The Mountaintop

by Amos Smith

The last Sunday before Lent is when Jesus is transfigured on the mountaintop (Luke 9:28-36). I think the reason for the placement of this reading is that to get through Lent we need to consistently remind ourselves of the peak experiences in our lives …

In 2013 I flew from Phoenix to Oakland, California with my family for my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. As I flew, I noticed a huge storm was brewing below. There were dark clouds, thunder, turbulence. Yet, the plane soared far above the clouds where it was absolutely clear. Where I sat it was totally calm.

In that moment I said to myself, “This is the mountaintop experience.” This is the experience above the clamor, uproar, turbulence, and monkey-mind, above the nee nee naa naa. “Nee nee naa naa” is the nature of our minds. When there’s some kind of crisis there are flurries of mental activity – flurries of analysis, confusion, speculation – we can’t keep still. Our anxious thoughts jump around like a monkey in a high canopy.

Then I remember that above the clouds it’s perfectly calm.

When Jesus experienced the mountaintop, he knew the deep calm of all-pervasive acceptance and thorough love that flowed from his Abba …

It’s easy to get wrapped up in the drama – to get caught up in the turbulence of the monkey-mind. But our higher self is on the mountaintop, in the plane above the tumult, in the upper room (Acts 1:13). Our higher self is above the frenzy.

As the spiritual journey progresses we spend more and more time on the mountaintop. We discover and re-discover the spiritual faculties of our minds where we’re at rest. Where we can let down and trust God. Where we can let go of reason’s double-binds and dead ends. Where we can experience peace.

I Love to Tell the Story: A Lenten Journey

by Amanda Peterson

One of the powerful aspects of the Lenten journey is it invites us into the story of our faith.  We are invited into the story of Jesus and how that impacts us in this moment.  We get to revisit and re-examine what that story means to us this year and how it has impacted us in the past.

Something wonderful happens when we gather to tell stories.  We are often encouraged to stay in this moment, which is a wonderful practice. Yet, this has left me wondering what does this do to my relationship with the future and the past.  How do I find balance in looking at the past and the future in order to bring me back to the Now?

This is where storytelling is very helpful.  It is a lost art in our culture.  The ability to sit around with friends and imagine the future you know is inside you. Say it out loud with feeling, vulnerability and support, even being wild and imaginative in the process.  By looking ahead and asking, “what do I want to experience in the gift of life I have been given?”,  it brings us back to the moment with new knowledge.  How do I start living now that will make that future show up in me?  What small steps can I take Now?

The challenge in future storytelling, and perhaps why people shy away from it, is that by speaking the future, one may enter into the  “I wish that were Now” syndrome.  The temptation to think life won’t start until that future is realized.  That temptation makes Now look like not enough.  And then the moment is gone. I notice as I work with people in life transitions that it’s easy to go to the hopeful future and want to dwell there.  In doing this, this moment is totally ignored, especially if the moment does not hold the sparkle of the future.

Another challenge in future stories comes when they are about waking up possibility. Waking up the “I wonder” inside.  That can be a scary thing to wake up because it can have a life of it’s own.  One can no longer hide.

These challenges happen because it’s easy to lose the meaning of what storytelling is truly all about.  Stories are told because they remind us that all of life is just one story after another.  The real power is in the story unfolding right now.

Storytelling one’s past is a bit easier.  In fact I tell a lot of past stories in my day, especially the horror stories.  “I’ll never do that again; let me tell you why.”  It is as though that past story is the end of the story. This happened – end of story. There is no moving on from here.  Yet if I were really practiced at storytelling, I would quickly come to the reality that this is but one story among many and there are more to tell. This story doesn’t define me.  It’s the story in this moment that matters. Looking back allows me to ask questions like, what was I doing five years ago?  Did I ever imagine that all this would be happening now, or is life exactly the same?   This brings me back to the Now with gratitude and trust that this moment truly is leading to the next.

