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Speaking in Cleveland

On Wednesday, Jan 30, Rev. Stacy Rector and I were planning on speaking together at Northside Presbyterian Church in Cleveland, TN. Stacy would be handling the majority of the talk including the Biblical reflection of why the death penalty was wrong. I would be working a shorter segment, talking about TCASK and how folks could get involved. I strode into office yesterday morning excited about traveling to a new city, making new friends, and napping as Stacy drove (she likes to drive) to Cleveland and back. This excitement quickly turned into nervous anticipation as Stacy informed me that she would not be traveling to Cleveland and that I would be doing the talk alone.

When I talk to people about what I do for TCASK, often time people inquire about my involvement with the Church or if I am part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps program. I do have involvement with a Church, but that wasn’t the reason I was brought onto TCASK. I have been working now for TCASK for over 7 months and while I have done many talks in a variety of settings, I have never led a Biblical talk/discussion solo. So as you may guess, I was definitely nervous. Stacy assured me that we would have time to prepare and that if I was humble about my experience and spoke slowly, the talk would go swimmingly.

I left Nashville just after 2:00 p.m. and arrived at Northside Presbyterian at 6:00 (you lose an hour traveling to Cleveland). We had a scrumptious supper of hot dogs, chili, baked beans, chips, cole slaw, and pie. Following dinner, I was on. Any apprehension I had was quickly dissolved as I saw the smiling faces looking back at me. It was exciting to speak to these folks on the death penalty on a level that they placed the highest regard. I was elated. Afterwards, I asked those present to sign up for the TCASK mailing list and to write a letter to Senator Dewayne Bunch. The purpose behind the letters was to let Sen. Bunch know that there were folks amongst his constituency that were against the death penalty and were in support of the work that he is doing as a member of the study committee. Almost everyone there signed up for our mailing list and I left with four hand written letters to the Senator.

The story that epitomizes how we would like folks to think about the death penalty in the Biblical sense comes from John 8: 2-11, the story of the woman caught in adultery. As a mob is preparing to stone this woman to death, which they had every right to do as law abiding citizens, Jesus intervenes. He addressed the crowd, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” The death penalty isn’t about those that are on death row and the terrible sins they have committed. Instead, it is about who we are, as people of faith, and how we respond faithfully in very painful situations.

The talk was a success and I now feel confident to do this again. Working for TCASK has presented me with many challenges and put me into situations of maximum uncomfort–I couldn’t ask for a more amazing experience right out of my undergraduate education.

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