Saturday, May 28, 2016

Why I Want to go to Jail

I want to go to jail.  Prison would be even better.

I've been training to work on a correspondence course called "Houses of Healing" by Lionheart foundation which is amazing.  The title itself tells you what the premise is - that prison and jail should be houses of healing.  They are not to be places to cast people out of society and seclude so as to not do any more harm and then the job is done.  They are to be transformational and rehabilitative.  This program has been going on for over 10 years with groups of people and for those in solitary, through letter writing.  This allows people like me, who cannot travel to do groups in prisons because they are far away, to get involved.  I'm excited!  

For three years now, I've known a gentle man who has been in and out of jail his whole life.  He has two great little kids and cares deeply about them.  He has always had a really hard time finding a job because of his record.  He is currently awaiting a potential 15 year sentence.  He was not born in a zip code where kids who are born there often thrive.  I was. 

Over a year ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a man who was completing his 8 year sentence in a Federal Prison.  I was his first visitor.  He is a wonderful, kind and compassionate man.  He happened to be born to parents who sold crack for a living.  He allowed his experience in prison to transform him and he has been employed now for about a year and in a great relationship with his children, married, and thriving in society.

Hebrews 13:3 says "Regard prisoners as if you were in prison with them.  Look on victims of abuse as if what happened to them happened to you."  Now, I know God is wise, but this one is impressive. These are not two separate entities - those who are in prison and those who are victims of abuse.  80% of prisoners are victims of abuse.  During my trauma course, I learned that jails would be emptied if abuse were eradicated.  I also saw the truth of this while working in probation.

I've just completed reading "Slow Kingdom Coming", by Kent Annan.  He reminded me of a quote by Martin Luther King Jr.: 
"Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated."  
Then Annan went on to say, "We build bridges of respect by engaging with others deeply...".  When we engage with others, we build bridges of communication, get to know someone else who is different from us, lose fear of them because we now know them and their story, and then start to love.  As we enter the truth of people's lives, we see the world differently.  Annan calls this "truthing".  I had never heard that word before but I like it.  As I got to know my friends mentioned above, I learned that how they grew up was vastly different from how I grew up.  It made sense to me why they made some of the decisions they did.  

My favorite part of being a probations officer was visiting the women in jail.  They loved having someone else to talk to besides those they were living with, and didn't even care that it was a measly intern like myself, so I loved going.  I didn't realize it at the time, but I was truthing with them.  I was learning their stories, like how they become a heroin addict, and why they would prostitute themselves.  It actually made sense.  I learned to love them as bridges were built from this.  That's pretty much why I stunk at being a probations officer.

As I learn from truthing on myself, I can understand why I have the biases and tendencies of protection (read addictions) that I do - and I am learning to acknowledge them, accept them, and then I can let go of them rather than letting them sap life from me.  Thomas Merton explains why this works when he said; "The only true joy on earth is to escape from the prison of our own self-hood."

Regarding my relationship with prisoners, aboriginal Australian leader Lilla Watson has shown me why I love it so much; "If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time.  But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."  Escaping the prison of my self-hood, as Merton terms it, is directly related to realizing that my own liberation comes from liberating others.  I know I'm bound up.  I know I'm not any better than you are.  I know when I get in relationship with others who are also bound up, we can begin to untangle each other.

This is me and my friend who is in the middle of a 19 year sentence in Federal Prison.  He has changed my life.  Several years prior to his incarceration, he said in a speech, "What is the greatest joy?  It is the happiness found in extending our truest talents upon those who stand in the deepest of darkness.  Those we pretend not to notice.  Those we are afraid to look in the eye because of what they might ask us."  He lived this for a long time.  What he didn't know was he was prepping the hearers for how he would one day want to be treated.


Friday, May 20, 2016

Restoration & Community

I've been stalling on this one.  Not because I don't want to write it but because it is pretty important to me and I don't want to mess it up.  Today, I am feeling brave - and it is overcast outside, so a good day to stay in and write ;).
I've been reading Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton, which is my new favorite book - ever!
(Pretty much because I feel like I am being hugged as soon as I open it and read any sentence).  Maybe it's the lovely cover that caught my eye, or the 1949 copywrite date.  Here's one of the quotesWhy that got me pondering:
"Living with other people and learning to lose yourself in the understanding of their weaknesses and deficiencies which are also your own - is not only the way to perfection in general but even helps us to become true contemplatives."
I've been intrigued with the contemplatives lately.  When I heard of Richard Rohr's Center for Contemplation and Action, it made sense why.  Contemplation leads to action.  We need both.  We either contemplate totally and burst from gluttony, or we act too much and become so empty that we have no gas in the tank.  This quote of Merton's shows the necessity in a shared life and how it also requires contemplation.  We all have weaknesses.  We cannot live alone and thrive.  I learned this while working on probation.  Most of the women I worked with were isolated (or, at least they said they were).  Staying away from bad influences is not the way to overcome our addictions.  It helps as a band-aid, but it does not allow us to know our True Selves by living in relationship with others.

