Friday, March 7, 2008

Prison and Mill Ave.: Part II

I was browsing through a shop about a week ago, looking at greeting cards when one particular card caught my attention.
The card read: "I am not here to fix things. I am here to observe and pass judgement.''
I had to laugh out loud. Ever notice that the best humor is often found in a truth exposed rather than a fiction concocted?
And this card hit me square between the eyes.
You might call it an occupational hazard. For 25 years, it was my job to "observe and pass judgment'' as a journalist. That's what I was paid to do. But I cannot attribute that
inclination simply to my career path. I've always been prone to having a strong opinion, which perhaps creates a chicken-and-the-egg premise: Did I become a journalist because I had a natural tendency to be opinionated? Or did I become opinionated because I spent 25 years as a journalist?
Let's pause here to discard one long-held myth that you often hear from readers, i.e., readers want their journalists to be strictly objective.
This is not only an impossible demand (we are all shaped by what we are taught,, what we experience and what we assume based on those influences) but an undesired request. No, what readers really want from a journalist is someone who shares their biases. That is why the same news story can be viewed as biased by one reader and strictly objective by another. A journalist's work is corrupted, at least to some degree, at its conception and continues to be corrupted all along the way, including at the breakfast table.
Now, the reason I mention all this is because of some points raised by readers of my previous post "Prison and Mill Ave.''
In that post, I wondered aloud why many churches are enthusiastic in their efforts to minster to convicts - through various prison ministries - but less inspired to provide help to ex-convicts. I wondered why members of a church in Glendale would spend their weekend nights handing out tracts on the street corners on Mill Ave. in Tempe rather than the street corners of their own town.
Well, maybe I assumed too much. Maybe there are churches who actively minister to those prisoners when they are released. Maybe, they keep up with those convicts and are there waiting for them when they return to their communities. And I had to think to myself, "If that were true, how would I know of it?'' And I have to concede that the possibility exists. Maybe those good folks from Glendale are prominent on the street corners of their town, too. I don't go to Glendale, so how would I know.
So, that's a question I would put to those who are involved in the prison ministry. Do you know when these men will be released from prison? Do you know where they will be going once the gates closed behind them? Have you helped connect them with a church in that area? If they are going to live near your church, have you examined any job or housing possibilities?
You know, by nature and, most likely, by divine design, churches have enormous networking possibilities. Chances are, there is an ex-con who is a plumber and a church member who owns a plumbing company who could use a good man. Chances are, there is someone who owns rental property who could use a tenant.
Make no mistake. Prisoners need Christ. And prison, it might surprise you, is fertile ground, mainly because you check your pride at the gate when you walk in. There is no delusion of self-confidence when you hit that exercise yard. When you get to prison, you get a uniform, a number and as much humility as you'll ever get. And grace looks first to the humble.
Yes, prisoners need Christ. They also need a place to live. They need a job. And they need to feel that they are accepted, that they belong. They need to be included and encouraged and inspired. They need to feel like they are being helped because they are being valued.
You know what they don't need? They do not need to feel as though they are someone's "moral obligation.''
In the eyes of God, we are all criminals. Sometimes, as we "observe and pass judgment'' we forget that, I think.

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