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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Frances Newton to be Executed on September 14, 2005

Please understand, I am not one to jump on bandwagons, especially the bandwagon of preventing the execution of someone who may be guilty. That being said, I am opposed to the death penalty as is often practiced in America. Far too often, based on social economic issues, and others, individuals are not provided fair representation and thus a fair trial. A link providing research of the death penalty and its effectiveness is provided here:

Don't get me wrong, over the years I have had numerous instances that I have been affronted with taking a position on the death penalty. Growing up in the South, with a trace of Baptist roots in my family background, I could not help but be approached and taught, "the way of God," on this issue. Over the years though, I have had to question the need for the death penalty for a variety of reasons.

Four things come to mind regarding my own struggle with this issue. The first was living in Tulsa Oklahoma during the time of the Morrow Federal Building Bombing in Oklahoma City. Having friends who were affected by the bombing had an impact on me. Also visiting the bomb site and spending a great deal of time there shortly after the bombing had an impact. In the case of Timothy McVeigh I found myself struggling with this issue. Here was an individual who wanted to be put to death for his crimes, and we as a country were quick to oblige his wishes. I know numerous family members of McVeigh's victims opposed to putting him to death, just because he wanted it. I did, and still do struggle with this one because of the admission of guilt, and desire to not fight the system from McVeigh himself. Unfortunately, there are unanswered questions that went to the grave at the time of his execution.

Another event comes from living here in Wichita Kansas. Everyone in our community was on pins and needles because of the resurgence of BTK the serial killer. I'll never forget, even in my own neighborhood just months ago being concerned because the police were investigating my next door neighbor for a possible BTK link regarding an attempted break in. There were similarities that had the neighbors concerned at the time and many were on the look out for BTK.

Then my son and I were at a wrestling tournament, eating lunch just 2 blocks away when all of the police blocked off the road to Dennis Raders' house. There we were, eating lunch, watching the bomb squad trucks, all of the police cars, the KBI, and others blocking off the road, and surrounding his house, all within our view. After watching the sentencing hearing, hearing of his confession, and then his comments that he had given his life to Christ I became even more confused. I mean, after all, what if he was legit in his profession of faith. Don't get me wrong I wouldn't want him out walking around again, but why does one who commits such heinous crimes get life in prison while another gets the death penalty?

The third thing that has directed my position was the murder of my Aunt Ruth. She had helped raise me so she was far more than just an Aunt. I was supposed to be with her that Christmas but my daughter had had to have knee surgery in late December so we couldn't go. I'll never forget coming home and getting the phone call on December 21 after seeing the movie The Titanic. Ruth, and her boy friend, had been brutally murdered, and my cousin was in serious condition and we were told that he may not live. Her estranged husband, whom she was legally separated from, had broken into her house, killed her and her boy friend, and then shot my cousin in the back and tried to kill him. I realized that if I had been there as I was supposed to, that my life, and the lives of my family may have also been taken.

It was some months later while sitting across from him in jail that I told him that I could love him as a brother if he gave his life to Christ. Many have commented that must have been hard. Truth is, it was, but, not nearly as hard as it was to sit there and listen to his response, "That bitch deserved what she got!" That response will forever be stuck in my head. He is still in prison, serving 2 consecutive life sentences plus a 40 year conviction on top of that. The family requested that he get that as opposed to the prosecutors desire to seek the death penalty. We didn't want to see a long drawn out trial and all of the dirt that may come up. There was no justification of the brutal murder, but we realized he would never leave prison.

One thing that is unique about my position on the death penalty is that in all of the cases mentioned above, the individuals were guilty of their crime, there was and is, no doubt of that fact. The last thing causing me to struggle with the issue of the death penalty has just come to my attention in the last week. As far as I can tell, the circumstances and underlying theme of guilt is drastically different in this fourth case.

Frances Elaine Newton was convicted of the murder of her husband and two children, in 1987. She was scheduled to be executed on December 1 of 2004 but the governor of Texas gave a stay in the execution. The new execution date is scheduled to be carried out September 14, 2005, 15 days from the writing of this post. To say the least, there is a great deal of controversy in this case with evidence that seems to indicate her innocence.

I grew up in the inner city, grew up around crime, and have done many things I am not proud of. I have reformed though and have even worked closely in the prison systems over the years, including a stint working in the segregation (solitary confinement) units in one of the Kansas prisons. I am used to having people try to manipulate me, and tell me things, which aren’t true. Especially in regards to criminal activity.

