No Longer Silent

We were riding in the car, afternoon sun beating down.

“Do you know what’s happening?” I asked. My oldest son looked out the window. “Like with the riots and everything?”

“Yeah.”

We were on our way to a pitching lesson. For more than a year, we’ve met with a former MLB pitcher. He loves his time there.

“Here’s something you need to know,” I said, “If you go out with your friends, you will run into situations where you are treated differently.” I listed three or four names of kids his age but different ethnicity. “If you all decide you are headed to a baseball game, for example, and walk into a gas station to get food, you will get treated differently.”

He nodded.

“Your job,” I told him, “is to stand up when you see this, when you see anyone being bullied, and try to stop it.” He swallowed. “It won’t be easy, but you have to.”

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“If God is talking to you about it, he wants you to talk about it.”

Erwin McManus

The obstacle is the way, as Ryan Holiday has written in one of my favorite books. Conflict is our radar. Stress is our tracking arrow.

What if God calls us into it to face it.

Society lacking coherent healthcare resources. 150 years of institutionalized racism. That internal system that tells us to resist the different, circle the wagons, and hold on to the life preserver because we may need it even if the boat is just fine.

The boat is not fine.

No matter where you stand.

We’ve turned away too often, looked away too long, and were willing to stand silent due to a variety of pressures.

Make no mistake. We are being called into it. God is talking to you right now. God is talking to me right now. God is talking to the world right now.

So could things be different?

Is reform more than a politically weighted buzz word? Can anything exist outside politics?

-An education that equips students for modern and relevant skills applicable Day One after graduation.

-A college system that is no longer a set of handcuffs for debt often costing more than a first house.

-Increased mental health services and screenings. -Availability to community resources that provide food and shelter, personal care items and personal connections.

-Police and prison reform. Reeducation. Equipping offenders for change not chains.

-Voices and seats at the table for everyone.

As a man of faith, one of the more interesting parts of the Bible to me is that Jesus is often mentioned having meals with followers. The meals had points to them, from instruction to physical demonstrations of grace.

Often Jesus gathered with “sinners.” He sat with outcasts.

Imagine, the ones on the fringes, the hated, the despised, the victims, those who struggled against the Roman empire occupying Jerusalem at the time. The ones unseen. The ones society had enough of.

Jesus spent his time there. He taught, laughed, joked, shared a meal and served.

Where do we spend our time?

Where could we?

Incarcerated

I keyed up my phone navigation just in time as I had passed the correct road. It took me over two more hills before turning left and back towards the woods surrounding Blue Marsh Lake.

Snow flurries whipped past the car, the landscape white and barren.  I was gradually nearing the grounds of Berks County Prison.

I found a parking spot and made my way to the lobby.  A guard sat inside a secure box of bulletproof glass.  I started to speak and he looked up.

“Shift change.  It’ll be twenty minutes before I can help you.  Have a seat.” With that, I took a spot in the empty lobby and waited.

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Ten minutes later I sat in the office of Stephanie Smith, Deputy Warden of Treatment.  The prison was high on my list of research locations as poverty often connected itself with crime and addiction.

Smith, her clinical specialty in addiction, has a drive to help the men and women who cross through her doors.

We spoke for more than an hour.

“They all go back,” Smith said, “I think people forget that. These people are their neighbors, the ones they see at the grocery store.”

She talked about working with prisoners on the start of the Continuum of Change, the balance of pre-contemplation and contemplation. If she can help them spark that moment of thought, it can make a huge difference.

As with each interview I’ve had working through this book, I’ve learned about poverty, faith, and the nature of the human condition.

Compassion- The prison has an extensive reentry program, working to get inmates the skills they need to not arrested again. A stigma rides on the concept of prison, one that must shift.  It is the connection point and catalyst to change lives.

“Do you want them better when they return?” Smith asks. “It’s our job to get them there.”

Consideration- Her point about change is true for everyone. What’s holding you back? What would it take to actually consider it? We’re not talking building your schedule in the midst of the change, we’re looking at the start. Just seeing your plans and dreams is the first step on the move towards success.

Freedom- “I love it when I realize that I haven’t seen a certain person for months, or even years.  It means they made it out,” Smith said. One of the most prevalent misunderstandings with our lives of faith is that they will be easy, that we will not struggle too much.

Grace frees us from the eternal consequences of our actions. Does that mean the addictions will stop?

Not for everyone. Not without help.

If you are under the weight of something tonight, think about your life without it. Addictions can be broken. Find the root, recognize it, and do what you can to make a change.

Some of us will keep going back to the prison of our own creation.  Only one person has the key.

It waits on the cross for those searching for a way home.

~Matt