Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Was Moses A Sinner And A Criminal?

The story of Moses is known all over the world, and is part of more religions than just the three Abrahamic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. He is highly regarded as a prophet, teacher, religious lawgiver, leader, and writer. But are his accomplishments blemished by his early actions?

 

As the story goes, Moses was responsible for killing an Egyptian task-master, or slave-master (see Exodus 2:11-15 Here). However the “Ten Commandments” had yet to be introduced, so we could argue that he never knew of the God-given law, and was thus free from committing a sin.

 

At the same time, Moses was part of the ruling family of Egypt, and as such could easily be exempt from any law as his status allows.

 

Or was this so?

 

If we know of no laws the early believers of God followed (before Moses), how could they be held accountable for anything?

 

Regardless of his legacy, Moses was guilty of sinning against his God, and of a capital crime against his home country. We know this by his behavior after the murder took place. Moses knew in his heart that what he had done was wrong. Additionally, he could have made up a story for the Pharaoh-king of why he had murdered the man. But instead Moses’ guilt forced him to recognize what he had done and he ran, unknowingly into the arms of an all forgiving God who would later use Moses to do wonderfully miraculous things that are only imaginable today.

 And here is the point:

if the people of Israel held captive in Egypt had not forgiven Moses,

and had not accepted God’s forgiveness for his earlier murder,

would the story have been the same?

We easily dismiss murderers in our society as a plague who deserve punishment, and perhaps that was something Moses felt of the time he spent in the desert herding sheep. But when it was done, he got up and did what God asked, even if his own burden of guilt seemed too heavy to accept the forgiveness of Go at the moment.

As a follower of Christ, forgiveness is not an option for me, and neither is it for those who have accepted His salvation.

As a society we recognize there is too much pain to keep from forgiving, lest we become isolated form one-another for too many hurts by others.

 

If we cannot learn to live, show, and teach forgiveness to others, then we will only build up more walls between us, and the pain will continue indefinitely.

 

Be a part of the solution.

Start by forgiving yourself,

then help someone else

  find the forgiveness they so badly need.

 

Friday, May 27, 2011

Ideas For System Reform: Part 6 - end of series

Where do You and I fit into this equation of reform?
Let me start with where we Do Not fit...
  1. at home on the couch. I know, it is your American right to come home after a long day and "relax". But let me ask you a question, isn't your time worth MORE? What has television done to improve your life? Or your skills?
  2. on the computer. Except for a few examples where people make lasting connections for life, how has you life improved by surfing the internet or playing games daily? Are your relationships in life better for that extra time being plugged-in?
  3. at the bar. Sure, wonderful friends who get together daily to search the deep meaning of life in vast quantities of alcohol.

And here is the reason I ask... is our life so much the better for the shows we watch, the articles we read, the websites we visit, and the tavern bill we pay, that one year from now we will be able to recall something significant? Or to put it another way, one year ago - was there a show, or website, or night at the bar thas was so extra-ordinary that you can recall with clarity what it felt like - even now? Anything??

 

Give.     Advocate.     Volunteer.


If you have been with me for long here, then you know I propose activity versus complacencey.
 
Complacency defined as: especially pleased with oneself or one's merits, advantages, situation; apathetic, self-righteous, unconcerned.
 
How does one keep from being "unconcerned"? How about - involved?
 
Involved defined as: committed or engaged; concerned in some affair.
 
So where Do you and I fit? Well, one year from now I want to be able to look back and say: "I did something about... ANYTHING!"
  • I gave money to help the children of prisoners at Angel-Tree.org
  • I wrote letters to provide hope to the incarerated.
  • I helped influence smart spending through Justice Reinvestment in our state-legislature at SafetyandJustice.org
  • I fed and clothed the homeless, those with no means of support for themselves.
  • I volunteered to help ex-prisoners by tutoring them for their G.E.D. at VolunteersOfAmerica.org
  • Or even... I coordinated with county officials to teach computer skills (or any skill) to a newly released offender so they can find a job.

