Sunday, March 2, 2008

Prison and Mill Ave.

Today is March 2, 2008. One year ago today, I stood before a judge at the Superior Court in Phoenix and pleaded guilty to a felony DUI charge. I was taken into custody and spent the next 122 days in jail/prison. Along the way, I lost my career as the Trib's Metro Columnist, a relationship that I had hoped would help me endure that awful crisis, my self-esteem and just about everything else that I valued.
A few weeks before that fateful day, when it became more and more clear to me that I would be headed to prison, I bought a CD by the Christian group Avalon. The CD was "Faith: A Hymns Collection.'' I must have played that CD a thousand times or more as I awaited that awful day when I would give up my freedom and face a future full of uncertainty. I cannot tell you what a comfort those old hymns were at that point in my life.
Well, it's been a year since that day. Today, I went to a new church, one I had ridden past on my bike many times. I had noticed the church before, but never attended. But last week I saw a banner outside the ChristLife Church on Warner Road in Tempe. It read: "Avalon, performing in the 8:30 and 10 a.m. services.''
On March 2.
So, if you happened to be there this morning and saw a gray-haired, middle-aged man weeping quietly as Avalon performed it was probably me. I guess I'm getting sentimental in my old age.
In the weeks before I went to prison, I recalled the story of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in the Book of Daniel. Threatened with being thrown into a furnace, they told the King that they served a God who could deliver them and, even if God didn't deliver them, they still wouldn't worship the idol the king demanded them to worship.
You probably know the story. When the three were thrown into the furnace, the King noted in amazement that there were four men walking around in the furnace, unscathed by the fire and one of them, according to the king "had the form like unto the Son of God.''
Sometimes God delivers us. But sometimes he just goes into the fire with us. God didn't deliver me from prison, but I'm convinced he was there with me at Durango Jail and Florence West Prison the whole time.
And it brought to mind something I have found very interesting.
You know, most every church has a heart for convicts. Just about all of them are involved in a prison ministory of one kind or another.
Ah, but ex-cons. Well that's often a different story.
I think it's that way with a lot of churches.
Friday night, I went down to Mill Ave. in Tempe. I had coffee at the Borders, ate at Fat Burger and later had ice cream at Cold Stone Creamery. I walked along Mill Ave., just people-watching mainly.
A group of people were handing out tracts and telling people - actually they were shouting above all of the noise of the busy street - about how they could avoid going to hell.
I approached one of the people handing out tracts and asked him where they were from. He said he was from a church in Glendale.
I don't know much about Glendale, I'll admit. But it made me wonder if there aren't any lost people in Glendale. Or on the street where those people live. Or where they work. I wondered if maybe these good church people considered the patrons of Mill Ave., especially condemned. Maybe they feel those folks out there partying in the clubs on Mill Ave., are somehow more lost than their neighbors whose sins are perhaps a little more palatable. I don't know, of course. But it did make me wonder.
I think a lot of Christians like to proclaim the gospel at arm's length. It's one thing to visit a prisoner when he's locked up. It's altogether different to minister to a released convict who might show up at your doorstep or need something beyond a word of encouragement. It's easy enough to tell a drunken college kid about the error of his ways. It's another thing to have that conversation with the couple next door, people you see every day and don't offend you in any obvious way.
I know a little bit about that.
It's one of the things I have learned in the past year.


xfevv said...

Great post Slim. Keep it up

Keith said...

Slim, thanks for revealing, ever so gently, the unnatural and artificial ways in which the church (the Body of Chirst...Jesus on Earth?) interacts with the world. We are not very much like the one we are supposed to be emulating. Being responsible for making sure that the church I am a part of does deeds of light in the world, it is still obvious that our real opportunities are in our neighborhoods and at work. My personal experience is that I had more impact on the world while I was working at a job like everyone else than I have had through any of the organized activities we devise to "get the message out". Jesus said we are salt and light in the world. But instead of "being" salt and light, we "act" like salt and light for selected, planned moments. A pinch of salt here, a flash of light there, and we feel good about ourselves. This falls far short of the preserving, illuminating influence we were designed to have in this decaying and dark world. Keith

songbird said...

Slim, you make some good points. May I ask this: how DO you think the church could or should be helping ex cons? I would love to have you write on what some of your challenges were after you left prison and how a church body could have been of help.

Anonymous said...

Great article Slim!