27 January 2013

Who'da Thunk It?

Okay, so you know that I sometimes have connections with the people I see in the jail. The guy who had the accent that sounded familiar? Turns out he was from New Orleans' Ninth Ward where I spent two years teaching back in the 1980s. We spent an hour talking about the neighborhood. He hadn't been back since before Katrina.

I ran into a few people at the prison who'd used the food bank at the parish where I worked in Tacoma in the 90s, though none admitted to being the guy who peed on the wall of the building across the parking lot from my window.

At the prison, I knew a man who'd lived in the town where I grew up in California. We lived there in different decades, but still, I don't run into people from that town. Ever.

And then there's this. I wrote a book about my mom and Alzheimer's. It's mostly stories about the last ten years since she moved to Washington. There are some stories about growing up, but I kept the focus on the last decade. Threw in some family pictures. The response from my family has been fun. Some of them hadn't known I was writing a book. Some had read earlier versions. But it's finally out there.

I got a phone call from a guy who's out of prison now, working hard to get his life on track. The woman he lives with brought home a copy of the book and he picked it up. Then he called me and said, "Hey, I worked at a liquor store with your brother back in California." He recognized my brother from the photo section. Yeah, that guy, the one who lived in that same town as I did, decades apart. 

As if I needed any further notice from the Universe that it is a very small world.

Interested in the book? Here's the Amazon page.

10 January 2013

Is There Room on Your Prayer List?

It is "going to court" time for a number of offenders that I have been seeing almost weekly. Some are going for bail hearings after spending months in jail. Others have decided to "take the deal" but don't know if that is going to mean drug treatment or five years in prison. If jail weren't stressful enough, the unknown that court brings ratchets everything thing up.

And it isn't just the offenders who are feeling the tension. Start with victim families who mostly do not want someone who has hurt them to be out on the streets again.

Add the offenders' families who have adjusted to being the family of THAT person.

Throw in the prosecutors who are working to keep the city a quieter place (and maybe trying to keep the win category full).

And the defense attorneys, especially the public defenders, who often have too many cases and few clients who think they're doing an adequate job.

And the corrections officers who are staring at not just empty beds, but whole wings that have been shut down for lack of offenders. They've been wondering about their jobs. 

And then it might snow this week.

And the Seahawks are in the playoffs. Maybe that's a good thing, a bit of a distraction before all those court dates next week.

Pray for all of us.  

01 January 2013

There Are Circles and Then There Are Circles

"God's heart is the first to break."

This is a constant refrain in my life and in my work. It is my response to those who say, "It's God's will" when it clearly isn't. "God needed another angel in heaven when your child died." "God called him home." 

I picture God sitting in the mud and rain, howling with grief at the death of another beloved child, no matter the age. 

Unlike so many other bits and pieces stuck in my memory, I remember where I heard this line, and I remember the story that it was part of. It was a TV show, short-lived, now nameless, but a man told a priest about the death of his wife, a journalist who died in a bombing in the Middle East. He raged about the absence of God.

The priest didn't have any words for him in the moment, but days later came back to him and said, "When your wife died, God's heart was the first to break."

This Christmas I read Michael Gerson's column from the Washington Post, an eloquent reflection on the tension of joy and sorrow this year. With the events at Newtown not even two weeks past, he spoke of another parent who'd lost a child. William Sloane Coffin was pastor at Riverside Church in New York. In 1983, his son Alex was killed in a car accident. In a sermon he preached ten days later, Coffin said, "My own consolation lies in knowing that it was not the will of God that Alex die; that when the waves closed over the sinking car, God's heart was the first of all our hearts to break." Read Coffin's sermon here.

William Sloane Coffin, Jr. 1924-2006

Coffin was a major figure in the peace movement in the States.  I have no doubt that he did what he did because he knew something of God's own broken heart. 

I find it fitting somehow that, after all these years, I would finally discover the source of the quote that has stitched its way into my ministry. I have some things to read and learn in this new year.