doubtful I would have been selected for this particular jury for a few reasons. First, the defense would probably not have wanted me since I spent three years as a reserve police officer in Colorado. The prosecution would have probably dismissed me since I am one of those knuckle-dragging neanderthals who believe the Second Amendment to the US Constitution can be understood in plain English to guarantee an individual right to keep and bear arms. I don't know whether this was to have been a death penalty case, but I am opposed on moral grounds to the death penalty, so that too would have disqualified me.

Having said all this, had the trial proceeded, and I were picked a a juror, I would have listened to both the prosecution and defence as they laid our their respective cases and I would have followed the instructions of the judge in my delberations and done my utmost to render a fair verdict. I'm just glad I didn't have to serve this time.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

RNS Feature: "200 years later, Lincoln’s faith remains an enigma"

RNS Feature: "200 years later, Lincoln’s faith remains an enigma":
"WASHINGTON—Seven score and four years ago, Abraham Lincoln stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and said North and South alike must suffer for the sin of slavery.

“If God wills that (the war) continue until ... every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, so it still must be said `the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether,”’ Lincoln said in his second inaugural address, quoting the Psalms.

Called “Lincoln’s Sermon on the Mount,” his 1865 address has been deemed the most religiously sophisticated presidential speech in American history. It was delivered by a backwoods lawyer with just one year of formal schooling who never joined a church. ..."
This is not really new to people who have read history, although it is a fact that when Lincoln attended services, it was often in a Presbyterian congregation.

As far as Abraham Lincoln's theology was concerned, there is little to quibble as far as it went. His understanding about God's will and how it is distinct from human will remains a model for us today. The excerpt I quoted above does not do Lincoln justice, so I recommend you read his full Second Inaugural Address. It isn't long, and his exposition on Divine Will is in the third of the four paragraphs.

When Licoln delivered this speech on March 4, 1865, he had only about a month left to live, and the Civil War was winding down. The final thoughts in his address outlined his intention to see the nation's wounds bound up and start the healing process. His assassination left a void that was filled with people who were not as concerned with healing as much as with retribution. This is one of the great "what ifs" of history.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Happy Birthday Robert Burns

Robert Burns (1759-1796) was born 260 years ago today. The Bard, as he is known in Scotland, wrote much poetry in the Scots language or in the Scots dialect of English, as well as some essays in standard English. He is perhaps best known for such poems as Scots Wha Hae and Auld Lang Syne.

His birthday is celebrated in many places where Scots and descendants of Scots live and its accompanying ritual sounds intriguing. The Burns Night menu consists of many traditional dishes of Scotland, the centerpiece of which is haggis.

After opening remarks, the Selkirk Grace is said:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thanket
.Following this, the haggis is brought in and the poem To A Haggis is recited:
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then horn for horn they stretch an’ strive,
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
’Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit hums.

Is there that o’er his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae stinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ pray’r,
Gie her a Haggis!
The beverage of choice seems to be whiskey, no doubt a single-malt scotch. There are toasts to the women by the men, to the men by the women, to the sovereign, to Robert Burns' memory and as many others as needed to deplete the store of beverage.

I've eaten haggis before at the Highland Games in Denver, Colorado. It is actually quite tasty. Now if I could only find a source for sheep stomachs and a few other pieces-parts...

The text of the poems quoted here are taken from The Complete Works of Robert Burns, courtesy of The Gutenberg Project.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Does This Seem A Little Odd?

Apparently a bill was introduced in Congress to repeal the 22nd Amendment, which limits the number of terms a president can serve:

House Joint Resolution 5 was introduced on January 6, 2009.

This speaks for itself; I have no further comments.

OK. I lied. Here is a comment: An anonymous commenter pointed out that Jose Serrano (D-NY) started proposing the repeal of the 22nd Amendment 12 years ago during the Clinton Administration, and continued it through the Bush Administration, and now has started off the Obama Administration with his biennial attempt to do away with term limitations on the presidency. I checked this out on a variety of independent sites and it all checks out.

Personally, I can't think of many presidents during my lifetime who were so indispensable to the Republic that they deserved a second term, let alone more than two terms. Fortunately the bar to amend the Constitution is quite high -- 2/3 majority in both houses and ratification by 3/4 of the states. (US Constitution, Article V)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Update on The Cyber Hymnal

The Cyber Hymnal, which has been having problems with the hijacking of its old domain name, is back up in a new location. If this is a resource that you have grown to love and depend on, then go ahead and change your bookmarks and links.

I'm guessing that the domain name registration expired and before the good folks at The Cyber Hymnal could get the name re-registered, someone snapped it up and it now seems to be an advertising vehicle.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Candidate Care

I spent the morning and part of Wednesday afternoon at the meeting of our presbytery's Committee on Preparation -- not on my behalf, but rather on behalf of two members of our congregation who are candidates. One is certified as being ready for a call and the other can be certified as soon as she decides that the needs of her family can be balanced with the requirements of seeking a call. Having seen these two candidates pass through adolescence and young adulthood, I am thrilled at the prospect of seeing one or both of them ordained. They are both products of Princeton Theological Seminary and have clear gifts in ministry and a strong sense of their calling.

