Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Is Individualism the answer?

It is normal for our society- but does that make it right?

How does the way I live look anything like the passage in Acts 2?

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

I have wondered what that scenerio would look like in an American 21 century context? Is it fine if I justify my lifestyle? Can I live in my 3 bedroom house, 2 cars, 4 tvs, and a lawn mower and not share any of it? Almost every other American Christian I know lives the same way, but does this make it right or what should be the norm?

I walked into a house last week. there were 10 or more people under the age of 25 in the house. The house was sparce, there were about 5 kids under the age of 4 running around. The heat if on was turned way down. The living conditions were not great at all. As I talked with them and thought about their lives over the last week, I thought how can I encourage and help them to do better? How do I help them get jobs and escape this poverish way of living?

At least one of the young people in the above house had served time in jail. As I pondered last week about this, is it realistic or even plausable for all the people in this house to get jobs? One of the young ladies had 3 children and she was barely out of her teenage years.

As I realized that most of my advice and thoughts were on the individuals. If we can help one person in that family to escape the situation then maybe we have been successful.

But what if we begin to look at a situation like this not from a white american lense but from a Acts 2 lense.

Lets think creatively for a moment- what if the solution for this family and others is not to have them all go get jobs put children in day care and make as much money as possible but rather teach them how to be the Acts 2 church within their family unit. This family has 13 kids under the age of 25 and then they have 7-10 kids.

How do we help them be community (amoung their family) supportive, nurturing, up holding the teachings of scripture, and a beacon of light in their greater community?

As I thought through those things, I realized my life is not an example of anything sustainable. How can 13 people without much income eventually each buy a house for themselves and have two cars and live like the average Christian?

The way I live is not a great model for others trying to follow Jesus. My family unit lives independently from others, and even smaller I live independetly from them. 4 tvs? Why because I have a right to watch tv when I want and what I want. The debate in Christiandom about what to watch and not watch-is that even the right discussion? The question Jill and I have had recently is why do we watch tv at all? How does this bring our family closer together and to God? It doesn't if we are honest but it is going to so hard to quit it.

Two cars? Why because I have so much to do that is important? To some degree yes, but I don't drive it that much that it couldn't be shared by others. As I filled my tank last night for $3.24 a gallon the thought of sharing became more realistic. A 3 bedroom house? Of course we need our space.

Last week a group of us were talking about this and the conversation moved into how much room do we need just for our stuff? How many rooms aren't being used to house people but rather all the things that bring us happiness and pleasure? These concepts aren't too much fun to think about, because I am pretty content living my own life and don't want to complicate it with adding other people.

Oh yea lawn mower? I use it possibly once a week- why in the world do we all need one?

As I thought through this a mode began to emerge rather than using individualism as a goal why not not sharing as the end, I thought maybe there is hope for this family. If all of them can't get jobs why can't we help them plant a garden? Why can't we get them a lawn mower to share with their neighbors? Why can't we figure out creative ways of sharing resources?

These concepts of Acts 2 don't cross my mind too often because they are irrelevant to our culture. But does that make me right? I don't think so.

A group of people in northwest Indiana want to do this intentionally and live together. I was told a story about one of the couples, they have some pretty big debt due to college loans. They didn't want to burden the rest of the group with this debt. The rest of the group is thinking about it but it seems that they are going to be a part of this community now.

This is not the American way,this is not normal to pick up someone else's debt and take it as your own. But I am beginning to think this is what the community in Acts was all about. Until I understand this I am going to have a hard time giving others advice.

Sometimes I don't really want to think about what it means to be the church and live like Jesus, because it doesn't look a whole lot like the life I think I enjoy.


Monday, December 27, 2010

An example Kenny Lane

As I heard of Kenny's passing last night. I couldn't help but smile- not because of the grief and pain his family will go through, not because of the loss that will be felt by those he cared for. The smile was for Kenny choosing to follow God, and why in the world did God use him so greatly?

