Archive for the ‘Social Justice’ Category

There are choices to be made

October 11, 2010

Election Day is coming quickly. There are choices to be made.

I can vote for:

those spreading fear or those spreading hope

those displaying selfish indifference or those who see and support those in need

those who preach American exceptionalism or those who see us as a global neighbor

those favoring the monied interests or those favoring each American’s interests

those who want to obstruct or those who want to govern

those who diminish and exclude or those who welcome and include

those who believe in a God of judgment and condemnation or those who believe in a God of forgiveness and love

those who believe the Founding Fathers wanted us to stay with them or those who believe the Founding Fathers wisely guided us toward the future

those who see the Constitution as a rigid handbook for a privileged few or those who see the Constitution as a living document and road map for all

There are choices to be made.

We can only do what we can do

September 19, 2010

A rainy, dreary day – a Sunday – and a good day for watching football. But if the grass dries out a bit, I’ll be out there grudgingly pushing a mower as my TV chair beckons. Purring in the background will be the washing machine.

Also on my mind, and adding to the dreariness, our state has a man awaiting execution on October 20. My thoughts are with him every day. Our last execution was May 20, 2009.

He and I began talking on a regular basis nearly five years ago. Those five years for him  have been spent in solitary confinement. While I’ve never been alone in a cell 24/7, I do believe visits at the cell door would be most welcome. I can only hope my visits were welcome to him. They seemed to be.

If his execution is stayed, I will resume seeing him as often as I am able. In the meantime, a combination of institutional policy and my availability has prevented my spending any time with him in his current environment and pre-execution status. It’s frustrating, but we can only do what we can do.

Whether or not I ever see him again is beyond my control. We shall see.

Much convincing and prodding

September 6, 2010

My quiet time each morning is from 6:45 a.m. to about 7:30 a.m. Lately I have been spending the time with the daily Lectionary readings and one of Thomas Merton’s books: Thoughts in Solitude. The book’s chapters are short, and one or two at a time usually does it.

Today is Labor Day.This morning as I sat down I was wondering why I was thinking about going down to the prison to visit the men in solitary. I wondered why I was going down there when I could/should be relaxing on the patio and enjoying the beautiful weather. Going down there at all usually requires much convincing and prodding on my part. After a few minutes, something inside me said, “Do your readings.”

In Merton was this quote on page 103: “Whatever may be our vocation we are called to be witnesses and ministers of the Divine Mercy.” There it was. A clear and unequivocal statement of why I felt the pull to drive 1 hour and 20 minutes south to stand in a noisy wing trying to listen to some offenders through solid steel doors.

I went. It was good.

It’s going to be warm this weekend

July 2, 2010

July 2, 2010

Our first weekend in Saint Louis was the weekend of July 4th. We had been married a week … a new life in a newly adopted city … and everything was fun, new, fresh, and filled with excitement and anticipation.

Saint Louis gave us a warm welcome. In fact, every 4th of July in Saint Louis is either hot and muggy or hot, muggy and rainy. Quite a shock, actually, for two people from the land of the people with “blond hair and blue ears,” (a comment made by Lou Holtz when he left Arkansas in 1984 to coach at Minnesota).

The 4th was on a Saturday in 1964, and the go-to fireworks display in those days was at Francis Field on the campus of Washington University, one of the venues for the 1904 Olympics. Riverfront displays would have to wait until after the Arch was completed in October of the following year.

That first year for us was also the bi-centennial celebration for the City of Saint Louis, and a special flag was flying from poles everywhere.

In addition to a new life and a new city, the Monday following that first weekend was to be my first day at work and the start of my professional career. Lots of change at one time: the two of us had graduated from college, gotten married, and moved away from home (the first time for both of us) over a period of a little more than 3 weeks. And then the need to get to work to earn a living. An adventure? You bet!

So, here I sit many years later, on the other side of both of our careers, and well into our retirement years. And it’s going to be warm this weekend … very warm.

I’ve been reading the writings of Thomas Merton off and on over the past few years. James Finley’s book, Merton’s Palace of Nowhere, has been a useful guide, and I just finished my second reading.

There is a quote from Merton on page 144 of Finley’s book that spoke to me this morning:

There is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace, my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him I will find myself and if I find my true self I will find Him.

“My existence, my peace, my happiness,” I get that. All the living and loving since that 4th of July weekend many years ago has been the beginning of molding and drawing forth a self I was not seeking, nor could I have imagined.

