I returned from a writing conference a couple of weeks ago, refreshed, energized, and ready to come home and apply all that I had learned. I also planned to unload my bag, do the laundry within it, then repack the suitcase for another writing conference across the country the middle of September.
Waiting for me on the table when I returned, however, was a summons to jury duty for a trial September 21. On my e-mail account was a notice from the director of the conference I wished to attend, reminding me that the deadline to complete my registration without a penalty was the next day.
Talk about letting the air out of my balloon. For those readers out there who are also writers, September 21 will be a significant date. For the rest of you, let’s just say my plans needed changing. What was I to do? I couldn’t finish registering for the conference unless I had confirmation that my jury responsibilities had been deferred. And if they were deferred, who was to say that the next time I was called wouldn’t be more inconvenient? I was stuck.
I served as a juror for two trials in the mid-1980’s. The first jury convicted a man of manslaughter and sent him to prison for thirty years. The second jury absolved a doctor of any responsibility in a malpractice case. Sitting on a jury was interesting, but the experience also enlightened me. I learned how differently people live their lives from the way I live mine. I think every writer needs to serve as a juror. All kinds of plots, motives and story lines can evolve from what one hears during a trial.
But if you are not a writer, jury duty is also a civic responsibility. Every voter is eligible, every citizen can be called. As Christians, actively participating in our government gives us the ability to influence its operation, bring to the table our worldview, and act upon it. We are called to be the watchmen, the salt of the earth, the light to the darkness.
But we can only do that if we participate. Who among us would trade what we have here in America for the kind of justice we read about in other countries? In one they use a firing squad. In another they behead their victims. By serving on the courts here in the United States, we participate in a different kind of justice, one where peers decide the fate of the one accused. With ten people in the jury room, each of you brings to the table your perception of what really happened. I found it amazing how alike jurors think when confronted with the conviction or acquittal of a fellow citizen.
When shown a Roman coin and asked whose allegiance the coin demanded, Jesus said, “render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s and to God the things which are God’s.” Matthew 22:21 Clearly He understood the kind of choices His people would face in a world of which they are only a part.
So, for now, I will put the conference on hold. More will come, each season brings its own. I have much to do in the meanwhile. An editor invited me to submit both of my manuscripts for the possibility of publication and a multi-published author with whom I have become friends gave me her endorsement. Writers can’t write unless they commit themselves to the keyboard, so perhaps God, in His wisdom, was saying, “Time to stay home.”
There’s always next year.