Bethany Spare – John Jay Fellow, Spring 2014
Judicial Law Clerk
Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals
Bethany Spare’s pursuits are a mosaic, each one adding to and undergirding the rest. She holds a J.D. from the University of Texas, a B.A in history and political science from Kansas State University, and a master’s degree in Modern British and European History from the University of Oxford. Despite the broadness of her formal education, she sees, in retrospect and with clarity, that she has always been drawn to the law.
“While studying in England, I loved legal history. I could spend my days reading manuscripts and arcane texts on law. But I realized that to be a good historian, you have to live completely in the past; you have to let go of the question, ‘how does this impact the present?’ I felt a responsibility – to my family at the very least, but also to my country – for the times in which I was born. And I realized that in law, I have the opportunity to serve both the past and the present.”
Truth requires defense and this belief is intrinsic to Bethany’s passion for her profession. In the daily practice of law as a judicial law clerk, she brings both her skills and her admiration of the study of history together and puts them to service:
“Working as a law clerk is a wonderful opportunity,” she shares. “I have had the time and occasions to be mentored by great leaders. The judges I have clerked for have taught me the importance of courage and the need to faithfully discharge your duty. I hope to bring these lessons to bear in my future practice of law.”
Her journey in this profession has been, in part, a growing recognition that we will all be called to account for our actions and our treatment of others – including people on trial, regardless of their guilt or innocence. Bethany feels deeply her duty to facilitate justice as well as she can while here on earth, knowing that she too will face true justice before the throne of God.
Bethany recalls fondly the time spent reading Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer during her fellowship, noting the impact this study made upon her. She discovered that Christian community is a privilege and a blessing, and not one afforded to all Christians, at all times.
“Living in Christian community at John Jay was a unique opportunity. I’ve moved frequently these past years. Allowing myself to accept the community that I’m given at the time has been helpful to me. I think much of that understanding traces itself back to Bonhoeffer’s teachings – community is not promised to us, but when you find it, rejoice and be thankful, for it is desperately important.”
This emphasis on hospitality, a component of the John Jay Fellowship, continues to inform Bethany’s lifestyle. But it was the profound effect that daily, liturgical prayer had on her heart that surprised her most. Each morning and evening, fellows would gather to pray through the Book of Common Prayer. Today, seven years later, an oft-used copy of the prayer book rests on Bethany’s own shelves.
“We came together each morning and evening and, for those few moments, it felt as though we were ripping the time barrier. As we prayed these words, I knew that I was participating in something much, much older than myself. The liturgy became real to me in a way that it never had been before.”
These ideals of the past and present are interwoven and are core to Bethany’s identity and pursuits. They affect the way she approaches the law as well as her understanding of how followers of Christ ought to engage with the broader culture and society. She strives to serve honorably and with integrity, zealously advocating for the reign of Truth.
“Someone once told me that ‘there are very few things we can know with absolute certainty, and for the rest we simply have warranted, justified belief.’ At John Jay, I learned the truth of that again. I am a finite creature; I will always learn more. I want to defend passionately those things I know for certain, and – in those matters that I think I know – I want to have the humility to accept that I might be wrong. One of the most important things I learned was to teach myself to listen.”
This imperative, she concludes, is vital for anyone considering a fellowship at the John Jay Institute:
“Truly listen. If you have the opportunity to be with Christians who are curious about the greater depth and breadth and width of Christian faith, give yourself the chance to learn; from those whose works you are reading, and from those with whom you are living. That humility is a virtue to be cultivated before you walk in those doors.”
Young men and women come to the John Jay Institute to develop and nurture a vision for principled leadership. During their four-month fellowship, they receive intellectual, spiritual, and cultural training to impact society for Christ’s sake. The John Jay Institute is grateful for the example of Bethany Spare in the outworking of this vision – serving the past and the present in the practice of law, for the glory of God.