This week I get to lead two Lent meetings. Tuesday lunch time we conclude Can We Build a Better World? the series based on the story of William Wilberforce. Wednesday evening is the final part of our ecumenical one using Life Source exploring prayer; this week 'prayer as caring' which seems to me to cover both intercessory prayer and life as prayer, and suggests a clip from the film Dead Man Walking. I tracked down the DVD via Ebay, and then via Amazon the book and its more recent follow up Death of Innocents. Although the books are very informative they get a bit repetitive, so you need to be determined to keep going, especially if as I've done you try to read them in about three days. You also need a strong stomache to deal with some of the graphic descriptions, so be warned.
What emerges clearly is the link between poverty,edcuation and race to being executed under US law. If you happen to be of African-American extraction you are likely to be poor and unedcuated, therefore more likely to face 'cruel and unusual' punishment. If you are African-American you are also more likely to be descended from slaves - the ugly legacy of slavery continues to this day.
It is good that we are commemorating the work of Wilberforce and others, good that the C of E is recognising its part in slavery (would be good if other denominations were as honest), but if we don't recognise the immense legacy of past slavery and act to address that, then it all becomes idle talk. Helen Prejean is quite clear that murder is wrong, that some sort of appropriate legal redress is needed; she is also clear that killing achieves nothing, noting the irony that the death certificate of an executed prisoner in the USA will read cause of death: legal homicide.
Reading all this, and pondering it, in the run up to Easter is challenging. A couple of thousand years ago the execution for blasphemy of an itinerant preacher changed the course of history. Crucifixion was barbaric, but no more so than a decade or more on detah row waiting for someone to decide when to kill you. I guess people can speculate what God might have had there not been a death penalty under Roman Law, or get into 'angry God beat up Jesus to save us' arguments. It's an incredibly complex topic - beyond my brain on a Monday morning when I ought to be phoning the water board to get the chapel water suply cut off - but I'm glad that as I approach Holy Week I do so with a renewed sense of the horror of human inhumanity.
PS if you want to find out more about Helen Prejean go to http://dpdiscourse.typepad.com/sisterhelen/