I invite you to practice the art of storytelling in your Lenten walk.  In engaging Jesus’ story, once again let it also reflect on your story.  How did Jesus relate past, present, and future?  Ask questions and share stories about your walk with God with others.  Move beyond reading and discussing and ask, “how can these stories inform your Now moment?”

Amos’ Bread: The Journey of Lent

by Amos Smith

In Thomas Keating’s book, Intimacy with God, he relays this story:  A brilliant French geneticist mixed the genes of two butterflies to create a new strand with more spectacular design and color than anyone had ever seen.

After much anticipation, the genetically engineered butterfly emerged from the cocoon. The lab technicians clapped and marveled. The press was notified and soon reporters and photographers loped into the lab. All eyes were on the butterfly as it skirmished with the cocoon. Soon the butterfly’s skirmish became an all-out spasmodic struggle for freedom. The butterfly gathered its energy then frantically fluttered and convulsed. Then it rested and tried again, losing energy each time.

After thirty-five minutes of this reporters became impatient, and two left the lab.

The drawn out struggle seemed futile. Something had to be done. “Surely just a little help to free the butterfly from the cocoon won’t do any harm” the geneticist thought. So, with his carefully poised scalpel he made two small incisions between the wings and the cocoon.

The butterfly was finally free.

Everyone cheered.

After two minutes the room hushed.

The butterfly attempted to fly to no avail.

The geneticist tried to assist its flight. He gently nudged it off the edge of a short table. It flopped to the ground.


People began to realize that the butterfly wasn’t going to fly. It was a dud. It didn’t accomplish what it was made for: flight.

The butterfly failed to fly because its struggle was cut short. Only a full six hours of death-defying struggle can prepare the newly formed body and wings for flight. Anything less won’t do.

I believe that through struggle and suffering God prepares us for transformation. This is what the journey of Lent is all about.

Spiritual, Religious, or Adventure?

by Teresa Blythe

Originally published on November 25, 2015 on Patheos
Re-printed with permission from the author

When a pilgrim begins the 800 kilometer trek along the legendary Camino de Santiago, they are asked to announce the purpose of their walk. Their choices are spiritual, religious or adventure. Which is a beautiful question to ask in spiritual direction since we are all on this pilgrimage called life.

What is the nature of your life’s path? Spiritual, religious or adventure?

I began sitting with that question after reading Sonia Choquette’s new memoir Walking Home about the healing she experienced walking the Camino de Santiago last year. Choquette is a well-known spiritual intuitive and teacher and author of many books on tapping into your intuition. She hit a low point in her life. Her marriage was falling apart; her brother died; and shortly after that her father died, too. The voice of one of her spirit guides clearly told her to walk the Camino (even though she barely had a clue what that involved.) Still, she heeded the voice, packed her bags and set out to walk the entire distance across northern Spain.

She named the purpose of her pilgrimage spiritual (P.61). Which is what I would call my own “camino” (Spanish for walk) in life. (Note: I haven’t walked the Camino de Santiago but the idea of doing it is growing on me!)

Spiritual Pilgrimage

The spiritual pilgrimage is about healing. One walks to be free of burdens, to forgive others and themselves, and to allow the silence and discipline of walking toward a goal to heal life’s hurts and draw you closer to the source of life.

People who see their life path as spiritual are seeking connection with a power greater than themselves. This spiritual seeking may involve a religious tradition, or it may not.

Religious Pilgrimage

For centuries, religious people have been walking pilgrimages in devotion to God. Some see the difficult walk as penance. Others do it because they believe it is what God is asking of them and they wish to be obedient. Muslims are instructed to travel to Mecca in pilgrimage at least once in their life provided they are healthy enough and can afford the trip.

People who see their life path as religious are seeking to show allegiance and devotion to God through adherence to a particular religious doctrine and participation in a particular set of religious practices. These practices are intensely spiritual but they grow out of a religious tradition.

