Archive for the ‘Social Action’ Category

Sanity Rally, Boston Style

October 30th, 2010

rally

Six hundred and forty-two, at last check, clicked Like for the Rally to Restore Sanity Boston. They must have gotten lost on the way.

Generously, 200 of us were there, sans JumboTron (insurance and permit troubles, report the last-week organizers of the satellite Rally to Restore Sanity), sans big name hosts and musical guests, sans undercurrent of one-upping Glenn Beck’s self-indulgent right-wing cliché fest. With all the things it was without and all it wasn’t, it vibrated soothingly with the feelings of yesteryear. It was like a hippie event, at least for those of us old enough to recall those.

Truth be told, most of those at the rally looked old enough to recall.

The crowd largely milled about, chatting amiably, snacking and in general producing the feeling of a coffee hour at church. Adhering to the no bummer, no hater requests for signs, some were hipster wry, as in this one reading, I HAVE A SIGN. sign
littlemore There were a few short-lived cheers, like, “Stop the insanity.” Some of the placards seemed to channel Jon Stewart, like this one.
The requisite unverbalized jibe also appeared, in the form of a coffee party. coffeeparty

One pol worked the crowd. Jim Henderson, independent for Secretary of the Commonwealth. He wondered about the efficacy of this. Several people approached him to say they were voting for him, but at least one fellow took some of his handouts to re-hand out.

In the main, it was a civilized, mannered gathering, in the spirit Stewart requested. Some might say that made it a bit boring. Then again, is that bad in this era of ranters, haters and screamers?

Hidden HP History

April 1st, 2010

212 Fairmount Ave.

Nondescript 212 Fairmount in Hyde Park was the site of a social-activist nexus for Hyde Park, Boston and beyond — a century and one-half ago at least. Think abolitionists, suffragettes, Weld and the Grimkés (including the sisters’ half-black, former slave nephews).

Its nearby neighbors today are largely splendid Victorians. This is one of several clearly razed and replaced. No sign or wall plaque hints at the former buzz within.

In fairness to whomever redeveloped 212, that was what happened and not only in Hyde Park back then. One of Boston’s virtues is how many of its historic buildings it has kept. In contrast, in Manhattan far more important sites get that plaque if anything. However, Hyde Park was carved out of open tracts of Milton and Dedham and Fairmount Hill required either bushwhacking from the Mattapan train terminus or pushing across the bridgeless Neponset in a punt to begin settling the area. Such niceties as devoting resources to troubled houses could come later.

In fact, Hyde Park let herself go. The dangerous and dilapidated Fairmount House was totally gutted and rebuilt on Michael Tallon’s dime to become Townsend’s. The former grand inn lives only in a few pictures on the upstairs walls. Also, many of the grand meeting halls went down.

Moreover, the most known and distinguished building in this newest of Boston neighborhoods (1912) is Christ Church. While architects cite this Ralph Adams Cram building as the prototype for many other 19th Century works, it looks ugly to me and has mediocre stained glass.

Crusaders of Fairmount

Theodore Weld operated out of 212 Fairmount for the bulk of his rabble rousing career. In partnership were his wife, Angelina Grimké, her sisters, Sarah and Eliza, and eventually two of those those nephews, Archibald and Francis Grimké, They were a one-stop stop for freedom fighting for Black Americans and women.

The nephews became accomplished in their own rights, one after getting his Harvard Law degree. The lawyer, Archibald, also had a daughter Angelina Weld Grimké, who became a well-known poet and writer. She too had lived at 212.

The details of the sisters’ shock at finding their S.C. brother had continued to own slaves, fathered children with one of them, and then sold his sons is here.  Typical of today’s progressives, they did something, lots, about it. Their tale and Weld’s are in that and related documents on the link above.

So, out of 212 came tracts and activists on missions. Weld and the Grimkés were together and separately active writers, orators and organizers for abolition causes and what was known then as elevation of the Negro to equality. They were as passionate about women’s rights, and the suffrage action that didn’t take place in New York came out of Fairmount Hill.