As examples in my life go, Kenny wouldn't have seemed a likely candidate. As I remember him from my childhood I remember him looking menacing, tall, thin, and not exactly flowing with warmth. That was before I got to know him. I remember the time when he took his family and moved to Long Island to go to Bible School. Being in about sixth grade I thought it was a little strange for "older people" give up their lives to go to school. I remained close friends with their daughter (who was a day older than I) through their time at Christ for the Nations.

As I entered high school the Lane family came back to Brattleboro. My appreciation for Kenny bloomed from there.

Kenny invited me to go to New York City with New York City relief for a weekend when I was about 16. Never having experienced any multi cultured experience I was excited and scared to go with them. But then I thought if Kenny (who always seemed frail to me) can do it why can't I.

It was through going to Brooklyn and Bushwick park twice during my high school years and seeing the efffects of drugs, prostitution that greatly effected my views on life and God's love for humanity.

Even more than my experiences in New York, I saw Kenny doing something that was outside his comfort zone. He didn't look anything like the people we were serving. Yet I saw Kenny and Juanita hugging and befriending people that were nothing like them.

As I describe and think about the church I grew up in as a kid- I use the word serving (and now the buzzword missional) and immediately Kenny and Juanita come to mind as the examples I saw. Whether it was serving food in the church, delivering bread, helping people out with various other physical needs Kenny and Juanita were in the middle of that.

Kenny wasn't the stereotypical role model or example but seeing someone that gave up a normal life to follow God always amazes me and Kenny was one of the first people I ever saw do this.

Thank you Kenny for being an example of service and obedience.


At arms length

Delivering turkeys, doing worship services in jail, and giving away coats are all great ministry opportunities. It is helpful to those we are serving, and giving to. In many ways this makes us feel good also because we can see smiles, and appreciation on the faces of those we are serving.

After we do these type of ministry activities we leave and go back to our normal lives. If we were to ever run into any of the people we have met we would be cordial at best. But most of this type of ministry is at arms length.

I don’t want to use guilt, Bible verses, or manipulation to say that doing just these type of things are bad or not helpful. It is extremely helpful, and there may be a word or a smile that may greatly impact a persons life.

But what happens when we extend our arms to others? Not out of guilt or obligation but out of love and mercy.

This is when life gets messy, crazy, out of control, and unbelievable.

I want to tell the story of 4 families that I and many others had the opportunity to befriend this week.

James and Ashley, Brian, Herb, and Thomas-

On Friday we delivered coats and we ran into an old friend James- James we had met last year and was quite the character. He is fluent in four forms of martial arts, a little bit of hot head, and about 22 years old. James has a girlfriend named Ashley- when they came up to get coats, I noticed Ashley was pregnant. She is due in the middle of January. They live with a couple of other people, and I am unsure what the living situation is but there is a mixture of hopelessness and excitement as they prepare for this new child. When asked if there was anyone taking care of them? Ashley’s response was “ no I don’t see my family too much anymore. “ She said in a sad yet realistic voice that they weren’t going to be throwing her a baby shower. She is on wick and has had others give her items like a crib.

We spent quite a bit of time talking to her and getting their info. Without over stepping our bounds, we are going to try and throw her a baby shower. They are open to a relationship with God. But they need to be taught and discipled.

Saturday we met a young twenty something named Brian. Brian was visiting his aunt in a neighborhood we were delivering coats in. Within the first five minutes of the conversation Brian shared how his mom had died of cancer a few years before and his younger brother had died in August after health problems. It was just him and his dad left. His dad had found a girlfriend and was spending a lot of time with her. Brian was lonely and didn’t have too many friends. Brian spent the rest of the afternoon with us. I sensed that this didn’t happen to often in Brian’s life- talking, joking, and being in community.

Herb is currently in jail. Last night in a worship service- he came up to me with tears in his eyes. This 25 year old has been in and out of jail for the past 10 years and is addicted to heroin. He told me had it, this was it. He had been clean for 23 days the longest since he was much younger. He had another 30 days and then he was so scared to get out. His wife was also getting clean. Herb was so honest and straight forward. He doesn’t know if he will make it or not. He knows he needs God’s help and he is willing to do whatever but he is also realistic in knowing he could fail.

