Friday, October 31, 2008

"So Help You God" is Gone

I'm the foreman of the grand jury I serve on, so I have the responsibility of swearing in the witnesses who testify in each case. Twenty to thirty times each day, I recite the oath that each witness must agree to before testifying. I've recited it so much, I can say it in my sleep, and knowing my poor sleeping habits, I probably do!

Maybe it's just me, but I thought that the oath included the words: "so help you God." My understanding was that the oath was designed to solicit the help and accountability of God. By agreeing to the words, "so help you God," a person who is preparing to testify is calling upon God for help in telling "the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth." But get a load of this...the wording has been changed. I don't know when it happened, but the oath now goes like this:

Do you swear or affirm that the testimony you are about to give is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth under penalty of law?

"So help you God" is gone. It's been replaced by the words "under penalty of law." I guess people were lying a lot under oath, and so the powers-that-be decided it might be more effective to threaten witnesses with legal ramifications rather than spiritual ramifications.

Pretty sad. I was actually taken back when I first gave the oath, and I've threatened to throw "so help you God" in one of these times! It's just another sad way in which our society is slowly removing God from its moral fabric.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Jury Duty

As you can see, I haven't blogged much lately. It's not that I haven't wanted to; it's because I'm being a good American citizen. After 20 years of flying under the radar, my number finally got called. Out of 257 people, I was one of 36 people to be selected for the grand jury, and so every Monday and Tuesday from now until the end of December, I - along with 11 other fellow citizens - listen to 20-25 criminal cases each day. According to the law, I'm not allowed to speak about anything that goes in the jury room. Evidently, if I do, I become a law breaker much like the very people we deliberate about in that room each day! However, I do want to share with you some of the profound things I've learned in there so far.

First, I've become more aware than ever before that we humans really are messed up. When God warns us about the sinful nature that resides inside of each of us, He's not kidding. The things that I've heard and seen that people do to one another are disturbing to say the least. What's worse is that often people do the most horrific things to the people they claim to love the most: their children, spouses, and other family members. Sitting in that jury room day after day and listening to one horrible case after another has renewed my understanding of the desperate need we have to be helped and healed by the Lord.

Secondly, I've actually regained a bit of confidence in the American judicial system. I know. I know. I'm a self-proclaimed skeptic, and skeptics aren't supposed to be anything other than skeptical. However, this jury duty thing has made a dent in my skepticism. The job of the grand jury is basically to serve as a protection against runaway prosecutors and attorneys. The grand jury hears the charges that are being brought against people and ensures that the charges are legitimate. If they are, then the grand jury allows the attorney or prosecutor to proceed. If the grand jury decides that there is not probable cause to the charges, then they can throw the charges questions asked. And, we've done this. We've heard cases where there has not been enough evidence to move forward, and so we've thrown the charges out, thus saving someone from being falsely accused. That feels good, and it actually is building up my confidence - just a little bit - in our judicial system.

Thirdly, I've learned that as bad as some people can be, there's still a lot of good people doing good things for others. In many of the horrible testimonies that we've heard about the awful things that people do to others, we also hear of a hero who stepped in and helped. A neighbor. A passerby. A law enforcement officer. A family member. People whose first response was not to do evil or harm but to do good and to help. What a breath of fresh air in the midst of the muck! Even though there are a lot of people doing a lot of bad things, there are many, many more people doing good things and lending a helping hand when called upon.

Finally, I'm learning that people from different racial, economic, religious, and social backgrounds can work well together. The other 11 people on my panel are as different from me and from one another as night is from day. My panel consists of retired people, moms, a grandmother, grandfathers, a young single mom, a Nascar lover, a realtor, a hard-nosed East coaster, a New York Giants fan (boo!), a woman going through a divorce right now, a banker, a Golden Pride manager (who often brings cinnamon rolls and breakfast burritos!), and me, the pastor. In any other scenario, we would not mesh, much less spend any time together. But, we've been brought together to accomplish a task, and we're doing it quite well together. We argue; we laugh; we give each other rides home; we share recipes (lots of good Mexican cooking going on at my house as a result!); we rally around the one who gets sick right in the middle of a case; and we hand each other Kleenexes when the things we're hearing bring tears to our eyes. Some of my ideas and misconceptions about people have been challenged and are changing as a result of this experience.

Never thought I'd learn so much from being a juror. Never thought I'd have to spend two days a week for three months being a juror. But, the way I see it, it's a great way for me to serve my community, a great way for me to get to know people I otherwise wouldn't have, and it's a great way for the Lord to teach me things I otherwise wouldn't have learned.