Imagine the parade of women from 212 on election day, March 7, 1870, who went to the Hyde Park poll to cast the first votes ever by American women. Those did not count toward the total, but that was an inspiration for many.

There is a splendid period mixed theater to that episode as well. Each woman going to vote symbolically had a male escort, who had presented her with a floral posy. Each man held back at the poll to let the woman advance and place her ballot in the envelope for that purpose. So, it seems under the protection of men and with flowers, the women were at once demanding and fem.

Literally to the very end, Angelina showed her toughness and right-mindedness,  the stuff of a reformer. She had been frail and then lived her last years partially paralyzed from a stroke. She continued to write and made a poignant statement in her final note — I have purposely selected my oldest clothes to be buried in, that my good ones may be given to the poor, that they may do good after I am gone.

If there are any spirits around, it would seem that 212 would still have lots of Grimké/Weld mojo.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Color Me UU: 2 and New

March 30th, 2010

Good timing, Globe! A short feature today dovetails with my recent post on UU hand-wringing over lack of racial diversity.

After 378 years in Cambridge, MA, First Parish will have a Latina minister, Rev. Livia Cuervo. In a religious group striving to mix up its very, very white membership and very white ministry, that’s good. Unitarians founded and ran Harvard from the start, but has somehow fallen far behind in diversity efforts.

Cynics may ask:

  • What took so long?
  • How serious is this for adding her as an associate minister?
  • How serious is this for hiring a 72-year-old?

Don’t sneer too long. The parent UUA most recently elected an Hispanic, Rev. Peter Morales, to its presidency.  Plus, the senior minister in Cambridge is Rev. Fred Small, who is also a hippy-dippy style folksinger (pretty good and pretty well known IMHO). I have no doubt he wants to build on this choice.

UU v. US by raceUUs are actively trying to diversify. They seem to be doing better in attracting and growing ministers of color than folks in the pews. See this chart from UU data with the maroon being they and the blue all US church goers by race in 2008.

Rev. Cuervo is coming in with a good attitude at least. The Globe‘s Lisa Wangeness quotes her as, “This is really breaking the tradition — it’s big for everybody…I want to help them nurture the dream they have.”

From my experience in the UUA and in particularly with the Arlington Street Church, I’m looking to see whether this will translate into more Latinos coming to a not-necessarily-Christian and pretty white church.  I think back to over 20 years ago at the ASC when we replaced the standard UU minister (white, male, graybeard) with a young, very out lesbian adoptive mother, Rev. Kim Crawford Harvie.

She was already well known in the LGBT communities around here as the minister at the P-town church. Very few of our members feared her presence might turn the ASC into an all-gay church; truth be told, we already had the reputation as the UUA chapel for the number of ministers and staff from HQ who worshiped there and we were already welcoming to all.

However, we were quite surprised in her first year at how many lesbian couples her ministry attracted, many adoptive parents and quite a few from Somerville. Most of those turned out to be tire-kickers as they say in the sales biz. When we asked those who stopped coming why, we typically heard that they’d rather sit in a café with the papers on Sunday mornings or that the 12 mile drive or subway seemed too much or that the kid’s classrooms were not nice enough for their children.

Rev. Cuervo might pack folk in by virtue of being a dynamite preacher, if she is. She might attract non-Catholic Hispanic worshipers. She might be just another good UU minister. Regardless, the calling was good. The effect and longevity are to be determined.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Color Me UU

March 24th, 2010

A perennial source of Unitarian Universalist garment rending was an undercurrent last weekend in Brookline. The church there held a fabulous event that was an anomaly in several ways.

UUs do fret about many far too many subjects. Perhaps the greatest recurrent hand-wringing is over their incredible whiteness. Other Protestant denominations are also largely white, but UUs tally only  about 1% African American membership.

UU note: We refer to ourselves as an association and not a denomination. Despite both U and U’s Christian histories, our churches and church-like groups belong to the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. It’s OK to be a UU Christian, but it’s not the norm and disdain of Christians is an unfortunate UU habit in many congregations. It’s a reaction to the long-standing Christian dogmatic exclusion, discrimination and worse that have set the tone.

