Stand Against Violence

Violence is not the answer. Ever.
So, we are taking a stand in the community to stand against violence. To stand against the kind of mass murder that occurred at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. To stand against hatred and destruction.
Who knows what the ripple effect could be of a few people taking a stand in a small town Louisiana to say, “No more”?
Perhaps a seed will be planted in a young person. One with the energy and vision and passion to carry the mantle of Martin Luther King Jr. or Gandhi and say, “No more” to the rhetoric of violence and disregard for humanity. Perhaps a great leader of a powerful non-violent movement will rise up from our band. Or, perhaps the great leader will simply be inspired by hearing about a small number of people gathered in the name of peace.
MLK said that no one could do everything but everyone can do something. That is what I am longing for, to be one who does something. For too long I’ve lived with complacency. For too long I’ve accepted the situation and felt powerless. No more. I may not have a lot of power, but I am going to use the power I do have. I will be strong and courageous, very strong and very courageous.
Won’t you come with me? We can be stronger and more courageous when we walk together on this journey of taking a public stand for peace.

Get out of Jail Free? Paying the Debt to Society.

Imagine working for five years to pay off a credit card debt. You made the maximum payment you could possibly make every single month and at last, you have paid off your debt! Then you discover that you must pay a penalty payment each month for the foreseeable future. What would that be like? It would be just like going to prison for five years, working hard pay your debt and earn your release then you discover you must continue to pay every single month when you get out.

Many Sources of Additional Costs

Former prisoners are hit with probation and parole fees. When a person must be monitored by an ankle bracelet, he or she must pay the monthly fees for the ankle bracelet. Sometimes there is restitution to pay. That is usually finite, but it can be burdensome as well.

There are additional costs, not necessarily money paid to someone else. It is in opportunity cost: the price the individual pays for lost opportunities both from time out of the workforce and discrimination against former felons. Checking the box, the one that says you have had a conviction, makes it more difficult to get hired. You are likely to be unable to travel abroad, thus limiting your employment opportunities. There are certain professions that ban felons, including many jobs that require a professional license.

Hope

If you have been incarcerated, you probably already know that you must decide whether or not prison is the place you want to be.

Interventions

If you are looking for ways you can hlep those who have paid their time and are dealing with the challenges of rebuilding their live, Dr. Davis’ story illustrates that he did not get through his journey alone. He certainly had at least one person in his corner saying, “You can do this.” It is easy for people who have made big enough mistakes to serve a felony conviction to believe that they simply can’t get anything right. Would you be able to be the one to point out a person’s strong points and encourage them in their endeavors?

There are real, basic things that can be done.

  • Proper clothing for an interview.
  • Conduct a few mock interviews.
  • Have your Sunday School class adopt a family and write everyone notes.

If you run across a former prisoner who is having a hard time, don’t judge them.  Listen carefully.  I promise you, the list of system barriers is long; the litany of disrespect from family, neighborhood and community is disheartening; and the barriers are solid and real.  Just truly hearing what  a person has to say somehow draws down the power.  In your listening you may have had one or two ideas pop into your head.  Things that you and a few interested people might be willing to take on in an effort to help.  I encourage you to talk about them with the person that needs help. Our ideas might not actually be ones that are useful. Listen deeply.  Respond with love. Repeat. Possibilities will emerge.

Feedback

I’d love to hear from you.  Have you any experience with helping someone who has been released from prison?  Are you aware of any programs in your area?  What do you think we can do?

Do Something! Theme Song

Do Something!

Wow! I found the theme song for this movement. Matthew West’s song illustrates exactly what I am jumping up and down about.

httpa://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b_RjndG0IX8

My mother told me that when she was a child in the middle of the great depression, people reached out and were supportive. Of course, at the time most people were struggling. The people who had “some” were so much better off than others that sharing with their neighbor seemed to be the only answer.

But, now, some of the rhetoric around poverty, homelessness, and addictions is incredibly dismissive of the real human circumstances  and societal structures that contribute to these conditions.

