Archive for March, 2013

An Easter Reflection

Posted: 30 March 2013 in Faith and Life

Warning: Christian theological stuff ahead. Not for all tastes.

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

You can’t always get what you want

But if you try sometimes well you might find

You get what you need

(The Rolling Stones)

Where is God? I’ll tell you. We’ve killed him, you and I! We are all his murderers. But how could we have done this? How could we gulp down the oceans? Who gave us a sponge to wipe away the whole horizon? What did we do when we unchained the earth from the sun? Where is it going now? Where are we going now? Away from all suns? Aren’t we falling forever, backwards, sideways, forwards, in all directions at once? Do up and down even exist any more? Aren’t we wandering in an infinite void? Don’t we feel the breath of empty space? Hasn’t it become colder? Isn’t night coming on more and more all the time? Shouldn’t we light lanterns in the morning?..

God is dead, God remains dead, and we have killed him. How can we, the worst of all murderers, comfort ourselves? The holiest and mightiest thing that the world has yet possessed has bled to death beneath our knives!

(The Madman in Nietzsche’s The Gay Science)

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, la ma sabach tha ni?” that is, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”

(Jesus, from the cross)

Of course, what the Rolling Stones don’t get into in their well-known song is… “What happens when you get what you want?” (They did not answer it in that song but perhaps they started getting into it in this one).

Or maybe better, “What happens when you get what you think you want?”

And what do we want? What do we really want? (Or at least what do we think we really want?)

And what does any of this have to do with Easter?

Well let me riff on the Stones a bit here and suggest the following breakdown of “holy week”—which ends with that fateful day that changed everything.

So let’s call Palm Sunday the day we get what we think we want. Monday through Thursday are about waking up—first in disappointment, but later in a childish tantrum rage—when we realize that, in fact, we did not get what we thought we wanted on Palm Sunday. Thursday is the day, finally, when we get what we want. Followed by Friday when, shall we say, the “implications” of what we want (and what we got) become painfully clear. And Easter? Well, we’ll get to that in a moment.

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Note: Early in the morning of March 10, 2103 a local resident of my town, Mike Partida was assaulted and beaten badly by a male attacker shouting anti-gay slurs.  Police have arrested a 19-year old local resident with a prior arrest for stabbing several people in a nearby town and charged him with “Assault causing Great Bodily Injury, Committing a Hate Crime, Assault with a Deadly Weapon, Stalking, Committing a felony while on release from custody, and inflicting great bodily injury during the commission of a felony.”  This article is a reflection growing out of this terrible event that has shaken our town where the victim is a much loved young man who works at our local food co-op.

There has been much speculation about the factors that might lead someone to commit the kind of crime that was perpetrated against Mikey Partida. While some of it may be premature it is a normal human response to try to make sense of something that is so senseless.

Certainly, much more will be learned about the event, the things that led up to it, the story of the perpetrator (whoever it turns out to be), and the likely outcome of a conviction, as the legal process moves forward. We also know with certainty that Mr. Partida will need to go through a painful process of physical and psychological healing. Some scars—physical and psychological—may never fully heal. In quotes from Mr. Partida we have already learned of his fears and anxiety about moving around his hometown. Physical healing is only the first of many long steps he will have to take.

Lisa Rea, founder of Restorative Justice International, who has worked in restorative justice since 1992 believes that victims of crime do not want some vague sense of “closure” but rather they want to regain a sense of safety, security and healing. She argues in a 2012 article that for many victims the healing process would be facilitated by an opportunity to face the offender, ask him/her questions, describe the harm that was done, and seek a way for the harms done to them to be made right. She notes

…(T)hroughout my work the number of victims who are seeking to participate in some kind of restorative justice dialogue is increasing.

Unfortunately, as Ms. Rea also notes, our criminal justice system does not make it easy for victims who desire this kind of mediated process to obtain it. There are many reasons for this but two seem to predominate: First, our criminal justice system defines crime as committed against the state—not first and foremost against individuals and communities (pause for a moment and ask how the crime against Mr. Partida has negatively affected our community). The offender, if convicted, is punished by the state and on the state’s terms—the debt is owed to the state first and foremost. This is demonstrated colloquially in phrases like “he paid (or must pay) his dues to society.”

Where is the victim in all of this? Generally victims are left out of most of the process, and this is related to the second reason why victims cannot obtain access to a restorative process even if they desire it. Ms. Rea says that many victims have expressed that “they feel used by the system, like they are just pawns in its game to convict and sentence the offender.” District Attorneys, generally speaking, “control” the victim’s narrative. The victim is “theirs” and they may need the victim (and/or the victim’s family) to play a certain role in order to assure that a conviction is achieved. To say that DAs seek to control the victim’s narrative does not imply wrongdoing on their part. As noted, they are part of a system that views crime as something committed against the statutes of the state. They do what they must to find relief for the state.

But this reality should raise the question: does this system provide what victims need? Does the current system provide an opportunity for them to find healing? Does it enable them to have their most burning questions answered? Questions like “What were you thinking?” Why did you hurt me this way?” “Do you know what all of this has meant to me?” “Can you acknowledge the harm you have caused?” What are you going to do to make things right to me?”

I have no way of knowing whether Mr. Partida would like to have an opportunity to ask these questions or not. He may never want the opportunity. Or, he may not want it in the next 6 months. But what if he did? What if, as part of his healing, he desired to meet the perpetrator? Would our system allow him to do so? The answer is probably not.

