Monday, September 7, 2009

Looking Ahead to 2010

We are in the early planning stages for a SOfAR Pilgrimage in western North Carolina during 2010. The most likely month is June and probable points along the way will include Asheville, Charlotte, Greensboro and many others. If you are interested in our coming to your town, let us know.

If at any time between now and next summer you want to talk individually and/or have us talk with a group - whether you think you agree with our purposes or think you disagree with our purposes - we welcome the opportunity!

We have many stories to tell about the public witness and private prayer aspects of the Pilgrimage. We welcome converation with people who agree with us, who disagree with us and who are not sure.

Send email to Scott Bass at

Monday, July 27, 2009

"You have got to be kidding"

Rev. William Barber looked up to God and proclaimed, "You have got to be kidding".

It was a very human reaction to God's mandate, "Love your enemies." In front of his Greenleaf Christian Church congregation on Sunday, June 28, Barber tried to reconcile the two perspectives.

He read from Luke 6:27-28: "But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you." To which Rev. Barber stuttered, "You... have got... to be kidding".

Rev. Barber knows our culture. He knows our nature. And he knows our temptations. But he also knows what God asks of us, in spite of it all. He continued, "To be a diciple of Jesus is to recognize that he is demanding. Jesus has this crazy notion that his followers should serve others rather than themselves. You have got to be kidding. That I am required of my discipleship - the cost of my discipleship - is to put others before myself - You have got... to be kiddin'."

"He expects us to show integrity when nobody's looking. He expects us to love. But not just people who on occasions have a bad day. He wants us to love folk who are enemies every day and show no sign of changing. You have got to be ..."

Nearing the end of our SOfAR pilgrimage, Rev. Barber had invited us to join his congregation for services at Greenleaf Church in Goldsboro. As we neared the church that morning, we saw a crowd gathered in on the host asphalt. As we came up to them, they called to us, they applauded us, the walked up to us a hugged us, thanked us, and gave us bottles of cold water. No one minded that we wore T-shirts and shorts, while everyone else was decked out in their Sunday finest. It was a warmer welcome than we could have expected. We were carried on a wave into the church. We brought in our walking sticks, crosses and our banners, and layed them down near the altar. Scott was asked to introduce us to the congregation. We sat down and waited for Rev. Barber to preach.

"Loving your friends in a capitalistic society is smart - they might have a stock tip. Loving your [spouse] or loving your friends - all that is is enlightened self interest. You love them, you get something out of it. It's altogether another thing when we got to love an enemy, someone who has your disgrace or your destruction as a goal." Rev. Barber went on, using humor, his deep booming voice, his charisma and commanding presense, to deliver a sermon about three not-so-simple words. We thought we knew what those words meant but soon realized there were new dimensions we had not explored.

"God says we gotta love 'em because God wants us free, and you canot be free as long as you hate someone."

Rev. Barber told the story of how Nelson Mandela invited one of his jailors to sit on the platform with him during his presidential inauguration. Visiting the jail where he had been incarcerated; it's horribly hot in the summmer, icy cold in winter. The political prisoners were forced to do hard labor in the lime quarry; digging the lime made them go blind. Mandela spent 27 years there for something he did not do. When asked after his release, "Weren't you angry?". President Mandela didn't give hime a lie. Rev. Barber parahrased Mandela's response: "Yes. And I was a little afraid, considering that now I had the power, and what I might do with it." What if you had the power to do back to folks everything they did to you? Mandela went on, "When I felt that anger welling up inside of me, I realized that if I continued to hate them after I got outside the gate, then they would still have me. And so I decided, I wanna be free. So I had to let it go because there was no way they were gonna lock me up for 27 years and God deliver me and then I get out and still be bound up."

Rev. Barber explained, "If we live up only to the world's standards, there ain't no need to be Christian. The world says, 'Hate works. Violence works' They lie to us and tell us '[the death penalty] deters crime.' But the hate doesn't work, living by the sword doesn't work, eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth doesn't work. If it worked, you wouldn't have to have a New Testament that brings into fulfilment all that could not be fulfilled in the Old Testament."

Rev. Barber began the story of his conversion from death penalty supporter to death penalty opponent. "God, you got to be kiddin. Someone kill one of my children? You ain't gotta ask the law to kill them."

"What got me was not all the statistics. I know it didn't deter crime, because you can't deter crime with a crime, and the death penalty is a crime because we're killing innocent people. God said, 'Thou shalt not kill' and he did not put an 'i.e.' example on the end of that with a parenthesis. He didn't do an editor's note. He said, 'Thou shalt not kill.'"