These were all random people- people that I can choose never to think about again. I can pray and hope others will come into their lives and have community and disciple them.

Then there is Thomas. (this is Phil’s story but I am stealing it). Thomas became a follower of Jesus while in jail. Thomas is one of 12 or so children. A group of us had the privilege of delivering a turkey dinner to their family right before Thanksgiving. The family was thankful and we prayed with them. The day after we had delivered the Thanksgiving meal, Phil was able to bring Thomas home. Thomas was released from jail and spent Thanksgiving with his family. The story could be over here but Phil invited Thomas to a group that meets on Wednesdays. It is a quasi house church/small group/missional community. It contains people from various backgrounds and settings.

Thomas was with us for the first time on Wednesday and after sharing, prayer, and singing Phil disappeared into the kitchen and emerged with a small bowl and a towel. I had no idea what to expect and then Phil said “Thomas you didn’t have a chance to be baptized in jail, so can we baptize you now in the middle of my living room? Thomas said yes definitively. Phil proceeded to lay the towel on the floor and a group of us surrounded Thomas and dumped water over his head as he knelt down.

After baptizing him, we prayed over him and the culture he is going back into. Tears rolled down many faces as we experienced this together.

We (especially Phil) could have kept Thomas at arms length he could have just “ministered” to him in jail. But because he didn’t the rest of us had the privilege and opportunity to be part of Thomas baptism and his life.

Please don’t keep people at arms length. It will be hard, it will be messy, it will take sacrifice, but seeing God at work in peoples lives is worth it.


It felt like a scene from Matlock. With beautiful candor and compossed passion the lawyer started his summation to the judge. "It just doesn't feel right, from the pit of my stomach this man should not spend any more time in prison." The lawyer went on for about 20 minutes portraying the injustice beng doled out to this man.

This man that functions at a 5-6 grade learning level, a man convicted of a sexual offense against a child many years before. He was sitting there shackeled in an orange jump suit listening intentally as the judge was about to deliver the verdict on the probation violations. He was 2 months away from successfully completing probation, but two minor infractions is what stood between him and 6 years of prison time.

As the moment stood still for a second while the judge pondered what to do, the other prisoners looked on in distain. Previously they had not known what this man had done, now that they knew he was a child molester the anger burned in their eyes. Later on they would threaten and tell him what was going to happen if he stayed in general prison population.

The verdict came- due to his missing a polygraph test, and going to a car wash he was going to have a 2 year sentence. Within the laws of Indiana he will be required to spend one year in prison with good behaivor. Since he had already served three months in the county jail he will be required to serve 9 months more.

As I questioned and wrestled through my thoughts yesterday- many different angles of this story played in my mind.

Half way through the lawyers summation he motioned to a few of us sitting in the court room. These people are this man's support system. "Ben Polhemus a pastor is willing to vouch for him."

In those brief seconds in the court room, I am being associated by name with a child molester. Here in front of people I was being identified as someone who is willing to stand up for him.

Is this how Peter felt when he was accused of knowing and following Jesus? For a brief second I wanted to leave the courtroom and say no I am a respectable person don't associate me with this man.

I have no idea who I am suppose to advocate for, or stand in the gap for on a regular basis but I do know I was to be there yesterday sitting in the courtroom for a man, most in society like the those other prisoners look on in distain.

I am not advocating what he did in his past.

As I was thinking about this yesterday the passage in Hebrews came to mind of Jesus sitting in God's presence advocating on our behalf. Even though He knows our hearts, our actions, and our motives he is advocating for us.

How easy it is for me to only want to advocate for those I know are going to be perfect in the future. How I am not willing to take the risk and want the sure thing. At the end of the day I want to be standing with the winners and not the losers.