Did we start looking to Big Government to take care of our neighbors while we look the other way? Did we just get weary of trying to change something that we didn’t have the force to make a big difference? Did the implementation of social programs take away our desire to help? Or, has it always been a part of human nature?

In the Bible, Jesus told about interpersonal reactions that mirrored societal attitudes. The parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 10:29-36) is where Jesus answers the question, “and who is our neighbor?” by showing a disdained stranger caring for an injured Israelite. That makes me wonder if ignoring the plight of the other has been part of our makeup for a long time.

I also love the little Vacation Bible School song that I learned as a child, “They will know we are Christians by our love”. I’d really like to live into that; wouldn’t you?

Benefits of Volunteerism

There are many benefits of volunteering. 

Obviously, the people who are served receive benefits.  Or else, why would you be giving your time and skills?  Often the positive benefit is on both sides of the giving – for both the giver as well as the receiver.

It is remarkable when I have set out to volunteer in the past.  I am always blessed by those whom we serve.  I have met interesting, funny and charming humans through trying to help them.  It turns out that I was the one in need of assistance.  They were my lanterns to help me see the nooks and crannies of my own spiritual poverty.  I learned much about appreciating all the good that is in life from serving others that I thought were needy.

Hope Street Ministry

Marcelle says that when she was appointed to Reveille she prayed, “Lord, send the people that nobody else wants here to Reveille.” Her congregation is largely poor, often struggling, and wide open to sharing the love of Christ with each other. In addition, they actively seek to love their neighbor. On Sundays they go out to feed people who live with no roof and share a community meal. It may be something simple, but it is always flavored with love and grace.  The greatest thing that is offered is hope.  Hope that people care; hope that God’s love is real; hope that they are worthy. It’s a powerful ministry.

Feeding the hungry and listening to their needs planted seeds for the ministries which have blossomed from their roots in simple service.

Raindrops

During a serious rainstorm recently, I spent three days home alone. My house is on pilings.  As my yard filled with water I went from window to window waiting to see if I would be flooded. Thankfully, the water did not get deep enough to threaten me strongly. On the third day, my trash had developed an interesting and unpleasant stench. It had to go.

Out here in the country we don’t have trash pickup to our door. The parish provides dumpsters at strategic locations and the citizens haul to the sites. I’m fortunate in that the closest trash area is only half a mile away. I normally drive over there, because the highway to it has a 55 mile an hour speed limit and a narrow shoulder. Pedestrians are at high risk. I had been housebound for a couple of days, though, and I wanted to stretch and move. I also did not want to get my car stuck in the muddy area in front of the dumpsters. The rain had let up, so I gathered the trash for my short hike.

It was only sprinkling as I walked carrying my smelly trash bag. In a holy moment I noticed the freshness of the trees that lined the road. Branches strewn over the ground, leaves bursting with green, and the birds were singing joyously. I agreed with their declaration that God is good and life is beautiful. When I arrived at the creek which was bloated and rushing with excess I noticed single raindrops bouncing along the surface. Each rain drop added to the already swollen flow.

Individual rain drops are small, insignificant, powerless and unimportant. When they come together in massive numbers, though, they become a force. This force may be perceived as destructive. Or, it can drive massive clearing and renewal. The force itself is neutral. When harnessed, flowing water can bring power to the communities.

My heart sees a movement afoot in Louisiana. The small, insignificant, powerless and unimportant people in our communities are coming together. Our voices are joining into a powerful force. Rather than trying to change our political system, we are becoming better citizens. Rather than looking down on the poor, we are offering a hand up. Rather than ignoring the systems that contribute to the destruction of the family, we are deconstructing them. Rather than demonizing those who are marginalized, we are asking what they need. We can come together and meet needs and change the future story for our children and grandchildren. We can.

We must.

Restoring the felon 

Demetrius* is my friend’s brother.  He ‘s been released from prison, has been for seven months.  He was serving 5-10 years for possession with intent to distribute in Louisiana.  He served five years, he’s on parole, and he still owes a hefty fine.

