Pr. Jaynan Clark
September 30, 2013
You used to hear people say this a lot; apparently it’s not the case anymore. According to the District Court judge, it is “refreshing” to the ears of the court.
The story goes something like this. It was a regular day to do visitation at the Spokane County jail. I pretty much have the routine down. Because I’m cheap, perhaps ‘frugal’ sounds better, I usually try to find free parking and just walk but on this particular day all the streets were full and so I went into the county parking lot in search of an unexpired, vacated meter. I found one with 22 minutes on it, bonus! I grabbed the change out of the cup holder and carefully added just the right configuration of quarters, nickels and dimes to get it to the eleven o’clock hour of my departure. My math told me I had till 11:01. No problem, I would be leaving the jail at 10:45 like clockwork.
I lingered, visiting with a few folks, and was strolling across the parking lot in full view of my Ford Freestyle at 10:56. I was standing by my car checking phone messages at 10:59. Then I saw it on the windshield waving in the wind. A parking ticket. What? As I read the citation I noted that it was written for an expired meter at 11:00 a.m. Well that’s something because it is 11:00 a.m. and I’m standing here and there isn’t a parking lot attendant anywhere in sight. I knew right there and then that I wasn’t paying it.
Mind you, it was only 15 dollars. I “could” pay it, I have the ability to do so, but I can’t bring myself to do so because of “the principle of the thing.” I checked the box that asked for a court hearing. I got my date in the mail—my day in court-- so to speak. It was a 55 minute drive early in the morning after working all night, but I wasn’t going to no-show because the record needed to be set straight. I sat there in the court feeling a bit sick as it brought back some of the family court pain and suffering. My internal voice kept questioning if it was really worth it. Urging me to pay the 15 dollars and get out of there, feeling like I didn’t belong here with the “violators” of every kind. I listened to their “stories” and only one rang true to my ears, a man about my age whose Discovery Pass violation was dismissed because he had the paperwork to prove that he had legitimately paid to park in the State Park. The rest were falling all over themselves trying to buy time, change the facts, negotiate and change the charge. Most offered what they believed to be reasons when they were only excuses and lies. It was enlightening and a bit depressing.
The court works with this “let’s make a deal” approach to justice in the name of “truth.” For example, you, sir, were caught speeding and it will cause your insurance to go up and be another strike towards you losing your license and so we will reduce the charge to a non-moving violation such as failure to buckle up or no turn signal, reduce the fee, collect the negotiated amount and everybody is happy. Why? Because justice was done? Truth was discovered? Or perhaps something much less monumental took place—we came to agreement on what was expedient and acceptable not necessarily what was right and true.
I wish that this was the exception but face it, it has become the rule. This happening in District Court is repeated in many, many venues across this country. This isn’t just a law or court behavior, it is quickly becoming our cultural, societal norm. During the last 3 plus decades we have rapidly lost the normative or the norming norm that was so prevalent and accepted that it functioned invisibly. Now that it is ‘virtually’ gone it is a struggle for most to identify what has happened, what is missing. For those of us who are in our mid to later years of life we feel at a loss to articulate what all has changed so much as to make it feel as though we live in a culture that has no “normal, no absolute truth, no universal understanding of right and wrong, almost boundless. We know in our hearts and our gut that we are dancing on the line of anarchy and soon to cross but we are left at a loss for words to explain it, reasons to assign to it and no clear, acceptable defense. We can’t quite “deal with it” because making a deal wasn’t how we were raised. We used to with humor remark that certain actions would be “making a deal with the Devil” but then nobody talks that way anymore either.
When faith lost its central pivot point in our culture and the institutional churches began conforming to this world not being transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit, well, more was lost than just ‘what to do with your Sunday morning.’ Going to church used to be not only acceptable but expected now it is suspect. Christians of all kinds were assumed to be the honest, upright people in the country now they are suspect and even hated. The norming voice of ‘do onto others as you would have them do onto you’ has fallen to the ultimate individualistic cry of ‘its my life and I’ll do with it what I choose, who are you to tell me what to do or not to do?’
The sooner we come to terms with our reversed cultural context, the sooner we will realize that the Word of God is our only navigational tool, our compass and our anchor. Its eternal truth that is absolute, will stand the test of time, even these, until we all get our day in court, so to speak. The Word of God, and Jesus-- God’s Living Word-- is not up for sale to the highest bidder. He can’t be bargained with or reformed or made to conform to this time, this place and these standards, or lack thereof. He isn’t going to make you a ‘deal’ and negotiate your charges or fees owed. He doesn’t have to, not because it is ‘the principle of the thing’ but because He is the Principal of all things. Period. Always has been, always will be.
So back to District court, I swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I apologized for what appeared to be a waste of the court’s time, contesting a $15 dollar parking ticket. I explained the situation and the facts I mentioned above. The judge asked about my visitation at the jail. I explained that I go and visit people who need a pastor to come and pray, read scripture and hear their confession. He asked if it was my “job” and I said no, I am a pastor in the area but I do this because Jesus reminded us of our call to do this for our neighbor and as we do we visit Him in prison, feed Him, clothe Him and give Him a drink.
The judge dismissed the charges and then he took off his glasses, looked me in the eye and thanked me for my service noting, “What you are doing does make a difference.” One person at a time it does. That day it was to more than one, as the court fell silent for more than a moment’s time as I walked out and I knew then that the true Principal of all things was present and accounted for in a simple witness to the truth. A witness made to “violators” of all kinds, including me, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
To Him be the glory.