It is hard to be like Jesus- when he was being accused of being friends of sinners. Could we be accused of that? Not a person that engages in that type of behaivor but rather someone that is with them.

I have been asked multiple times over the last month the same basic question- "hey you know poor people, is there anyone you know that I can help?

I take that as some sort of compliment, but it is a little frustrating, because we can all know people that are hurting and are poor in all different ways.

The question is who are we going to be accused of knowing?

Friday, November 5, 2010

Faith, Hope, and Materialism

Percy- may be the most violent man I have ever met. He has committed multiple murders, he has taken revenge in ways that I couldn't even imagine. Yet something has changed in Percy. Percy is a soft spoken, kind, and a man that loves God.

Men who previously knew him can see a difference. Not long ago he was causing problems in the prison. He was acting much like he did on the outside. Then something changed. He started following Jesus.

It isn't an abnormal story for someone in prison. It isn't uncommon for someone who is at the end of their resources. Change is so much easier for someone in dire straits. Faith, hope, and prayer is something I have seen in abundance in those that are marginalized. Those that cant control their circumstances.

I am beginning to see why Jesus said it is tougher for a rich man to go through an eye of a needle than it is for him to go to heaven.

We can do this on our own- or so we think. Why do I need faith if I can provide for all my needs and wants.
Do I think that it is normal to have such wealth and spend it on myself? Is our American society conducive at all in to realize the need of Jesus? Many decry sexuality, music, and entertainment as the problem. The question I have is that the only problem?
I have begun to ask questions how does materialism effect my faith? This isn't a guilt or a have to thought but rather is comfort helping me follow Jesus?

I had an incredible discussion yesterday with some friends- does entertainment, sports, general materialism lead to happiness? Are enjoying these things helpful in my becoming like Jesus?

Does having the love of money mean that my faith is in myself and providing for myself? As always there is more questions than answers.
As I continue to see people that examplify faith and trust in God, it is people that are in rough situations. People that have had uncontrollable things happen and still love God.
My heart is beginning to break for those who have it all together, those who think they can do it by themselves.
Percy and others continue to teach me. He will be locked up for the rest of his life, (rightfully so) but that is not going to stop his desire for learning, and following Jesus, and my priviledge to watch and learn from him.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

This probably wasn't a good idea

"Ben I want to go to prison" were the words in the email. This was from a former youth group student of mine. This 22 year old female. Immediately I had my doubts and all the reasons why this wasn't a good idea, but I asked do you know what you are getting into? After a conversation and a tour of the prison she decided she wanted to go to a class with me.
So yesterday with my psuedo-intern John and Leah we went and taught in prison. I was wrestling with the responsibility and what was going to happen the night before. I was a little concerned never having taken a girl into this enviornment before.
This experience would be my most interesting time up to date. As I prepared them in the car ride over, we covered all the normal dos and donts that go along with visiting a max security prison. I had prepared the inmates the week before and was semi confident that I could trust them to be respectful.
As we settled into the class John so eloquently asked "So who in here is innocent?" I immediately cringed. I appriacted the tolernace the gentleman in the class had. They were patient with niavity and interesting questions. They joked, conversed, and had serious moments in the class. They were perfect gentleman until one asked Leah what her sign was. As the class came to a close and I started to relax a little, one of the guys asked Leah "How have you handled adversity in her life?" She began by sharing about her dad dying in the last year due to cancer. She then went on to share about the struggles she had with an emotionally abusive boyfriend and doing somethings that she wanted to save for marriage. During this time she broke down and started crying. John and I looked at each other not knowing what to do. One of the guys spoke up "hey why dont one of you two give her a hug since we aren't allowed to touch her."
"Another got some toilet paper and gave it to me to give to her to wipe away her tears."
As the tears stopped Leah went on and shared how due to her relationship with her boyfriend she had become depressed and had difficulty communicating with her dad before he died and how there were things she wanted to say and tell him all abot what happened.
I had no idea all that was in her, a few of the inmates reassured her that her dad loved her and was proud of her.
One of the older gentleman shared how his daughter had an abortion and done other things that he didn't agree with but he still loved her.
Leah ended the class by singing a song (she is an opera major in college).
I didn't know what to think, say, or do. This had changed course and the men in the class became compassionate, encouraging, and helpful. This wasn't at all what I expected.
As many other surreal moments this one ended with us shaking hands with all the guys and them giving inspirational words to Leah.
Not knowing exactly what these guys thought of the time, I asked one of the men about his thoughts in front of the head of the program. This white late twenties guy was pretty excited. He said "Leah's story changed my mind on my time here in prison. I was just passing time and waiting to get out and sell drugs again. Now after listening to her made me think of my daughter and thinking about my relationship with her."
Who knows if that will really change him or not. I would be more confident bringing in another female in again. There is always the possibility of something going wrong, but the way they resinated with her story and showed mercy and care moved me. One of the tough young guys, tatooed hardened commented as Leah was crying, it is ok we all cry from time to time.
Taking risks like this is hard, if it go wrong many people say I told you so (and deservedly so) but the experience John, Leah, and I experienced was priceless and seeing inmates as human beings is something I would want everyone to experience.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I'm a meth cook