These stories will be mine to share. That one week, or once a month for a year, I made a difference. I can tell the story to my children. I can teach them the value of helping others. And those memories will stay with us both longer than ANY show we watch. To see someone's eyes light up when you walk through the door to visit them, especially when you didn't have to. To encourage them to grow and share in their triumphs. Those feelings can be captured in few other ways.

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” James 2:15-16 (NIV)


When I asked before: "Isn't Your time worth more?" I like to think the answer for me is clear... my value doubles when I invest in another human.


"Thoughtful living is a tremendous opportunity with eternal implications. Lack of thought is one simple reason why thousands of souls are cast away forever. Men who will not consider, will not look forward, will not reflect on the end of their present course, and the sure consequences of their present ways, and awake at last to find they are damned for lack of thinking." - author unknown

 

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Ideas For System Reform - Part 5

Are non-profits, like churches, able to provide the help needed to make a lasting change?

 

  

Tough question with a simple answer that is far from easy... YES. 

 

 

If you disagree, that’s OK. But then let me ask, who can help the criminal and their family to make the permanent changes they need?? 

 

 

Try to see it this way, while the government can impose legislation to set-up new policies with improved programs and coordinated agencies to oversee every aspect, it is the regular person at work who will interact with the offenders, and people are flawed. We grow tired of doing the same job every day, and we bring our problems to work with us. We grow discouraged and lose hope in our efforts, find fault in the system, and look for more income to compensate for the crummy days we have with perhaps a work environment that has too little joy.

 

Now compare this with a non-profit, especially a church, where hope is part of the daily offering given to those in need. Please understand, volunteers are looking for ways to help. Any way. Any idea. Any chance to provide a glimpse of something better for another human being who is struggling. Many times, the volunteers are themselves survivors from jail and prison who know what it is like to attempt to re-build all one their own.  

  • to learn about CURE - Citizens United for Rehabilitation of Errants, click Here 

 When the government agency closes their doors at night, it is the volunteer who comes along side the offender and their family(more than half of prisoners are parents, The Economist, link Here) to help with the mending. To give assistance where the government plans fall short. And if a volunteer is not available? You can imagine what happens. Criminal behaviors get repeated, families self-destruct, pain abounds. Am I over-exaggerating? Is it truly this bad? According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 30% of all re-arrests occur within the first six months of freedom, and 43% of American offenders are returned to state prison within three years of their release. 

  • The Pew report found that if states could reduce their re-offending rates by 10%, more than $635m could be saved in prison costs.

  • “Ex-prisoners must get support in their own neighbourhoods rather than looking to centrally-based institutions.”

 Government programs can purposely connect with volunteer support groups outside of the normal system. Why? Because a program can only go so far. A non-profit and Faith based organization can help an offender see them-self through the eyes of someone who has hope inside them. Willing to share of their time and energy, volunteers can make a lasting difference in how “Re-Entry” takes with an ex-convict. Volunteers want to see change and make a difference. And that's why they are effective. We can see “it” in them, and they want it more than a government employee ever can.

 

Hebrews 13:1 & 3 - 1 Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels. 3 Remember the prisoners as if chained with them...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Ideas For A New System of Reform - Part 4

We all wish to avoid pain, and often go to great lengths to do so. Yet somehow our judicial system has forgotten that direct victims of crime have already experienced a loss, and the suffering which goes with it. We punish the offender, then do little to help the victims.

 

Half of all crime victims and survivors do not receive support for their victimization through the criminal justice system. 

 

How do You feel knowing this?? To explain further I wish to allow another point of view to penetrate our minds here; that of a victim.

 

The following is from the Spring 2011 issue Justice Matters, by Arwen Bird. The content is edited and summarized, but the original version can be found HERE.

 

 For the half of us who have reported the crime, systems may provide assistance with the immediate aftermath. Victims’ advocates guide survivors through the system, and crime victims’ compensation exists to help pay for out-of-pocket medical expenses that cannot be covered by insurance. Inevitably the support fades away leaving individuals or families to seek our own sources of help.

 

When the crash happened in February of 1993, I was paralyzed and my sister received a bruise on her brain. Immediately after, our medical expenses exceeded crime victims’ compensation. Within a month our insurance companies put a lien against my parents’ home to cover our bills. The lien was later removed...