The Adventure

Many people travel the Camino de Santiago for fun, companionship and excitement. Choquette shares stories of people running along the Camino, groups hauling a wagon full of gourmet food, people riding bikes or horses along the way. For most every pilgrim, the Camino is an adventure at times—you cross the Pyrenees, stop in villages along the way and meet people from all over the world. But people who choose to experience the Camino as an adventure are usually not placing an expectation that the walk will be offering them any spiritual or religious insights.

People who see their life path as adventure may also be simply not placing expectations on their path. I’ve worked with many people in spiritual direction who are content to see what life has to offer rather than hoping for miracles, healing or other spiritual experiences.

No Judgment

There is an attitude among pilgrims that everyone walks their own Camino. It doesn’t matter what your intention is—spiritual, religious or adventure. It will be whatever it needs to be. You may start out for spiritual purposes and end up having an adventure. Or spiritual folks may find themselves more appreciative of religion as they walk the steps that thousands of pilgrims over thousands of years have walked. Adventure seekers may be gifted with a spiritual insight. As the man who fitted Choquette for hiking boots emphasized, “It’s your camino.” (P.43)

Do it All

Ideally, our life’s journey is a combination of purposes. At some times in our life it may be religious, at other times spiritual and at others an adventure. Or maybe it’s all three at once. After reading Walking Home, I am using the lens of Choquette’s experience to see the whole of my life as a camino. Perhaps not as dramatic as an 800 kilometer walk across Spain, but satisfying in its own way.

Spiritual, religious or adventure? It’s worth pondering along the way.

(For more on the Camino, I highly recommend Sonia Choquette’s Walking Home. Shirley MacLaine also wrote The Camino about her experience; Paulo Coelho wroteThe Pilgrimage; and  Martin Sheen created the film The Way. Others have written of their experiences in blogs and books as well. Enjoy!)

If you are interested in learning more about spiritual direction or entering spiritual direction with me, please contact me at  or visit  Also visit my website for the Phoenix Center for Spiritual Direction.

Photo credit: amateur photography by michel / / CC BY

The Three Great Pathways that Jesus Chose but Many Christians Have Missed

by Kenneth McIntosh

pew religious landscape 2007 vs 2014 pie charts

I came across this pair of pie charts on Facebook last week and immediately noticed that those who are “religiously unaffiliated” claim as much of the pie as any other group. At 23% they are virtually tied with Evangelical Christians (24%), just ahead of Catholics (21%) and decidedly ahead of Mainstream Christians (15%).

Despite this trend, I still hear respect for Jesus—in popular culture, on social media, and in private dialogue. It would seem that much of the world agrees with that famous saying of Mahatma Gandhi, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike Christ.”

As people who identify by that word “Christian” it behooves us to ask: Where do the two part ways? Why do so many people like Christ but not those who bear his name?

The passage of Scripture that begins this season of Lent—the Temptation of Jesus in the Wilderness, as recounted in the Gospel of Luke—may be one good place to answer those questions.  When tested, Jesus chose three great paths to freedom—ways of living that characterized his life. When similarly tested, many of his followers have failed to choose the same pathways; and I have to confess that I also have at times failed to choose these directions of freedom.

When we hear the word “temptation” most of us think of various vices; the temptation to have an affair, or to become an addict to alcohol or—less severely—the temptation to eat donuts for lunch. This Gospel story corrects that notion. Vices, per se, are not the greatest evil. The real temptation in life is to forget who we are. The devil keeps challenging Jesus, “If you are God’s child.” And he keeps challenging on this point just before Jesus is about to set about his great life work.

You and I need to keep our eyes on the prize, to remember what the real goal of life is and what real failure is. Failure is not downing shots of vodka, watching dirty pictures or emptying a box of Twinkies (although we may be prone to all three of those things if we believe that we have already failed). Failure is forgetting that we are God’s children and failure is forgetting that we have an incredible mission to love and restore all of God’s creation. To forget our identity in God, and to forget our glorious mission in the world—that is what it means to give in to temptation.

