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April 12, 2009

"Unique" or "How One Can Even Learn About Jesus During Jury Duty: Lessons Learned from a Wasted Day of Serving 'My' Country"

So last Thursday (4/2), at the end of Spring Break – I had the honor, no, the privilege, no, the duty of serving my country by going to Jury Duty. Now here is the thing, I’m 21 and this was my first experience of ever going to Jury Duty, and it was definitely the last thing I wanted to do on my Spring Break. But alas, just like with a draft card when you turn 18, when the government calls, you must go.

Let’s just start it out this way, the odds of me getting on a jury, with my family background were pretty slim. So therefore, I knew going into it that it was going to be an entire waste of my day, and 8 hours of my life, my Spring Break that I would never get back. But I went faithfully, because that is what an American does. It is the price of our freedom (This line hit me huge during this day) or so they say. So, even though I knew it was a wasted day – I went.

By going, it turns out I learned something. Now here’s the deal. I did not learn anything about our government. What I learned was about Jesus and the American Church. It’s funny how God likes to teach me things – through Jury Duty. Now, one of my favorite songs ever is by the “OC Supertones” and is called “Jury Duty” and my experience was nothing like that. But, it opened my eyes and allowed God to teach me, show me, and illustrate to me ways of understanding the teachings of Jesus and American churches.

My day started out like all the others as I was sitting in the big room, with my Bible reading Jeremiah and a great book by Jim Wallis, listening to my I-Pod and they start with their orientation – and this is when teachable moment number one started. A judge came up and gave a welcome to jury duty speech. This made me chuckle because we had no choice to not show up, if we didn’t show up we would get fined or arrested. And on top of that he thanked us for being there, telling us what a great public service we were doing for our country and how this is the only way we actively get to participate in the Judicial Branch (or any branch) of our government and we should be happy for that.

This is when I knew Jesus was up to something for my Jury Duty experience. Through this opening speech – I learned and filtered several things out of it.

Firstly, it was all about showing up – kind of like old school, traditional, institutional churches. One must show up, and while you are there, you get thanked by a pastor for showing up, but you pretty much don’t do anything worthwhile. You waste your day, because the Pastor’s claim that all that matters is that we not stop meeting together as some have done (a miss quote of Hebrews 10:25).

Secondly, this was used to illustrate the point to me about how much we have simplified and watered down the Gospel. A judge thanked us for showing up – even though none of us wanted to be there – like we had a choice in the matter, even though the only reason any of us were there was to not get fined or arrested for not showing up. Not only that, I’m pretty sure that everyone that was there did not want to get stuck on a jury. So this lesson builds off of the first lesson learned. Churches have turned the Gospel of Jesus into, convert, be perfect, shut up, come, sit down and wait for Jesus to come back or you to die and go to heaven. They have also used the ultimate scare tactic that is “Do you wanna go to hell?” Really? Who really wants to go to hell, except maybe a sadist! And you know what Churches do after this? After someone “converts” – they say God is pleased and is happy, they essentially do what the Judge did and thanks us – even though we don’t wanna be there! Even though we are just sitting there biding our time, not wanting to be there and only there to escape a punishment! If that is not a good picture of the watered down gospel of Western/American/Institutional/contemporary church I don’t know what is.

Thirdly, even though we were all there, even though we were “guilted” there, no one wanted to do anything. When we go there, there still was no change of “Yes put me on a jury for my country”!!!! Just like American churches. People show up, to get their Salvation Credits, there Holy Spirit Merit Crosses, their Gold Stars for “doing their duty” – or they go to make sure that one day a week for 80 years is enough to save them from hell, because they don’t wanna be there. It is obligation, and to save your own skin. Plsu, the whole time you are in church, you are thinking how quickly is it over and I can go back to my life of ignoring Jesus until you can get points for going to church to make up for not living like Jesus has changed anything. This is how we all were in jury duty, we just wanted to get out of there as soon as we could. Grab our slip of getting out of jury duty for a year, and going back to normal. Regardless of how big the privilege it is of serving our country crap.

This is the western church. This is the American Church. This is the church that are forefathers have left us by watering down the Gospel and turning it into a solely personal, individual, get yourself a Merit Badge and save your after life from hell by showing up once a week, giving 10%, and baptizing their babies.
We have lost grasp on the fact that the Gospel of Jesus is about here and now – otherwise we would not need four gospels of his teachings, the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes, or Him to live as a human for 33 years. Heck we would not even need the New Testament teaching us about Jesus if it was just about showing up, putting in our time, and getting to see Jesus when we die.

