Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Counting the Hours at the Courthouse

I spent a good part of yesterday morning at Judiciary Square. It is no secret that people living in the District of Columbia get called for jury duty often. I suppose I am lucky that I made it for almost a year and a half without being called to report to the courthouse for jury duty. And, it is true that I complained to myself on the Metro ride to the courthouse, while standing in line to check in once I arrived, and while sitting in the jurors' lounge while waiting to be called.

You see a myriad of people at the courthouse. There were hundreds of people just like me -- people wearing coats with a tag attached labeling them as a potential juror. There were many attorney types who wheeled around briefcases filled with folders. There were other individuals who appeared rather worried, labeling them as the one whose fate would be placed in the hands of the potential jurors who filled the lounge at the end of the hallway.

I was also amazed to see what people were reading as they waited for their name to be called. Plenty of people had Monday's edition of The Washington Post with them. Others had magazines. Some had nothing. And one woman had a book called, "God Don't Like Ugly."

When I saw the book, I concluded that the woman was brilliant. After all, what judge or attorney could see this book and want the person reading it to be on the jury? Often times, it is an ugly side of a person who sits on the side of both plaintiff and defendant. There are plenty of plaintiffs in court out of sheer greed. There are plenty of defendants in court for the same reason. Our ugliness can get us in court for dozens of different reasons. And, God don't like ugly.

I did not have a book with such a title to take with me when I was called to approach the bench. I approached it, instead, with a simple greeting, "Good Morning." One of the attorneys then asked, "So you are a pastor?" The judge followed by asking where I served only to tell me that he had seen different shows in my church's theatre. No one wanted a pastor on the jury, I soon learned, as I was the second person dismissed out of the pool of potential jurors.

And still, I learned something yesterday. The judge explained everything to the potential jurors as if we had never been in a courtroom before. He told us about how long we could anticipate serving as a juror. He explained the "hush" button, a button that, when pushed, makes a lot of sound so as to "hush" the voices from the ears of potential jurors. He shared how 8 people would be chosen to sit on the jury, and he went through the process of selection. He also shared details of the case.

No one in the court room was made to feel like an outsider. Rather, everything was explained until it made sense to everyone -- to those who had served as a juror several times before and to those who had never been in a court room before.

How many times do we take time to make sure everyone feels welcome in our churches? How many times do we explain what we are doing throughout the service to everyone -- to those who are worshipping for the first time and to those who have been coming to church for over 80 years? Do we make everyone feel welcome by sharing what we are doing, what will come next, what the desired outcome will be, and how long we are expected to be there?

The judge made me appreciate him and his profession almost immediately. He made me appreciate the fact that jury duty is not just a duty but also a huge responsibility. He made me stop complaining and instead made me be willing to serve -- no matter how much I did not want to be there.

And the judge taught me more than about being a juror. He reminded me of the teaching work we have to do in the church, too.

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