"I have only one skill, and I am damn good at it." Were the words of the inmates mouth. The 40 something scraggily hair, unkept clothing, and a traces of a goatee then went on to say- "the only thing I can do well is cook meth." "Last time I was out, I tried to stay clean. I got a job for $7 an hour and then some of my old buddies found me. They dropped the ingredients for meth on my table and said just make it this one time for us. We know how good you are and no one comes close to cooking it up like you. So I did it, and then they sold some of it. The other clients were hooked, they wanted more. My buddies came back to my house laid $3,000 on my table and said give us all you have. That lured me right back in."
He then asked "how can I stay away from this lure?"
He knows the consequences of what happens if he doesn't. He is going to be a fifty something when he is done serving his time in prison.
I am asked on a weekly basis - do these guys really want to change? When I looked in the mans eyes into his soul I could see the desire. But I wouldn't bet a huge amount of money that he will change. The lure is to great. He is not going to do anything better than a $7-$10 an hour job. His best skill is creating an illegal substace. How does that transfer into making his life better?

Doc piped up at this point in time in the class. "I was good at what I did also. I robbed banks. I was taught by a professional and that was my skill. But you know what else I am good at? We all looked and could only imagine what the next words would be. I am good at washing dishes. I don't care what I have to do I am not coming back to prison."

Change is so hard for all of us, but for people who have made a lifestyle of illegal activity it so difficult to change. I asked yesterday how many guys had held a legitimate job before? Almost all of them raised their hands. But selling drugs, pimping woman, robbing banks, doing who knows what else makes much more money than a legitimate job.

Sacrificing the temporal for long term is hard for most of us. Discipline and deciding to forgo the short term money for long term success is a hard decision for most of these incarcarated men.
Most of them will go back to what they were doing, even though many have found God in a meaningful way. The draw is too strong, the alternatives are much to hard.

I don't have a whole lot of solutions, there are things that would need to happen on a large scale level to change what happens in our inner cities and the culture that these men grow up in.
There would need to be changes in individual middle class lives and changes in our culture also.

I am beginning to see more and more patterns emerge from men I meet in prison. Choosing a path of crime is a normal occurance in their families and friends. For the most of us we don't know criminals, most of our family members go to college have jobs and live fairly normal. Doing illegal activity is not really an option that we entertain. We don't see this modeled.

Recently I observed a man running from the police and hiding in his home. His kids were there to see it. This now becomes an option for them, whether conciously or sub consciously running from the police is an ok act because my father figure did it.

I am naive and I continue to learn and see how people grew up differently than me and how it does effect there long term outlook on life.

