Musings on the Incarcerated

“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”

Hebrews 13:3 (NIV)

Moses committed murder and was never brought to (human) “justice.”  And Moses was still called by God after his crime to lead one of the greatest liberation/freedom movements the world has ever recorded.

King David set up a plan to ensure the death of one of his closest, beloved, and most faithful generals because he, David, had had an extramarital affair with the generals’ wife, even impregnating her. He did all that premeditated to cover his own arse from getting caught.  And even after all that God called David the “apple of His eye.”

Jesus spent time in prison during his trial for sedition and was crucified between 2 thieves.

The Apostles served time in prison. John the Baptist was incarcerated. Joseph did time at a juvenile detention facility.

The Book of Acts is often celebrated for being the book that introduced us to the early Church and what the earliest followers of Jesus lived like BUT did you know it’s also the Book of the Bible that mentions the word prisoner more than any other Book in the Bible?

Though most ‘Christians’ and followers of Jesus take a “lock them up and throw away the key” mentality and also support capital punishment, it would do us well to reflect upon this truth: that God has used prisoners and criminals time and again to bring “salvation” and healing to various communities. And this God also mandates that we remember and care for the prisoner (saying nothing about doing so based on acceptable and unacceptable crimes).

God only states that when we visit the imprisoned we are visiting the Lord Jesus.

Not a sermon, just a challenging thought.

For more on this check out the Gospel of Matthew 25: 34-46 and


Broken & Loved

I feel that this re-posting of something I wrote a few months ago speaks to where I am today…but just today.  May you be blessed and broken so that you may be filled with ALL that God longs to fill you with, namely, himself.

“In each one of us there is such a deep wound, such an urgent cry to be held, appreciated and seen as unique and valuable. The heart of each one is broken and bleeding… An experience of being loved and accepted in community, which has become a safe place for us, allows us gradually to accept ourselves as we are, with our wounds and all the monsters. We are broken, but we are loved.”

Jean Vanier (Source: Community and Growth)

I was listening to one of my favorite shows on the radio the other night (yes, I still listen to the radio!), the deliciously soulful NPR show “On Being” and the host was interviewing one of my favorite Christian Irascible, the Lutheran pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber. She was speaking at the Wild Goose festival and the topic happened upon her depression and how she dealt with it: she named it Francis I was struck by the hilarity and compassion that naming her depression afforded her. When asked a direct question about does she preach and teach about her depression she smacked it out of the park and left my mouth agape. Nadia said, “I try and preach from my scars and not my wounds.”

How raw and authentic, how utterly insightful, and how true for those of us in recovery…”I try to preach from my scars, not my wounds.”

She essentially sums up Jean Vanier’s quote, the essential message of what it means to be a human being seeking God; the journey from our own wounds to others wounds and the healing experience of scars.

I love my scars, almost perversely so. Some of them are physical, on my arms, some covered up with kanji tattoos of sacred text, and some have been rendered almost invisible due to the aging process. And some, well, they are invisible and only show themselves in holy moments of intimacy, prayer, and community

I am wounded, no doubt. But I am loved. The point is do I spend more time focusing on the truth that I am wounded or on the amazing truth that I am loved, beyond words, by a God Whose loved is infinitely faithful and present? The answer to that question reveals a great deal about where I am spiritually (true dat!).

Our scars are the perfect reminders of this creative tension in which we must live – that creative tension of living between the “already and the not yet.”   I am whole, but not yet. I am perfectly human but not perfect. I am indispensible yet divinely unique. I am loved by God, but I forget. I am a shining example of God’s love taking place but I am broken and wounded and wound others as a result sometimes.

The truth is I am not my wounds, but I am my scars.