Musical Bridge

Well last Saturday, the Brookline church was not only nearly full, it had a more U.S.-representative share of brown and Black folk. It is likely that won’t happen again until there is another special event centered on an African-American person or project.

This dinner and concert double event celebrated John Andrew Ross. It was:

  • a fundraiser for the restoration of the organ
  • a project organized and produced by his recently late sister Paula Ann Ross
  • a soul-food dinner
  • a two-hour concert featuring superb jazz and gospel musicians and singers performing music John loved or arranged
  • a largely African-American musician evening, with minor exceptions like single numbers by the church’s junior and adult choirs

John Ross, who died in 2006, became the church’s music director in 1997. He arrived already justifiably famous as composer, producer, director, educator and on and on. He made his “Uncle Langston” Hughes’ Black Nativity into a continuing national phenomenon. He led the Emma Louis School of Fine Arts‘ music and founded its remarkable choirs. So for the last nine years of his life,  he ran music at the church. He quickly picked up the title Minister of Music there as well.

Throughout his professional life, his sister promoted and often managed his career. She continued after his death, culminating in this project. She worked on it until a couple of days before the celebration, originating the project, driving it to completion and seeming to die in her sleep only after everything was in place.

Prima facie, one might suppose that nearly a decade of his musical leadership, performances and presence would have attracted more Black visitors and members than a typical UU church gets. That’s not so and there are only a few non-white members of any racial or cultural background.

Diversity?

That is a UUA-wide concern and trait. Again, this is the kind of thing, we UUs think, talk and worry about. In this vein, a couple of articles that cover the numbers and issues appear in UU publications. Try:

Note the related articles in the sidebars to these articles.

Many Protestant denominations are perfectly content to be almost entirely white. They speak of people being more comfortable with what they know, with their own kind. That is true of predominately Black churches as well. UUs don’t let it rest at that.

For a religion that does not proselytize, UUs nonetheless seem flabbergasted that  more and more types of people don’t flock to membership. As a UU of over a quarter century and having been involved in the polity and politics of various UU churches, I recall my own experiences with this.

The first time I saw a UU church nearly full of Black people was when Rev. Victor Carpenter got his fariend Rev. Jesse Jackson to preach at the Arlington Street Church.  They arranged for the choir of one of Boston’s largest Black churches to sing. The church seats about 1,000, was filled and for once, white people were in the minority.

In the next several year, I heard that question repeatedly about what we needed to do to attract Black, Latino and Asian parishioners to the ASC. I served on various committees and ran the board for a few years, so the question was often plaintive and also demanding when I heard it.

We’d have reports from membership-committee folk who were frustrated. I asked and had others go to visitors and friends with the question. Many times, the answer as far as African-Americans was concerned focused on two aspects:

  1. Our music is comparatively stultifying with that in Black churches
  2. Our non-creedal/non-dogmatic churches did not offer Christ as lord and savior or even hold out promises and threats of heaven and hell

As counterpoints to these likely intractable problems, Rasor’s article on the subject includes:

Multiculturalism is not simply about numbers, of course. The Rev. Taquiena Boston, director of Identity-Based Ministries at the UUA, reminds us that “diversity alone is not the goal,” and that developing a genuinely multiracial and multicultural identity “must be integral to the larger mission and ministry of the congregation.” Or, as former UUA President William G. Sinkford put it, “the objective of finding a few more dark faces to make our white members feel better about themselves is not spiritually grounded.”

I note for non-UUs that Sinkford is Black. Almost to a one, UUs tend to be inclusive. His skin color was not a problem. However, I heard numerous comments that mildly disparaged his overt Christianity.

The Possible

For music, yes, it’s true. I’m not very musical myself, but I can tell the difference. Our hymns are largely old Protestant tunes, with fine-tuned lyrics to enforce our openness and downplay God and Christ and lords over humans. Simply put, they don’t rock.

For the underlying beliefs, we in fact do not and never will push absolute answers in a dogma. Many people expect and need directive creed.

Instead, we have principles, which concern people and the larger world, and share the great goals and behaviors of many other religions. That is surely why many raised as Jews or Catholics are comfortable being members of UU congregations.

