A measure of maturity and honesty

We live in a time where only certain parts of history are discussed and others are quietly buried. We live in a time when those who do not want to leave the truth intact; but manipulate it into something digestible and often a lie.

I am speaking about racism and the Confederacy that evolved in this country. Unfortunately, you can’t have one with out the other. I watched a lecture given by Jeff Robinson, lawyer and lecturer. You must watch in entirety and then meditate before you decide what to do with his challenge. I promise that you will need a measure of maturity and honesty if you have never heard these facts before.

Violence

In the past few weeks, I have been in conversations with a number of people, who have been angered by a few protesters (relatively speaking) causing chaos by looting, burning toppling statues and destroying stuff; because that is what it is, stuff.

First of all, I do not advocate stealing, burning or destroying; but, I do understand rage and what happens when people have lost hope. Statues, well, they are only monuments that can be put in a museum. Second, I doubt that “protesters” caused all the damage. We have people out there, who given a chance to steal or wreak a bit of havoc, will do so motivated by their own agendas.

The destruction angered my friends and they felt quite justified in blaming all protestors for their “violence.” I asked what they thought about the peaceful protestors who outnumbered those causing “violence.” I also asked if brutal force against individuals was equal to or worse than say burning down of a Wendy’s restaurant.

When one soul refused to answer, I told her that rebuilding a restaurant was not an issue. It can be done quite easily. It happens all the time. Rebuilding a life, a family, a community is a whole different animal. See, one can’t make a dead person undead. One can’t take away the pain and irrevocable loss in a family and a community. So, I asked again, is a life worth less than stuff?

If they were honest with themselves, they would admit that perhaps they believe a person of color might not be worth a Wendy’s, a monument, or even a television set. Because, at one time, a short while ago in our history, slaves stood on blocks in markets to be sold like objects. I stood in one such market in South Carolina. I could feel the ghosts of oppression in my bones.

The burning of buildings and cars is destruction. Violence is choking and unarmed man to death.; shutting a mentally challenged man in a prison shower and turning on scalding water while watching him scream and die; shooting a Latino in the back because he’s running for fear of police; tasing a man in his car until he dies; allowing a woman to give birth in her cell as she cries for help and refusing to help her baby as he dies; destroying a town’s water and air without regard for the poor who live there.

This is violence. So, I ask, “What is life worth?” I am still waiting to finish this conversation with my now silent friends.

“Love the Lord God with all your heart, mind, and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” I don’t see color, gender, creed or stuff mentioned by Jesus when referring to our neighbor.

Just a privileged guest

I am sitting at my sewing table and looking out a window that faces the forest. As I sift through my stash of fabric contemplating the next project, a bit of tawny brown movement catches my eye. Two young deer are having breakfast provided by the brush and saplings.

In this time of chaos, unrest, and pandemic, the deer are just leisurely strolling through the woods and nibbling at whatever suits their fancy. I spied one of the deer making a beeline to my front yard. I knew exactly where it was going. I have some gorgeous hostas growing in my garden beds just in front of the house.

I made a mad dash to the picture window in my living room. Sure enough, the deer was happily chewing the large green leaves of my plant, a choice salad if you will. But, is it really my plant? No. It was there before I bought the house and I am just the blessed recipient.

I couldn’t get even a bit irritated because the sight of this lovely creature just enjoying a few luscious leaves of the hosta made me stand in awe. I am surrounded by so much life. The forest and the wild creatures that inhabit it have been here longer than I.

Where I get to reside is such a privilege. I feel so much alive because everything around me is saturated in living beauty. I am allowed to drink in every rich smell, see every shade of color the human eye can decipher, hear the myriad of bird songs and see nature, small to large, making my property their homes. But, in truth, it is their world and I am just a privileged guest to enjoy community with them.

So, I just received my third message this week from a friend asking if I believe Covid 19 is just a hoax. No, I don’t. I have lost people and two dear friends are on ventilators. Wearing a mask out has garnered some irrational pushback by some small minded folks. My prayer is that they don’t get a dose of reality having the virus foisted upon them.

