Thursday, December 1, 2016

the world through our eyes

"Who stands up for them?" Was the question I was asked a few weeks ago. It was posed by a mom whose son was looking to go back into prison for a violation of probation. I could go into my opinions and thoughts of why I agreed or disagreed with the decision of the courts, but in the weeks following I have thought more about the perception and the answer to this moms question.
Why do we fear what we fear? Is it reality? Why are we more afraid of sharks then bees? We have a much greater chance of dying of bee stings than a shark attack. Why are we more afraid of a stranger breaking into our house or our lives and doing savage harm? Reality if something bad were to happen to us it is much more of a likelyhood that it would be someone we know.
So when this mom asked the question of who stands up for them? She was referring to her son who is a convicted sex offender. The answer is basically no one. This is one area of politics and social justice issues that everyone can put their collective anger together on and say these are the bad people of society and even though we cant agree on much we can agree on the punishment and permanent mark against these people.
I am never going to diminish or speak in agreement of what many people have done. There has been many awful things done to people I know, and it is never ok and should never be minimized. This is where our thinking gets extremely difficult. Sex offenders have committed crimes that have violated trust and went strongly against society values. Now what?
Sex offenders bear the brunt of society anger, both just and unjustified. I am not going to paint them as victims or that they don't deserve overt scrutiny because I understand some of it is very just.
But in the end how do we treat sex offenders as people God loves, God created, and God cares for?
One of the biggest frustrations I have with the church is a response I typically get. "Ben I am so glad you have a heart for these people( anyone messy outside of the church) but it isnt for me." I am sorry that is a cop out. I can be as selfish and self centered as anyone else and it is a daily choice to get involved in other peoples drama. I personally dont think as someone who follows Jesus that we can make our own standards of conduct and the lines we draw of who we treat well and who we dont.
Everyone in life I have ever met I disagreed with a decision they have made, including myself. To love care or show Gods grace does not mean I agree or affirm decisions made because I dont, but I dont think that excludes me from showing love and grace to anyone.
So when this mom asked the question of who stands up for her son, can I say I do? I do it with hesitancy and some trepidation. I dont stand up for him because he has made every right decision, I do so because he is created in the image of Christ and just as lepers were treated with distain and even less than human Jesus didnt do that. Jesus could have played the ultimate victim card but he didnt he responded in love and grace to the people who killed him. I know many have faced awful tragedies and pain. But is our response fear based and worry about something else? Or is our response like Jesus and full of humility grace and love?

Monday, December 8, 2014

A story of forgiveness that continues

I looked at him he looked vaguely familiar.  His glasses were taped up and he had some sort of black stocking cap on, he smiled at me and waved. I couldn't place him. As we continued to listen to the prison creed cover band I was wracking my brain trying to figure out who he was. As the chapel service came to a close he approached me. "Are you Ben?" not even trying to pretend I knew who he was I said yes, how do I know you? I am Brandon I was in one of your Plus classes. I wouldn't and didn't recognize him. But I remembered him. I have told his story so many times. It had been over 8 years since I had seen him last. I asked how he was doing? And the answer was a lot has changed in my life. He then went to get some coffee and I was left wondering what had happened in his life over the last many years of his life.
His story I have told many times, and even written about it, but as a refresher he was in the very first class I ever taught. I was teaching the Purpose Driven Life. My expectations were that I would have a guard with a big gun standing next to me as I taught. Reality was that the chaplain who escorted me in left to sit in his office and I was along with over 60 men in the same chapel I was in yesterday afternoon. As I went through the first few chapters of the book, I asked the question "When have you seen God in other people or situations?" Brandon raised his hand, and asked if he could share something?  he stood up next to me and took the mic and shared his story. These were the words I remember like they were yesterday. "I am in here for my part of a murder. I did what I was accused of doing. While I was in county jail waiting for trial, one day I was waiting for some friends to visit and a guard came to my cell. He told me I had a visitor so I went to the visiting room and it was the kind where there are tables separated by glass. I looked down the line and there was no one I recognized. The only open table was this little old lady and I looked at the guard and he shrugged and said she is here to see you. It was better than going back to my cell so I sat down and grabbed the phone and she asked me are you Brandon? I responded yes. She said I'm Timmy's grandmother (the boy you murdered) and I want to tell you I forgive you." Brandon ended his story with saying and that's when I saw God at work.

