Posts Tagged ‘prison chaplain’

Goodness among the distastefulness

March 22, 2010

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.

Maybe on Thursday

February 8, 2010

Just the threat of snow can keep me from going down to the prison. My worries don’t lie in my being able to drive well, but in what I’ve seen of other drivers. The day after a good snow, the ditches are populated by the cars of those in a hurry, with bald tires, lacking good judgment, or feeling invincible with all-wheel drive.

Work as a volunteer prison chaplain is not urgent work; it just needs to be fairly steady. The men actually worry about my traveling back and forth as it is. My taking chances would not be appreciated.

Maybe on Thursday.

Can’t complain

February 27, 2008

Turned around halfway to the prison this morning. All clear here, but snow and slick roads 45 minutes south. My ABS system was squawking when I tried to stop for a driver turning into a filling station. That was enough for me with many miles of hilly, winding, two-lane road ahead. Driving conditions have caused me to come home on only two occasions in seven years. Can’t complain in the least.

But I do miss seeing the men, and there is no small amount of prep time to get mentally ready for my visits to the prison. I’m also aware, however, of the name frequently given to the highway I travel each Wednesday: Blood Alley. Next Wednesday will be better.