The cold fact remains that for many we lack the requisite trappings of what they demand from church. We may occasionally throw in some incense and sing old Christian hymns on Christmas Eve and Easter, but we can’t offer the music and dogma.

Thus, the UUA has just over 1,000 congregations and is likely to remain both one of the nation’s smallest religions and one of its whitest. I know that I am over fretting about what we can do to attract more members or even visitors of color.

I know that many of our congregations have a role as visitors to non-UU churches, as volunteers in community programs, and in co-hosting events. We get to know each other and our ministers often participate in social action and religious gatherings with those of other churches.

That’s gotten to be almost enough for me. I am certainly comfortable without dogma, but I would appreciate some snappier music.

Tags: , , , , ,

Churning Out Americans

March 16th, 2010

By European standards, 150 years is no big deal and it’s even a short term in Boston history. On the other hand, a group of nuns in South Boston have been ringing the school bells instead of waving crucifixes for that long. The Notre Dame Education Center has been about the business of staging immigrants to take part in this new-to-them nation.

Short-term, you can meet the NDEC folk and their supporters while tossing back a few at the same time. They have a Harbor cruise/fund raiser on the Spirit of Boston in a couple of weeks,  Thursday, April 8th. You need to reserve by Friday, April 2nd, to mingle with the sundry do-gooders who support the sisters. There’ll be no pitch for funds on board. You can get aboard at various price points.

See the details here, and remember the RSVP date has moved to 4/2.

I mention them for a couple of reasons. First for the disclaimer, a drinking buddy is their development director. Second, I did one of their morning tours to see what they are up to. I’ll tweet the next couple of those; they’re worth the 90 minutes.

Basically, the sisters and various staff teach newcomers and the not-integrated-into-the-U.S. what they need to know…without religious overtones. You don’t have to be a Roman Catholic or any sort of religious type nor even live in Boston or its South Boston neighborhood. You do need to get the language, civics and communication skills to move yourself up and plug into America.

See their programs here.

Some of us seem to like the ideas of building literal and legislative walls to keep any and all immigrants out. These plain-clothes nuns are about the business of helping those who are here become productive Americans. I know which side I fall on in this one.

God Guy Wins Another One

January 21st, 2010

Faith in action can work just fine. We see that in a follow-up to the tale of the New Hampshire preacher who early last year took a paroled ex-con into his home…to the anger and horror of nearly everyone. See the original post on that here.

The ex-criminal, Raymond Guay, had a particularly gruesome record of torture, murder and kidnapping. Yet, the Rev. David Pinckney was, well, a lot more Christian than nearly everyone. After getting to know Guay, the minister was convinced that Guay 1) had gone through a born-again transformation, and 2) had truly paid his debt to society.

See the original post for the details and links to the backstory. The key component is that Pickney took the paroled Guay into his home, replete with the minister’s wife and kids. The idea was to find a more permanent setting and help Guay get work. In other words, this was both rehabilitation as the justice system claims to want and Christianity as the New Testament describes it.

Pinckney’s neighbors, even some not very close, were beside themselves. Loving forgiveness? Nothing doing.

In my follow-up, Pinckney and I exchanged email. He made his offer and commitment and took what many self-identified Christians said was a gesture doomed to failure and maybe death. Not so, sports fans.  Instead:

Ray is doing very well, living in New Hampton, NH with a Christian couple on a 60 acre spread at the end of a mile long driveway…   He stays very busy on this property helping the couple, and does side jobs when they come available (he’s presently replacing a kitchen floor for a couple in our church).  His craftsmanship and work ethic are unmatchable in my estimation.   He has been accepted warmly into a church in Meredith NH and continues to find great joy in his faith in Jesus.   We stay in contact regularly and I see him at least once a month. 

Having covered justice and jail issues for newspapers and having worked with former prisoners, that is what I hoped. Rather than assume all the incarcerated are lost forever and deserving of perpetual punishment, in and out of prison, we should know that some do just fine. Invariably though, the help they get on this side of the walls and bars can make that difference.

