“I need help, please.”

Sometimes Care Giving Stinks

I need help, please was a bit of expressive language that some good teacher or therapist helped our son with autism to use years ago.

For a person like our son, navigating an array of impairments like fine motor and personal care skills, the request is vital for opening a bottle of juice or getting to the bathroom on time.  (Of course he also learned to use it to enlist mom and dad for remedial action; I need help, please could signal a wardrobe change or a bathroom cleanup.)

It’s a sweet phrase in our family life.  It’s entered that volume of cute things the kids used to say, so my wife and I might raise our voice to a childlike tenor and say it if we can’t  find some item around the house.

But it came to mind in a more serious context this week when I asked a…

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His Body Broken and Given in High-Max

For the men who are too violent or unstable even for maximum security there is high-max. This weekend another chaplain and I had the privilege of serving the men in high-max.

For the cells in high-max there is a 6-inch square window in the door, a small heavily screened vent that they can talk through, and a tray slot for their meals that is kept padlocked. The men are in their cell 23 hours a day. When a man is let out of his cell he is the only one out at that time. He can talk to others who are still locked in their own cells but there is no chance for human contact.

In the past when we have served communion we would wait outside the door of the unit. If a man wanted communion they would let him out and we would serve the elements through a 3-inch square opening in the door – just large enough to pass the wafer but not large enough for a hand to pass through.

prison-cell-door

This time the guards opted to have go into the unit and walk cell-to-cell. The process would be as follows:

  • If a man wanted to receive communion he would stand at the window of his door
  • We would speak to the man through the screened vent in the door, get his name, and verify if he wanted to receive communion
  • If he did want communion then the guard who was with us would unlock and open the tray slot
  • I would dip the wafer in juice and hand the wafer to him through the tray slot
  • Immediately after the man had taken the wafer the guard would lock the tray slot as I was praying with the man

prison-food-slot

When we went into the first unit the guards told us that there was one cell where they were not willing to open the tray slot. We could speak to the man if he and we so desired. But all week this man had flung feces out whenever the tray slot was open. As it turns out that man was asleep when we came through.

Now. Here. This.

In Barking to the Choir Father Gregory Boyle writes:

The word “obey” has its origin in “listening.” It is difficult to truly and deeply listen. When a homie is sitting in front of my desk, the mantra on continuous loop in my head is “Stay listening.” Another handy one is “Now. Here. This.” Listen here and now and only to this person.

As we serve communion it is important for me to be attentive to each man, to listen as he says his name and shares his pray requests. It is important that I look each man in the eye. It is important that I see him. It is too easy to still be thinking about the last man we spoke to, or to look at the man in the next cell we are going to. But I am called to be present.

Now.

Here.

This.

 

1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Living Bible

23 For this is what the Lord himself has said about his Table, and I have passed it on to you before: That on the night when Judas betrayed him, the Lord Jesus took bread, 24 and when He had given thanks to God for it, He broke it and gave it to His disciples and said, “Take this and eat it. This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.” 25 In the same way, He took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new agreement between God and you that has been established and set in motion by my blood. Do this in remembrance of me whenever you drink it.” 26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are retelling the message of the Lord’s death, that He has died for you. Do this until He comes again.

 

I prayed with several men who would be heading to prison shortly.

I prayed with a man who would be entering a drug treatment program.

There were a number of men who had no request for themselves, but rather for their families. I prayed that their families would be surrounded by people who would support and encourage them. I prayed for God’s hedge of protection for their families.

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One of the men we met with would likely be diagnosed as having schizophrenia with paranoia. He asked me if he was marked for death. When the other chaplain prayed and asked that God would bless him, the man thought the chaplain had asked God to curse him. Yet deep within that man’s troubled mind was the desire to receive communion. Perhaps this sacrament was a touchstone to a spiritual connection that he desired.

26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup you are retelling the message of the Lord’s death, that He has died for you. Do this until He comes again.

Deacon distributes Communion to a death-row inmate

Celebrating Good Friday…. From Bethlehem?

Boasts and Befuddlements

What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus

Oh, precious is the flow
That makes me white as snow
No other fount I know
Nothing but the blood of Jesus
(by Robert Lowry)

I’ve had quite enough blood this year, and it’s only March. I’ve had enough state sanctioned killing. Enough congressional betrayal for coin. I’ve had enough violent words calling for more blood. Enough crowds demanding imprisonment. I’ve had enough blood. And yet, this time of year we Christians revel in the blood. The blood that flows, giving life to an unquenchable thirst for more blood. There is so much blood, and I just want to get away from the violence.

 This Holy Week (the week that remembers Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem, his last meal, betrayal, death and resurrection) I find myself…

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The Sacred in the Midst of Chaos

 

wearymom

A friend who is a new mother posted some photos on Facebook showing the other side of motherhood. She said it was easy for her to look at other people’s photos with their children who were smiling and happy and then wonder what was wrong with her because, while there were those happy times with her new son and she truly did adore him, there were also the confused, frustrated, sleep-deprived, bone-weary times as well. So, to balance out the narrative she posted some of her photos showing that side of being a mom.

Reading this blog it may seem that jail Bible studies are always peaceful, powerful, God-filled experiences. The truth is that sometimes they are filled with strife, confusion, and chaos. Over the years I’ve learned that even those times are still God-filled.

I decided to go to the jail a bit later since I usually arrive on the floor during pill-call and end up having to wait for that to finish.

When I arrived at 7:30 a lockdown had just cleared 3 minutes earlier.

I arrived on the floor but had to wait another 20 minutes for haircuts to finish since they were using the room that I use for Bible studies.

I started the study with 5 guys.