My scars are reminders of the place where God entered my wounds, entered my life. And each scar I have is a blessed reminder that God is right now, and always has been, with me. Our scars are reminders that God is with us in the pain and the healing, in the suffering darkness and the tender light. God comes and sits down on the floor with us in our darkness and reaches out to touch us and to simply BE with us. Our scars remind us that even though God may not have delivered the trial or tribulation from us, God did indeed come in Love and be with us in the darkness. I have experienced this Truth many times: when my father died; when my son died; when my mother and brother died; when all hope seemed lost and I thought the only obvious answer was death God came.

Our scars are God’s calling cards, reminders of his faithful Presence, enduring love, patient tenderness, and infinite wisdom and power.

So the next time we glance down at our physical scars or feel the pang and tug of the unseen scars, whisper a prayer of Gratitude in remembrance that you may be wounded, but you are loved.

POEM – “To A Terrorist” (Stephen Dunn)

For the historical ache, the ache passed down
which finds its circumstance and becomes
the present ache, I offer this poem

without hope, knowing there’s nothing,
not even revenge, which alleviates
a life like yours. I offer it as one

might offer his father’s ashes
to the wind, a gesture
when there’s nothing else to do.

Still, I must say to you:
I hate your good reasons.
I hate the hatefulness that makes you fall

in love with death, your own included.
Perhaps you’re hating me now,
I who own my own house

And live in a country so muscular,
so smug, it thinks its terror is meant
only to mean well, and to protect.

Christ turned his singular cheek,
one man’s holiness another’s absurdity.
Like you, the rest of us obey the sting,

the surge. I’m just speaking out loud
to cancel my silence. Consider it an old impulse,
doomed to become mere words.

The first poet probably spoke to thunder
and, for a while, believed
thunder had an ear and a choice.

The Journey of St. Dismas (repost)

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.”

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The Gift of Failure

Failure is a gift from God…and I need spirituality to teach me that for religion only speaks to the shame of failure and not to its giftedness.

Spirituality teaches us how to deal with, and accept, failure as a gift and a needed tool for our journey with and towards God; for failure is the twin of success, much the way doubt and faith are inseparably linked.

One of the foundational ‘tenets’ of Alcoholics Anonymous states that the journey of sobriety is about “progress not perfection…[for] we are not saints.”  Imperfection and failure are two of the tools God uses to draw me closer to him; for by embracing imperfection and failure, I am reminded of the glorious truth that I am indeed human.  And in my being human, nothing is drawn away from God and his relentless love, and I find that if I embrace that truth, I am also fully alive.

My failures prove only that I am not a saint, but they do not take away from any goodness that God has placed within me.  I am fond of saying if there is anything in me you find good, then you can give thanks to God and my mother, but if you find anything in me that is not good, well for that I apologize.

As I look over my life I see a wreckage of pain, failure and broken hearts and trust strewn across the path.  I feel regret, and rue some of the poorer choices I have made.  But God is eternally good, forgiving and loving so that in his hands my past wreckage becomes malleable clay to be remolded into a shining example of divine love mixed with utter humanity.

And like or not, that is indeed good news.

I am a jar of clay, cracked but valuable when surrendered fully into the hands of a loving God.  My failures become familiar scars, gentle reminders of the power of forgiveness and choice all held by the urgent compassion of God.

God does not judge my failures, only I and other people do that.  God’s love is a merciful cauldron burning the dross of my failures away turning them instead into divine gifts meant to be of service to God and others.  God’s love is greater than any human perspective, judgment, religion, or persuasion.  God’s love embraces my failures as a vital part of me and my journey back Home to him.  And if God embraces my failures, then I can do no less.

So today, I embrace all my failures…all of me, surrendering them over to the hands of God, asking not for them to be removed but to be transformed into the living gifts of a merciful God.


Learning Mercy

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And [Matthew] got up and followed [Jesus]. While he was at table in His house, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat with Jesus and His disciples. The Pharisees saw this and said to His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” [Jesus] heard this and said, “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous but sinners.”