When Rev. Barber was teaching in college, the class was debating the death penalty, both pros and cons. When some students asserted, "If someone kills your loved one, you cannot forgive them," one quiet student asked to speak. She said, "You all are discussing theory. But my family was there. A vicious person had killed a loved one - in fact, it was my sister. I want you to know that last week, we visited him in jail. I want you to know that we asked the judge not to give him the death penalty. I want you to know that my family believes in his deliverance and we hope that one day we will be able to come and look at him through the bars and know that now he is our Christian brother." I said, "Woman, you have got to be kiddin'." She said, "No, I love the Lord. I met Jesus and Jesus did something in my heart and in my family's heart."

He followed this with another story where parishoners whose daughter had been murdered asked him to speak against a death penalty sentence against her murdered. The told him, "We do not want our daughter's life to be marred with the blood of another person."

As we repeated throughout our pilgrimage, we believe that Christian faith and Christian church teachings are clearly against the death penalty. This passage, "Love your enemy", is clearly one of the reasons. Rev. Barber challenged us to look at it another way. Yes, we should strive to love that person, even though they may have committed a horrible act of violence. But to love them is to act as God wants us to. To not love them is to turn away from God, to reject God, to reject the possibility that God can act through us, that God can be a healing force in our lives, that God can redeem this sinner just as he can redeem us for our sins,
that God does not know how to free us to do is will.

So, we choose to believe that this forgiveness, even this love, is possible. We choose to free ourselves from hatred. We choose to let love conquer hatred and violence.

Rev. Barber started the sermon that June morning with the words, "I contend that the whole Christian experience in miraculous." Some day, we believe that the Christian experience will play a major role in ending the death penalty. Indeed, that will be miraculous. No kidding.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

We Made It This Far

This morning at 11:30 AM we arrived at the legislative building in Raleigh, North Carolina!

We were greeted by friends and well-wishers and held a brief press conference. We then gathered in a prayer circle around the NC State Seal on the plaza in front of the legislative building. Next we ate lunch and talked with some of our legislators about our journey, about our purposes in walking and about the NC Racial Justice Act, which should reach the floor of the House for a vote next week.

Then we went home.

Seems rather anti-climactic at this point.

The journey has been so intense - spiritually, physically, emotionally and in other ways. There are more stories to tell and experiences needing reflection. First, I need a little rest and a pause to reflect. I promise that we'll have more stories posted here soon...

In the meantime, consider inviting us for some conversation with a few individuals or a large group some time. We like that way of sharing Pilgimage stories as well.

SOfAR Pilgrims arrive in Raleigh 11:30 AM today - Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sojourners for Abolition and Reconciliation
“We have come so far! We have so far to go!”

Please join us for the conclusion of the 2009 SOfAR Pilgrimage by participating in SOfAR Lobby Day on Tuesday, June 30th.

Our 300-mile walk of prayer and public witness through eastern North Carolina concludes on Tuesday, June 30th in Raleigh with a two-block walk to the NC General Assembly to talk with legislators about our journey, our goals and pending legislation that can move us in the right direction.

While one of our primary goals - abolition of the death penalty - is not on this year’s legislative agenda, we can take an important step in reforming our existing death penalty with passage of the Racial Justice Act, a bill that addresses racial bias in our capital punishment system.

Schedule for SOfAR Lobby Day
10:00 AM House Judiciary I Committee will hear the NC Racial Justice Act in Room 1228 of the Legislative Building, 16 West Jones Street.

11:30 PM SOfAR Pilgrims arrive in Raleigh: Press Conference in front of Legislative Building, 16 W. Jones Street, Raleigh, NC.

12:30 PM Greet and eat with Pilgrims at First Presbyterian Church, 111 W. Morgan St., Raleigh in Memorial Fellowship Hall. Bring your own lunch.

1:00 PM Brief orientation: “How to talk to legislators” and update on the Racial Justice Act.

1:30-3:00 Visit Legislators and talk with them about RJA and other concerns.

Our 2009 Pilgrimage is nearly completed, but our job is not yet accomplished. We have indeed come so far and we indeed have so far to go! Please join us for these next important steps of our journey!

Monday, June 29, 2009

SOfAR Pilgrimage 2009 nears conclusion

We wake up Monday morning in the retreat-like home of some old friends near Smithfield. We’ve walked some 283 miles and have 31 to go, which will push us beyond 300 miles. (It will take each of us doing a little extra to accomplish abolition of the death penalty and healing for families.)

This morning we’ll arrive at the Johnston County courthouse where we will pray especially for victims and perpetrators of homicide and the families of both and we will also pray for persons falsely accused, for judges, jurors, bailiffs, attorneys, reporters, clerks and all those who are pulled into the trauma around each homicide. Then we will seek five minutes of District Attorney Susan Doyle’s time to talk with her about our concerns for families and our issues with the death penalty. We will assure her that we want her to do her job effectively, justly, safely and with compassion.