The first temptation is for Jesus to turn stones into bread (which is rather compelling after fasting for weeks on end). It is the allure of materialism, the belief that our happiness comes from things. Of course, physical things are not bad in themselves; we are indeed material beings inhabiting a material world. Food, clothing, shelter—these things are good. For that matter jewelry, perfume, a membership at the gym, or a prize collection of baseball cards can all be good as well. The problem is when we forget the relative importance of things versus love; when we forget that the things we own say little about our Divine identity and purpose.

We in the wealthy developed nations fall most easily into this pitfall because we have managed to attain so much. It’s been calculated that if everyone on earth used up the same amount of raw materials, fuels and so-on that the average American consumes, it would take four worlds to sustain the earth’s population.

When Jesus retorted to the tempter, “Humans shall not live by bread alone,” he affirmed the pathway of Simplicity –of being content with fewer things, and with things that matter more. That’s a great recipe for a life that depends on a vital connection with God, and that enables all of God’s other creatures to live in peace alongside of us.

The next temptation is that of coercion. The devil says, “I’ll give you power—let me show you how.” This is upping the temptation scale; the first temptation is rather lame, materialism appeals to humans at the level of the reptilian brain stem, the animal nature. Coercion is a better temptation for brighter people, because bright people know the world is askew and wish to change it—and if we can knock the world into shape then everyone will be happier. That’s how the devil presents the case.

Beginning with the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, Christians have chosen the way of coercion. Today, half of the candidates for the US presidency in 2016 embrace that same path of coercion. We will make America a Christian nation…we will make people follow Christian principles. The way of coercion—this is what Gandhi had in mind when he said “I like your Christ…but your Christians are so unlike him.”

Jesus, in contrast, chooses the path of Service. God knows that people transform not because they are forced to do so, but because they see examples of sacrifice. Ultimately, the way of Jesus is the way of the cross—the way of costly love. This is why Mother Teresa is so well loved, and Franklin Graham…less so.

The devil’s final assault is the temptation of privilege. Can’t you just hear the devil saying, “Hey, Jesus, why don’t you throw yourself off the top of this tall building? Ordinary folk, they’d fall and end badly. But you’re special. Angels will catch you—won’t that be cool? Won’t people just be so impressed with you?”

You don’t have to spend long in the corridors of Christian influence before you can spot the temptation to privilege and fame. It may not be stated so bluntly, but I’ve sure caught the tone of Christian messages that say, “I’m really exceptionally cool and successful—and you can be too if you come to my church.”

But Jesus responds by choosing the way of Humility. We are called to the spirit of Jesus “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,  but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant(Philippians 2:5-7, ESV).  No one in history has had a more perfect God-consciousness than Jesus, yet he chose to live as a very ordinary Middle Eastern peasant, subject to all the hardships of common humanity. And today, despite the increase of those who are spiritually unaffiliated in North America, some 2 billion citizens of earth still own the name Christian, having been influenced by the suffering servant.

As we begin the season of lent, perhaps we should not think so much of what we can “give up,” as much as we should think about the life-ways that Jesus chose. Take a moment, and cement in your mind the three choices that Jesus made in the wilderness: Simplicity, Service and Humility. Ask yourself: what can I do to walk on these paths during this Lenten journey?

Lent: a time for fast living

by Rev. Dr. William M. Lyons
Designated Conference Minister
Southwest Conference UCC

This year I’ve decided to make Lent a time of fast-living.

The Urban Dictionary’s definition of fast living (no hyphen) describes patterns of behaviors that “lack morals, … dangerous, reckless activity that endangers their own well-being and safety as well of others.” The season of Lent offers some of us an opportunity to interrupt our fast living and invites us to pursue more settled, healthy choices. That’s not the fast living I’m embracing or choosing to surrender this Lent.

For others of us Lent has become a season during which to reign in our overindulgences, or to abstain from a benign pleasure in favor of a more spiritual pursuit – no alcohol, no chocolate, no you-fill-in-the-blank, more prayer, more giving to the poor, more you-name-your-spiritual-practice.

