Sunday, August 9, 2009

In the sanctuary of outcasts

Over the past month I have been reading "In the sanctuary of outcasts" Neil White. This autobiography of an outstanding man from the south who had an ideal life until he was involved in a white collar crime. He was sentenced to Carville institution in Louisana. Carville was not only a prison but also the last leper colony in America. The events in the book took place in the 1990s.At the end of the book there are a couple of quotes that had an impact on me:Neil the author had been given some advice when leaving this institution. he had been told by one of the lepers to find a church when he got out. Neil had been a church goer before being sentenced. But it was a church much like most of us middle to upper class white people go to. "I would take Ella (the lepers) advice and find a church. Not just any church. A place like the church at Carville (the institution). Were parishioners were broken and chipped and cracked. A place to go when I needed help. A place to ask forgiveness. A sacred place where people were not comsumed with image or money.I don't know if a church like that existed, but if it did I would go. And I would pray. Not the kind of prayers I used to say for miracles or money or advancement. I would pray for something more simple. I would pray for recollection- pray that I would never forget."When we are touched, broken, or realize the depth of pain and suffering what do we do? Do we try and forget the images and scenes that caused this brokeness? Pain and hurt is something we tend to run from. We tend to want to live in our "happy place" away from this. When we do this it is very easy for us to become apathetic, and caught up more in our rituals more than our compassion for others.Recently I taught a class on prison ministry. Prison ministry is tough going inside and helping criminals. It is ten times harder to help once they get out of prison. Very few people want these people as neighbors, friends, employees, or fellow church members. Is there a chance that these men could revert to past behaviors? Absolutely. Is all those that change in prison authentic? No more than those that find religon in the outside world. I much like Neil long for the same type of church. The only way this happens is when we become authentic and remember that we are all in the same boat and realize no matter how rich or poor we are we are all broken,chipped, and cracked.

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