I am a student in a lifelong education program: the School of Mercy. I am taking Jesus at His word and I’m going and learning the meaning of the words, “I desire mercy [and] not sacrifice.” The School of Mercy is one that I am quite familiar with, but have also flunked out of, re-enrolled, made good grades; flunked out…you get the picture.

Learning mercy is a lifelong journey – a journey of receiving, learning, and giving mercy…the mercy that Jesus continually gives to us.  I do not believe we can give mercy to another, especially God’s mercy, unless we have experienced it ourselves, deeply and firsthand.

Let me repeat myself: We cannot give what we have not received or do not have.

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Holding the Hammer

I was walking around one of my favorite places the other day – the Abbey of the Holy Cross – in Berryville, Virginia and the proverbial poop hit the fan as I came to a brutal realization: I hold the hammer. 

I hold the hammer that nails Jesus to the cross. 

I do.

Every person I have hurt, used, abused, manipulated, and ‘murdered’ in my head, heart, or actions – all of them are reminders that I re-crucify Jesus every time I sin.  Every time I neglect the poor, every time I walk away from an opportunity to see and share Jesus, every time I neglect the poor one “within” I crucify Jesus all over again.

I hold the hammer…

And yet as I slam the mallet down as hard as I can upon the spike, smashing it into the wrist of Love, I see His face look over at me, and covered in spit, filth and blood…and I see Him tell me “I love you…I love you this much,” His arms stretched so wide they seem as if they could rip from His Body.  “Come Home, my son, come back to Me…come back to Mercy!”

And in disgust, I hit the nail harder.

If I just hit it hard enough, I think the ‘thwacking’ sound of metal into flesh will drown out my guilt, my shame, my sin.  I am human and I can not take such Love so easily.  I sometimes try and crucify that which I Love and is Loving to me.

But still that Face…He keeps looking over at me telling me no matter how hard I slam down on the spike, no matter how hard I try to lift the Tree, no matter how far away I run, that He will still welcome me into Paradise.  His love is that insane, that Crazy that He would forgive me both in spite of myself and because of His self.

For in His tender eyes, all bloodied over and bruised, He tells me I am still made in the Image of His Father, in the Image of Love.

But still, I hold the hammer that nailed Love to the Cross.

And He bled forgiveness, mercy and love…

A Few Thoughts on Forgiving Yourself…

I realize more and more how much difficulty I have forgiving myself and receiving forgiveness.  I find it, plain and simple, a hard and painful thing to do.  I know many people who can relate to this dilemma. There are some things about forgiving myself I have thought and prayed about and experienced quite personally; and there are others that will only come through surrender, prayer and trust.

I understand the paradox of forgiving myself.  I understand that when I do not forgive myself two distinct things are simultaneously occurring: I am, in essence, blocking God’s forgiveness and setting my standards of forgiveness above those of God’s standards.  The first is selfish (and self pity), the second is idolatry.

When I stand in front of the mirror and look at the man I am, I mean really look hard I am confronted by a variety of paradoxes.  I am a wounded man who is called to be a healer.  I am a fallen man who feels called to ministry.  I am an addict who is struggling with recovery.  I am a man who has done many years of ministry for God.  I am a 44 year old man with not much to show for in the way of ‘success’.  I am a man who has made certain choices that may lead to severe legal consequences.  And I am a man who has destroyed many relationships I hold dear and not to mention quite a few burned bridges (addicts and broken people are infamous for burning bridges while still trying to cross over them).

But when all of these paradoxes are seen through the lens of the Greatest Paradox, I am set free.  And the Greatest Paradox is this: in (and through) Jesus, every single screw up, every wound, every single sin, every moment of evil, pain, or dread I have felt or caused is Forgiven.

I know that not all the consequences of my paradoxical nature are taken away or erased, but I know that in Jesus there is no more condemnation and that the pain and suffering of unforgiveness and sin is washed away when I hear the words from Jesus, “My son you are forgiven.” (See Mark 2:5)