I have returned to my little window and another deer has entered my view. Just beautiful. What a privilege.

The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a must read…

Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Today’s Movement for Racial Justice
Sam Ben-Meir
11/06/2020
stop_police_killings_640x495_-_florence_dabby.jpg
Artwork by Florence Dabby

“Walking through the park this weekend I noticed a man on a bench reading Metaxas’ acclaimed biography of German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And it occurred to me then and there that this is indeed a moment in our history when we may acquire much needed insight and inspiration by revisiting Bonhoeffer’s extraordinary life and legacy.

Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 in Breslau, Germany into a large and prominent family – which included his father, noted psychiatrist and neurologist, Karl Bonhoeffer. The younger Bonhoeffer graduated from the Protestant Faculty of Theology at the University of Tübingen and went on to complete his Doctor of Theology degree from Berlin University in 1927.

In 1930, Bonhoeffer went to the United States for postgraduate study and a teaching fellowship at New York City’s Union Theological Seminary. Perhaps the most important part of his stay in the US was being introduced to the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, where he would not only teach Sunday school and form an abiding love for black spirituals – recordings he brought back to Germany would become “some of his most treasured possessions” – Bonhoeffer would also hear Adam Clayton Powell Sr. preach the “kingdom of social justice.” Powell had the fire of a revivalist preacher, combined with “great intellect and social vision” – he actively condemned racism and “minced no words about the saving power of Jesus Christ.”

Finding in Powell the gospel preached and lived out according to God’s commands, Bonhoeffer became acutely aware of the injustice and subjugation experienced by minorities and began to adopt the standpoint of the oppressed. He remarked, “Here one can truly speak and hear about sin and grace and the love of God…the Black Christ is preached with rapturous passion and vision.”

Returning to Germany in 1931, Bonhoeffer lectured in systematic theology at the University of Berlin – but his promising career as an academic would be derailed by the rise of Nazism, and Hitler’s installation as Chancellor in 1933.

Bonhoeffer resisted the Nazi regime from the very beginning and never wavered. Within days of Hitler’s election, he gave a radio address in which he denounced Hitler and admonished the people against forming an idolatrous cult of the Führer (leader), who could easily turn out to be Verführer (or misleader) – a distinction Donald Trump’s blind followers would do well to remember.

In April 1933, Bonhoeffer was the first to assert the church’s opposition to Hitler’s persecution of the Jews and insisted that the church cannot merely “bandage the victims under the wheel,” but must “jam a spoke in the wheel itself.”

Bonhoeffer’s theology was a theology of the oppressed, and his active involvement in the German resistance against Hitler followed from his moral awareness that “the structure of responsible action includes both readiness to accept guilt and freedom,” as he wrote in his Ethics – for “If any man tries to escape guilt in responsibility he detaches himself from the ultimate reality of human existence…” A life spent in fear of incurring guilt was itself sinful. In this respect Bonhoeffer is essentially in agreement with G.F.W. Hegel: only a stone can be innocent; all meaningful action entails guilt – and we must act. As Bonhoeffer observed: “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”

The Cost of Discipleship (1937) – an extended commentary on the Sermon on the Mount – is generally regarded as Bonhoeffer’s masterpiece. In Chapter 4, he considers that passage from Mark 8:34, where Christ says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” From an ethical standpoint, this is all-important: as Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” This may not mean actual martyrdom (though it certainly might): it means first of all that we must die to ourselves. In his commentary he writes, “Just as Christ is Christ only in virtue of his suffering and rejection, so the disciple is a disciple only in so far as he shares his Lord’s suffering and rejection and crucifixion.”

To ‘deny oneself’ has nothing to do here with asceticism or suicide, both of which retain an element of self-will. Rather, “it is to be aware only of Christ and no more of self, to see only him who goes before and no more the road which is too hard for us.” Self-denial then is inseparable from the obedience of the responsible one who hears the call and says, “Here I am” (hineni) – for “faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience,” not to any man-made law or worldly authority, but to God, whose call reaches us through the voice of our oppressed and persecuted neighbor.

