Being A Stone Catcher

My word for 2018 is "learner" and one of my goals is to read from cover to cover 12 books. I've been challenging myself to read outside of the normal books that I would choose. I finished my fifth book today and it was life changing. Being a learner is challenging sometimes because it means having to become aware of parts of life that are easy to turn a blind eye to. This last book challenged me, had me in tears, made me angry, but left me with hope! My eyes were opened to the darkness that exists within our justice system. Bryan Stevenson tells the story in his book Just Mercy of many men and women who are on death row. Many of them are innocent and many of them received punishments that don't fit the offense. The stories are complex and sad. As Bryan unfolds his story you see the heart of a man who is fighting for the marginalized. As a lawyer he takes cases upon cases of men and women who were unjustly put on death row. My eyes were opened to a a people group that I had never seen before. The stories and statistics of the violence, racism, and cruelty that occurs within prison walls left me putting the book down heartbroken and not picking it up for a while. So much darkness. Bryan steps into the darkness with boldness, love, and mercy. I can't recommend this book enough.

Bryan's boldness is inspiring and has left me praying that God would continue to show me how to push back the darkness and speak redemption into this broken world. Reading this book has caused me to pray that God would show me the prejudices that exists within my heart and that he would replace it with compassion and a desire to learn. Bryan breaks down the lives of convicted felons and allows the reader a glimpse into their stories: stories of abuse, abandonment, neglect, disabilities, and addiction.

"This book is about getting closer to mass incarceration and extreme punishment in America. It is about how easily we condemn people in this country and the injustice we create when we allow fear, anger, and distance to shape the way we treat the most vulnerable among us."

"We have shot, hanged, gassed, electrocuted, and lethally injected hundreds of people to carry out legally sanctioned executions. Thousands more await their execution on death row. Some states have no minimum age for prosecuting children as adults; we've sent a quarter million kids to adult jails and prisons to serve long prison terms, some under the age of twelve."

"Hundreds of thousands of nonviolent offenders have been forced to spend decades in prison. We've created laws that make writing a bad check or committing a petty theft a minor property crime an offense that can result in life imprisonment. We have declared a costly war on people with substance abuse problems. There are more then a half-million people in state or federal prisons for drug offenses today, up from 41,000 in 1980."

These statistics are sobering and heartbreaking to me. The ugly part of my heart wants to write the criminals off and as I turn my back say, "your choices have consequences." What I appreciate about Bryan is that he recognizes the need for justice and the need for punishment for crimes that are committed, but he is fighting the ways that justice has become corrupted. He is fighting for the dignity of humanity. He is looking at the human behind the crime and approaching them with compassion and a need for mercy.

"Finally, I've come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned."

"We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated."

What a convicting line! This book illustrates through the stories of Bryan's clients the conditions and violence that prisoners endure. This line brings me first to repentance for the ways that I haven't stood up for those who are mistreated. This line calls me to pray how I can continue to be about God's kingdom and pushing back the affects of the fall. Maybe this doesn't mean working in this arena of brokenness, but maybe it means entering other arenas of brokenness where people's dignity has been taken away. Most of all it calls me to pray for the fullness of Christ's redemption to come!

At the end of the book he recounts the story of coming out of the courtroom after winning another case and freeing a man who had been in prison for 50 years and had gone blind. As he was leaving exhausted from the day he met a lady who he thought he had seen before. It turns out that she spends a lot of time at the courthouse. She lost her grandson to a violent crime and watched the boys that shot him convicted and taken away to prison.

"When I first came, I'd look for people who had lost someone to murder or some violent crime. Then it got to the point where some of the ones grieving the most were the ones whole children or parents were on trial, so I just starting letting anyone lean on me who needed it. All of these young children being sent to prison forever, all this grief and violence. Those judges throwing people away like they're not even human, people shooting each other, hurting each other like they don't care. I don't know, its a lot of pain. I decided that I was supposed to be here to catch some of the stones people cast at each other."

A stone catcher

Jesus is the ultimate stone catcher. Jesus, who sees our crimes, our offenses, the darkness in our hearts, the way we hurt others, the way we don't stand up for the mistreated and he has compassion and says I will catch all of those stones that you hurl because I love you. I will sacrifice my life in order that you might live. I will offer you mercy and grace though you don't deserve it. I see the ugliness of your heart and the offenses you commit daily and I love you. 

I am praying that Jesus teaches me how to be a compassionate stone catcher. How to daily repent of the ways that I cast stones and how to continue pursuing ways to fight for those who are hurting and show them the love of the one who catches all of our stones. 


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