At the end of class the meth cook with hope in his eyes asked me do you know people who could give me clothes, help me find a job, or feed me after I get out? I had to laugh because I wondered is this man asking me or is Jesus asking me.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Journeying together

Guessing what was coming next I asked- did he get in trouble for graffiti? Those were not the right words to say as I listened to the reason his son had been sent to the youth detention center. I was not expecting what I heard next- "no it is very embarrassing my son was arrested for some inappropriate actions he had with his brother. " I wasn’t carrying on a conversation with someone that didn’t know God or was far from the church. Rather this was a close dear friend who loved God and did his best to bring up his children the same way.
I am at a loss- when I say and desire to be in people’s live do I really know what that means? Superficial relationships are easy, there is no dirtiness, no hurt, no pain. How many more people are dealing with deep issues but we aren’t there to listen? How many of the close people we go to church/small group with are dealing with life shattering issues? When we ask people how they are doing- what do we do when they respond honestly?
I am coming closer to believing that most people I come in contact with have serious issues. Maybe I am involved in abnormal people’s lives. I would say I am not scared when I hear situations like this but I am. I don’t know what to say to my friend. I don’t know what can be said that his family will never be the same. I am not even worried about saying words of wisdom but rather comments that are insensitive.
It is easy to not get involved in these type of situations. All we have to do is say pat simple answers, leave it in God’s hands and walk away. Of course God is in control and God is with them always. But does that mean that we get to walk away? Does that mean that they don’t need others on this horrible journey? Is that our job as Christians to fix things? If situations don’t change do we walk away?
I have way too many questions and not a lot of answers. This morning I saw how this walking together looks like. I was in Porter county jail doing baptisms for some recent converts of Jesus and one of the girls shared her story with us. She has pleaded guilty to a crime and she is looking at a 30-year prison sentence. The crime she plead guilty to was causing the death of her child. She is from Arkansas had only lived in Porter County for a month before becoming incarcerated. She has a fiancee (who she had moved up here to be with) is contemplating whether to stay with her or not. It seemed from our conversation that her relationship with family was not good. The hospital chaplain had done the funeral for her son that was the only "religious person" she knew in Indiana. No one was walking this journey with her.
Then came Amy. Amy came to Christ while she has been locked up. Her crime in our eyes is not nearly as severe. Even in the penal system inmates are very judgmental of each other and a person that kills their own child is not looked at with fondness or compassion. Amy stepped out of her comfort zone to walk with this young woman. Helping the least of these is not easy in any setting. Amy has shared, led a Bible study, and introduced this girl to Jesus. Amy has walked the journey with her. Even with scrutiny, and raised eyebrows from others Amy has walked with a person that Jesus loves and wants to have a relationship with.

I believe this is what we are called to: walking with other people and steering them in the direction of Jesus’ love, grace, mercy, and justice. As I walk this journey with others my faith comes in knowing that God will do the fixing,

I just get to enjoy others as we walk this path. Please be in prayer for the family who is dealing with this situation with the son in youth detention and the girl who is struggling with the concept of forgiveness for what she did to her child in jail.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Friendship learned from children

She jumped off the bus, missing the last two stairs. This was an important day, one she had been looking forward to for a while. This was the first day she was having a friend over. It had been so difficult for her to concentrate in school that day. Even though the day was rainy and cold the weather would not diminish her joy.
She had been over to other classmates houses but never had she had one over. Her plans for the hour play date were to play with everything she owned. They were going to play with dolls, dress up, connect four, eat, and anything else she could think of.
The short walkup the driveway was covered in 4 steps as the little girls ran into the house. She wanted to give her friend the rules of the house so she showed her where to throw her book bag, coat, and shoes.
Snacks came first, by three in the afternoon hunger had built up since lunchtime. First grade was much tougher than kindergarten, no more snack time, or rest time in the afternoon. Today’s snack time is extra special- ice cream. Like everything else that happens this afternoon- it is fast, loud, and talking about future plans.
After ice cream the next stop is the dollhouse. This little girl is so proud to parade out her best toys. The friend doesn’t live in a house like this. Although this house is not big by any stretch is it is bigger than where she lives. As they are playing with the doll house the talk turns to brothers and sisters. The friend shares how she has close to 10 brothers and sisters but only two live with her because the others are just stepsiblings.
The hour and half goes by quickly and is fairly normal other than the little brother greeting the girls in his knights outfit and then being sad when the girls didn’t want to play with him.
The time was winding down and it was time to bring the friend home. The sugar buzz from the ice cream had worn off and the excitement had taken its toll. The talk was much more subdued and the conversation turned to when they would go over to the other house.
Even with all the differences the girls didn’t care. One lives in a subdivision the other in a trailer court. One is Hispanic and the other Caucasian. One does very well in school and the other has been labeled with a learning disability. My daughter is the one with the learning disability. Friendship is much simpler and possibly even easier when we are young.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A Mother's Journey