This story drew me into wanting to be a part of these men's lives. This story gave me hope for personal freedom from guilt, bitterness, and many other emotions that people do to deal with pain. I knew after hearing this story that there was so much I could learn from these men and their situations.

At the time Brandon an Asatru. It is a form of Germanic neopaganism faith. He was friendly but connected and steadfast in his faith.

After he got his coffee yesterday afternoon he came back over and wanted to talk. He gave me a hug, and said "man its been a long time." I agreed and proceeded to tell him that I had told his story so many times. He smiled and through his facial tattoos and his taped up glasses he said my life has changed and that story isn't over. I can't remember all he said as I was caught up in emotion and memories. But two parts stick out. The first being he has become a Christian. He shared between the program I taught and other brothers in the prison, he explored Christianity and God drew him in.
The second thing caught me offguard. Timmy's cousin has since been incarcerated at ISP. I asked him how that went? He at first was very worried and scared because those kind of situations do not usually end well. The vengeance factor of killing a family member usually ends in some kind of payback.
One day this cousin approached Brandon and said hey we are cool. I forgive you. Since then the two have become friends.
As Brandon was leaving he shared one last thing, even though his family forgave me, I still struggled with forgiving myself. But I have started to do that. I feel like I can forgive myself. It may be another 8 years until I see Brandon again, but it was an honor and blessing to hear and see God at work in his life.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Loneliness

As I walked into the high school the cafeteria on my left was a buzz. Typical high school and jr high interactions, kids running, chasing, and teasing each other. There were about 7 sub groups of various sizes laughing, giggling, singing, and carrying on. Within all of this commotion and life was a table with one little girl, sitting staring at the ground, playing with her hands uncomfortably. She wasn't obvious as she was sitting in the back of the room away from all the life. She would look up occasionally but quickly look down as she realized that she didn't fit into any of these sub groups.

Loneliness it effects us all to some degree. But some much more than others. The picture of loneliness has begun to take a much broader picture than the just the out of place high schooler. One time I asked a man who was very successful in his early 50s, if he had any friends? He gave a quip about why I would ask such a thing, and then in a moment of honesty said no I wish I did and it has been something I have been praying and asking God for.

I was talking recently with a man who had been released from jail. As we were talking about this topic of loneliness he told me an interesting story. There are phones in the jail pods (pod is a set of 12-20 individual cells) and he said there will be guys standing at the phones without anyone at the other end. They will either be extremely quite or even carry on a one sided conversation. Men that either don't have any connections or family that has deserted them. That phone even though it didn't hold meaningful conversation held a physical symbol of connection.

Last week I was talking to a single parent and asked how their past month had went, the answer was well I work and then I am home every night with my kids. I miss adult interaction was the term they used.

Loneliness is all around us, if not to a large part in us. As Kyle told me one day I wish I had a best friend when we drove by two boys sitting on the side of the road enjoying each others company. I think many wish for that human connection but don't have it.

The little girl sitting alone at the table in the high school was my daughter Ellyse.  That visual image will stay with me for some time if not forever as I watched and observed her before going and picking her up. 

There are many statistics of how and when kids join gangs, do drugs, get pregnant, or various other social ills. I can see my daughter going down a path of trouble not because she is a bad kid but rather because this peer group accepts her.