When we live by ourselves, and do not socialize with others, we cannot become formed into who we were meant to become.

Gary Thomas wrote a couple of books on how we are shaped by living with others.  One is Sacred Marriage and the other is Sacred Parenting.  The premise of both is that marriage and parenting is not meant to make us happy but to make us holy.  I currently have three scalpels living in my home right now.  They are forming me into my True Self.  One is sharper than the other two this week, but they all take turns.  Going back to Merton, when we lose ourselves in understanding others' weaknesses, we see our own, and we become merciful with them because we see how much we need mercy for ourselves!

Then I saw this by Eric Fromm:
" The deepest need of men is the need to overcome his separateness, to leave the prison of his aloneness".
This says the same thing but uses the word prison, which resonated with me.  One of my passions right now is the lack of corrections in the "Federal Corrections Institution".   If aloneness is a prison, and aloneness does not shape us, why are we locking people up alone instead of getting them the help and support in the way of a supportive community, group, or people that they need????  Oops - you can tell by the amount of question marks that my hands were pressing very hard on the keys during that one.

Lastly, here is another thought from a Twelve-Step Recovery program:
"I isolated because I was afraid to let anyone know me - I never felt that I belonged or fit anywhere... Being part of a group allowed me to open up...  We isolate to avoid rejection because we think that hurts worse and are doing more harm to ourselves."
If you or anyone you are close to is a Twelve-Stepper, you know that that is their home away from home.  There is an overwhelming sense of peace that pours over you when you walk into the room of your people.  The goal of these programs is to end isolation because that is the disease.  Addictions are diseases of isolation and it keeps us living in shame.   How is a prisoner going to heal when all she does is sit by herself and think about what a horrible person she is.  Like the kids who got sent to the corner in school to stand there while everyone else stared at them.  That is not restorative justice, it is retributive justice.  One brings us closer to who we were made to be and the other separates and punishes and makes smaller.  The last sentence of the above quote is spot on - we think rejection hurts worse than isolation, but risking rejection (being vulnerable) is one of the best things we can do for ourselves in our healing and recovery process! I just returned from a wonderful weekend with my college girlfriends and bearing our souls with one another was like taking boulders off of each other.  Thanks, ladies!

Richard Rohr, in his book, Breathing Under Water, reminds us that restorative justice (the one we need in prisons) restores relationships with themselves, with God, and with others.  Sorry, I have to add another quote of his:
 "Studies now show that threat and punishment are the least effective forms of social change or long-lasting improvement. They are efficient yes, but not effective at all... One has to wonder, do we really want people to grow, or do we just want to be in control of the moment?"
This speaks to me as a parent, who often errs on wanting to be in control of the moment, and sees the quickest way to dwindle the fire with a threat or punishment or isolating.  It also speaks to me as a social worker, who wants to work for social change in order to end the isolation.  Whether they are in isolation on their own choosing or because someone else is choosing that for them - it is not helping those who most need it - those who are homeless, without families, addicted or in prison.  Lastly, it speaks to me as a Christian.  All over Ezekiel, Yahweh punishes his people by loving them even more (Rohr).  Wow.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Full Life from Weakness

I went through a phase in my teenage years where I wanted to be a bodybuilder.  Go ahead - roll on floor laughing.  I ate tuna out of the can, naked sweet potatoes, read Muscle & Fitness cover to cover, performed supersets, and even practiced my hand at drawing these iron-clad tanned bodies.  I’ve got to hand it to my mother who just let me go through this phase without a hitch (I blamed it on my joints being too large, but it was really the enormous amount of discipline that I lacked).

It passed.

I was actually in the elevator of a hotel a few months ago with my kids and happened to be smack dab in the middle of some of these competitors on their way to an event. I didn’t want to get too close for fear of rubbing off their bronzeness.  I was thankful that God had other plans for me but still admired the discipline.
Because of this phase, followed by the triathlete phase, and several more like that, I realize that I craved being strong - or at least appearing strong.  Notsomuch any more.