The fear was someone would find out. People would think she was a bad mother, it was her fault that 3 of her kids were sitting in the county jail. The press was hounding them- they had to move. So they moved to a different town in a different county. For 5 months she kept the secret, not her neighbors not her co-workers, not even her pastor knew about her kids. They were under the impression that she only had one son.
All the pain, all the feelings of inadequacy, all the financial strain, all the worry sat squarely on this moms shoulders. Shame and pain kept her from letting others in. Lack of resources kept her three kids ages 19-23 locked up.
Then one day during a time outside her neighbor asked how long her husband had been doing wood working. The mother thought and in typical mother fashion she measured time by the ages of her kids. Then she did what she had been so careful not to do for five months she mentioned her daughters name.
It came out by accident,she hoped that the neighbor had not heard. The neighbor immediately picked up on the name and puzzled asked who this girl was. The mom was fearful she had liked the neighbor and the relationship that had blossomed. This neighbor had also invited them into a church community that they had felt comfortable in. The mom knew that the next few minutes could change this relationship.
She sighed and then told the story of her three other children. It wasn't that she was ashamed of these kids as much as she was scared of the judgment and the label that would come from people knowing. She still loved and cared for her 2 boys and daughter who are looking at 8 year prison sentences.
She knew that any type of explanation of the crime would not do justice. She knew that her kids would be judged on this one act rather than anything good they had done.
As she told the neighbor, tears swelled up in the neighbors eyes. She softly said "I wish I had known.I wish I had known so I could have been a support to you." That was the beginning of this mom's journey into sharing her pain. The neighbor encouraged her to share the story with the pastor and the church.
The mom was still very hesitant, she had been down this road before with the church and it hadn't always turned out good. But the neighbor had reassured her that this church cared and would want to walk the journey with her.
Being a small church- Sunday mornings involve a time of sharing at the end of the sermon. The mom scared and worried all week about this moment summoned the courage to stand up and go to the front. Her and her husband slowly walked down the aisle to the front. The pastor's message that Sunday had been on grace and forgiveness. There had been a few points that morning that had pierced her heart. There was a still soft voice that reassured her that these were people I can share and not hide my pain from.
As she and her husband began to share their story, eyes began to tear up. People began surrounding them with open arms of support. The pastor said many reassuring words that they would not be alone anymore with their pain. As the time began winding down a young couple came forward and asked if they could share something. The pastor not knowing what to expect granted them to speak.
This young couple began very uncomfortable and red faced. They then shared how they were not married, they were planning on it but had not made the commitment yet. They had made a bad decision and how she was pregnant. The couple like the mom had been hiding this inside due to the fear of judgment and insensitivity. The couple paused after dropping this bomb shell. They went on to explain that they had thought about other ideas of how to cover this up, but couldn't. The pastor tears running down his eyes again just hugged the couple.The couple were crying, so sad they had let so many people down, they just kept repeating sorry. The pastor just hugged them back not having any words to say.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Community- A lesson from Prison

