Among the Chosen

Once, not so long ago, the Feds got me.

Was I in shackles, accused of poor writing? Nope. Was it for that little IRS slight-of-hand a few years back? Wrong again (and tell the IRS I’m only kidding). Alas, it’s mundane. I had been summoned for jury duty. Federal Court. The Eastern District in California. Whoa.

Federal Court is different from my local Superior Court. Instead of having a citizen “on the hook” for one week or one trial, the Feds nab you for an entire month. If you are selected for duty and serve on a jury, you’re done. But if you are not selected, the Feds are like a bad habit . . . they keep coming back. Do they want me this week? Or next? Or next?

A month can seem like a long time.

The other thing that can seem like a long time is camping in the jury room lounge, trapped with other Eastern District denizens while watching the exciting (not) and emotionally riveting (not) “Federal Jury Video.” Bring on the popcorn.

Fifteen minutes can seem like a month.

Jury duty is like many events in life: wait. Then wait a little more. After two hours of sitting, we were herded into a courtroom. Now I must speak in generalities. Jury duty demands confidentiality. And so, even though I was not selected, I was privy to a smidgen of the when and who and what of a—drum roll, please—federal case.

I played math games as the judge welcomed us and gave instructions. Maybe forty to forty-five were present and ready to serve. We were told a computer had randomly selected twenty-one of us to be “interviewed.” Ah, I thought, I have about a fifty-fifty chance of selection.

By the time the twentieth name was called, I was—because life was still darn boring and I was figuring out ways to pass the time—continuing to play mental math games. Now, with one slot left, I had less than a 5% chance of hearing my name.

50%. 5%. The last name was called. Make that 0%.

I continued the adventure of waiting with the other not-chosen as questions were asked of the prospective twenty-one. It was then that jury duty became interesting. Each potential juror had to answer a battery of questions. Each of us waiting had to pay attention to their answers.

There was, after all, a chance that some of the computer’s chosen few would be dismissed.

Why?

Well, the judge might not like a response and had the power to say “goodbye.” A lawyer, after hearing the comments to the judge, or asking his or her own questions, might also bid farewell to a juror. If too many potential jurors become former potential jurors, guess who was available? Yup, those uncalled, still-waiting, computer-rejected jurors.

We were in Boy Scout mode: be prepared.

The standard questions included how long a person had lived in this area, employment, educational background, a spouse’s work situation, number of children, and so on. This was where the twenty-one strangers became fascinating. The questions were a powerful, peculiar “ritual.” Whether this kind of questioning was deemed fair or unfair, necessary or intrusive, those queries were concocted to create a jury of open-minded peers.

Strangers become flesh and blood human beings. We heard about children and spouses. Tragedies, successes. About past actions and future plans. I listened, rapt with attention. Nearly everyone, already feeling awkward because of the surroundings, and many probably shy by nature, spoke quietly. However, this was a relatively new courtroom (the Feds had spent millions in Fresno to wow the citizens of the Eastern District) and the acoustics were excellent. Even timid whispers were easily discerned.

These people, reluctantly shedding light on their lives, were declaring to the judge and the two opposing sides that they would be ready to listen. They were no longer faceless, nor were they without faults and flaws. They were the first to be vulnerable.

At this point, alert and yet with a wandering mind, I recalled fellow sojourners of my faith that have their faults and flaws on display. Two examples suffice.

What of King David? So powerful, to this day many faithful Jews await the return of David’s realm. Isn’t that the tradition, the longing? However, in the stories we have of David, he is vain, petty, and deceitful. He is King and he is flesh and blood. And we also see, in David’s complex tale, a Creator willing to forgive, trusting in hope more than punishment, and forever claiming and reclaiming the creation.

Or, shifting to the Christian Testament, what about the “Z” man, Zacchaeus? Unlike David’s chapter-upon-chapter story, Zacchaeus comes and goes in a few verses. And yet, we know him. The short, greedy man becomes the still short, but generous man. Jesus, Luke claimed, saw not only a fellow “Jew” or a citizen of Jericho. Jesus saw, and talked with, Zacchaeus. Flesh and blood. Transformation occurred.

Yes, my faith can be summed up by laws. By the “do” and the “don’t.” But religion, if it’s limited to laws, is a stranger.

Mostly, I don’t care much for “religion.” I care about the flesh and blood. About relationships.

I listened to the jurors.

We are a nation of laws. I’m thankful for that. These days, our laws are about all I can cling to with a White House occupant (Colin Powell lamented) focused more on “me the President” rather than “we the people” . . . along with a Congress that cowers in the shadows.

And yes, I am part of a faith made better because we have the Ten Commandments or can recite ancient words in baptism.

Well and good.

But we are flesh and blood. And we are created by One willing to forgive, trusting in hope, and forever claiming the creation. Us. Me. You. In God’s good realm, there are no strangers.

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