Since the inquirers and candidates were not present, the committee and the session liaisons were able to discuss a wide range of issues concerning the process, including the bumpy road that many candidates take along their way to clarifying their sense of calling.

One fact in our presbytery is that nearly all inquirers pass to the candidate phase, which concerns many on the committee. This arises from a pragmatic assumption that a certain percentage of people who think ministry is where they'd like to be will eventually decide that that is not where they want to be. There are statistics that suggest that many such decisions are made following ordination and a few years of ministry. Many feel that it would be better to "change majors" while in the inquirer phase, rather than as a minister of only a few years experience. One solution seems to have been to make entry to the inquirer stage more rigorous. To my lay point of view, this seems to go against the whole idea of "inquiry". Here is where they begin the process and start learning what ministry of Word and Sacrament is all about. The trend in thinking in our local CPM is to make sure that inquirers understand that moving to candidacy is not a guarantee. It is a decision mutually arrived at by the inquirer and the committee, and that there is no stigma attached to deciding that God is calling one to different service. This makes more sense to me than to administer a rigorous examination at the outset.

Other issues revolve around the heavy financial burden borne by the seminary student. Many candidates go into their first call with upwards of $30,000 in debt and little prospect of paying off quickly unless they can find themselves in a more affluent congregation. The small, often rural congregations find it difficult to call full-time ministers, and when they can do so, are not able to pay much more than a basic living wage. I understand there are programs in some presbyteries whereby those who serve in one of the "wee kirks" can have a portion of their indebtedness forgiven, but such programs generally require that they have attended a PC(USA) seminary.

This was a long-overdue meeting, and I certainly appreciated the information we received regarding our duties. It turns out that I am a little unusual, since I was appointed session liaison for one of our candidates while I was between active service on session, and remained liaison during a term of active service and now am not on active service. Other congregations tend to rotate the liaisons as they rotate on or off session or the candidate care committee. Personally, I think that the continuity is beneficial, and I am more than happy to continue in this service.

On another topic, somewhat related, I have just begun a three year stint on the presbytery Commissioned Lay Pastor committee, so I will get a bit of a different perspective on the various issues related to how people answer the calling of the Lord.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Father Neuhaus, iconic U.S. theologian, is dead at 72 - International Herald Tribune

Father Neuhaus, iconic U.S. theologian, is dead at 72 - International Herald Tribune:
"The Reverend Richard John Neuhaus, a theologian who transformed himself from a liberal Lutheran leader of the civil rights and anti-war struggles in the 1960s to a Roman Catholic beacon of the neoconservative movement of today, died on Thursday in New York. He was 72 and lived in Manhattan.

He learned he had cancer in November and recently developed a systemic infection that doctors say led to his death, said Joseph Bottum, editor of 'First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion, Culture and Public Life,' of which Father Neuhaus was editor-in-chief. ..."
First Things is a web journal which I have read from time to time, and always found thought-provoking. While Father Neuhaus was not the only writer, his leadership was key to its success. I hope his successor is as effective as he. At present, the First Things website has some recent and older articles by Neuhaus on its front page.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

No, I haven't dropped off the face of the Earth!

It's been a busy couple of weeks here in Missouri. Susan is on her annual trip to warmer climes to do pollinations for the winter research corn crop. This year it is Puerto Rico. She left December 26th and will return tomorrow evening. Puerto Rico has pretty good cell coverage, so we have been able to talk on a daily basis, and she has texted photos from time to time. One of these years I'm going to have to go down to PR with her and see some of these sights together.

A lot of my time was spent in providing attractive alternatives to the television, computer games, and general idleness for my boy, but I also had to work at my day job. I was able to take a couple days off so we could get out of the house and do something. So what would get a 16 year old boy out of the house when there are such attractive nuisances available? Well, a lot of it was target shooting at a public range north of town. I guess some might consider that an attractive nuisance, but it is one thing that he and I both enjoy, and he understands that when we are engaged in such activities there is no compromise with safety. It's a character builder.

My son went back to school on the 5th of January, and fortunately he is learning to get up and dressed without a whole lot of prodding. He is at the bus stop at 6:40am and since I am pretty much alone this week, I just go into work early, and, if possible, leave a little earlier. As a computer system administrator I work mostly during normal work hours, but when a crisis occurs at 4:59pm it has to be dealt with. Fortunately that is a rare occurrence.

I plan to take tomorrow off and make sure the house is tidied up for Susan's return -- after I sleep in for some much needed rest.

Well, anyway, Happy New Year to all, and I hope you experienced the blessings of Christmas. And I'll try and be a little more regular with the blog entries.