That’s not the kind of fast living I’m choosing either.

I’m choosing to make this Lent Isaiah’s kind of fast living. Nathan Nettleton’s translation from Isaiah 58 explains it best.

Listen to what God has to say about your sins: “Do you really think this is what I like to see:
……..a day of pious misery?
…… clothes, long faces and crocodile tears?
…… up chocolate and ice cream?
Do you think that’s worship?
……..Do you think that pleases me?
…………….Give me a break!

“Do you want to know what I’d really like to see:
……..dismantle the structures of injustice;
……..take your feet of the throats of the poor;
……..stop jailing the victims of unfair laws;
……..and quit plundering nature’s resources.

“Do you want to know what else I’d like to see:
…… your tables to the hungry;
…… your hearts and your homes to the refugees;
…… your wardrobes to those without clothes;
……..and don’t go hiding every time you see someone in need.

“Do that, and I’ll put your name up in lights!
……..Do that and our relationship will be healed in an instant!
I’ll put you under my personal protection;
……..anyone who attacks you will have to deal with me, the LORD!
I’ll be on hand to respond whenever you need me;
……..just say the word, and I’ll be there for you.

“If you abandon all forms of exploitation,
……..and avoid bad-mouthing others to gain an edge;
if you share what you have with those in need,
……..and respond to the real needs of suffering communities;
then you’ll find that the world will light up for you
……..and life will be one beautiful day after another.

“I, the LORD, will always be there to guide you;
……..even in the grip of drought,
……..I’ll keep you healthy and well fed.
You’ll be like an irrigated vineyard with it’s own deep bore,
…… and lush and full of life!

“Your ruined houses will be renovated and new;
……’ll be able to restore the homes
…………….that have been in your families for generations.
You’ll get a reputation for making dreams possible,
……..for enabling everyone to find a good place to live.

Go ahead. Make Lent a time for fast living Isaiah-style. Just imagine the kind of new life we’ll be able to celebrate this Easter if we do!

God, help me – help us – find meaning in Isaiah’s kind of fast living these next 40 days. Amen.

Holding on to God, Part 2

by Amanda Peterson

On this Ash Wednesday it seems appropriate that we continue this look at holding on to God.  The gift of Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent is the gift of recognizing there are many handles we could hold on to and the importance of learning to let go.

Learning to let go of the handles of isolation, shame, image, control and that death is to be feared and seen as a failure.  Ash Wednesday begins the journey of coming together and admitting in community that we are all in the same boat of clinging to handles that will eventually fail us and God knows it.  There is no reaching a certainty other that the certainty that the One Who Holds Us is the one we are invited to hold.

In order to hold on to the Love we must admit and practice releasing all the other things one clings to instead.  Realizing that neither life nor death, nor anything deemed more important than clinging to God can separate us from that Love.

The importance of this is monumental.  Why? Because the culture wants us to believe that nothing is enough.  There will always be a need for something more, something is always missing and no one is okay until it is found. It is everywhere, daily, minute by minute calling us into a sense of isolation.  Once isolated, it is much more challenging to grasp the handle on life that is Love. The way out of isolation is to admit that someday being enough is a fantasy because right now, this space, this time is enough.  Being connected to Love is enough, rich, poor, young, old, alone or together.  From this idea of enough then miracles happen.

Admit that for some poverty, ageism, bullying, depression exists, then it can be seen.  One can, from this place, move into it not as one who is out to end it or shun it but enter into the reality of what it means to be poor, discriminated, and lonely and bring Love to it. Admitting that joy, success, wealth and healthy relationships exists then one can be see and move into it not as one seeing the rich, healthy and whole families as the ultimate ring to grasp or as the enemy of all who do not have these things but instead bring Love to it.  Holding the handle of God highlights connection and the isolation separating groups ends.

The gift of days like Ash Wednesday is to remind us when we cling to God there is no “other”.  Ultimately drawing closer to God is learning to let go and draw closer to each other in the commonality of Love.

