by Rev. David Rommereim
For the last week, I have served on a jury for a civil case in Brooklyn's Supreme Court. It was good to see our legal system work with dignity, proper etiquette, and standardized procedure.
For many who have served a jury trial you will remember that most of your time is spent waiting. First, your fellow jurors are quiet. Then slowly personal stories are shared. As instructed, you never discuss the case until the proper time. Then, after a few stories, jurors return to the isolation of cell phones. For me, at that moment, I begin to let my mind wander with the dissonant notes attached to the word "justice."
As a pastoral theologian who pays attention to the Lutheran hermeneutic of sacred scripture I am fully vested in the fact that however pure our constitutional democracy and its rules of order are, they remain accountable to the ultimate sovereignty of G*d (malkuth shamayim). As people of faith, we are also spiritually and morally nurtured by the memory of the prophets (Moses, Elijah, Elisha, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Micah, John the Baptist, and Jesus). They restore the principles of fair and equitable relations in society through the actions of justice (mishpat).
As a juror, I wandered the memory-lane of the prophets who speak and act Divine mishpat. That is, I am a person dedicated to the public exposure of our prophetic faith. Therefore, I soulfully remember my experience as a white-man-of-privilege, leading congregations in the Bronx, Manhattan, Oakland, California, and Brooklyn. Through that experience I am fully aware that the mishpat (justice) of G*d has a racialized memory. That is, some, like me, have good come because of status. My opportunity story is distinguished through a white lens.
I am fully aware that I have to work hard for what I accomplish despite whiteness or any coded category of status. Yet, there are neighbors of mine, who, because of the color of their skin, have their "backs against the wall." Good comes to me often through the lens of my status as a white man. Good, for those whose backs are against the wall, comes after they have overcome an impediment to fulfill their soulful response to G*d (malkuth shamayim). I have learned that, as a white man, I must be honest with the conditions that offer me an opportunity not offered others. For some that seems to be old news. But, for most we remain in an hegemony of disparity in a racial dynamism of the American society. I must be honest (`emet) that the goal, as faithful stewards of Christian faith, is to heal the wounds of our racialized society.
During African History month, I always read Letter from a Birmingham Jail by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He wrote it while serving time for non-violent social resistance to the Jim Crow laws dividing our country. It is dated April 13, 1963. We have come a long way since 1963, but the lengthy letter specifically addresses my colleagues, white clergy. He challenges me to pay attention to the divine disclosure of justice where G*d is satisfied only when there is a complete restoration of relationship (mishpat).
So, my soulful wandering at this jury trial turns to wonder about God, self, and our common desire to "perform a more perfect Union, establish justice, insure the domestic tranquility." As you and I turn to the ritual season of Lent, we have an opportunity to be truthful (the Hebrew word is `emet - spoken as hemet). The grace filled glory is that "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice" (M. L. King, Jr.).