Bonhoeffer makes the crucial distinction – as important now as it ever was – between “cheap grace” and “costly grace.” Cheap grace means grace without price, without cost, “everything can be had for nothing.” Bonhoeffer reminds us that we are still in the fight for costly grace, “which calls us to follow… It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.”

Costly grace affirms that you can only discover what obedience is by obeying. It is no use asking questions – questions such as, ‘Who is my neighbor?’ “You are the neighbor. Go along and try to be obedient by loving others… Neighborliness is not a quality in other people, it is simply their claim on ourselves… We literally have no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbor or not. We must get into action and obey – we must behave like a neighbor to him.”

Bonhoeffer was arrested in 1943 by the Gestapo – two years later, at dawn on 9 April 1945, he was led naked to the gallows and hanged to death, a few weeks before Hitler would commit suicide.

Throughout the last two weeks, we have witnessed across the country protests against systemic racism and police brutality – and indeed protesters have gathered in cities around the world, from London to Hamburg, from Pretoria to Brisbane. Blacks and whites are rising up in unison to oppose the systematic subjugation of people of color – a subjugation which began over four hundred year ago when the first slave ships arrived on these shores.

Bonhoeffer’s life holds an important lesson for us today, regardless of our religious affiliation or lack thereof. And simply put it is this: you are called upon; you are called on behalf of your neighbor. When you are called to be responsible that is not an obligation which you can decline, discharge or acquit yourself of – it is an infinite responsibility, a “forever commitment” as Charles Blow recently put it. And we all must be prepared to make any sacrifice necessary when we are called.

At times like these we see the difference between those who are satisfied with cheap grace and those who know that true grace comes at a price, and that price is obedience to the call of God which we hear in the choking, gasping cries of our neighbor, in the desperate pleas of the man who is down on the ground with an oppressor’s knee on his neck.”

  • Sam Ben-Meir is a professor of philosophy and world religions at Mercy College in New York City.

Beauty from behind bars

Beauty from behind the bars. I have had the privilege of seeing inside the souls of those who have been caged in this country. I have been allowed into the personal lives of some of the most extraordinary people who give me hope that goodness, decency and compassion still exist in this world.

They are an extreme contrast to those who sit in judgement; those who condemn burdened down by their overstuffed backpacks of bigotry, hatred, self-righteousness, ignorance and inexcusable lack of mercy. They are the jailhouse lawyers who could never sit at the same table with designer suits, pretenders and liars who assist in handing out plea deals (forced confessions) with the enemy for a lucrative living.

I have received poems, artwork, confessions, memoirs and yes, even the occasional “love letter” from those who live in the very dark and inhumane conditions inside our prisons. Three of my desk drawers contain hundreds of letters over the years and I can’t seem to throw any of them away to make room for new ones.

It was earlier this week, I was speaking with someone about the prisons being a Petri dish for all kinds of germs including the Covid 19 virus. I shared about the number of cases (almost 15,000) and the rising death toll. The comment was, “I haven’t heard anything about that.” Not surprisingly as our ineffectual and pathetic excuse for what passes as journalism on main stream media rarely informs us about prisons and those souls who struggle to survive.

What I have learned is that most people in prison have a story. They are not evil incarnate. Drugs, immaturity, broken homes, abuse, trauma and a list that goes on are contributors to why people commit crimes. And, yes, I do write those who are innocent. They have been falsely accused and betrayed by a corrupt and farcical system that has become much like the historical Soviet Union—a painted veneer of democracy and justice hiding its corruption, decay and immorality.

I have been given a precious gift. I listen to the hopes and dreams of my brothers and sisters in prison who are often the least judgmental and the most grateful, honest and compassionate people I have come to know. Quite frankly, I would rather throw my lot in with these “sinners” than with those who claim to love others and don’t know the first thing about loving others.

Beauty behind bars. I hope I have helped my caged friends know how beautiful they are and how they have inspired me to be beautiful like them. Thank you, God, for them.

