Some years ago I served as the foreman of a jury in a murder trial. I was shocked, too. Journalists, after all, seem routinely to get tossed out of jury pools.
What I learned from the experience is that no one can judge the guilt or innocense of someone who does not sit through every minute of the trial itself in the courtroom -- not by just watching it on TV. And even then there can be difficulty in rendering a judgment.
I kept trying to remind myself of all this as the Florida trial of George Zimmerman for shooting Trayvon Martin continued until this past weekend, when a jury of six women found Zimmerman not guilty.
One reason it was relatively easy for me to remember the lesson of my jury service is that I watched almost none of the daily coverage of the Zimmerman trial. I decided early on that though the case was interesting in what it might reveal to us about racism, our penchant for arms and the nature of our criminal justice system, this was a trial that had very little to do with me personally.
In some ways it would have been like paying hourly attention to the pregnancy of Princess Kate or the incessant news about such alleged celebrities as the Kardashians. If I watched an hour-long show about the Kardashians I'd simply be an hour closer to my death.
As it turned out the scripture reading for the sermon I heard in church the day after the Zimmerman verdict was the story of the Good Samaritan from Luke 10. The woman who preached that day naturally -- but effecitvely -- raised the question not just of who was a neighbor to the man im the story robbed and beaten by the side of the road between Jerusalem and Jericho but which of us was willing to be a good neighbor to others.
And what her sermon told me -- without her even mentioning the Zimmerman case -- was that we are called to be good neighbors where we can make a difference. Expending all our energy on a trial in Florida that we cannot affect one way or the other is not being good stewards of our precious time.
There are African-American teen-agers in our own community who need our help. There are people in love with guns in our own neighborhoods who need to be challenged about whether and when such weapons should be used. Nothing I can do can bring life back to Trayvon Martin or undo the actions -- justified or not -- that George Zimmerman did.
But I can join my congregation in its support of the work of Community Linc, which seeks to move people from homelessness to stability, and The Children's Place, which works with abused and neglected youngsters. I can -- and do -- volunteer at Hope Care Center, a 24-hour skilled nursing facility my church helped to start to treat people with HIV/AIDS. And I can serve on a jury, if called, without trying in phony ways to get out of it.
I cannot snap my fingers and bring world peace. But, as they hymn says, I can let peace begin with me. I can be the peace today.And so can you -- even if we can do nothing about Zimmerman or Martin.
And we also can work hard to remind the world that people of faith are called on to welcome -- not suspect -- the stranger and not arm ourselves to confront strangers. I'm not suggesting there's never a need for self-defense. But if our attitude is that strangers always and inevitably mean danger, it's much more likely that we'll react to them badly and even violently than if we remember that strangers also are children of God.
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A SPEEDIER ROAD TO SAINTHOOD?
Will the Catholic Church eventually drop the requirement for miracles for someone to be named a saint? It now looks possible. Are such changes in such a slow-moving institution miracles? Hmmm.
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P.S.: This past May I spoke to a Kansas City regional leadership conference of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The next such conference will be Sept. 21, and Molly Marshall, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary, will be speaking on rethinking ministry for a changing church. To attend, all the information you need is in this pdf flier: Download GKCLeadershipSeminarFlyerSept2013Half.