I’ve been intrigued with John 21:18 lately.  Commentaries say that it’s about Jesus telling Peter the specific way in which he was going to die, on a cross, upside down, but I think it’s about more than that.  I think it’s about how we are actually to live:

I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go… Follow me!- Jesus

This is not talking about the younger Peter as a toddler because Jesus says he dressed himself and went where he wanted.  When we do this, we are at least old enough to do so. That is the American way - as in the Burger King, Frank Sinatra way.  Clearly, at this point, Peter was old enough to be on his own and go where he wanted.  But we all know that often times when we go wherever we want to go, it gets us into trouble.  I do this all of the time, but college was a doozy.  I even decided to drive my friends on a side road during a blizzard because the highways were shut down.  Not a good ending.  Richard Rohr also helped me see that when we go our own way, it is actually immaturity.  This is the upside down Kingdom that Jesus talks about often.

It is when we stretch out our hands and let God dress us and lead us places we would rather not go that we are showing maturity because we are trusting Him.  He  has shown His faithfulness in the past, and  we may not have so great a track record…

Jesus then tells Peter, “follow me”.  Right before He was crucified, Jesus stretched out his hands, his clothes were changed, and went somewhere He did not want to go.  Is this what He wants us to follow?

Mary Jo Leddy, who works with refugees in Canada, said “Renouncing self-will is the most important business of all - if we die before we die, we come to freedom, for the future belongs to those who have nothing left to lose.”  This is the death that Jesus was telling Peter he needed to partake in - death to his own ways.  Having nothing left to lose makes us brave to do crazy things because we are free.

We can only be lead where we do not want to go when we come to the realization that we are the weaker one.  Weakness, Rohr says, is the core freedom of the Gospel itself.  It is the glue that holds us to others.  When we think we are strong, it repels others.  Think about a bodybuilder and a baby.  Which one would you like to draw close to?  (Maybe this is a bad analogy for some ladies).
The baby is helpless and knows it and throws up his hands in acknowledgement of this, while the other seems completely independent and in need of nothing - Jesus started as a baby as an example for us.

When we stretch out our hand and let Jesus take it, we are allowing Him to do with us as He pleases because we know His way is better.  When we let Him dress us, we are admitting that we cannot clean ourselves up on our own.  When we go places we would rather not go, we are renouncing our own pride, and letting Him show us something that we cannot see.  We are usually taken to these places for our safety, for our own growth, or for joy, but we don’t see it until we trust in the unseen first.
Another word for dress that was used in a different translation was “gird” - it means to fasten, secure, equip or prepare.  Jesus is telling Peter that when he was young, he did this for himself, but when he is more mature, he will allow another to do this for him.
I don’t know about you, but I would rather not be in charge of securing myself.  I need something stronger to secure myself to - I don’t want to be the one running the show or going at it alone.  I think this is one of the reasons I love sitting in the passenger seat.  Romans 8:26 says “the spirit helps us in our weakness” - not our strength!  That makes me want to be weak.

If you’ve heard Brene Brown’s vulnerability talks, this should resonate with you.  She says the same thing.  Vulnerability brings people together.  Showing our weaknesses instead of our strengths is actually what attracts us to each other.  I don’t really want to hang out with someone who’s got it all together - then I look and feel bad.  I don’t want to see my friend’s perfect children on Facebook because then I feel like I’m doing a crappy job (and sometimes I hide their notifications if I am feeling this way ;).  In our house, we argue, call names, have acne, addictions, slam doors, need tutors, need therapists, get C's, and mess up all the time.

Henri Nouwen captures this beautifully in his book, Lifesigns:

Only when we dare to lay down our protective shields and trust each other enough to confess our shared weakness and need can we live a fruitful life together… The most fruitful life ever lived is the life of Jesus, who did not cling to his divine power but became as we are (Philippians 2:6-7)…  He came as a small child, dependent on the care and protection of others.

In closing, the best part of John 21 is right after Jesus tells Peter how he was to die - it says, “Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God” (21:19).  We glorify God when we give Him our hand willingly and allow the One stronger and wiser than we are to take us places we don’t think we want to go because we trust Him and we know ourselves (we mess up!).  When I have a surprise for my kids and tell them just to come with me so I can show them, I am the excited one, and they are the reluctant ones.  If only they knew how amazing it would be if they just listened and followed me!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Why Water To Wine?

Just to start - this is not one of those to drink or not to drink arguments.  First of all, I prefer a nice and crispy Pale-Ale over a glass of wine any day.  However, due to the fact that I cannot indulge to simply "gladden my heart" (Ps. 104:15), I must refrain.  While it would be nice to be like those of you who can, I cannot.  Moving on...