Now don't get me wrong, there are things about this case that raises some questions, and certainly questions about credibility. That credibility however, is not just with the person accused of the crimes, it is with the credibility of a system that botches investigations, and public defenders that are so bad on death penalty cases that they are removed from practicing that type of law. To say the very least, after investigation of the case at hand, one has to have at a minimum a "reasonable doubt" as to the guilt of Frances Newton, who for years has stood firm as to her innocence, as have those around her. There is even the reporting of another individual confessing to their commiting of the crime she has been prosecuted for.

Another thing that seems to leave little doubt to me is the conversion of Frances Newton. While many jail-celled conversions are ploys to escape from the punishment that society has for the individual, there seems to be a sincerity within the tone and comments of Frances that was convincing enough that even the 700 Club did a televised interview with her.

Frances seems to be at peace if she is executed because she realizes in her own words, "For me to die is gain. We talk about how we want to go to heaven, and this is just a chance for me to possibly get there a little sooner." This still young, 40 year old, attractive black woman speaks with an intelligence and attitude not often seen in a death row inmate. Maybe she has me fooled, I don't know, but I have to ask myself is my inaction in a case like this worth taking a chance on. For me, the answer is no. Especially when the consequences are death by lethal injection for someone who may very well be innocent.

Is this a movie review? Certainly not, but it is a movie waiting to happen. I don’t know yet whether the movie will have a happy or sad ending. I do know that for now, as the story unfolds, I am glued to wondering, hoping, and praying for justice. Justice that will value life. I would also like to see justice for those who operate a system that would allow for a botched investigation, especially in the life of someone who may very well be innocent.

Various links:

Free Frances Web Site:

Democracy Now Article and Video and Audio Links:

New York Times Article:

700 Club Interview:

Dutch Television Interview:

Sunday, August 07, 2005

The Devil's Rejects

About this Film
Spiritual Connections

Click to enlargeIn 2003 I gave one of the most controversial reviews I have ever given when I reviewed Rob Zombie’s new release titled, House of 1,000 Corpses. Forget about the fact that I didn’t especially like the movie, although I did think there was some thought provoking components of it, the fact that I would even view the movie by many was something I did that was worthy of confrontation and email that caused many to prejudge me. Well get ready for this; while I didn’t especially like House of 1,000 Corpses, The Devil’s Rejects is possibly the best movie I have seen all summer.

I have always, and still do appreciate Rob Zombie as an artistic genius, I expected that when going to see The Devil’s Rejects, and I was not let down. What Rob Zombie has done is give us one of the best portrayals of evil ever presented on screen. I am reminded of an interview I did with author Ted Dekker regarding the painting of evil, and the need to paint evil with as dark a brush as possible. Zombie paints it with as much darkness as is humanly possible. What we have as a result is a splattering of blood and evil along the way that is so dark that I personally found myself having difficulty watching what was portrayed before my very eyes.

If portraying evil for the sake of being evil was the intent, this movie would be a waste of time, but Zombie in his brilliance does something, as I have never seen done before. He presents a story and concept where we long for justice for those who are the incarnate of evil, and yet, we find ourselves eventually caring for those very individuals. We are also presented not only with the hypocrisy, but also the hope that is available through, Christianity. I must say now, and I hope Rob Zombie sees this review at some point, but if I could interview anyone on the planet, I would like to talk to Zombie about his views on various subjects. Why for example does one who has a “perceived” notion and hatred of Christianity, portray it in such a thought provoking and intelligent way? What are his views on spirituality? In addition, there would be many other questions. To be honest, this man and his genius intrigue me tremendously.

Click to enlargeThis story carries on after the story line of House of 1,000 Corpses. It is essentially the same characters and a continuation of that story. Where House of 1,000 Corpses lacked and showed little hope, this movie is thought provoking and brings to light several components to reflect upon whether one be a Christian or not.

Rob Zombie shows his brilliance as a filmmaker in this film. He reminds me as a cross between Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriquez. I know that sounds like a crazy mix but his brilliance with edits, shocking story telling, and effect is along these lines. He also does a brilliant job at using such a horrifying story to give such a brilliant artistic presentation. From his various stylizations in this film, to the shocking character development I was enthralled.