Why do we not understand, that its not about going to church – but being the church. That following Jesus, is not about “conversion” but repenting and becoming a disciple? Why is it that we just go to church, and think God is pleased with that? Has the American church never read the book of Isaiah before? Let me tell you, if God was pissed off at the Israelites and their worthless sacrifices – I don’t wanna know the words He has about the way the American church has completely mis represented Jesus.

Church is about being, not going. Church is about the “then” but also the “here and now”. Jesus is alive today and working in the world today – to dwell among us – he wants to bring his kingdom to earth? Do we believe this? Is it also about the future and salvation? Yes and praises Jesus for that – because if it was just about that, it would already be more then we deserve. Now, I’m not talking a utopic Jesus society on earth right now. But what I’m saying is that as the church we have certain values (Jesus) to embody and that by doing that, we lead people into the revolution of Jesus, and institute the Kingdom of God on earth. When we stop going to church, and start being the Church. We truly are going to the church, because church is everywhere.

This lesson was just in the first hour of being at jury duty and God was not done with me yet. After the introduction is over, I go back to reading for about an hour, and I was actually called into a courtroom at 10am. I was impressed and began to get hope that it would mean I would get dismissed and be able to go home. Phat chance of that one. I was in that courtroom until 430 pm. And in the midst of this boredom, in the midst of being stuffed into this courtroom and just hoping I could go home – God taught me again. This time, in less subtle ways.

I’ve never felt this before, but for the first time in my life, when I was told to take an oath to my country promising to be a good juror (or whatever it was) – I felt bad. I shuddered. I did not feel right. I felt bad, because of the fact I was making an oath to my country and not to JEsus. I’m not saying jury duty is un-biblical, because we are supposed to be part of the world but not of the world. We are supposed to give to Caesar what is Caesars. But what made me shutter was the fact, that so many American Christians probably have no problem giving anything for their country, sure – I’ll pledge my allegiance to a flag – but what do you mean I have to give all of my life to Jesus; sure I’ll promise to not lie and be a good honest juror – but Jesus does not care how I run my business, or treat those he puts in my life; sure, I’ll go serve in the military and sacrifice my life for my country – but Jesus, you are getting nothing more than 10% (if it is a good month) and I must have a house, two cars, and if I go on a missions trip, I better not have to sacrifice anything for it; sure, I’ll give my time and energy to researching politicians and issues – but not to Jesus, the church, or how to influence the world. This lesson hit me when I was in the courtroom for a whole five minutes.
After this God got a little gentler with me, and he opened my eyes to how real divorce is in our country. Of all the people that got interviewed by the judge, about 23 out of 30 had been divorced, 2 had never been married, 4 are still married to spouse #1, and 1 was widowed. How sad is that? Of thirty people and only 7 had not been divorced? Sure it is just a small number and 30 other people did not get interviewed so maybe that batch would even it out – but still. It reiterated to me, how if the Church wants to be revolutionary and show Jesus to the world, one of the best ways we can do this is by chosing our mates carefully, by not getting caught up in lust or passion or loneliness, and only getting married once, and when we do get married – making sure divorce is not in our vocabulary – which can only be done by making Jesus the center of your marriages.

The final thing, I learned from Jury Duty – actually it is more of a funny story. I was sitting next to a guy how started sharing his story with me. He and his wife got to a Episcopalian church he said, and to get it more right, he added “Well she goes, I maybe go once a month. Church is her thing.” Let’s pause there before I go on, what a sad commentary on that right there, his wife is in it alone. He then added “I do the soup kitchen thing.” Aw, what a can of worms. If this wasn’t jury duty – I woulda thrown Jesus all over him (but we did not have a relationship and he was just sharing his story, don’t wanna scare him). So I decided to ask him about the church. He started saying how he liked it because it wasn’t the “high” church (he used the term wrong, but that’s okay). What he meant by this, I see now, was morally. Not high morals, or other words – not based on Jesus. He liked it because it was more “low”, more accepting. I asked him how and why? When he shared this beauty with me. Well, our woman senior pastor left (not here to debate this, because this is not the point of the story, wait for it…) and we recently got a new one. He’s a good guy he said. And me and my wife know something not a lot of people know about him. I asked what? He said well, people know he is gay, but what they don’t know is that he is currently dating and living with the organ player (worship leader) who is on staff… That’s all I have to say to that. I responded back not wanting to open a dangerous can of worms without a relationship with him and only having seconds before our break was over with a hesitant, and shaky – “That’s unique…”

So in the end, I ended up learning a lot about how the freedom of America has influenced the church. Instead of the other way around. How, o how the church should look so much different then the way it does, and how it should never emulate any government of the world. This is what it taught me. That was my day. It was “Unique”…