I think I have figured out why the Gospels are ordered the way they are.  (It works for me, at least).  It actually has to do with wine.  I was going to post this blog before I even realized this part, which shows that I may have grown in patience over the last few years, and it is actually paying off!  The wedding at Cana is only in the Gospel of John.  Hmmm.  But  the story about the Pharisees complaining to Jesus about His disciples not fasting, followed by Jesus' whole new wine and old wineskins analogy is in Matthew, Mark, and Luke.  

I have an idea why - you can take it or leave it.

The Pharisees were known for keeping to law to the point where they did not really know what grace (or joy) meant.  They were pretty ramped up that Jesus' disciples did not fast like they did, so felt that they must not be as holy.  Well in Matthew 19, Mark 2, and Luke 5, Jesus explains to them that the bride (symbolism = church) and bridegroom (Jesus) were together celebrating at their wedding, so there's no need to fast.  Then He goes on to vaguely explain to them that they are pretty much old wineskins with their legal pharisaical mindset.  

Jesus wants to pour Himself into us, and if we are still holding onto the law, we will burst and the wine will run out - we can't hold Him.  We need to shed our old ways, get new wineskin - a new mindset that receives grace and intimacy with our Bridegroom - and gain greater joy!

So, after three chapters of this exact same story, we get to the book of John.  He starts of Chapter 2 with this:  

"On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee....the wine was gone”  John 2:1

We have been reading about the whole wedding idea for three chapters, and how when new wine is poured into old wineskins, since they have been stretched out, they burst, and the wine runs out.  Here, the wine ran out.  Meaning, it is time for Jesus to show them a new way of living in new wineskins so they can hold the wine that is coming (Him).  The water that had been used for ceremonial washing (read, legal living), was in the big stone jars, but was gone as well.  

Ok - back up a bit.  "On the third day" - do you recognize that one?  Just a refresher, on the third day, Jesus rose from the dead.  This is how we get the wedding in the first place.  Without this monumental third day, there would be no wedding with our Father because we cannot become one with Him without Jesus.  He is using this first miracle to show us why He came - for the bride to be with the Bridegroom!

Then, we hear that the wine was gone and this:   “Nearby stood six stone stone jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing" (John 2:6).  These jars were used by the Jews so that they were clean before they ate.  They were empty.  It doesn’t say they were empty, but Jesus told his disciples to fill them, so I am assuming they were empty.  There is a lot here, so I am going to separate the points. 

First, once Jesus has fulfilled His mission, we no longer need  "ceremonial washing"  because He will have cleansed us from our sin once and for all.  So he has His disciples fill them up with water - the disciples, who, the previous three books of the Bible had been made fun of for feasting and having fun and celebrating at the wedding by the Pharisees.  When we live by the law, we feel the need to wash ourselves, to try to be good and righteous and therefore look down on those who are not doing this.  But, after Jesus came, He made a new way to get to the Father - new wine.  And, in order for us to hold this, we need to get ride of our old way of thinking and accept His grace - joy - peace - and adopt a nonjudgemental attitude because we earned none of this.

Then He says "Fill the pots with water... Now fill your pitchers and take them to the host" (Jn 2:7-8 MSG).  
Now check out Romans 6:5-10, which says;  When we went under the water, we left the old country of sin behind, when we came up out of the water, we entered into a new country of grace… When we are lowered into the water, it is like the burial of Jesus, when we are raised up out of the water, it is like the resurrection of Jesus.” (Romans 6:2-4 MSG)

Jesus told his disciples to draw water out of the jars with the pitchers after they had filled them. Why didn’t he just have them put their pitchers under the hose or sink in order to fill the pitchers up?  I think He was showing them - and everyone - the new way.  He wanted to bury the old way of doing things by dunking the pitchers into then water.  I think He wanted to bury the idea of ceremonial washing.  Here, He shows them how to be baptised/buried with Him - go under the water, get dunked, and be made new. (Yes, I know baptism is not how we are saved, but you get the point)!  

Do you get the importance of this being the first miracle?  I never did before this week, so if you didn't either, we're together in our ignorance.  Or, I'm way off base and just inventing things, which has happened once or twice before...

Life application time.  "Nearby stood six stone jars".  
Did you ever read the children's book about filling buckets?  If you didn't, you've still probably heard about when someone is grumpy they probably need their love tank filled?  Jesus asks His disciples to fill the jars.  If we are His disciples, this is our job.  See the empty jars around us and fill them by loving them - even if they are so empty that they are driving everyone away, or living on the streets, or in jail... We fill and let Jesus do the rest. Then we will see the joy  as others begin to catch  "the first glimpse of His glory" (Jn 2:11 MSG)