The story reminds me of a great Christian author that I always loved, Flannery O’Conner, and specifically the story A Good Man is Hard to Find. What O’Conner accomplishes in that story is to present a side of evil that is truly evil. It has the mixture of what is good and evil and the conflict is developed for the reader. In this case, Zombie does the same for the viewer of the movie. I can’t help but think that if Flannery O’Conner were still alive that she would stand and applaud Zombie’s effort.

We see evil as truly being evil, but we also see the potential of good among those that are evil, and in a strange sort of way, we find ourselves caring for those that are evil. This is a lesson that many who present themselves as Christian could learn from. While we are often quick to judge the one we call Christ, Jesus Christ illustrated this perfectly, especially in his death on the cross and his own willingness to ask for forgiveness who were killing him.

I won’t go into much detail because I don’t like spoiler reviews, but I will say that the contrast between the Devil’s Rejects, and one that is “called by God” is brilliantly portrayed in this movie. It is while the one that is “called by God,” is executing vengeance that we find ourselves caring for the ones who are in essence evil. This creates a great conflict within the viewer. What is our role, our responsibility to those that we perceive as being evil? What is the role of the one called by God? When does one called by God, take the concept of vengeance into their own hands as opposed to leaving it in the hands of God? What is the difference between vengeance and justice? Zombie portrays this conflict amazingly well, especially from one who is perceived by many as being the “anti Christ” incarnate.

30.jpg (72 K)Zombie also portrays the conflict beautifully between those called by Christ, and those who are called by Satan. All through the movie, just as in House of 1,000 Corpses, we see Christianity in the background and playing a vital part to the story. Here even more so than in House of 1,000 Corpses. There is an example of Zombie’s brilliance here in one incredible scene prior to a crucifixion scene. We see a quick edit to a image of Jesus Christ on a cross being crucified. The image is on the screen for several seconds intending to catch the attention of the audience member, and thus causing us to reflect about what it is that Zombie is trying to portray. That image, and what follows is still stuck in my head some two weeks after seeing the movie. I have had to reflect for that long on the movie and not since Jacob’s Ladder and/or Mystic River have I reflected on a movie as much. For those that don’t know, those are two very respectable movies that have garnered the respect of many in the movie going audiences. Zombie’s film, in my opinion needs to have that much respect because it is that good.

Now before being condemned to Hell by many who read this review, I must say that not in a long time have I had a movie open up doors for spiritual discussion as has this movie. My son in law attended the movie with me, and before we left the theater, I had two individuals, one being the manager of the theater come and talk to me about the movie. They asked specific questions about spiritual issues, and were intrigued by the fact that I was a pastor. One individual stated that they were the child of a pastor and that the movie had gotten them to think about spiritual things. They even stated that their father had been talking to them about Alice Cooper and the journey that he has been on. My son in law was amazed at how individuals had come up and asked me about the movie and at how easy it was to open up a discussion about good and evil, forgiveness, love and, even love and caring for individuals who are evil. Zombie paints a picture that makes that easy to do, and my hope is that individuals can look beyond the gore, nudity, language and more presented in this movie and be able to discuss the serious questions this movie addresses. If they can, they will engage themselves in one of the most significant spiritual discussions they could ever engage themselves in.

On a scale of 1-10, let the hate mail begin, while it may not be for everyone, you cannot deny the brilliance of this movie. I give a very enthusiastic perfect 10. By the way, Rob Zombie, I would still love to do that interview.

About this Film
Spiritual Connections

Kevin Miller has posted an amazing reflection on this film
Part 1
Part 2

The Dukes of Hazzard

About this Film
Spiritual Connections

01.jpg (137 K)Okay, here goes, I actually went to see this movie today with my family, and while it is very deserving of the pg-13 rating, I loved it. I can’t personally think of the last time I had so much fun at a movie as I did today. Prior to walking into the movie, none of my family was that excited to see it. It was just that it started at the right time and we had just gone through a busy week so we wanted to see whatever movie started as we went to the theater. I even asked my wife, “Do you think this movie or the television show will be better?” She responded that the television show, but I told her that I thought that the movie would be better. That didn’t mean that I thought it would be a great classical film, I just happened to like the cast and the advance trailers seemed to be fun.