Are Followers of Jesus the Kind of People Who Put Someone to Death?

by Ryan Gear with Greg Parzych, Esq.

In the most recent Democratic debate, Rachel Maddow asked Hillary and Bernie if they support the death penalty. Each, an agnostic and a Methodist, presented thoughtful but differing answers. As we approach the season of Lent, Americans who desire to practice a Jesus-inspired spirituality are once again presented with the opportunity to consider whether or not we should support the death penalty.

The U.S. is among the last countries on earth to retain the death penalty. Of the 195 countries in the world, the United States is one of only 36 countries (18 percent) still enforcing the death penalty in law and practice. In 2013, the U.S. was the only country in the western hemisphere to carry out an execution. Pharmaceutical companies in the European Union are no longer supplying U.S. states with certain chemicals after they discovered their medicines were being used to put inmates to death.

We are known by the company we keep, and the list of 10 countries executing the most persons annually is one many Americans are not proud to make. The U.S ranked fifth in the number of executions worldwide in 2013, behind China, Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia. The other countries rounding out the top 10 are Pakistan, Yemen, North Korea, Vietnam, and Libya.

The majority of executions in the U.S. take place within a small number of states. In 2014, U.S. states executed 35 persons, with 80 percent of these executions taking place in Missouri, Texas, and Florida. Texas has executed, by far, more inmates than any other state (522 since 1976), comprising 37 percent of all executions in the U.S. Since 1976, 81 percent of all U.S. executions have taken place in the South.

It is worth noting that the Catholic Church opposes the death penalty, as do most mainline Protestant denominations. Evangelicals, not so much. The National Association of Evangelicals continues to support capital punishment.

There is a difference between denominations and the people in the pews, however. As of November 2014, 67 percent of white evangelicals and 64 percent of white mainline Protestants support capital punishment, compared to 36 percent of Black Protestants. While only 13 percent of the U.S. population, African Americans make up 41 percent of death row inmates, calling into question the racial fairness of the entire justice system.

Among U.S. Christians who support the death penalty, however, there is a startling disconnect. When asked, “Would Jesus support the death penalty?” only five percent of Americans said He would. This means that a significant portion of Christians in the U.S. approve of doing something they don’t think Jesus would do.

In addition to this, there is one other glaring reason Christians should ask serious questions about the death penalty —

Jesus, Himself, was executed.

The cross was the Roman equivalent of our electric chair or lethal injection. Rome wanted to be tough on crime, and Jesus was a poor man from a nowhere town who noisily cleansed the Temple as an act of protest against religious corruption. Pontius Pilate viewed Jesus as a disruption of his iron-fisted order and quickly handed down the sentence of death. What killed Jesus was a lethal cocktail of politics and religion.

My friend Greg Parzych is a criminal defense attorney in Arizona. Greg regularly feels the weight of another human being’s life in his hands, as he often represents clients who are facing the death penalty. He feels the burden of knowing that a jury will decide whether his client lives or dies based (hopefully) on the evidence and mitigating circumstances he presents to them. Therefore he has a unique, up-close-and-personal view that many of us will never experience.

I asked Greg to share his thoughts about capital punishment, and I’m thankful that he obliged:

Renewed discussion regarding the death penalty is occurring in the United States after the botched executions of Clayton Darrell Locket on April 29, 2014 in Oklahoma and Joseph Rudolph Wood III on July 23, 2014 in Arizona. Death Penalty discussion often focuses on the possibility of the execution of the innocent, or the method of execution, or the pain and suffering of the condemned vs. the pain and suffering of the victim.

However, any discussion of the death penalty cannot ignore two factors that have always been involved in the imposition of the death penalty — politics and religion. Both play a major role, and both present inherent dangers.

In 1972 the United States Supreme Court, in effect, suspended the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia. The Supreme Court held that the imposition of the death penalty was wantonly and freakishly imposed, comparing it to being struck by lightning. The suspension of the death penalty was short-lived, however.