 

At the same time we were navigating medical and insurance claims, the criminal justice system pursued the man who hit us. After a trial, he was convicted on two counts of second-degree assault and drunk driving. At that time, judges had discretion to determine a sentence that fit the crime. In this case, they sentenced him to a year in a county restitution center, where he was able to leave for work during the day and had to return evenings and weekends (the restitution center later closed due to budget cuts). He attended alcohol treatment, completed community service, and was ordered to pay restitution to my sister and me. As a survivor, the most important aspect of a sentence is that it works —and that is what happened in our case. 

 

The approximate cost of incarcerating the man who harmed my sister and me: $15,000. Fast forward to 2011—the laws that govern our criminal justice system have changed. The law implements a mandatory sentence for second-degree assault as 70 months, which means that if the man who hit my sister and me were sentenced today, he could be sentenced to 140 months in prison for two counts. It costs about $30,000 a year to incarcerate someone; that means taxpayers would pay between $175,000 and $345,000 today. If we subtract the estimated cost at the restitution center ($15,000), we end up with a minimum $160,000 cost to taxpayers. The most striking part of the costs of mandatory minimums versus what previously existed is that the resources tied up in the current system could be used instead for crime victims and survivors.

 

  • A new manual wheelchair costs $5,000, and needs replacing every five years. That $160,000 could buy 32 wheelchairs.

  • Each month I pay $400 for medical supplies related to my disability that aren’t covered by insurance; thats $4,800 a year. By reinvesting the money saved from smart sentencing reforms, health care related to my disability would be completely covered for 33 years.

 

When the victims of crime see a need to reform the justice system, does this provide enough of a compelling reason? Adding to the momentum of other arguments?? If so, who is listening? Make sure your politicians know that we all see the need for change.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Ideas For A New System of Reform - Part 3

Change... from inside ‘the System’ might make more sense than a government led program, as described in my last post(see HERE). But how would it look?

 

First, how about we find people “inside” the system who want to make a change AND have working ideas already going. An example looks like this...

  • Corrections Officers look for and identify inmates who want to change and show promise to continue on a path of long-lasting reform. We educate the staff to identify these prisoners, then train each over a period of time to increase personal and civic responsibility, a step-down decrease of incarceration & supervision, work along-side civilians on a work-release, and then show these men & women how to come along-side and support other inmates who are newly starting the program. (This summary is from a program I previously read of, yet cannot locate the source document. If you can find such a web-article, please notify me)

    • As the article wrapped up, the problem is most corrections officers/district attorneys/law-enforcement officers do not see ‘eye-to-eye’ on who should or should not be given such “special” treatment, if any. Often, the “officials” report only about 1% of those inmates incarcerated and serving currently want and are capable of making a lasting change, so any attempt is denounced as un-reasonable due to such few good candidates. In other words, they aren’t looking for the prisoners who want to make changes, so instead they disregard everyone.

 

Second, find working examples where “official-agencies” work together to bring victims justice, AND reform the criminals. Take this approach from a lieutenant in the Los Angeles Police Department:

  • The PSA would prevent first-time offenders from getting hardened and hardened criminals from getting worse. It would break the cycle of crime. Additionally, the system would provide far superior services at a fraction of the cost of the present system. The PSA would represent a complete transformation in how government provides justice and safety to communities across America. In essence, it would be a person-centered, not crime-centered approach to law enforcement.

  • Sworn officers, prosecuting and defense attorneys, emergency response teams, child and family services, social-welfare agents, community-service specialists, rehabilitation, job training, drug- and alcohol-abuse counselors, negotiators, psychological counselors, and probation and parole agents would all work together in the same building with the same mission.

  • The criminal’s family would be enlisted to create an environment that promotes rehabilitation, and there are working cases in progress now.

    • See the article - “How to fix America's broken criminal justice system” HERE. 

 

Third, let’s keep things simple. Many people now see the benefit of treatment for drug-use offenders, instead of prison time. What do you think? Can you consider a benefit worhty of this example:

  • It's been 20 years since the first U.S. drug court was established in Miami as an innovative way of getting nonviolent offenders out of the criminal justice system and into court-supervised drug rehabilitation programs. Since then more than 2,300 drug courts have blossomed around the country, credited with reducing crime and saving the cost of locking people up.

