In my line of work I find myself in some pretty awkward places. I was sharing with my friend Ed how the first act of ministry as a pastor was getting a cat out of a tree (it's a long story ... will share it later). And that was joyful considering the hospitals, the funeral homes and the courtrooms I have visited. One of those courtrooms was right here in Henry County.
Over my years I have seen the inside courts in Autauga County, Montgomery County, Escambia County, Walton County, Bay County and (now) Henry County. As I sat there in the court of Henry County I felt compelled to make an observation. My observation is based on knowing that Jesus is portrayed as a righteous and fair judge in Scripture. To "judge" in Scripture means both to decide cases/disputes and to govern. In the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25) Jesus rightfully judges on the basis of how we treat "the least of our brethren" (those who are in some position of displacement/disadvantage/disruption/oppression). This distinction could be the poor or the needy or societal outcasts. But whatever the term means, Jesus makes the right call. After all, He is perfect.
Here is what I observed about our courts in most places. In all of those places where I saw the "legal system" played out (except Henry County) the people were efficiently processed. The way things were done, the way people were treated and the way the law was applied was a very mechanical process. In our county I saw something different. The courtroom functioned with appropriate honor and decorum, but it did this with a level of informality that (in my estimation) did not make already elevated tensions worse. Rather, the 'procedure' had a calming effect on the people being judged and those that had some involvement in the process. In the midst of life-changing events for some in that room, there was a leveling effect. No one was better than anyone else. In his song "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll" Bob Dylan wrote that the "ladder of law has no top or no bottom," meaning that our legal system should be a level playing field for all and that the rich should not escape justice or mercy ... that the poor should be afforded the same dignity. But what I saw in Henry County was like a dance. What do I mean?
There are two kinds of dancing. Dance can be technically perfect, mechanical and, while beautiful, lacking aesthetic appeal. Like music played technically, this type of dancing can lack the soul and spirit that makes it truly beautiful. Then, there is the kind of dancing that happens between people who know one another, know the moves the other is about to make and (to them) the dance is more than the sum of steps on a chart. The dance, to those in relationship, is about the touch, the emotion, the grace of a mutually played-out journey. The dance is more than a bunch of steps.
So is court in Henry County. The people are neighbors who (for the good and bad of it) know one another. When the courtroom doors shut the people go out and live life together. They live life ... shop for food ... walk along the street ... attend weddings and funerals ... and see the scarecrow contest together. They (in and out of the courtroom) are in a kind of dance. And the song that drives the dance forward is community, family and respect. I am proud to live in a place where people are more important than the process and where we (as a community) can say to those working in the court system "well done, my good and faithful servant." Remember that Jesus said (by the way, to very imperfect people who made some mistakes and had their own baggage) those same words in Matthew 25.
For this new resident, I was honored to be in a courtroom where the goal is to encourage better behavior, enforce the law, grow people up into responsible adults, punish were proper and necessary, provide stepping stones out of trouble and teach (yes ... Biblical discipline always teaches). I am sure as I observe our legal system I will disagree with rulings and decisions. But I am proud to see America happen right here in Abbeville.