We can’t think this didn’t depend on Rev. Pinckney. Not only is he a religious sort who actually lives his faith, he was very discerning. Unlike those women who communicate with and meet prisoners, he didn’t fall in love thinking this is someone who will really need and depend on me. He accurately assessed the man. He almost certainly is a better judge of minds and souls than you or I.

Let us praise those who make life better for another and provide an example for us all.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Ted Went to the Root

August 26th, 2009

Likely lost in the rush to gush over Sen. Edward Kennedy will be his relentless passion and insight in aiming for the fundamental. That he shared with typical progressives — voters, pols and activists alike, something I’ve experience for good and annoyance in volunteer spots at UU churches, and traits that clearly differentiate him from his political foes on the right.

One cut on that was from the President. In his immediate emailed statement on Ted, he wrote, “For five decades, virtually every major piece of legislation to advance the civil rights, health and economic well being of the American people bore his name and resulted from his efforts. ”

Underlying all those and more was that shared view. Liberals and progressives can seem slow and indecisive in going for the fundamentals.  Rather than a cosmetic or quick fix so often favored  by the other side, Ted went to identifying and working for solutions that permanently changed and improved big situations.

In this, Ted Kennedy typified a good progressive in:

  • Refusing the comfort of inertia (like separate-but-equal facilities from the previous era or insurer/drug-company oligopoly of today).
  • Diagnosing the root causes of big problems and their effects.
  • Foreseeing and detailing short-term, mid-term, and long-term solutions.
  • Building political and public support for the necessary changes.
  • Doggedly pushing the solutions against opposition and with setbacks.

Ted understandably annoyed conservatives, reactionaries and the plain lazy and literal with his approach. Yet, he could not have accomplished anywhere as much without his eyes on the horizon and his mind on the details.

We’ll need another Ted Kennedy or two in his absence. We can’t be sure yet whether Sen. John Kerry can step up to Ted’s level of progressive dynamism. There must be another Senator or two capable though. They can’t emerge soon enough.

Tags: , , , ,

For Kindness in Correction

May 22nd, 2009

“What is a mini-computer?,” asked my neighbor on the next plastic folding chair. “Is that like a Blackberry?”

Ah, the educated ignorant! Let us be kind to them in our responses, to earn the same from others who observe our own inscience.

In triple fairness, I note:

  1. She was probably 30 or so
  2. She is a lawyer
  3. She did not pull the lamest cover of I-wasn’t-born-yet

I have no doubt she must know many things I do not. That wouldn’t include much about the law. After J-school, writing for papers and magazines, and recently blogging legally related issues, I can likely walk lockstep with her there. However, she surely has areas of knowledge I do not.

Yet, I wondered how it could be that one could get a couple of college degrees and be raised in the Boston area without knowing such a fundamental economic and technological topic. I briefly discussed mainframe, mini and workstation technologies along with the huge impact DEC, Data General and such folk had for so long here.

We sat before the opening session of the Unitarian Universalist Urban Ministry annual meeting. The 140 or so of us are fairly bright and socially active folk. I would suppose that as a group, we read much more news than average. Thus, I wondered how she could have grown up without knowing of the fundamental drivers of the Massachusetts economic boom and cultural transformation when she was a tot. Did they not get newspapers, did she not read them, did they not discuss current events at the dinner table, or did she glaze over when business and technology were in the air?

The joy here is that among human shortcomings the easiest to overcome is ignorance. Except for the most advanced subjects, not knowing is far, far easier to correct than not being able to understand — the difference between ignorant and stupid. Share a little knowledge and everyone comes up to speed.

Amusingly though, some use knowledge as a weapon or as a test. While not exclusively reserved to the prep school/Ivy types, this is most common in those who have grown up hearing how brilliant and wonderful they are. Some of them love to correct others, even their peers. Each minutia can be a little badge on their sashes of superiority. It is obnoxious.

Life in general and conversation in particular are ever so much more pleasant without the self-righteousness and melodrama. No one needs to be shamed public because of not having learned some tidbit or not having learned it precisely in the form you did.

I hope my row mate has the chance soon to mention the wonders of the 1980s, when technological and economic marvels, mini-comuters, powered the glories of Route 128 and the Massachusetts Miracle.  She’s a UU. I’m sure she’ll spread the information gracefully and in the spirit of knowledge.

