Hold those stones

Hey, do you have time for a few thoughts before, or after, or while you vote?

On the last Sunday of October I referred in the sermon to the story of “the woman caught in adultery” from the gospel of John. It had come up in a conversation that Bryan Stevenson, author of Just Mercy, had had with a woman on the steps of a courthouse following a particularly sweet victory. The woman had been in the courtroom then, and numerous other times when Stevenson was there. She “worked” there too.

In the story the adulterous woman, her partner in crime having escaped apparently, is dragged by her captors before Jesus. They tell him her sin, for which the penalty is clear: “ The law says she is to be stoned to death. What do you say?” It is to test him. A set-up perhaps?

Jesus pauses to write or draw in the dirt. Legend suggests he was writing the names of the lynch/stone mob and their respective sins, when he says, “Whoever of you is pure, free of sin, go ahead, fire away.” They drop their stones and exit the scene quietly.

Stevenson had been speaking to a church group on behalf of a member of their community who’d been wrongly convicted of murder and was awaiting execution. The good church-folk were luke-warm in their support because the man on death row was not a church-goer and he’d had an affair. Stevenson asked them to remember the would-be stone-throwers. “We know the story. We still throw lots of stones.”

The woman nodded at the reference, chuckled, and then said, “But I watched you. I heard what you said. You’s a stone-catcher.” A role she also tried to play when she could. And she took his hands in her own and began to massage them lovingly, reflecting aloud on how hard and painful it is to catch stones.

I suggested in the sermon that that’s church work – catching stones. Refusing to throw stones. Challenging those who are in their own wind-up, about to let fly. Well, you almost need a helmet and mask and a mit on each hand these days given the volume of verbal stones flying and the ferocity with which they are flung!

We claim to have the best form of government on earth. (Until recently we claimed also to be the greatest country in the world. What happened to that?) But the process of electing those who will lead and govern is often so brutal, bloody, and ugly that it’s not to be commended to our children! That doesn’t seem right, does it? So what are we to do? How about these:

Choose wisely and carefully for whom you will vote. Be able to explain rationally – to your children, your grandchildren, the children in the neighborhood – that your choice is about them. And, do the work of stone catching. You and I are the people of God. This is God’s time and place. Let us claim and live that, without apology or excuse. And something more, if you’re interested.

Faith Ralston had a short article in the Star-Trib on October 20th under the title “We can put civility back in discussion.” In it she says four things: 1) Don’t get boxed in. Avoid labels and categories and focus on specifics. 2) Ask questions. Be genuinely curious. Try to understand the other person. 3) Refuse to be offended. Be respectful instead of insisting on being right. 4) Stick with it. The easy thing is to give up and join the fight – pick up a stone and let fire. There’s more than enough of that already.