  • Despite that success, the specialized courts remain available to less than 10 percent of the 1.2 million drug-addicted American offenders. The Obama administration wants to boost funding so that hundreds more courts can begin work.

    • see the Associated Press National News article HERE 

  • Better results in long-term rehabilitation, saving my current state ~ $160 Million in health-care, foster-care, criminal justice, and victimization costs from 2001-2006.(see resource report HERE)

 

The end result: more opportunities for change to an ineffective system are already in place by those inside the system. Should we listen? Can we afford not to??

 

Next - Part 4: Can victims see a benefit for criminal justice reform?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Ideas For A New System of Reform - Part 1

When do you see the current system changing? As we increase prison terms and build more jails to incarcerate additional people, do you see crime declining?

How do things improve for you? For me? For our country? For victims? For criminals?

The answer:  

Change the Vision. 

  • 600,000 inmates are released from correctional facilities each year, but ⅔ are re-arrested within 3 years. Is this improvement? 

What were are doing now isn’t working.

So if something does not work effectively, why should we keep dumping resources of money and people into the current flawed design?

The answer: Fear.

We see a problem, people getting hurt by crime, and we know only one answer; Imprisonment.  

  • Crime & Media Consumption: inciting fear from an abundance of crime reports in media, to a plethora of crime shows on television drives a disparity of misconception between our own perceptions, and the reality in the world. 

Most offenders want a chance to change, but know not where to turn. And often the easiest path to take is the one we already know. We don’t change because change is hard, and we don’t know how to do it on our own.  

 

What about the news articles below: 

  • Faith Based Organizations and Federal Stimulus money expand jobs programs to give prisoners another chance, and thus reduce recidivism(repeat offenses).

  • Employers get special wage subsidies.

If you knew your church or business could do one thing to benefit these, would you?

New jobs help, and so does support. Can you offer either? 

  • When vision is combined with faith and commitment, amazing things happen! It weaves four essential elements into our daily lives: passion, motivation, direction and purpose. It is critical both for us individually, for our families, our country, and our church.  

"The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:45). 

  • Service characterized Jesus' ministry from beginning to end. He healed the sick and fed the hungry. He comforted those who grieved. He put Himself last and served others first. His service attracted others because it was so countercultural. And Jesus' ultimate act of service entailed giving His own life as a sacrifice for our sins. 

Does your church struggle with an identity crisis? Maybe it is time to re-envision the church as we see it.

Does your life lack purpose? Maybe for one year you find a program where you can help others.

Your service is important. Someone “out-there” needs you to help, to care, and to show support.

  • Vision is life-giving. But where vision is lacking people perish.

  • Vision is powerful. It is the art of seeing things that are invisible and believing them into reality. 

What can you see today, that you were blind to yesterday?

How will you apply what you read today?

This month we encourage you to visit the website and explore opportunities at:

 

PSJ - Partnership For Safety & Justice

 

Friday, May 6, 2011

What Makes an NFL Player Cry

Is his dad.

Finding a way to get his son a message on being drafted into the professionals, like he was.

 

Think about it...

A 220 pound young man who is known for running over people,

who won the Heisman in 2009,

and went on to to help his team win the national championship,

brought to tears on national television,

because of a few words from his father.

Shocking?

Maybe not.

But how many people would feel the same about their incarcerated father?

Would you deny him Your love and friendship, embarrassed by his crimes??

 
After the New Orleans Saints traded up to take Alabama running back Mark Ingram with the No. 28 overall pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, ESPN reporter Suzy Kolber read him a message live on the air from his jailed father.
Mark Ingram Sr., who is in the middle of a seven-year federal sentence for laundering and bank fraud, told Mark in an email that he is a great person and that he has made him a proud father. That is when Ingram Jr. began to tear up.
Ingram Sr. had an additional two years added to his sentence for jumping bail and trying to see his son play in the 2009 Sugar Bowl.
 
Watch the brief video here:

So my beloved New Orleans Saints pick up an incredible running back.

Mark Ingram Jr. celebrates a victory and a dream, with his dad.