Tags: , , , , ,

Why Read Personal Blogs?

May 11th, 2009

A favorite UU minister has had me thinking again about the intrinsic nature of blogs. He basically asked me why anyone would care about the small or even momentous very personal details here.

That written in his email,  he noted that he, as a long-term friend, did care about the tales here of my broken leg/operation and recovery. For a taste, “All in all, I found your blogs very interesting, but frankly, interesting only to me.  I especially appreciated the combined efforts of the whole family to get you to the Haymarket.  However, I wondered who else besides those who love you really gave a damn?

We have always been candid to the point of bluntness with each other. We’ve known each other for over 20 years from when he was interim at a church where I chaired personnel and was about to take over the board. We have chased a lot of polity issues around the trees, as well as sharing many meals and drinks together and with our families. He has never felt he had to play the kindly padre with me.

He’s the good type of 92-year-old too. He’s paid attention and is no Abe Simpson.  While we disagree on some events and people’s behavior, he has always been insightful, analytic and open to discussion. We should all age so well that we end up with a bucket full of experience and related wisdom to dip into as needed.

Gravitas

So, I’m back to that question that bloggers squeezed their soggy teabags over a decade ago. If an individual post or a whole blog is personal, who will want to read it and why?

I fretted about that too. Reading the Pew reports on who blogs, why and what type, I was surprised to see how much of it was the chatty stuff so common now on Facebook. Cruising with my mouse, like clicking Next blog in Blogger or the equivalent in a directory, I was astonished too see the granularity and apparent trivia of so many.

For example, I knew someone who had a blog full of mini-anecdotes and almost indiscernible images of his two cats. Someone I worked with had a blog dominated by his wife’s photos of, quite literally, every restaurant meal they ate.

Meanwhile, the tiny weeds of technology, politics and even reportage were getting more numerous and vigorous. These other blogs, whether individual or community ones, had purpose and heft.

I started nearly six years ago with a marriage-equality blog, Marry in Massachusetts.  I can’t seem to restrain my fingers and have covered much more in political terms, a lot of it unrelated to the original theme. The name is less accurate but it remains progressive politics.

Likewise, I joined with a couple of other pinkos in a weekly podcast based blog, Left Ahead!  It is also not a ain’t-my-kitten/girlfriend/house-cute sort of thing.

This blog seemed necessary when more personal topics were creeping into Marry in Massachusetts. Readers here know this will be more intimate and occasionally philosophical. I don’t avoid the effects of being a liberal, a UU, a spouse and parent.

Very Different Strokes

Yet, as I contrast various blog types, I think back to pre-blog days when I erred badly in a UU church men’s group. My church was in downtown Boston (Arlington Street, or as it was known at the UUA across the Boston Public Garden and Common, the UUA chapel for the number of staff who belonged). We shared some group meetings with the similarly liberal Paulist Center.  The joint men’s group was one and worked fine, once the Catholic contingent adjusted to the reality that UUs tend not to charge for R.E. meetings, where they put a fee on every activity.

The first meeting had maybe a dozen from each of us.  I blundered early as each of us went around the seated circle saying why we were there. The ASC is a seriously social-activist church, which attracted my wife and me from the beginning. I said that and then — drum roll and cymbal clash — said I was not in the church for music or drama (also strong at ASC), with the implication that they were less meaningful.

While the Paulist crew grunted and nodded in understanding, two other ASC men turned colors. They were in the choir and lambasted me. They considered music their worship and said it was equally as important to human well being as  feeding the hungry and so forth. They had heard my type before and would not let it pass.

Thus, I think of blog varieties and readers. The voyeuristic and gossipy sorts remain ubiquitous and beloved. Whether it’s people we know or celebrities, who among us has no interest in someone else’s life?

At the Keyhole

Oh, I know another UU who doesn’t. A great friend over 30 years despises blogs, including mine. Apparently the New Republic convinced him that they are dangerous, unreliable and mentally toxic. I saw the effect again last week when three of us gray or bald types shared some bar stools. One had taught me about comminuted bones. He discussed some posts here and his following the obvious and internal progress of healing. The other said he had not and would not read about it.

