NOTE: I felt a great tug to re-post this blog I wrote about my criminal past because as I have been writing about God’s unconditional Love and Presence, I felt the need to be clear in that I truly do truly believe God’s love and grace are unconditional – in that no human being or institution can set the standard or condition that metes out God’s grace, only God can.
So with that I state in Truth and deep humility that I am forgiven. I am blessed. I am restored and renewed. I am clean and sober. I am a child of God…just like St. Dismas the Good Thief!
This was originally written and posted on January 16, 2013.
All that is known of Dismas is that he is the Good Thief crucified with Christ on Calvary. The other thief is known as Gestas. A completely unsubstantiated myth from the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy that enjoyed great popularity in the West during the Middle Ages had two thieves who held up the Holy Family on the way to Egypt. Dismas bought off Gestas with forty drachmas to leave them unmolested, whereupon the [Infant Jesus] predicted that they would be crucified with Him in Jerusalem, and that Dismas would accompany Him to Paradise. His feast day is March 25th. (On St. Dismas the Good Thief).
I have been debating about whether or not to write about what this blog post is. Fear and judgment, among other things, stand in the background telling me that the truth in this instance will not set me free but leave me in worse shape, shamed and discredited. But as I stated in the ”About the BLOG” section that I would write about things [I] sometimes prefer not to talk about.” So, this blog is a leap of faith into the hands of Divine Love, a stepping off the cliff of self-preservation and looking ‘perfect and pious’ in order to soar into the truth. For the Truth will indeed set us free.
I need to trust that One who has been faithful and write a little story that is my current story. To the point: as of January 11, 2013, early in the afternoon my life changed in a way that is still unforeseen but dramatic. I was convicted of a felony for commiting a financial crime that I did indeed commit. There I said it: I am a convicted criminal. I was given a 4 year suspended sentence which means no time in prison as long as I don’t violate parole, miss a repayment or violate any criminal law for at least 2 years). I was also given 2 years supervised probation and financial restitution set at about $6,400 to be repaid by the time my probation period is done.
What can I say; I am not proud of it but I did it and I have learned in the last 12 months of dealing with it a great deal about forgiveness, mercy, restorative justice versus punitive justice, the ‘justice system’ and the corporate-like elements to the behind the scenes deals between lawyers and just how much power a judge can have on a person’s life, and biasedly so. Let me say this: justice is not blind, far from it.
I am not angry nor entitled. No, far from it. I am humbled because I could have been sentenced up to 20 years in prison. As it is my life will never be the same in this body, as I will live with the social stigma of being a convicted felon, losing certain rights permanently and others temporarily.
So, now a new journey begins again. A new life must be fashioned and I am not the one who will fashion it. But the One who will fashion it has said that I am forgiven and I am loved. I am reminded daily that with God all things are possible.
In some ways, this has strengthened my hunger for God, increased my desire for Rez Farm to become reality, and to pursue chaplaincy training and graduate work in pastoral care. But today as I write this, I do so fending off panic, desperately looking for more permanent housing, seeking any type of paid employment (The Earthy Monk is my God work, albeit unpaid), and dealing with the shell-shock that 25 years of work, both mission, ministry, and nonprofit work all but vanished like a wisp of smoke because of some very piss poor choices on my part.
Who will ever trust a ‘thief’ to run anything? Who will trust a person in recovery who also is a convicted criminal again? Heck, I have been turned down for work as a dog washer at PetCo and a dishwasher at IHOP (so much for 5 years of college education when in one fell swoop, I destroyed it all with a relapse-based drunken stupor while in the throes of a deep depression – no excuses here, just the facts).
But certain Scriptures just keep echoing in my head and heart, whispers from a God who is all about starting over, second chances (and third and fourth as well):
“…there is no condemnation for those in…Jesus.
Let the one without sin cast the first stone.
Judge not, lest you be judged.”
There is freedom in fessing up, ‘confessing’ up, turning myself in, and going through 7 months of court preceedings that was hell on earth. And without the mercy and provision of some angels on earth, me and Juno would have been hungry and homeless and me probably in jail for violating my bond release.
And now, here I am stating out loud knowing some may judge, some may find me evil, some irresponsible, others even unfit to write The Earthy Monk. But I am one who strongly believes that we ‘teach that which we need to learn’ and also that one need not be perfect or having already arrived to be used by God, for God and for others. I did not escape punishment: I am a convicted felon, that stigma alone will cause me years of duress walking around like Hester Prynne with my scarlet letter on my breast.
But again, the God of all comfort – the One who forgave the thief on the cross (that is who St. Dismas is according to historical legend) – is now comforting me. God is reminding me that Moses murdered a man and was never even brought to trial and yet was the chosen leader of the liberation of the Hebrew people; that King David had his best mate intentionally set up to be murdered to cover up his affair with the man’s wife. And I am reminded of Jacob whose very name means the usurper who stole his brother’s birthright, lied, cheated, and was renamed “Israel” which means ‘wrestled with God’ and that is not a royal name, it means more to do with being stubborn than righteous. Then there is Abraham who twice gave his wife away to other men for sex just to save his own life. The list goes on…
I am learning I am in good company – a group of people hungry for God, blessed by God, who ran from God, were redeemed by God and were used by and eternally loved by God. I am learning what forgiveness is all about. It is a powerful thing to know I am forgiven by God and covered in his grace for this crime commited almost 2 yeasrs ago as opposed to ‘confessing’ some naughty thought in my head. What I have just done, confessed, and lived through (and will continue to live through) has made forgiveness as real as the skin on my arm. Truly, I live in the shadows of the wings of a loving God.
And so, I begin the ‘journey’ of St. Dismas, who was known as “the Good Thief,” living a life of resurrection and forgiveness and healing…and giving my life away to that end.
And this I know and with this from 1 John I will end: ”If we say, “we have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us [but if] we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness…Dear friends, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed.“