Let me tell you about Demetrius.  We call him D, he’s tall and handsome.  He has a quiet sense of humor.  He makes fun of himself a lot, but also teases about the society around him. His niece and nephew adore him.  D has been learning to cook and clean in appreciation for the roof over his head.  The little old widows in the neighborhood absolutely rely on him to help them with heavy lifting, yard work and sometimes just a listening ear.  His daughter was born three months after he went in. He doesn’t hear from his baby mama, but her brother stopped by to tell D that he owes five years of child support and the amount is rising every day.  The man offered an “opportunity” for D, one which would violate his parole.  D declined, and the brother left with a vague promise of negative consequences to D if the child support is not paid.

Release is great news! Yet, he’s so disheartened at not finding a job that my friend isn’t sure how hard he’s still looking. He stays with their sister, and job hunting isn’t really a safe topic for conversation.  Little brother reacts badly to what feels more like judgement than concern. What does a family member do in such a circumstance?  Avoid? Confront? Both have definite hazards.

THE BIG QUESTION

How do we as a community of faith help?

SOME ANSWERS

Hope Restored is in Monroe Louisiana. They are offering a series of classes designed to help people when they regain their freedom.  Things like anger management and parenting.  AA meets in their facility to aid addiction recovery. There are counselors available to people who come in. They also sponsor a recovery house which provides a place to live while women find their way to employment, sobriety and housing.  Their goal is also to sponsor a men’s house. This work is so vital and necessary!!

Prison Fellowship has programs for grassroots ministries to learn more about the difficulties of re-entry and ways to address them.

ROOM FOR MORE

Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country.  Yet, a Google search for ministry’s helping prisoner re-entry provides minimal results.  There is a huge opportunity here! We can make a huge difference not only in the lives of the former inmate, but in the lives of their children and other family members.

I’d love to hear about what ideas you have. Are you working in a ministry addressing this?

*Not a real name

Hope Restored

Hope Restored is a community center originally established by the congregation of Revielle United Methodist Church in Monroe, Louisiana. The church is served by Rev. Marcelle Crow, a dynamic leader with a heart for people.

Marcelle says that when she was appointed to Reveille she prayed, “Lord, send the people that nobody else wants here to Reveille.” Her congregation is largely poor, often struggling, and wide open to sharing the love of Christ with each other. In addition, they actively seek to love their neighbor. On Sundays they go out to feed people who live with no roof and share a community meal. It may be something simple, but it is always flavored with love and grace.  The greatest thing that is offered is hope.  Hope that people care; hope that God’s love is real; hope that they are worthy. It’s a powerful ministry.

Feeding the hungry and listening to their needs planted seeds for the ministries which have blossomed from their roots in simple service.

ADDRESSING THE NEEDS

The Hope Restored Community Center provides classes which people who are struggling need. Things like financial management, parenting skills, and anger management are offered in a series.  In addition, AA meets there. Recently they have partnered with another agency, Family Plus, to provide free or low-cost counseling to people who need it. They have set aside space for offices

Hope Restored has expanded its services. Now housing, job training, and support are provided for women who have been in prison before. Addictions, educational deficits and simple life management skills are all addressed. It is a loving environment that offers acceptance, love and true hope to women who truly need it. They are seeking to expand and provide a men’s shelter also.

CHALLENGES FOR REVEILLE UMC

In the floods in early March, Reveille UMC was under water. It was sad to help muck out this building which had such life in it. The annual conference of The United Methodist Church had another facility available, and the congregation simply moved there. However, it is not as close to the neighborhood where many of the participants live. It will be interesting to see and participate in the congregational renewal and enhanced purposefulness that are likely to be the fruits of this disaster.

Agencies like this are the ones we like to feature in this project.  People are pooling their resources in order to offer genuine assistance to people who are suffering. This is exactly what we would like to encourage and support.  Please let us know of other ministries, agencies or entities in North Louisiana that we might share a story about.