Who can I confied in? Who will I allow to speak into my life? Who will say those things that I need to hear?
Community is a concept many of us like much more than the reality. From my own experience as long as things are good we enjoy people, we enjoy others speaking into our life for encouragement or helping with wisdom. We like it when we are affirmed that we are making the right choices.
What happens when we aren't making the right choices? Being misguided is somethign that we as humans are very good at. It is very easy for us in our minds to convince ourselves that something is a great concept when reality it is not.
I have had some "great" ideas and concepts in my lifetime, great inventions, ideas that could save the world. No I have not won the nobel peace prize and the no one is calling me for advice on my vast knowledge. Of course these ideas were not great but I could not see that for myself. If left on my own my misguidings could lead to my ruin. I have grown to appriciate the wisdom and bluntness that many of those in my circle of friends have given me. It is not always fun and there have been some rough conversations through those times.
It is because of my experience in this area that I have encouraged the men in my class I teach in prison to try to find some others to find community with. In my teaching at prison I have brought this subject up numerous times only to be told that while in prison you keep to yourself and only tell what information needs to be told. If men in ISP were only staying there for a few months I could understand (I don't fully understand and this may just be one of my "great" ideas.but this is home for the next 20+ years of life for the majority of them.
I am pretty passionate about community and last week when I was talking through living a life of faith, I was asked about how I did it? I told them the gist of the above and that I had real hard time doing it on my own.
One gentleman about 40 said "man, I want to do that. But all my life I have choosen the wrong people to trust. I grew up on the streets and the people I trusted help me in making bad descisions and now I am here."
This other inmate said "when I was on the streets I use to blow everyone else off and not listen to anyone. I would punch people if they said something I didn't want to hear, but now after being in the joint for 15 years. I have allowed a few guys to speak into my life and it has helped me so much.
Looking around the room it was almost like this inmate had found the holy grail. Everone else in the class was glued to his every word. They wanted and needed this type of community but were so scared to trust.
I don't understand prison life, but I do understand the fear and not wanting to open up oursleves to others. The questions those men asked last week were not unique to prison but rather questions we ask ourselves many times. It was just a different context than most of us experience.
I had lunch with a guy last week, who told me I don't have any friends. I am in management in the business I work in, and I don't know many other people. Is this common? Probably a lot more than we realize. Community takes work,and sometimes we are too scared or too prideful to allow it to happen.

The economy- from the view of a prisoner

"I want to change, I don't want to do what I have always done. Every idea I have on how to make money is illegal."
That was the beginning of a frank and honest conversation with my class this week in prison. In a world that has kept moving while these men are paying their price for their crimes , they try and enter back into the world.
Many of these men entered prison before cell phones or the internet was such a intricate part of our fabric. They joked how the last cell phones they remember are the ones that where the size of my forarm and weighed as much as a dumbell.
These men are not just spending time paying for their crimes, they will be paying for their crimes for the rest of their lives. It is not reasonable or realistic to think that they will be getting jobs in our current economic climate. Even for those who desire to change their ways if there is a stack of a few resumes on an employers desk the one with a felony on it gets discarded first. (not that is wrong but that is reality).
I had a young african american male who was in his mid twenties look me in the eye and ask why should I even try? This kid who is mid twenties is in prison for selling drugs. He has learned how to read, and has been in programs to help himself while in prison, he will be coming out in the next year, he wil lbe joining our community. His contacts are other "street thugs(his term)", he doesn't know many "straight people."
He has done well, but he is going to be without friends, money, or anything else when he gets out. (This story is not unique). Unless something miracoulous hapens he will go right back into the same enviorment he was in. He then asked why shouldn't I spend my time trying to become a better criminal?
There was such honesty and sincerity in the question, this is all he has known. He comes from a dad who was also a criminal and his support system is not much at all.
It is up to him, he comes out of prison alone. He doesn't have a strong personality,he is shy I am sure just by my interactions with him he is a follower. He doesn't stand a chance. I do not have any ideas or formulas to solve this problem but rather help us realize that even though many people especially african american males spend time in prison pay their debt. They also reemerge into society and when they get out we do not great them with anything but disdain and so many hurdles that is almost impossible not to go back to what got them in trouble in the first place.