17 – iuris

Oddly enough, “iuris” is latin for both “soup” (gumbo) and “legal authority.” That oddity represents 1996 pretty well for me.

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I was working on an appeal of a conviction of a woman – let’s call her Sue – when we found out that M had possible thyroid cancer. More recent experiences with friends have taught me that cancer is a scary and long process filled with uncertainty and worry. Some doctors are God-sends and some doctors seem to be spawns of Satan, present to make an already hellish experience a little less comfortable while they bill you for their precious time. The doctors suspected cancer strongly enough to send M and me to a surgeon to have it removed. But the surgeon was a jackass! Who would have suspected that within a few minutes as we were merely introducing ourselves in his office and he discovered my profession, he would announce “If I would have know you were an attorney I wouldn’t have accepted the appointment.”

“But my wife has cancer.”

“I don’t have to treat anyone I don’t want to. I do not treat lawyers or their families.”

We left without further ado. We found another surgeon, who very professionally accomplished his task and then the lab results showed that there was no cancer after all.

Apparently simultaneously with the “cancer” drama, I traded my old Blazer for a different vehicle and bought a sea kayak. Sea kayaking was a joy. I remember very fondly the times of paddling out through the surf and past any sight of land, and then floating serenely and silently into the midst of a flock of pelicans relaxing on the waves that were higher than any of our heads. They either failed to recognize me as human or simply knew I was harmless anyway, and did not even stir in my presence.

The past experience of Bill and the present experience of Sue was taking its toll on the young attorney though, and kayaking and mountain biking were my escapes. A road trip to meet the friend who had visited me at the Portland airport (memini) and hit some bike trails was the first and only time I’ve ever had what preachers would label a “calling.”

Now I know a lot of people doubt the existence of God, and I’ve been there. (labo) I further admit that a lot of people who believe in God doubt His personal involvement with us in our little earthly worlds, and I’ve entertained those thoughts as well. Finally, I get it that some people reject the notion that He speaks to us. I understand, really. But I believe He does – In a non-audible but mentally and spiritually recognizable voice. This idea is well supported in the Bible, and I make no apologies for this, as I don’t know how else to figure the conversation on the way to the trail. I know which thoughts were mine and which I could not claim.

But let me explain first who Sue was. Sue was a perfectly pleasant little old grandma who burned her invalid husband to death in their house to gain the benefits of his life insurance policy. She was quite clever about the whole scheme: she applied for the life insurance herself, with his cooperation and signature, and when the insurance company explained that they would need a physical exam, she scheduled it on a day when he was out for treatment and she had a hired actor to be examined as her husband, at the house. Once the policy was secured, she calmly and casually secured his wheelchair, with him in it, to the bed, and torched several points in the house as she strolled out. Police and Fire investigators are smart enough to figure out things like points of ignition and motive though, and she was arrested and charged in short order. I didn’t do the trial, but I did the appeal, and won. On what most people would call a technicality. I have a strong dislike for that term, however, especially when people who claim to love the Constitution use the term to criticize defense attorneys who are simply using the fourth amendment for the purpose for which it was designed. Anyway, I got her conviction reversed because of a search and seizure issue, and as right as it was legally, it hurt my head morally.

So here I was, driving the car I had bought while my wife worried about cancer, to ride my mountain bike to escape my own conscience pangs. And I was complaining to God about my stress:

“God I feel like I’m carrying the biggest life-problems of all these clients everyday, and it’s just too much. I can’t bear it all.”

“You think you’re carrying a lot? How do you think I felt on the cross?”

Dad had always taught me to listen when I pray, but I didn’t expect a contemporaneous response. This response did, however match up with God’s character as shown in Job. After Job complains for a good long while, to his friends and specifically to God, as I was, in Chapter 29, God responds in Chapters 38 and 40.

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now gird up your loins like a man, and I will ask you and you will instruct me!”

Jehovah had such a way, in Job’s time, of reminding Man who He was. I believe He’s still got it.

Anyway, for the moment, I shut up, just as Job did in 40:4. I waited, and He responded:

I hear your problems and I have a solution for you: Start your own firm – my firm, actually. Call it Christian Legal Service. Take the cases of the homeless and abused and oppressed free of charge – pro bono.* Be a voice for Christians and their freedoms.** Finally, mediate the disputes of Christians who know not to take one another to court.***  Do this and I will provide your income.

I argued that I was not ready to do all that; I didn’t even know how to mediate; I wasn’t good at constitutional law, and I couldn’t afford to start a firm. I went mountain biking instead, and forgot about my stress (and prayer) for a while.

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But God didn’t forget our conversation, and honestly, it stayed in the back of my mind.

*(Luke 4:18)**(Matt 10:17-20; Acts 4:18-20; U.S. Const. Am. 1)***(1 Cor. 6)

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