Share!

I know it has been awhile since my last post. For all of you struggling as we try to survive this pandemic, here is a bit of cheer. What love and sharing can accomplish with even one person.

If you can donate to Marcella, please do it. If not, please share this with others.

I just look at these sweet little faces and I thank God for hearts like this dear lady!
https://www.gofundme.com/f/themustardseedproject?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link-tip&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet

Stay safe and peace💙💙💙

Btw..I have donated!

To Terri

Today is Sunday. Today, I have the wherewithal to share my thoughts about one feisty, family oriented, stubborn, funny, opinionated, passionate lady, who was my sister in law. I say was because she passed out of this life Wednesday morning to meet her Maker who she unwaveringly believed in.

Terri: you will be greatly missed. Those words don’t even capture just how big the hole in this world and in my heart has become without you.

Thank you for all the laughs and tears we shared over the years. Thank you for leaning on me during some of the roughest battles you were engaged in. Thank you for letting me lean on you, too.

Thank you for continually praying for my son and letting him know how much you loved him. He will always carry you in his heart along with thoughts of your famous salads..😉

I will always remember our last conversation. You were not afraid to die and I know that you are in a much much better place.

I am so blessed to have had you as my sister (in law). You made this world a brighter place for sure.

Soar with wings like an eagle.

Love…Leann

Fred Rogers

Tonight, I watched Tom Hanks give a stellar performance playing Fred Rogers. I remember watching “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.”

He wanted to reach children and help them feel good about themselves and the world.

He shared his compassion and kindness through television. Do you know of anyone doing that today?

Fred Rogers was a minister who loved people.

I wonder what Fred would say today about caged children, the Coronavirus, and school shootings. He had a way of breaking it down and helping children with their feelings.

I miss Fred.

#Peace

From the Marshall Project:

Give this a read. You’ll be glad you did.

“I Struggled to Help a Prisoner. In Norway, I Found a Better Way”

“We took off his wrist restraints and gave him pen and paper. He drew up a storm.”

I was visiting prisons in Norway, but I kept thinking about Mr. G back home.

By 2018, I’d been working in “segregation” units for more than a
decade, having come to corrections after working security in a hospital,
managing aggressive behavior in the E.R. At the Oregon State
Penitentiary in Salem, I worked with people who had to be isolated from
the rest of the population because they posed a serious management
concern. Many had a mental illness. I thought there wasn’t anything I
hadn’t seen.

At the time, Mr. G was probably our biggest challenge. He was in prison for assault and ‘aggravated’ harassment
and he had been diagnosed with severe mental illness. He told us that
he’d been a productive member of society until a psychological break in
his 30s. He would smear feces all over his cell. He would hit his
forehead against the wall until it opened up, and then keep aggravating
the wound; for much of 2016 and 2017, the wound never closed. He would
yell all day and night, until he was hoarse, all about raping people,
killing people, killing the president. He didn’t have voices in his
head, but he had poor impulse control: if his mind suggested he do
something aggressive, he would just do it.

It boiled down to control. He was punishing the staff, because when
he’d hurt himself we’d need to take him out of his cell and take him to
medical. He was so restricted that this was one of his only ways of
expressing frustration. If we’d come to the front of his cell when he
was screaming, he would stop and apologize, and we would write if
off—‘It’s just Mr. G being Mr. G’—and move on to help someone else. But
then he’d start up again.

Because of this behavior, he was rarely let out of his cell. He would
lose his daily privileges, meaning he only really got out for rec for
about two hours a week, for showers, and whenever a trained team had to
go in and clean up the feces in his cell.

He was trapped in a cycle. We were trapped in a cycle. In Norway, I realized how much I had to learn.

Our agency is working with Amend, an American organization that exposes correctional officers here to the way they do things in Europe.
In the Fall of 2018, we traveled to a number of prisons in Norway,
shadowing people with jobs similar to our own. We slept at the homes of
Norwegian officers and shared meals with them.