We will walk out of Smithfield and through Clayton before stopping for the day on the east side of Garner. We hope to end today’s walking (and begin Tuesday’s walking) near the US-70 intersection with White Oak Road near Best Buy (this is not an ad for BB – it just provides a locatable landmark).

Look for information about Tuesday's schedule coming soon.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Home Stretch!

The Home Stretch!

Here is a tentative look at our plans for the last few days.
Please pay special attention and consider joining us Tuesday.

Call for specifics! (910) 385-6787 or (919) 880-9343

If you plan to join us for any part of our home stretch, please call for precise starting locations and times and/or to locate us along the route. Note that we usually cannot give a precise starting location until 7PM on the preceding evening but we are usually easy to locate once we begin walking.

Also, if you come, be prepared for some narrow roadsides, unpredictable and uneven terrain and predictably hot, humid weather. While we welcome other walkers, it’s not a friendly environment for young children or pets and can even be difficult for adults.

A good time to walk with us will be the last mile or two as we enter Raleigh on Tuesday. Consider the 10AM committee meeting below then come meet us for our final approach and the subsequent events.

Saturday, June 27, 2009
Start: 8:00 AM Starting point to be determined on US-70 about 10 miles east of Kinston.
End: Goldsboro

Sunday, June 28, 2009
10:00 AM Worship with Greenleaf Christian Church, 2110 N. William St., Goldsboro
12:30 PM (tentative time) Begin walking after lunch near Goldsboro.

Monday, June 29, 2009
8:00 AM - Start walking near Selma
End walking near Wake County line (intersection of US70 and Guy Road – Hess Station?)

Tuesday, June 30, 2009
8:30 AM – Start walking near US 70 and Auburn-Knightdale Rd intersection
10:00 AM – Racial Justice Act in House Judiciary I. Pilgrims will not be there yet, but we hope you will be!
12:30 PM – First Presbyterian Church - Bring your own lunch and eat with the SOfAR Pilgrims. Also, legislative updates and “how to talk with your legislator”; then walk the final two blocks to talk with legislators.
3:00 PM – Final SOfAR Press Conference (Note: press event may be moved to before lunch)

New Bern, Victim Services, Getting Smarter on Crime

This morning (Friday) we awake in New Bern. Yesterday (Thursday) we walked 18 miles along some of the straightest, flattest country roads you'll ever see, cherishing any tiny bit of shade we could find along the way from Cove City into NC's original capital city. This morning we hope to meet with the Craven County DA and then drive to Kinston to pick up where we left off up there. We'll only walk a few miles today and use the rest of the day for planning the weekend and SOfAR Lobby Day and resting up for the home stretch.

Upon arrival in New Bern yesterday afternoon, we cooled off with cold treats at the Trent River Coffee Company, talked with reporters there and then sought 5 minutes with District Attorney Scott Thomas, who was recently appointed by Gov. Beverly Perdue to the Governor's Crime Commission.

Mr. Thomas was unavailable but his administrative assistant, Ms. Creel, who also provides and coordinates victim assistance in the DA's office, talked with us briefly. We were very pleased to see on her shelf What to Do When the Police Leave (Bill Jenkins), a book for victim family members that offers guidance for the first few days after a traumatic loss. We talked further with Ms. Creel about the issues faced by victim family members and I left thinking that she must be quite a gift to persons in her district who have experienced the trauma of sudden, violent loss.

Unfortunately, our research indicates that victim services are very uneven from county to county with some counties and prosecutorial districts providing much more than others. Many victim family members say that they have only received support when they have been useful to the prosecution.

Victim family members report varying experiences with feeling like their voices are heard in the judicial process. For example, in my home Sampson County, a victim family member who was supporting the prosecution's pursuit of the death penalty in a trial last fall told me that she would "be satisfied with life without parole." When I asked her if the DAs knew that information, she stated, "They don't care what we think about that." In this case, the family was split by the prosecution's pursuit of a death sentence even while family members on both sides of the courtroom voiced clearly to me that they would be satisfied with life without parole.

What a waste of time, talent and money! What a cruelty to this family, heaping more trauma and strain on top of the horrible aftermath of the violence that had taken three family members from them! Where was the consideration of their voices and their needs?

But things seemed better than that in Craven County. Our hope is that Ms. Creel is as compassionate and available to victim family members as she seemed. What a gift!

Our hope is also that Scott Thomas and all district attorneys will do their jobs effectively, justly and with compassion and that they would be protected physically, emotionally and in every way. It must be a tough job and it is an important one. What these persons are exposed to must take a toll.

Finally, we hope that Scott Thomas and the Governor's Crime Commission as well as Secretary of Corrections Al Keller and his office, will help us become smarter on crime and move us away from the tired and too often empty rhetoric of 'tough on crime' that has prevailed for too long.