It saddens me on a daily basis to see basic human interactions withheld from people. I spent the last 3 days listening to topics of truth, being right and others being wrong, and all sorts of other issues with society. In the end we can pontificate about all of these issues and demonize all sorts of things, but in the end two things stick with me. 1. I have so much garbage in my own life that I really can't begin to judge others. 2. People are the ones who get hurt, and alienated through rants and raves.

Taking the story of the creation from the Bible, God created man to have a relationship with Him and then realized the man would be lonely here on earth created other people to be in community with. I believe we were created to have community with both God and other people. Community with God sometimes is a whole lot easier than with other people.

In thinking through daily practical life, how do we approach human interaction? Is it a necessary evil or is each conversation and interaction a gift? How does our life change when we view interaction as a gift? I don't think that depths of conversation happen without intentionality.  When we see each person created in the image of God each day it is really hard to look down upon them or with judgement.

When we can see each of them in the same boat and messed up as we are, just trying to survive, full of fear, insecurity, anger, self hatred, and shame. This knowledge can change our approach and interactions with people each and every day. When we act on this the world is full of much less loneliness.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Being pushed from unlikely people

With his soulful brown eyes, green jumpsuit soft spoken Alvin (name changed) says my life looks nothing like it did when I was 19. I was a thug, I did a lot of dumb stuff and deserved to be in prison. When I got out I became really boring. My daughter said what happened to you? You are wearing cargo pants, and chap sweaters. Alvin had changed from young hooligan to a productive member of society. He worked full time, bought a house, and was a family man. His Saturdays were spent making pancakes, taking the kids to Disney movies, and mowing the lawn. He had served his punishment and now was on a different path. Then Alvin and his wife tried to help out his brother in law. His brother in law had been a crack head. He had a cycle. He would do well, get a job then all the money would be spent on crack and he would cause problems in the house, he would get kicked out, get clean and then start the cycle again.
Alvin wanted to help him and tried to, helping find numerous jobs. After about 3 times of this happening while in one his drug binges the brother in law became violent and Alvin had to step in so no one got hurt and the police were called. When they arrived the situation had deescalated but as they ran everyone's name they found that Alvin had served time for a violent offense and was still on probation. He was immediately arrested for probation violation and has been sitting in jail for 7 months while he awaits his fate. He could have to serve the rest of his original sentence which would be another 5 years. As Alvin was telling me his story he said I don't even remember what I was I like back when I committed my crime. I can't remember what kind of clothes I wore, what food or music I liked it is a different world.
As I left my conversation with Alvin, I thought he is taking this much better than I would. He is positive and helping other men who he is incarcerated with. In the past he had a reputation for fighting, causing problems, and being an annoyance. Those days are behind him, he is a model prisoner. His life has changed and no matter if he is locked up or not he will be a positive influence to those around him.

I thoroughly enjoy listening and talking to people who do things that don't go along with the norm. Mr. Stoner and Mr. Eads are two men I grew so fond of so quickly. I tear up as I think of these men. Both are over the age of 75. My experience of serving with Kairos a couple of weekends ago was nothing short of amazing. Both of these men walk with the aid of a cane  and help. What first drew me to Mr. Stoner was his voice. His voice reminded so much of a baseball broadcaster's. It was deep but soothing. I wanted to find out more about him, he had indeed done radio. it wasn't sports but a small station in central Indiana. Mr. Stoner had been going through chemo before our retreat and was going to start the Monday after we were done. I asked him what made him want to do the retreat. He said he was a retired law enforcement officer. Immediately I had to ask why he wanted to come into a maximum security prison?  He gave some simple answer of being invited to serve with a friend. That wasn't a good enough answer so I pried. I said don't you have a dislike for prisoners, most people in law enforcement can't stand them and don't think they will ever change? Mr. Stoner looked me square in the eye and said they are wrong. I have been praying for these men ever since I started law enforcement when I was in my 20s. He then said I wish I had known about this opportunity earlier.
Mr Eads was amazing early 80s Parkinson disease, wife dementia.
Both of these men during the retreat were in charge of prayer. They prayed the whole weekend for the men for the speakers, every aspect, but most of all that God would create a break through in their lives.