Shortly after we started two guys got into an argument about race relations. (Maybe I need to retract that blog entry on Breaking Down Racism Behind Bars) I tried several times to get them back on track with no success. I finally said I’d have to end the study if we couldn’t get back on topic, at which point one of the belligerents stormed out of the room. (I haven’t had to use that technique for years)

scream!

We continued the study (John 20:24-31) for another 10 minutes with the 4 remaining men.

Then pill-call came and a few of the guys had to step out for that.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

After pill-call ended we continued the study for another 5 minutes which came to a sudden close as the facility went on lock-down.

I waited at the control desk of the floor. The CO indicated that it has been like this all week.

After an extended period of waiting I was finally able to leave – or so I thought.

As I was about to get on the elevator another call came through: Man down, not breathing.

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I waited for that emergency to clear.

After more waiting I eventually was able to leave the building.

During Holy Week it is easy to envision the Triumphal Entry, the Last Supper, the Passion, and the Resurrection through “Hollywood” eyes that see everything as holy and sacred. But the “holy and sacred” was taking place in the midst of everyday human chaos. As the crucifixion took place there were crowds around yelling, gambling, cursing, farting, and arguing. Babies were born, people were cheated, some went hungry that day while others got drunk. Unnoticed by all but a handful, God was doing the most powerful work since creation, even as the world went about its business.

God is still doing holy and sacred things even against the backdrop of our chaos.

crucifixion

Some days are more chaotic than others.

This is a marathon, not a sprint.

Ephesians 6:12 The Message (MSG)

10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and He wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arrest Stories

We started out the discussion by sharing stories of one time when we got arrested.

One man was 15 at the time, and after driving a car he didn’t own, and with no license, he ran down an alley, but there was a cop at each end of the ally who boxed him in. It was lunch time and a. large crowd of people watched as he was led away in handcuffs to the squad car.

Another man was 18 years old. He tried running through backyards and eventually crawled into a dog house. Fortunately the dog was not home at the time. However, he was soon apprehended in spite of his hiding place.

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A third man was 11 years old when he was first arrested. He was in the company of his older cousin who tended to be a bad influence on him introducing him to alcohol, drugs, and the trappings of gang life.

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There were seven guys at the study including me. A few I have seen get released and come back a few days to a few months later. I told them that for tonight’s study we were going to read the story of how Jesus got arrested. One man was surprised by that. He never knew Jesus had been arrested.

John 18 (NIV)

Jesus Arrested

18 When he had finished praying, Jesus left with his disciples and crossed the Kidron Valley. On the other side there was a garden, and he and his disciples went into it.

Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples. So Judas came to the garden, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and the Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons.

Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said. (And Judas the traitor was standing there with them.)When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.”

10 Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)

11 Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

12 Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus.

I asked the men to describe this story in their own words.

Jesus was with his own gang. They went to a park that had a nice garden. (We have garden parks like that in this area.) Judas was a snitch and led the cops to Jesus – some of the men in the group know firsthand what it is like to have someone in your own gang testify against you. The soldiers must have been expecting trouble because there was a whole detachment of soldiers with torches and weapons.

The guys were confused why the soldiers fell back when Jesus said who He was.

They understood Peter pulling out a weapon and going at it. I pointed out that Peter must have been flailing the sword wildly in order to take off someone’s right ear. Holding a sword in your right hand it is far more likely that you would cut an opponent’s left ear, head, or neck. Gang shootings are more notable for their randomness due to adrenaline rather than any marksmanship. The same seemed to be true of Peter’s use of a sword.

jesus-healed-malchus-ear

Even as He is arrested, Jesus seems to care more for His disciples than for His own situation.

And He went willingly.

There was some discussion on why Jesus went willingly, and why He had to die. One man said it was to be the sacrifice on our behalf. Another said it was because God was mad at Jesus for taking up with a prostitute, Mary Magdalene.

At that point the entire facility was put on lockdown, the men were hustled back to their cells, and I was directed out of the building.

 

 

Breaking Down Racism Behind Bars

Racism

Many gangs tend to divide based on race. That carries into the jail system as well.

There are two televisions in the maximum security unit. There is a de facto Hispanic television, and the other the black television. If you aren’t affiliated with either group you will have no say regarding the televisions.

Rival gangs may be housed in the maximum security unit but by and large the two groups are not allowed out at the same time. The exception recently has been for men that want to participate in Bible Study.

This week I had two men, “P” and “A” come to Bible Study. They are of different races and different gang affiliations. Normally they would not be allowed out at the same time, but the COs (guards) have been making an exception for religious services.

An interesting thing happens as the men study the scriptures together and wrestle with how these ancient words apply to their situation today. The barriers of prejudice begin to fade away. That was made clear when, at the end of the Bible Study, “P” said to “A”, “I used to think you were a racist bastard, but it turns out you’re OK.”

Matthew 5:43-44 (NIV)

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,”

Isaiah 2:4 (NIV)

He will judge between the nations
    and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
    nor will they train for war anymore.

PistolTwisted

I’m no Mary, he sure ain’t no Jesus…

Sometimes Care Giving Stinks

When Joey was a toddler and we were at camp, the thought flooded my head like perfectly heated steam, while the sun poured into my skin like soft lotion. Some distant, bitter stranger, more like a stick-figure with a disproportionate index finger pointing at me was saying “That is blasphemy, you fool and you will writhe in the pit of Godless Hell.” My conscience made no sense of that brittle, screeching thing.

My thought was that Joey was Jesus and I was Mary. Well, not really. It was more like it felt so perfect, that the love was so pure that it had to be the same love. I thought of my other two children. Did I love them less? I loved them as much, no second thought. Immaculate Conception? Did any reader who barely knows me remain in their chair at that thought? Lastly, Joey had never spoken but…

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