Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thomas: Disciple and Skeptic

Dictionary.com defines "Skeptic" like this:
"A person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual."

It also lists a bit of etymology on that word:

Origin:  1565–75: 
  Late Latin "scepticus" = thoughtful, inquiring
  Greek "skeptikós",  equivalent to "sképt" ( "esthai" ) = to consider, examine
     -- akin to "skopeîn" =  to look; to see ( "-scope" ) + ( "-ikos" ) or ( "-ic" )

Despite the "doubting Thomas" nickname he is so often known by, Thomas is, I think, the most inspiring figure of the 12 disciples of Jesus.  Consider these thoughts about "Didymus" ("the Twin", probably of Mathew):

-- He doesn't say much in the Gospels, perhaps because he is constantly and deeply pondering what is being said and done around him; perhaps he is waiting to see what develops further...

-- He is not the one impulsively jumping out of boats, or brashly declaring love for and loyalty to Jesus (only to deny Him later), or grabbing swords and swinging them around...

-- He is that "quiet one in the shadows"...  Knowing what he was thinking, I can imagine Jesus many times glancing over at Thomas and smiling to Himself...

-- Immediately after the Resurrection, he wasn't among the others who cowered in a private room "for fear of the Jews", perhaps because, in solitude, he needed to "process" (perhaps in great turmoil of mind and soul) what had just happened...

-- His 3 primary speeches in the Gospels are these:

    -- A quiet exhortation to "go and die" with Jesus in Judea (where they knew the Jews
        were anxious to capture and kill Jesus) -- John 11:16

    -- An honest inquiry into what "way" Jesus was talking about and how, then,
        to go "with" Him on that "way" -- John 14:5

    -- An insistence that the Resurrection claim be supported by thoroughly
        convincing evidence, and his reaction when a loving and compassionate
        risen Christ gives him that evidence -- John 20:25

It's clear that Thomas was someone who questioned things and examined the reasons behind them, but that did not make him a "doubter"; keep in mind, he was purposely and specifically hand-selected by Jesus Himself to be one of the 12!  Jesus, of course, knew Thomas' mind and heart and personality type completely and yet added him as a chosen Disciple. 

It can be assumed, then, that his inclusion in that intimate, inner circle was for some perfectly good reason.  I do not believe it was so that "doubters can see that their doubting is okay", but so that the Church can see and understand that Faith is never "blind".

More specifically, I believe Thomas "stuck to it" throughout the process, following Jesus and being known as one of His disciples, because it was Jesus HIMSELF that Thomas found so profoundly compelling, so irresistable, so Real.

In Jesus, Thomas saw more than a "movement", even more than just a Face and a Name, a Body and a Voice; I think Thomas was wise enough, and perhaps the first, to see GOD in Jesus, and he followed willingly to understand the mystery of what he was witnessing.  Following, but not foolishly.

Thomas was not a "doubter"; he was a thinker, a questioner, a Skeptic.
And, in the end, a Believer.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Justice for Trayvon?

There are thousands -- maybe millions -- of people across the country today (following the verdict of "Not Guilty" for George Zimmerman, who shot and killed Trayvon Martin 17 months ago) who are screaming for "justice" in that case...  A civil suit is sure to follow, probably driven, in part, by the current administration (who had a part in turning this case into a media circus)...

For anyone who cares, here is my own take on this entire situation:

Defining the Term

What IS "Justice", anyway?
This Wiki definition serves as a starting point... And this definition of "justice" at Dictionary.com is also instructive... What both boil down to is this:  Given the subset of Facts that ALL sides agree on (and that deserves its own entire post), what would have been THE RIGHT DECISION in this case?

Well of course there is a mountain of Data that both sides disagree on; the bottom line is that during what can be described as a "street fight", Zimmerman (by his own admission) produced a gun, and Trayvon was shot and killed...

Should the charge have been "negligent homocide"?  "Manslaughter"?  "Second degree / Third degree Murder"?

These (and other possibly applicable descriptions) are what the Court systems are made to hammer out; what the "man on the street" understands may be accurate or may be wildly askew of the correct definitions...

The point here is that if someone is going to cry for "Justice", they need to have some clear, legally-acceptable definition of what that term means... Otherwise, we're all just spouting our opinions...

For my part, as a very low-grade "man on the street", here's how I see it:

This was a clear case of Justice-being-done, on a Micro scale...

Whatever else anyone may say, the "Justice System" did its work in this case:
A potential "crime" occurred; the defendant was prosecuted, had a defense team, and the case went before a jury, overseen by a judge; the jury rendered its verdict; the defendant was acquitted.

Case closed.

The "Justice System" -- on a Micro scale -- worked.  This is America, and nobody questions the integrity of the jury or the guidance of the judge.  Compared to the "kangaroo courts" of other countries, our legal system did its work fairly and equitably in this case.

This was a clear case of IN-justice-being-done, on a Macro scale...

However, what can be described as "the Facts of the case" seem to indicate that an Injustice may have been done here:  No matter what view one takes as to how it started (or why) -- these are, in the bigger picture, irrelevant -- the drama arose when a "street fight" ensued between the two parties...

Fist-to-fist, man-to-man, it was just a street fight.  And the facts seem to bear out that Zimmerman was on the losing end of that battle, in a fight that he himself provoked by "following" Trayvon and probably -- at least in Trayvon's mind -- posing something of a threat to him.

Then a gun was produced, tipping the scales in favor of whomever was in control of that gun.  Zimmerman is on record as admitting that he fired the fatal shot -- a single shot -- into the chest of Martin, killing him.

One of the definitions of "Manslaughter" that I found HERE includes the idea that a person is guilty of Manslaughter if his actions were induced by "fright" or "terror"... even "desperation will suffice"...

Are these not, clearly, the components of Zimmerman's own testimony on this incident?  The idea of "overwhelming force", rising to the level of "deadly force" (by someone NOT a police officer, federal agent, or commissioned and trained "law enforcer" of any kind)  seems to be the singular Reality that bubbles up to the top of any account of this tragic incident...

Therefore, it seems to me that if the Prosecution had angled for the strictest definition of Manslaughter in this case, instead of "going for broke" in a politically-motivated scenario demanding a "murder" convinction, they would have had enough leverage to win a conviction -- and, probably, a  prison sentence -- for George Zimmerman.

So if we define "Justice" in a very broad sense as "Punishment befitting the Crime", Zimmerman should probably have been convicted of something like Manslaughter, since he (1) essentially provoked this incident, (2) got into a one-on-one fight where he was out-muscled, (3) and produced a gun and shot Trayvon dead  ...  Self-defense, when one is minding one's own business and is attacked (and may have to use a gun to protect oneself) is one thing; I believe this is a case where the line was crossed and the shooter was wrong.

So the "system" worked, but the prosecution failed.

And now America must once again wrestle with questions of Race, and Justice, and Truth.  Are such discussions even possible, given the current, highly-politicized, racially-divided America in which we live?

May cooler (and more thoughtful) heads prevail.