Year of Mercy

Pope Francis has declared 2016 as a Year of Mercy. The corporal acts of mercy are:

Feed the hungry, Give drink to the thirsty, Clothe the naked, Shelter the homeless, Visit the sick, Visit the imprisoned, and Bury the dead. The spiritual works of mercy are: Admonish the sinner, Instruct the ignorant, Counsel the doubtful, Comfort the sorrowful, Bear wrongs patiently, Forgive all injuries, Pray for the living and the dead. (https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/liturgicalyear/activities/view.cfm?id=1017, accessed 02/22/2016)

What would our society look like if we all started to do these things, whether we are Catholic or not? What if we took seriously Jesus’ instruction to his disciples in Matthew 10: 8: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” (NIV) As Christians, these are the things that come out of a powerful response to God’s great love. When we truly receive forgiveness and drink in God’s merciful redemption through the grace of Jesus Christ, we want to share that with everyone. These are ways in which we can share that love.

But I can’t heal the sick! Maybe it’s because I’ve never tried. Because, when I pray for someone’s health, there are often positive results. I can take no credit for the healing. I can, though, recognize that calling on God’s healing power is an action I can take in response to God’s mercy in my life.

What is it to raise the dead? What if this is reference to the deadness of soul that comes from sin? If it is, then we can certainly be a part in raising people from the dead. We can pray for God’s mercy, grace and healing upon the person we know who is addicted. This is a different tactic than I have taken in the past, where I have judged and written off and disdained those who struggle.

What do we mean, cleanse those who have leprosy? Drive out demons? Are these anachronisms, set in a particular time in human history? Or, are they relevant today? (I have a lot of questions)! What if leprosy is any condition or difference that makes it difficult for people to fit into society? Things like deafness and blindness are barriers to participation with many people. Differently-abled people, whether intellectual differences or physical differences, all deserve a place at the table. Perhaps demons and mental health diagnoses are related to each other. Some of the descriptions of behaviors driven by demon possession are similar to what we call anxiety disorders, depression, schizophrenia, and other ailments. One person in the biblical story seemed to be plagued with what we call seizures.

Some people are able to work with others and always see them as God’s beloved children. Some of us have to really work at setting aside our prejudices and preconceived notions. All of us are challenged to live into our status as God’s beloved children. Jesus has invited us to be His hands and feet in the world. Let’s turn our face toward that wonderful calling!

What’s Your Purpose?

Finding purpose

Finding purpose in our lives is an on-going quest. “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl is a tiny book which has a big lesson. His description of a day in the life of a Jewish prisoner in an internment camp in Nazi Germany is visceral. The take away from the book is that a “why” is the most important element in life. People who lost their sense of purpose and meaning to their lives did not have the internal grit to survive.

Social Entrepreneurship

Social entrepreneurship is a current movement in commerce. The idea that our businesses need to have a purpose beyond financial profit has taken hold of our imaginations. The people who have begun their careers within the most recent ten years often seem to strive for making a difference in the lives of others. Pencils of Promise and Tom’s Shoes each have a mission far beyond the bottom line. Pencils of Promise is seeking to build schools in developing countries. Tom’s shoes provides simple, sturdy shoes in South America. There are numerous other organizations which have a purpose far beyond themselves. This is a powerful understanding and I celebrate it!

What about us?

But what about those of us who are just starting in our entrepreneurial journey? Do we have to travel to the developing world to get fired up about helping in another country? Is giving money the only way we can help the broken and impoverished of this world?

I believe that our purpose can be much simpler and closer to home. There are many things we can do to help in our own backyard. When we live in urban areas, there can be places which we rarely visit; the poor side of town, the ‘hood, the ghetto, call it what we may. There are pockets of the developing world right in our own backyards. In rural areas, it’s harder to sniff out those who are in dire straits, but when we pause in our striving we know they are there.

My experience is that people who are struggling for survival have many reasons for the challenges they face. Whether their reasons are internal or through systems within our society, reasons exist. If it is internal, then we are the best ones to offer assistance. We can lead and guide in shaping the thoughts and attitudes which get into a person’s way to block their path to success. Because, often we have found our own way over, around, under or through the same boulder on the road.

What do you think?