No one denies that Ingram Sr. has earned the sentence for his crime.

Few father’s are “perfect”, in fact I can think of only one... Our Father in Heaven.

What if God were a God who would love you, in spite of what you have done, and in spite of who you are?

Now is it so hard to believe that a son could do the same for his father?

 

When he received the Heisman Trophy in New York City in December, the younger Ingram told reporters: "My father has been a great influence on my life, and I love him to death."


 

Next week begins a new series: Ideas For A New System of Reform


Countdown: 40 Weeks to (more) freedom!

 

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Lost Among Us

In my current home, Portland, Oregon, there are many cars with this bumper sticker:

 

“Not All Who Wander Are Lost”.


Personally, I like the idea tremendously. Sometimes I ‘wander’ while I wait for the next meeting or appointment to come. Other times I ‘wander’ in the city to see where I end-up, maybe find a new restaurant, see a different building design, or discover a new park to visit. There is also a “walk-about” from the 1980’s hit movie - “Crocodile Dundee”. The main character would go for a log walk, with no specific destination in mind, but the intention is to learn about himself along the way. I like to think he gains focus on his own life while allowing the worthless things to slide away from view. Perhaps this could even be described as a “spirit-walk”, described in manifold books and movies as a person’s own journey to find answers to their life for themselves.


Have you ever done this? I have. On more than on occasion. Once I even fasted(no food) four days during the experience. The biggest difference though was that I was never completely alone. Now I do not mean anyone else accompanied me, nor am I trying to say that God was walking beside me, although much of the time I do believe He was there. No - the parts of me that I can never let go of completely, my memories, those were my company during the journey.


“Everybody needs his memories.

They keep the wolf of insignificance from the door”

- Saul Bellow


One idea here: what we focus our thoughts on, and more specifically our memories, can determine the health of our mind, body, and spirit, including our future.


So what do you “fill yourself” with now?

T.V.

Internet

Pornography

Addictions

Anger

Bitterness

Guilt


These are the same thoughts and memories you will be fueled from in the months and years to come.


Here is a comparative concept: our friends. If they are abusive of their children, then we will be more likely to become the same with our own children as we expose ourselves to their actions. If they use foul language, steal, rape, set things on fire “for fun”, we will find ourselves thinking on these things more often because other, more healthy thoughts, will be displaced from our mind as we focus on these more.


When I have gone on a journey of “self-discovery”, I have felt a wide array of emotions, ranging from anger, disgust, envy, pride, lust, fear, fatigue, and sadness, to joy, love, peace, energy, and purpose. And yes, ‘purpose’ can give us an emotional feeling that drives us into a new vision for our lives. The resulting energy and focus can fuel a new hunger for life!


As my ‘journey’ often goes, the first thing I do is a memory recall, and then I attempt a ‘dump’. I find the things that I want to remember no longer, the painful times that I cannot change. This can be anything; hurtful words from a loved-one, to physical pain and distress. But the result is the same: to hold-on to them any longer does me no good. I try to learn whatever I can, praying about the situation and people involved, and then I let them go as far as possible. The second thing is I pull out the thoughts from my past that brought the most joy, and I sit with them, for as long as possible. Then I pray about those involved, and try to learn from the experience again. After this, I can focus more on creating a new future.


Another idea here: Do the thoughts of your past leave you lost, unhappy, and unable to focus on creating a new future for yourself? What thoughts and memories do you carry around with you? For that matter, who do you surround yourself with??


If you want a new life, find new people. Open yourself to new opportunities for creating new experiences and memories. Let someone show you how to give yourself a new identity, or even a small area that has a little hope for something better than you have now. This can come from embracing Christ, and it can be built on the new life situations you encounter.

  • Add your name to a prayer list so someone can pray for you, or better yet, be willing to pray for someone - for one week, each day.

  • Learn to love wisdom, and the seeking of it in your own life.

  • Move. Don’t sit still. Be willing to try new things with greater potential for joy and move further along in your life, beyond your current level of development and health.


Wandering isn’t a problem if you know where you come from, and when you can find joy and health in the memories that brought you this far!


Who we surround ourselves with

can determine our outcome,

and final destination here on earth.