In 1976 the Supreme Court, in Gregg v. Georgia, held that the state of Georgia’s new death penalty scheme was constitutional. Since Gregg v. Georgia, the United States has executed over 1,400 individuals. Georgia’s revised state statute in Gregg legislated objective criteria to direct and limit the imposition of death and allowed consideration of the character and record of the defendant. It is in this consideration of the character of the defendant where the inherent danger of religion and politics is most prevalent.

In a normal guilt or innocence phase of a jury trial, jurors are to determine facts, and, from those facts, determine if the state has proven a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. In the sentencing phase of a death penalty case, however, jurors are to determine life or death.

In doing so, jurors are instructed to consider aspects of a defendant’s character to determine if there are any factors in fairness or mercy that may reduce the defendant’s moral culpability.

Determining who should live and who should die is a moral decision, an individual and personal moral decision. And as such, religion plays a major part. Unlike a guilt or innocence phase of a jury trial, in the sentencing phase, jurors are told that they should not change their individual personal beliefs solely because of the opinions of the fellow jurors. Each individual juror must make his or her own moral decision. Terms and phrases such as fairness or mercy and moral culpability inevitably invite religion into the life or death consideration.

The problem in death penalty cases is that a person whose moral and religious beliefs forbid them from imposing a death sentence cannot serve on a death penalty case. Yet those whose religious and moral beliefs allow for the imposition of death routinely sit on death juries. “Death qualification” as it is called, stacks the deck for death. “An eye for an eye” may not necessarily prohibit you from serving on a capital case but a belief in the sanctity of all human life most certainly will.

Despite the use of objective criteria in determining who should live or die, the decision of who lives and who dies is obviously subjective. The question becomes, “Should we as a society be making the decision of who lives and who dies?” Who is smart enough to not only decide life or death, but to decide what should be considered in making that determination?

Research is actually being conducted to determine a “Depravity Standard” in an effort to give jurors “guidelines” to help them make the life or death decision. Researchers are actually trying to quantify and qualify “evil” to aid jurors in imposing death sentences. In effect, they are trying to give scientific validity in death sentences and thereby add a level of comfort to those who impose a death sentence knowing “science” backs their moral decision.

Politics, of course, also plays a major role. The death penalty has and always will be politicized. It can certainly be argued that the higher the media attention in a murder case, the greater chance the state or federal prosecutor will seek the death penalty. “Tough on crime” wins elections, from local elections to presidential elections. In 1992, then-Governor Bill Clinton of Arkansas returned to his home state in the middle of his presidential election campaign to make sure the execution of Ricky Ray Rector took place.

Many in Arkansas opposed the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, not because of what he did, but because of who he had become. Ricky Ray Rector was convicted of killing two men, one of whom was a police officer. Before being apprehended, Rector shot himself in the temple. He survived his self-inflicted gunshot wound, which in effect destroyed his frontal lobe and severely impaired his mental capacity.

For his last meal, Rector put his dessert, pecan pie, aside, telling guards he was saving it for later. Despite Rector’s clear impaired intellectual mental capacity, he was executed on January 4, 1992. Then Governor Clinton used the publicity of the execution to show he was not “soft on crime.” Many believe that this may have been a turning point in the presidential election.

The debate and discussion of the death penalty must continue as long as the United States continues to execute its citizens. But the debate and discussion must be an informed one. The debate must include the practical effects that politics and religion play in the imposition of the death penalty — and the inherent danger of both.

As we approach Lent, Americans who claim the Name of Jesus must ask ourselves how the crucified Lord views capital punishment. When considering the use of the death penalty, perhaps the question is not, “Does the convicted deserve to die?” Perhaps the question is, “Are followers of Jesus the kind of people who will put someone to death?”

Gregory T. Parzych, Esq. is a graduate of Marquette Law School and has practiced criminal defense in Arizona since 1992, representing capital defendants for two decades.