Yes, this happened. Judge Ken Starr and Baylor Law School hosted 125+ local lawyers for lunch and continuing legal education, and they even let a guy in an orange prison uniform make some remarks. What a day!
Special thanks to Judge Starr and Dean Brad Toben, Associate Dean Leah Jackson Teague, Stephen Rispoli, and so many others from Baylor Law School for providing such a wonderful introduction of Mission Waco Legal Services to so many new friends in the local legal community.
Judge Starr inspired us to serve with passion, using our gifts to advocate for those in need of legal services but who cannot afford to pay. Judge Starr’s warm and inviting intelligence and wealth of experience challenged all of us to give back but in a way that would bring us all great joy. We could not have had a better time together over lunch, filled with stimulating conversation about Waco’s collaborative efforts to use legal advocacy to serve our community.
I had approached this time together a bit apprehensively. I mean, I am wearing a symbol of a legal system that is in shambles and in which most of the people in the room earn a living. I had been warned of concerns that my personal Lenten discipline may not be understood by some and could tarnish my reputation with others. As I shared on Little Easter 4, I may be a bit too radical for these parts. And I was supposed to give some brief remarks about the Mission Waco Legal Services program that I am director of. Nervously, I began my talk with the following words.
“So, I might as well start with the 200 pound orange elephant in the room…
When I graduated from law school in 2012 and moved to Waco with my wife and three children, I came here to be an advocate for the poor and marginalized. My choice of wearing an orange prison/jail uniform for the 40 days of Lent directly connects with my need to become a better advocate for my clients. As a white professional male, I had no idea what it was like to live with stigma, to carry a shame that is “the feeling of being lesser than… a gut wrenching, self-worth stealing experience”, as one young woman described to me. I needed to walk in their shoes for a while, and in the process share some truths about their experiences in our world today. This uniform was my personal way of growing as an advocate, and deepening my love for God, for people, and for our community.
One of my heroes of the law and of faith is William Stringfellow, who once wrote, “…Advocacy expresses the freedom in Christ to undertake the cause of another – including causes deemed “hopeless”, to intercede for the need of another – without evaluating it, but just because the need is apparent, to become vulnerable – even unto death – in the place of another. By contrast, advocacy in the law is contained within the bounds of the adversary system…” Stringfellow concludes, “In part here, of course, I am pleading within the legal profession for a more holistic approach to clients and cases than that afforded by the adversary system. Yet, more than that, I continue to be haunted with the ironic impression that I may have to renounce being a lawyer the better to be an advocate.”
Thus, in order to become a better advocate for my clients and for our community, I needed to shed my normal way of being and take on the cause of another, those deemed hopeless, despised, cast out, and forgotten. I know some of you may not agree with or understand me fully, and I respect that. In fact, I welcome the differences and invite you into a conversation. Honest, challenging, and respectful dialogue is one of the best ways that I sharpen my own understanding, knowledge, conviction, and compassion.
But ultimately this is not about me. It’s not really even about us. Today is about all of our neighbors in need. It is for them that we gather today to hear and discuss how we can join together in service and advocacy, fulfilling our responsibilities as complete lawyers.”
As many of my long-time supporters and encouragers gathered around me in presence and prayer, I stood firm in my personal convictions. “It could not have gone any better”, I was told by a friend who had been concerned about how my “free expression” might be received. If it opens minds and hearts to the poor and marginalized, resulting in an increase in compassionate advocacy, I will find agreement with my friend. Until then, let’s pray that it truly could not have gone any better and that we will see this day’s fruits in the lives of our neighbors in need.
Here are some more pics from the day.