According to Ms. Rea, restorative justice “puts the crime victim in the center of the system while stressing offender accountability to restore victims and communities as much as possible after crimes are committed.” There are some key points here: victim at center, offender accountability, restoration—or making things right—as much as possible.

What is the downside to creating or evolving a system of justice that encourages offenders to take accountability? What is the downside of giving victims an opportunity—should they so desire—to face their offenders? What is the downside of allowing victim and offender work out an agreement about what would make the harms right (even if the offender faces other punishments from the state)?

Will the perpetrator in this case, when all is said and done, be confronted by the fact that he committed a crime against a human being and not a “category”? Will he be given a chance to learn of how his crime affected an entire family, place of work and community? Will our system ever provide an opportunity to bring these things to his attention? Or will we merely warehouse him in a prison where he will pay a vague debt to a disembodied state? I believe we should wrestle with all the foregoing questions.

Much more needs to be said about restorative processes and their role in preventing the formation of a “school to prison” pipeline. Some of this was discussed in an article in the People’s Vanguard of Davis on February 4, 2013. Hopefully our community will have a chance to discuss these issues in more detail in the months ahead.

I want to close this reflection by apologizing to Mr. Partida and his family if this article feels like it is pressuring them to seek the kind of victim/offender conferencing suggested here. That is not my intent and I would never advise them to seek this path unless they were convinced it would help Mr. Partida. The intent here is to ask whether restorative processes should be in place—even for violent crimes like this one—in case the victims desire to use them.

I wish Mr. Partida and his family all the best and hope they have all felt the love and support of this community. My thoughts also go out to the perpetrator of this crime. Despite our anger at the heinous acts he committed, he remains a human being albeit one with deep brokenness.

(FYI, I am working with a small group of Davis residents to determine whether it might be possible to develop a “Victim Offender Conferencing Program” that would focus, initially, on providing mediated conferencing between victims and offenders of non-violent/non-sex juvenile crime in Yolo County. Such programs are being increasingly implemented around the state and country. If you are interested to learn more about this initiative please contact me at robbbike@me.com)

Note: I need to write this but you do NOT need to read it. There is no way for me to write it without seeming judgmental of others or self-congratulatory. I know this because I know how people react when they hear we got rid of our car 10 years ago this month. So, just accept the fact that I need to process what has really happened as a result, that I am not judging you or expecting you to follow my example, and that I certainly don’t believe that this is anything to be proud about.

(A shout out to Eric Dirksen for giving me a language to think about this)

Including repentance in the title of this post might lead you to believe that it has a theological reflection of some kind. After all, repentance is a “religious” word is it not? And it is not a neutral kind of religious word either. No, “repent” does not show up as any kind of feel-good call to action. Rather, it adorns the posters carried by Westboro Baptist Church types or it trips off the lips of TV evangelists whose faces gleam red and neck veins pulse as they shout out the imperative.repent

But, in fact, while repentance is a theme found in many of the world’s religions, it has a more pedestrian meaning (literally so). Repentance is about changing course, about walking a different way, about turning from—and turning to. And while Jesus himself told people to repent some theologians suggest that even his use had a more “political” meaning than we typically acknowledge. Here is Anglican theologian NT Wright’s take:

Consider, for example, the Jewish aristocrat and historian Josephus… who was sent, in AD 66, as a young army commander, to sort out some rebel movements in Galilee. His task, as he describes it in his autobiography, was to persuade the hot-headed Galileans to stop their mad rush into revolt against Rome, and to trust him and the other Jerusalem aristocrats to work out a better modus vivendi. So, when he confronted the rebel leader, he says that he told him to give up his own agenda, and to trust him, Josephus, instead. And the words he uses are remarkably familiar to readers of the Gospels: he told the brigand leader to `repent and believe in me’… (NT Wright (2000) The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is)

Wright goes on to point out that the idea of repentance for Josephus and Jesus had to do with giving up certain ambitions (especially violent ones)—essentially, turning away from the conventional wisdom about how the world works and seeking a new path.

In early 2003 the US was heading to war. You didn’t have to be particularly smart to realize that the rush to war was built on a lie. You didn’t have to be a student of foreign policy to realize that it had to do with maintaining US hegemony in a part of the world that contained the oil to which we had become addicted. You did not have to be a scholar of literature to realize that this war was also simply the retelling of an age-old tragedy about the overreach of power and the unquenchable thirst for vengeance.

Something told my wife and me that this war was being fought in our name. Something else told us it was being fought to maintain a petroleum-drenched lifestyle to which we had become accustomed. And so we started talking about turning away. We never talked about “repenting” of the path we were on, but we did talk about changing course.

And so we did.

We sold our car. We were not trying to make a statement. We were only trying to do something within our power to say that we aspired to living differently—eschewing violence and the subjugation of others so that we could have our luxuries. It was a symbolic act only in that we knew that our lifestyle change would have very little impact on our nation’s decision to go to war. But while it held some symbolic value, it was mostly about repenting—about choosing to go a different way. Indeed, the way we talked about “symbols” was not in the sense that we wanted to make a “point.” Rather, we talked about the automobile as the symbol of so many things we had come to hate about the lie that some referred to as a dream (yes, I said hate).

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