Career ups and downs, family joys and sorrows, reading , learning, exploring, engaging, have helped me understand the importance of others and the seeming insignificance of what Finley calls the ego-self.

He says, with a quote from Merton, that the ego-self’s “existence has meaning in so far as it does not become fixated or centered upon itself as ultimate, learns to function not as its own center but ‘from God’ and ‘for others.’”

I’m not so sure I would understand what that means if I had stayed within my comfort zone over the last 20 years. Encountering people in areas outside of my comfort zone has exposed me to many circumstances of great deprivation, discouragement, loneliness, poverty, psychological dysfunction, addiction, obsession, feelings of abandonment and despair. What can one do in such situations but grow in awareness and sensitivity of the lives of others?

There are times when my only reaction, my only response, has been to simply listen. I am either employing good pastoral technique, or I am struck dumb in the face of such hopeless situations. It is difficult to discern which in any given moment.

Retirement presents, to me, a clear choice between simply keeping busy and having something to do, something that can contribute to continued growth in myself as well as in those whom I encounter.

I am grateful I am able to choose the latter. It seems to me that making that retirement choice, or even realizing that there is a choice to be made, is the work of God’s grace … allowing the Other to help me see things differently.

Being comfortable and playing in leisure when so many are truly suffering all day and everyday doesn’t mesh with my understanding of what we are called to do in this life. That isn’t to say I don’t enjoy fishing, a good book or movie, stretching out and listening to music, going for an early morning run, enjoying a meal out with friends. But keeping things in perspective and maintaining a balance are important to me.

That’s what I’m thinking about as we enter this weekend of celebration and remembrance. I just put our flag out by the front door where it is blowing in today’s warm Saint Louis breeze. The red, white, and blue against the trees and sky is a thing of beauty and hope.

All it takes is a little spark

May 15, 2010

“Eyes on the Prize” episodes 3 and 4 aired last Sunday. We recorded them for viewing during the week. 5 and 6 air tomorrow at noon in Saint Louis. Still can’t shake two dominant feelings as I watch the retelling of the civil rights struggle: embarrassment and sadness.

The fact that I tended to be somewhat oblivious to the magnitude of what was happening at the time illustrates, to me, how we are historically and culturally conditioned to interpret what we see and hear. Our conditioning also influences what we even bother to pay attention to. All I remember at the time was how mindless I thought the behavior was of those in the southern states. I hadn’t had enough inter-racial experiences to have the visceral reaction I have today.

It was a sad time in our history, and there are vestiges of that same fear and hatred deeply imbedded today. All it takes is a little spark to light the fuse for them to coalesce and bubble to the surface. And there are plenty of folks who still know how to play the game and get those sparks started.

Economic strife, the drum beat of xenophobia, demonizing those who need help, having one of “those people” in the White House, seeing a terrorist behind every bush, imagining that someone is taking our country away from us … all of that creates the perfect storm for foolish, thoughtless, and reckless actions.

I can’t help but wonder

May 12, 2010

My Room 101 in hell will resemble a before-dinner reception at an out-of-town business conference.  There are few things I dread more than walking into a room full of strangers for drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and small talk. Am I an introvert? You bet!

Naturally, I can’t help but wonder how or why I ever got started in prison ministry. Walking into a solitary confinement wing of 30-36 men, each one out of sight behind a solid steel door with a tiny window, has never been easy.

As I approach each door, I don’t know what to expect: what does he look like, where is he  from, how long has he been in prison, why is he  in solitary confinement. That I am extending myself beyond my comfort zone is an understatment.

It’s even worse when I haven’t gone to the prison for an extended period of time. When I went down yesterday, it had been 5 weeks. The longer I am away, the more detached I feel … almost to the point where I feel I don’t belong, that I don’t fit in. I experience a slight disorientation. Anxiety and discomfort begin to surface as I enter the prison.

On the other hand, setting foot in those housing units got me back into the game. Once I got going, was standing at the first cell door, became engaged in the first conversation, things smoothed out.

During an extended absence, I miss doing the work. I miss the ministry. I miss connecting with the men.

I’m glad to be back although the summer schedule does get a little fragmented and there will be more gaps in my visiting. When I’m not going to the prison on a regular basis, something is missing in my life.

I find little joy in just keeping busy; I need something to do, something that makes a difference in my life and the lives of others.

One offender said that he had never thanked me for the bookmark with the prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I’m guessing I gave that to him a year ago. That’s why I go, to bring my presence or anything else to help add a little meaning to a pretty bleak existence.