Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A penny for your thoughts

I wonder what you’re thinking.  I’m the guest speaker at your weekly men’s prayer breakfast, but you don’t appear to be very interested.  Looking at the church you attend, the car you drive, the way you dress, I’d guess that you’re in my income range (moderate).  Judging by your appearance, I’d say that you’re in my age range (70-80). I know that we’re the same color (white). Yet I find it interesting that you choose not to look me in the eye while I’m speaking.  Not once.  And I also find it interesting that you refuse to smile.  Not once.  There’s certainly no rule that you must look at me when I speak, or nod, or smile…but it’s hard for me to know your feelings when you won’t even look up.

When I talk about the plight of prisoners, something is obviously bothering you.  What is it?

Just because I believe that all prisoners deserve humane treatment, appropriate medical care and decent food---regardless of their crime---does that make me some sort of left-wing do-gooder? 

Or when I speak of people behind bars who claim they didn’t commit the crime, do you grumble in your mind that “all prisoners say they are innocent.”

When I speak about the racial disparity in our prisons and the overabundance of minorities, are you secretly saying that you’re not surprised based on the ghetto problems in your own community?

When I tell about the beautiful relationship my family and I had with the late Maurice Carter, an indigent black man from Gary, Indiana, did it secretly make you shudder?  You and I are both of the age that we remember very well how the pillars of our church agreed that we had to be friendly with minorities, but then asked how you might feel if your son or daughter married someone of color.

Does it take you out of your comfort zone when I speak about delightful personal experiences with so many friends behind bars---men and women?  Is it just easier to deal with numbers rather than names and faces?

When I tell of terrible abuse of mentally ill women in the psych unit are you secretly happy that you don’t know anyone who lives under those conditions?

It’s difficult for me to know why you don’t seem to like what you are hearing.  In open dialog you could perhaps express your reservations about granting humane treatment for prisoners, or about claims of wrongful conviction, or about whether rough treatment of the mentally ill is really abuse.  But you ask no questions following my remarks.  Silence. 


What I hope is that my comments are disturbing to you, that you’re honestly troubled by what you hear, and that you’re considering doing something about it.  Supporting a prison ministry.  Speaking to a state legislator.  Thinking about volunteer opportunities. Offering to pray for people behind bars.  Anything.

What I hope is that you’re not angry at my message, but that you’re feeling pain because you know someone behind bars.  Maybe it’s a relative or a family member.  I’m hoping you’re not ashamed.  I’m hoping you are more determined than ever to reach out to this individual.

What I hope is that my brief remarks remind you just how often the Bible prompts us to show compassion to prisoners, going right back to the words of Jesus.

What I hope is that God took just one thing that I said and planted it in your mind for further prayer.

After all, it was a prayer breakfast.

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