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September 29, 2015

Just Mercy

Yesterday, I wasn’t feeling great. I finished what I absolutely needed to finish and then settled in on the couch after lunch with Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. I was pretty sure I’d conk out after half a chapter or so, even though I am well into the book and can’t stop thinking about it. Well, not only did I not fall asleep, but several other things fell off my To-Do List as I kept reading.
I want you to know about this book if you don’t. It’s an important one. You’ve maybe heard about it elsewhere—it’s been featured in community reads, TED Talks, college summer reading, etc. It just came out in paperback, which is good because the waiting list at the library is long and bookstores are having trouble keeping it on the shelves. We have secured paperback copies ($16) in the Grace office—I hope we, too, sell out. It’s our Grace Reads October book.
As a young lawyer, Stevenson founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.
Chapter One of Just Mercy is titled “Mockingbird Players.” It is the story of one of Stevenson’s first cases—a story that begins in Monroe County, AL, the setting for Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Stevenson writes:
            Monroeville, Alabama, celebrated its native daughter [Harper] Lee shamelessly after her award-winning book became a national bestseller in the 1960s. She returned to Monroe County but secluded herself and was rarely seen in public. Her reclusiveness proved no barrier to the county’s continued efforts to market her literary classic—or to market itself by using the book’s celebrity. Production of the film adaptation brought Gregory Peck to town for the infamous courtroom scenes; his performance won him an Academy Award. Local leaders later turned the old courthouse into a “Mockingbird” museum. A group of locals formed “The Mockingbird Players of Monroeville” to present a stage version of the story. The production was so popular that national and international tours were organized to provide an authentic presentation of the fictional story to audiences everywhere.
            Sentimentality about Lee’s story grew even as the harder truths of the book took no root… (Just Mercy, 23)
Walter McMillian was a young black man who had lived his whole life in Monroe County when he was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn't commit. His story is alarming, bizarre, and frightening. His case was one of Stevenson’s first and it proved to be a crash course in the tangles of conspiracy, political machinations, and legal brinksmanship. It was the case—a story and a man—that transformed Bryan Stevenson’s understanding of mercy and justice forever.
Just Mercy is so much more than an account of “an idealistic, gifted young lawyer's coming of age.”  It’s a tribute to the people Bryan Stevenson has defended and an inspiring argument and call for the retooling of our justice system. There is story after story after story of gross injustice and suffering—dark and difficult things, to be sure. But the book manages to be hopeful—and very helpful.
I hope you will get a copy and have a read these next few weeks—Stevenson is a compelling writer and the stories he tells easily keep the pages turning. Grace Reads groups will be meeting Sunday, October 25th @ noon at Noodles and Co. on Washington, OR Tuesday, October 27th @ 7:00 at my house. I hope you can come.
Pastor Melanie
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