Some of the prisons looked extremely different from our own—more like
college campuses, with lots of trees and stores and libraries—but I
felt more familiarity at Ila Detention and Security Prison, outside
Oslo, which houses a population similar to our own behavioral health
unit. They told us they break the cycle of aggressive behavior and
isolation by treating every day as an opportunity to start over and meet
the men where they’re at. The day before, you’ve exhausted every method
of making their day better, but the next morning, you start over,
asking yourself: What can we do to give that person a better day?

They were very into having conversations without any physical
barrier. In our own prisons, when we talk to a prisoner in their cell,
we are on the other side of metal bars. In Norway, they just have doors,
and they open them and stand in the doorway, and they believed this
would lead to a more normal, human conversation.

While in Norway, seeing these spic and span prisons, sometimes I would think, Surely they don’t have the same issues, surely they don’t have guys smearing feces around the cells and attacking officers.
So I decided to test them. I volunteered to play the role of a
prisoner, and when a Norwegian officer tried to talk to me I charged at
him. He was well trained, and pinned me down to the floor. “Are you done
now?” he asked. “Can we stand up?” It wasn’t what he said, but how he
said it: He was so calm.

Some things we couldn’t bring over, like the staffing ratios. They
told us that throughout the country, they have roughly one staff member
for each person incarcerated, while here in Oregon we have roughly 4,400
staff for a population of 14,800. But we felt we could learn from how
they talked, how they treated each day as a new day.

When we returned, and spent more time training with Amend, we kept talking about Mr. G in particular: If we can help him, we thought, we can help anyone.

We had a recreational cell that had been repainted with a tropical
theme, full of waterfalls and birds and a beach scene. (One of our
bosses was Hawaiian and said the most relaxing environment he could
think of was a beach.) We put Mr. G in belly restraints, with his wrists
at his waist, and escorted him to the room. He was in awe at all the
colors, and he started talking up a storm. We chatted with him, asking,
have you ever seen a beach? Where did you used to go on vacation? We’d
never had these conversations before: we were so busy managing the
behavior that we weren’t thinking as much about the person. He told us
he was an artist, and that he liked to draw and paint.

We took off his wrist restraints and gave him pen and paper. He drew
up a storm: faces of clowns, of Yoda. We debriefed and we thought, What
if the smearing feces is something we could connect to something more
appropriate?

Then we thought, What if we repaint his cell with chalkboard paint?

Now, he covers everything with art. He draws a lot of rabbits. He does watercolors of flowers with his counselor.

He also told us he used to play in a band. There was a guitar in the
unit, and we’d never felt comfortable giving it to him before because we
were afraid of what he’d do with the materials, but he just immediately
launched into “Jailhouse Blues.”

He’s getting out of his cell a lot more, going to art class and movie
class, where prisoners use movies to discuss conflict resolution. We’ll
just put him in a room before or after a meal, with a pen and paper. It
sounds so simple, but it slows his mind down, and helps him avoid
aggressive, impulsive behavior. He stopped smearing feces for months at a time.

And we’ve taken this approach to the rest of the unit. We don’t have
enough staff to take people to the tropical room all the time, but
correctional officers will give up their breaks and lunches to take guys
there, knowing it will give them a better day.

Amend, the organization working with the prison on this new approach,
conducted an interview with my wife. She said I’d done a 180 socially,
reacting more thoughtfully to tense situations. She says I “Norway our
children,” responding in a calm way when our 5-year-old is acting out.
Hearing her speak, I got goosebumps. I thought I was so good at being a
dad, at being an officer. But going to Norway helped me be a better
person.

Toby Tooley is a correctional captain at Oregon State
Penitentiary in Salem, Oregon. He supervises the state’s death row, the
prison’s disciplinary segregation unit and three independent
mental-health housing units.

is a staff writer whose forthcoming book about the death
penalty won the 2019 J. Anthony Lukas Work-In-Progress Book Award. A
former Fulbright and H.F. Guggenheim fellow, he has reported on a range
of criminal justice subjects, including wrongful convictions, jail
architecture, predictive policing and European criminal justice systems.