The Art of Small Resurrections: Surviving the Texas Death Chamber by Walter Long
Reviewed by Lillian Henegar
During the first few months that I had this Pendle Hill Pamphlet (#408, August 2010), my copy became marked up and highlighted throughout, including penciled notes in the margins and scraps of paper with notes on them. Every time I pick up this essay by Walter Long, I find myself lost in his rich and personal language, meditating on the ideas and concepts he presents.
Walter Long is a criminal defense attorney representing death row inmates in Texas. This pamphlet explores ways in which that career has been the catalyst for his spiritual journey. He examines the path of typical modern Christianity versus “the road less travelled,” where Jesus urged us to ask God to “forgive us as we forgive those who have trespassed against us,” taught us that we are not limited to violence and retribution, exhorted us to go beyond that part of our nature, and reminded us that we must love our enemy.
Long explains that the death penalty has been defined as torture in many countries because it denies human beings their dignity, an “inviolate attribute of being human.” As a result, many countries – including Canada, the European nations, and South Africa – explicitly exclude the death penalty from their justice systems. Long also discusses some of the reasons behind the United States’ standing as one of the few modern nations that employ the death penalty.
Long provides an exposition of how following Jesus shows us a way to respond to socio-political systems that are soul-less, a way of living as if the Kingdom of God were here now. For example, Jesus urges us to live in community, to “never to be alone,” and to be not cultish but to support each other in “summoning forth our true home in God.” Jesus also cautioned against “false prophets,” whose “secretly violent” rationalizations lead to justification of violence against the dignity of humanity – with the death penalty serving as an extreme example. Long presents these and other lessons in the Gospels as examples of Jesus’ “art of small resurrections,” which can help peace and justice activists keep their own humanity, sanity, and faith while they strive to stay in relation with God (or their higher power) and live consciously in this world.
This 36-page pamphlet includes endnotes that provide additional background information and references, as well as discussion questions. ~~~
Lillian Henegar is a member of Sacramento Friends Meeting in California (PYM).