Goodness among the distastefulness

Over this past weekend we watched “Longford” starring Jim Broadbent as Frank Pakenham, the 7th Earl of Longford. Lord Longford spent several decades trying to secure the release of Myra Hindley, one of the two notorious serial killers convicted of  the Moors Murders in the mid 60s.

I haven’t seen Broadbent in any movie where he wasn’t superb. This portrayal was particularly riveting. The movie’s content, based on true events, was completely unknown to us.

On the surface, Lord Longford appears to have been obsessed, driven, and easily taken for a fool in his quest for the parole of Ms Hindley. Upon further reflection, however, it would seem he was merely acting on his moral convictions as we are all called to do.

His unconditional willingness to engage, embrace, and forgive those on the fringe of society, even those who have done great evil, and to find some goodness in everyone, was a strong expression of his Christian faith. The fact that this appears to be foolish behavior is, perhaps, a commentary on our secular culture’s frequent indifference toward and avoidance of those who are down-trodden, society’s throwaways.

He goes back to the cause for Hindley’s release again and again following instances of personal abuse, derision, and deception. Hopes rise, are dashed, and rise again. I don’t know what he was feeling in those moments, but I have a pretty good idea.

When I began my prison ministry, I was told my role was to be a non-judgmental, non-critical, loving presence. That presents a never-ending challenge. I’m not always that successful in any given moment, some of the men I see are quite distasteful and unlikeable, but I do keep going back to the same people. And I have found over the weeks, months, and years, that any distaste and dislike can – with persistence and repetition – gradually transform into the beginnings of affection, affection in brotherhood and solidarity with a child of God.

It is liking them in their unlikableness, finding a fragment of goodness among the distastefulness. Of course, it’s also realizing/remembering that my finding someone to be unlikable doesn’t mean they aren’t likable. My perceptions are usually what need the work rather than anything to be done by an offender or by anyone else. Trying to recast someone as I would like them to be is always a hopeless adventure no matter how great the temptation.

I do recommend the movie, especially for those involved in prison ministry.

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One Response to “Goodness among the distastefulness”

  1. If not me, who? | In a dim light... Says:

    […] bother? That question calls to mind a couple of lines from the movie, Longford, about which I have blogged previously. Lord Longford was on a radio show and was being challenged about his long, frustrating […]

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