Saturday, March 12, 2011

Why I Go To Prison..(and a little rambling about the human condition)

It is almost noon on a Saturday afternoon. Big B and the boys are working in the back yard trying to set up a pool.  Bug is with my sister. I am dressed in my jeans, long-sleeve shirt and flip-flops. I am spending the day catching up on laundry and study.

3 books to read, a couple papers to write and I am set for my parish ministry training class next weekend. (sigh) I am SO not an academician. More a hit the ground running kind-of person. But I have grown up in academia..I know how to play the game..and I do love learning. Just not formal study, per-se.

I think this need to meet people where they are at is what has drawn me to ministry. To partner with people.

I think my friend Don said it best.

Don is a fellow PMTP student and serves at an asst. minister in small-town Tx. Don and I met shortly after a week in which he had served in three funerals and was preparing for one more. Two of these were involving children. In other had been a heart breaking week.

But Don? He just looked at me and said You know Nicole, I went into ministry because I wanted to be noble. What I have found is that instead, I spend most of my time just showing up. Holding hands. Praying...and crying.(pause)I do an awful lot of crying. Then he looked at me straight in the eyes and said..But I wouldn't trade it for the world.

I hope to be like Don.

But I am getting distracted... The point is, tomorrow I return to prison!

For the past year I have been slowly increasing my involvement as a volunteer through the chaplaincy program at a local medium-security men's prison. At first I went for a Kairos weekend...just to help from outside and one afternoon inside to attend a closing ceremony. Then..well...once you see a need....

Now? I'm hooked! I love to go to prison. Why? Because it keeps me grounded. It reminds me what it's all about.It is a place that moves me to listen, to laugh, to listen, to pray, to listen, to cry and to listen for that still small voice.

So I continue to study..and plug through various theology because the guys on the inside? Keep me motivated.

I have been doing some soul searching to see why I am drawn to this environment. I realize that it is because prison is a small microcosm of the human condition in general.Just easier to identify.

I see men, who do not know how to trust. I see men who view those around them as predators, learn to trust. And as they learn to trust, they learn to respond instead of react. I see these men slowly reach out to those they most fear. I see these men reach beyond limitations that are impossible to imagine. And this transformation I see..then transforms me. These men minister to me.

These men force me to look at my own biases, privileges, stereo-types. They help me embrace the goodness in humanity in the midst of total chaos. They help me realize that many of the conflicts and divisions in the free world are simply ripples of the same fears they face on the inside.

For instance..just this past week. On the first day of Lent actually. I found myself getting very defensive. I didn't start out that way...

Lent has always been a special time for me. I enjoy it because it is a time of reflecting on what it means to sacrifice for others. A time to remember what Christianity is all about. I often give up something for remember that I am imperfect. (I have this delusion, at times, that I am). To pull myself out of my comfort zone. (I.E..I am cutting out coffee for lent..) to remember to not get in a rut. To take risks. Mostly? To know that I can take risks because I can trust. Because just like my brothers- in -white, I too, must remember to trust. And sometimes? Trust is a hard thing.

And the giving up of coffee? Is an outward act, to remind me of the inward stuff that I want to work on.

Now, that said. I know Lent is not for everyone.

I have a son who is agnostic, a son who is atheist. I have many dear friends and family members  of other faiths or non-belief.  But Lent is special to me..but when I click on my facebook.

My, oh my..the lent-bashing is rampant!..and I start to get defensive. I know that those who are lent- bashing are reacting out of their own defenses.They are not intending to bash..but rather having fun with what appears down-right silly. Some of this is done out of their own hurts from those in the religious communities. I remind's not personal.  I turn off the computer.

Later that same day, I uhmm..turn the computer back on. I see a post on same-sex unions

 I am glad to see some support for those in same-sex relationships But as I scroll down, as often happens..organized religion..or people of faith are blamed for the lack of civil rights for same-sex partners. I think of all my friends and family of faith..who have worked hard to fight for civil rights for ALL people. I think of my many homosexual friends who are strong in their faith of choice...And I react (not respond), publicly..on facebook.

Later,  privately in a message to a dear friend..I try to shift the blame of this lack of civil rights to a certain political party..and then I realize what I have done. I have let myself get defensive and react...and in turn attack another group.

I have let myself get caught in that human tendency of reacting and finger-pointing when I am defensive or feel life is not fair.(Which it still is not, for my friends in same-sex relationships).

But the truth one is exempt. Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Wiccan, Atheist, Agnostic..the list goes on. No one is exempt from biases and prejudices. No matter how hard we try. It is part of the human condition to try to put people in groups..or stereo-types in order to understand things.This is not an excuse for ignorance. It does not mean we don't look at our own biases and work hard to move beyond them. As my dear friend, Heran, once said Ignorance can only be excused so far.

But it is also the human condition to forgive, to reach out, to move on and to truly celebrate each other in all our uniqueness.

So this is what I am reminded of in prison. We all screw up. We all make mistakes..and life is not fair. But you make the best of it, and you enjoy your fellow humans anyway.

For this point in time, the State of all their wisdom, are proposing ridiculous budget cuts to the Texas Criminal Justice Systems. Off the top of my head..I can tell you that proposals are running to cut breakfasts, chaplaincy, re-entry programs..and to increase the number of early-releases of Tx. offenders to make room for offenders from Arkansas. It is pure craziness.

But my brothers in white? They take it in stride. They are not happy about all of these changes. They are worried. They are scared. Yet they encourage each other..individually and as a group, to not play the victim. To keep their lives appreciate and enjoy those around them, despite the fact that life is not fair.

And as I watch them in action I am, once again, humbled.

So apologies to my friends I have offended or made uncomfortable this past week. I am working on my reactions..I am learning to respond. And I truly care for each of you.

But now I am off. Because the goodness in humanity is coming disguised as a few families in cars. These families are showing up to help Big B and the boys with their "pool party". (I.E....lots of digging). One family brings some cantaloupe and oranges.. and one nice guy brought me a trombone!!!!

Ha ha! Now I can celebrate humanity New Orleans Style!

uhmm...after I write my I can be like Don.

1 comment:

Julie Smith said...

Hello! I believe I know you a little, through Carol of Sardines fame.

I gave up coffee for Lent too, and it has been really difficult. I keep dreaming I am drinking coffee and suddenly realize I have sinned against God and broken my solumn vow ... (not joking) My dad had guilty dreams of smoking for years after he quit.

I am trying to find a place to volunteer such as you have described, where I can interact in a meaningful way with people. I'm looking at Cafe College in San Antonio (helping kids go to college), right now. It might not be the right place. I've thought of prison ministry, but it would take extra effort and time for me.

Thanks for this thoughtful post!