I have to admit I had seen the “Boots” video with Jessica Simpson and that video had made me somewhat leery of seeing the movie. Then again there was Burt Reynolds as Boss Hogg who I happen to like and has made recent resurgence in movies like this and this summers earlier release of The Longest Yard. There was also Willie Nelson as Uncle Jesse and Johnny Knoxville as Luke Duke. I actually am one that didn’t like Jackass when Knoxville was in it but did like him in his role in Walking Tall alongside The Rock “Dwayne Johnson” last summer.

06.jpg (290 K)What I wasn’t suspecting was the fun performances of some of the other actors in the flick. Among those included Sean William Scott who did a fun rendition of Bo Duke. He steals virtually every scene he is in and will obtain more roles from his portrayal in this movie. There is also sidekick and community reject, Sheev, played brilliantly by Kevin Heffernan. This underwear, bomb making, local fish bait selling personality is so much fun that you can’t help but like the guy, dirty underwear, armadillo hat wearing and all.

The local police department of Hazard is as goofy as ever with Michael Weston doing a great job portraying Deputy Enos Strate, Jack Polick as Deputy Cletus, and of course M.C. Gainey as Rosco P. Coltrane. While those in the local police department, especially Gainey, play their parts straighter than the actors in the original television series, they are still the bumbling goof balls that we have come to love and respect over the years.

One of the things about this movie that I suspected from seeing that video with Jessica Simpson was a more adult rendition of the story. I was accurate in that. This movie could have just as easily been rated ‘R’ and there will be a great many parents who take their kids that will have objections to the drugs, language, and sexual innuendo. It is unfortunate and debatable if everything in the movie was needed, but in some ways the perception of what takes place on screen is as much a reflection of society as it is the characters that is being portrayed.

Jessica Simpson plays sexy Daisy Duke for example; The impression is that she is merely a sex symbol that is selling sex. The truth is that the character is an intelligent individual who uses her looks to obtain things that she and/or others need. While this is not necessarily something that should be encouraged, it is the reality of what takes place within the lifestyles of many in today. This is certainly endorsed and supported by those buying time on television, and in virtually any market trying to sell a product. I learned this even within the “Christian Music Market” back when I was involved in that field. I was personally amazed at how much album covers for example are air brushed and musicians are put in sexy scenes and poses. Yes, even within the Christian market. Truth is, it don’t take anything more than a trip to the local “Christian Book Store” or Wal-Mart to check out the “Christian Music Section,” to see this concept hasn’t changed much in the last few years.

There are positive attributes of the film that I also enjoyed and was caused to think about? Among the strongest positive thing was the loyalty and love of family. While Uncle Jessie still sells moonshine, Bo and Luke delivers it running from the police all along the way, the truth is that the loyalty to each other is above noticeable and admired. It is an interesting concept and one that I believe still draws people to enjoy movies like this. The longing for family, devotion, and love is still something that most people long for and desire. In that regard, the Dukes have it “mostly” all together. They are there to help each other out in times of trouble, and their love, one for another is to never be doubted. It is something that not only the audience appreciates; it is illustrated by the friends of the Dukes in the movie. Their friends are loyal, dependable and admiring of the love the Dukes have for each other. Maybe, just maybe, this is something we can learn from and begin to apply in our own day-to-day lives.

05.jpg (198 K)I could go on and on about this movie. The truth is that while I was able to contemplate on things like family, and the love of community, (actually the underlying theme of the movie), I was also able to have fun along the ride. The car chase scenes are wonderful and in some ways, they portray one of the real stars of the film, The General Lee. Even the filmmakers have a little fun with the concept of a car with a Confederate Flag named The General Lee being a popular symbol in the South. We are in on the joke but also reminded along the way of the importance of things like family and community.

Truth is, this is one of those movies that not everyone will enjoy, it is one that I will expect negative email about, but, it is also one that I enjoyed and believe positive messages are given. As it is in life, those positive messages are mixed in with the bad messages, and it is up to us to decipher the good from the bad. However, they are there if one does a little searching.

On a end note, I must comment on the sound track to this movie. For an old Southern Boy, it was great! I loved it and the narration by the one and only Junior Brown pays tribute to the original narrator, Waylon Jennings. I will buy the soundtrack, and will buy the DVD once it is released, that says something.

Is this a perfect move? Never said it was, but it is a fun, fun, movie, and a great ride. On a scale of 1-10 for the number of police cars destroyed in one car chase, I give a very enjoyable and fun 8.

About this Film
Spiritual Connections