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Looking for God in a messy situation

I had my 12 Angry Men moment this past week. Every five years I seem to get a jury summons. In the past I’ve been able to avoid sitting on a jury by boldly sharing my views on my faith or on the jury system. This past week it backfired – as it turned out, the defense attorney was looking for peop…
By Seth Barnes
I had my 12 Angry Men moment this past week. Every five years I seem to get a jury summons. In the past I’ve been able to avoid sitting on a jury by boldly sharing my views on my faith or on the jury system. This past week it backfired – as it turned out, the defense attorney was looking for people of faith.
 
The whole thing moved pretty fast and is now a matter of public record. They interviewed 30 of us in an hour, selected 12 of us, and began trying the case immediately. Rubio Noriega had already been convicted of simple battery – beating his wife Marisela. We were to decide if he was also guilty of aggravated assault.
 
The facts: Rubio had already hit and choked Marisela. She escaped, grabbing their seven year-old girl and fleeing to her cousin’s car. Rubio grabbed some scissors and chased her to the door. The cousin called 911. Twenty minutes later a cop showed up and arrested Rubio.
 
First person on the stand was Marisela, then the cousin, then the cop, and finally the daughter. The trial took two hours and then we began deliberating.
They elected me as jury foreman. I asked everyone where we stood and was surprised to see seven voting to acquit and the rest of us voting to convict. Sarah, a preschool teacher, was most vocal in Rubio’s defense. “How do we know that he was going to hurt her with those scissors?” she asked.
 
George, who had been a jury foreman two or three times before made the case for conviction: “All we need to know is that he had the scissors, was chasing her, and that she was afraid.”
 
Robin, a financial advisor, pointed us to the aggravated assault statute. Assault means making someone fear that they’ll be hurt. It’s “aggrevated” if it’s with a weapon – in this case, the scissors.
 
We took another vote and two people switched sides. It was now 7-5 to convict.
 
We talked through the dinner hour without eating, with the A/C off, and the sun now shining through the windows. We were getting hot and ornery. We voted three more times. Each time someone switched until we were 10-2.
I could tell Martha wasn’t going to switch. She told us that Jesus had told her how to vote and her mind was made up. The judge sent us home and asked us to come back in the morning.
 
I stayed awake till 1 a.m. thinking about the case. In the morning I prayed and got Matt. 9:12-13 “Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.'” Mercy for who? I felt it was for Marisela.
 
When we convened in the jury room, the first thing I looked into was getting coffee for the group. They got us some Maxwell House. We took a vote and were still at 10-2. Then I talked to them about what God had shown me and about our need to come at the issue from a different angle. It didn’t move anybody. We were still deadlocked.
 
We asked for a transcript of the trial and were denied. We asked for a minor interpretation of the law from the judge and were denied. A couple of times the judge marched us into the courtroom and gave us instructions about reaching a verdict. But we weren’t going to move Martha who said, “My husband will tell you I’m the most stubborn person in the world. I’m dead-set. I’m dead-set.”
 
Stuck as we were, I asked the other jury members if they would take five minutes of silence and then if they would join me in prayer for Rubio, Marisela, and their daughter.
 

They agreed and I led them in prayer. And the Lord gave me a word for the two dissenters that I shared with them. Then surprisingly, we began to connect at a pretty deep level. We shared testimonies of our experiences with God, trauma, and with death. Sarah’s 17 year-old neighbor had just committed suicide a few days ago. Mary Beth had been a heroin addict for six years. Both of them relied on Jesus in the midst of it.

 
We ended a hung jury and the trial was a mistrial. But we grew to like one another, respect one another, and see Jesus in one another.
 
For me it felt like a microcosm of our universal struggle as humans. Where was Jesus when Rubio was beating Marisela? Where was he as we jurors argued with one another?
 
Most of the time in that jury room, I guess I didn’t see him. There was only the muddle, the confusion. Me crying out, “OK, God, now would be a good time to show up.” And frankly, that’s often how life is. For a moment at the end I caught a glimpse of him as we prayed and shared.  For a moment, we sensed him in the room.  We may not sense it, but I believe he shows up when we need him, in the middle of our mess.

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