People like this inspire, encourage, keep life in perspective and push me to continue following Jesus.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Once this problem is solved then.......

I have spent a lot of my life waiting, not always a good wait though. It has been with the thought once this problem (whatever it may be) changes than I will do this (something positive, change etc.).
This mentality has been paralyzing at times, yet hopeful that once situations gets proverbially better than my life will be better.
There have been many worries especially when I was younger- once I get the perfect job, or once I get more money, or any other number of scenarios play out than it will be great.
Age catches up and the realization that this life now is reality, reality is no matter what situation I am in, I am the same person bringing the same issues, fears, weaknesses, and baggage into each situation with me.
Kyle has brought many of these thoughts to the forefront. Life won't physically get better, it may be a long time before Jill or I get a full night sleep. The almost impossibility of flying with Kyle makes traveling limited. Due to all his needs Jill and I going away alone for any amount of time is remote. None of those things are going to change. So how does this affect, impact, and even drive our thinking?
In spending many hours with men who look at life in prison I find hope and wisdom from them. I always ask the question how do you get through it, men who have served 20 plus years incarcerated tend to tell the same story. I fought it for the first five or so years. I did the same the things I did on the street, then eventually I realized that wasn't going to help. Usually they turned to faith, but in the end they had a peace even within their surroundings. Circumstances didn't change, their desire to be out with loved ones didn't change. Their character changed. From one of holding onto ideals of what life should be to making the most out of reality.

I remember the first questions I asked after Kyle was diagnosed with MD. I asked the doctor if his children would automatically have MD? I look back and think what a dumb question in the scheme of his life. The things I worried about, and the trivial things that worried me are so minor now compared to the struggles he deals with on a daily basis.

The ideals of life cloud our thinking many times about God, purpose, faith, and living. Last week Jill and I had the unfortunate experience of having our water heater go out for a couple of hours. The frustration of not taking a warm shower was great (in a warped sense). After kicking the heater a few times, and praying God please fix this thing. It ended up working a few hours later. As I was thinking through the process of why it worked. I was convinced it was the kick that worked. But I thought about faith, prayer, and interaction with God. Could God fix it? Sure. But the question is why would He fix it? Or better yet why are most of the prayers I pray about my own comfort and wants? Is anything going to happen (better or worse) if I don't have hot water? No. I will still be clean, and there are tons of people in the world (past and present) who didn't/don't have hot water, so why do I feel like it is my right to have hot water?

In my conversations with men serving life, I have heard it said many times. "People on the outside don't appreciate their simple freedom." I agree with that statement on many levels. In general we don't treat many aspects of life as gifts rather we treat them as rights. Things we deserve for whatever reason. Sure there are those that work hard and there are those who have reaped what they have sown. But this trickles down into attitudes, and daily actions.

What if life never changes? What if the problems never go away? Does this mean I am cursed,or God doesn't love me? I had my hopes that I would have won the billion dollars on the ncaa bracket and life would have been perfect, but I like everyone else didn't. As someone posted on facebook now onto to the next get rich quick scheme. That is our mentality, security comes from knowing I will be taken care of. Whether God likes me or not I can control my destiny by taking care of myself.

I have found that trusting God is difficult, because it doesn't lead to the same place I want to go. It leads to development in character more than comfort. It leads to having issues that don't go away fast, and growing in them. If the fruit of the spirit is one of the natural results of following Jesus: (having love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self control) winning a billion dollars will not accomplish that in my life. It may in others but I am  not going to exhibit those qualities in winning.

In the end I am beginning to learn (not fully) that life isn't so much of quickly getting through struggles so normal life can go on. Rather that struggles are a part to grow through and in the end the appreciation for life, God's grace and gifts become so much more evident on a daily basis.