Monthly Archives: July 2016

Redemption and the Manson Family

leslie-van-houten

For me, and possibly you, the Manson “family” has been a reoccurring presence. I was 11 when the Tate-LaBianca murders happened, and certain names were indelibly etched into my memory–Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten. Their names have kept popping up over the years, usually in relation to parole hearings. And each time, the gruesome details are recounted.

Except for Manson, who is insane, all developed into model prisoners. And interestingly, after all this time, only one of them has died–Susan Atkins, in 2009, of cancer.

This morning, I read that Leslie Van Houten was denied parole for the umpteenth time. Parole was recommended, but Gov. Jerry Brown denied it, saying she “currently poses an unreasonable danger to society.” I’ll confess, there is a very large part of me that wants to see her released. She’s not the same person she was at age 19. But after reading, again, what she did in 1969…well, it’s shocking.

In Norway, the maximum prison sentence is 20 years, regardless of the crime. A person might remain imprisoned longer than that, but the initial sentence doesn’t go beyond 20 years. There is no “life sentence,” and certainly nothing like our obscenely unjust “three strikes” laws, which are so beloved by law-and-order politicians.

Part of the reasoning, in Norway, is that people change over time. I’m reminded of the scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” where Red says at his parole hearing, “I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left.”

Norway apparently believes in redemption and life-change. In America, our focus is punishment and vengeance. You can argue that some of these Manson fanatics did redeem themselves, but must continue paying the consequences. I don’t know. It’s an interesting discussion to have.

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Republican Convention, Night One

I thought the first night of the Republican convention went well. It was a good collection of speakers, and they (from what I could tell) stayed on message and didn’t say anything stupid. I’ll never vote for Trump, because my criteria emphasize biblical values, and Trump doesn’t embody or stand for anything that Jesus values. But for those who like Trump, I’m sure they feel pumped up after tonight, and rightfully so.

It was even upbeat. I’ve gotten used to Republicans continuously dissing America–that we’ve become a broken, second-class, non-great country with a decrepit military and where nothing works. I beg to disagree, as does the rest of the world; we are the Gold Standard. But the Republican honchos decided to refrain from hammering those negative themes tonight, and I thank them.

I watched CSpan, instead of a cable news channel, so I could hear all of the speakers without pundits breaking in with their spin. The two guys who talked about Benghazi were riveting. Flynn and Joni Ernst–especially Ernst–were perfect for this base. Melania: she did commendably. I didn’t learn anything new about her husband–no great, insight-filled stories, like I was expecting (and which Anne Romney delivered). But it was fine. She rose way out of her comfort zone, so kudos.

I was totally astonished that Trump kept brief his introduction of Melania. I thought he’d ramble on for a while, unable to avoid the spotlight, and that tomorrow the pundits would only talk about him. By giving only a cursory introduction, he will allow the spotlight to focus on all of these other speakers (at least for tomorrow).

In 2012, I got tired of delegates repeatedly breaking into the “USA! USA!” chant. I still feel that way. “Oh, here we go again.”

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A Glimpse of a Father’s Rage

I’ve been thinking about a devotional speaker I heard during an Evangelical Press Association convention back in the 1980s. He was a pastor and an award-winning author. in addition, he and his wife, both white, had adopted and raised two black boys.
 
During one devotional, he mentioned how his sons had been stopped by cops different times, and he KNEW it was because they were black. No other reason. He related this in a calm, objective way, as he used it to illustrate a point. But I distinctly remember something very different about his voice, for just a second. Leaking through that pastoral calm exterior, I saw a father’s rage. It was just a glimpse, and I think he meant to hide it, but it was there. His beloved boys had been treated unjustly, and there’s no way he could disguise his anger.
 
How many moms and dads in the black community, how many grandparents and siblings and spouses, live with the scars of having been treated unfairly because of their color? Injustice casts a long shadow. It’s not something you get over.
 
When I see African Americans marching, I remind myself that they are individuals with stories to tell–if not from their own lives, from the lives of people they know and love. It’s not something I know anything about, but as a Christian wanting to reflect Jesus, I’m trying to learn. Or, at the least, I’m trying not to be blindly critical of things beyond my experience.
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Thinking About the Unthinkable

Donald Trump has ramped up his enthusiasm for torturing prisoners, saying we need to do the “unthinkable.” What do you think he means? Pulling out fingernails? Attaching electrodes? Breaking toes? Gouging out eyes? Raping family members in front of prisoners? When you’re talking “unthinkable,” all of this is fair game. So if you’re going to vote for Trump, you might want to learn what exactly “unthinkable” means to him.

This would obviously go way beyond what the Bush administration started, striking at the heart of what we stand for. And it would make it profoundly absurd to then sing, “God Bless America.”

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