I can imagine not looking at a friend’s blog, but that is not my style. I would want to know and would find that kind of self-indulgence fine. Like my minister friend, for someone I know and love, I do care about such posts. Moreover, for my most personal posts, I do try to do a bit of sermonizing to spread the intimate out to the larger world.

As a sidebar on the matter, that same minister has said many times that I should plan on a divinity degree and a retirement career of ministry. He and I preached together in the ASC, as I did with the incoming minister who is still there.

Clearly, there are millions of blogs with lots of room for the personal and political and many other types. In UUPDATES alone, I find all manner of splendid reading.  To the question who cares, it seems many of us do. Finding and bookmarking the blogs we want to care about regularly is time consuming but gives a good return.

I have not returned to that blog filled with pictures of plates that couple had set before them. Most blogs in my RSS reader are political and news based, but I do have diversions to the personal. Moreover, while most bloggers are not good writers, some who deal in the personal craft their posts better and a few regularly rise to the level of literature. Those are wonderful surprises.

Tags: , ,

Living the Bible with an Ex-Con

March 19th, 2009

For most of us, it seems, there is no such thing as paying your debt to society. A convict is a convict is a convict, regardless of punishment served.

Considering how fond we are of such concepts as innocent until proved guilty or even someone was innocent of the accusations because a jury returned a not-guilty finding, you would think we’d do the other end better.

The concept is simple enough. Get accused of a crime. Get convicted or plead guilty. Get sentenced to jail. Get released per se or on parole. And then…and then…the idea is to return to society chastened and ready to contribute.

The current example of our not accepting that is in small-town New Hampshire. Where a fundy minister is living his and his church’s faith by housing and monitoring a parolee. The convicted criminal was no jaywalker either.

Links of chainIt’s about a nasty as human behavior gets. Raymond Guay tortured and murdered a 12-year-old in 1973, kidnapped a couple nine years later, and stabbed another inmate while in prison. The court ordered him on release on parole to spend the next three years in New Hampshire. That hasn’t proved easy, as the mayors of Manchester and Concord forced him out of their cities. NIMBYism is never subtle and can be relentless and vicious.

The discussion is a lot lighter and easier when the released criminal is not violent. A check kiter or cat burglar is less threatening, even if they as or more likely to repeat their crimes. We don’t fear a Bernie Madoff murdering us or our kids in the night.

In this case though, Rev. David Pinckney of the River of Grace Church in Concord is putting his Christianity in practice for real, not in checkbook religion. He is housing and taking responsibility for Guay in his own home in Chichester, population just over 2,000.

In case you have any doubt of Pinckney’s sincerity, be aware four of his five kids, 13 to 18, still live at home. As the minister put it, “We were warned. It was said this could disrupt life. People wouldn’t like it. He’s not liked. But at the end of the day, this is what Jesus did. He defended the defenseless. He was a friend of sinners.”

NIMBYism is never subtle

Pickney’s neighbors are keeping their own kids inside and some have let him know they don’t appreciate his faith in action.

What’s disappointed him, he said, are the reactions of others, given the lengths he is taking to keep Guay under close watch. Though Guay is legally free to go where he pleases, he has agreed to Pinckney’s terms that he always remain under adult supervision, and has even volunteered to wear a movement-tracking ankle bracelet like an inmate on house arrest.

Those just waiting for the worst and ready with shovels of I-told-you-so must be many.  As a father of three, I take a deep breath or two or three at the concept. Here the doctrine and theory are solid, but Pinckney has placed a terrific burden on himself.

Advocates for released prisoner re-entry, such as the Fortune Society, have long and rationally decried the hypocrisy of refusing to accept someone having been punished enough. This extreme case and the penalty for failure here make Pickney a remarkable example of walking it like he talks it.

Interestingly enough for me is that River of Grace is not a UCC or UU church. It is certainly Bible based. Its website doesn’t specifically say it is morally conservative, although it did list on its resource pages Help with homosexual issues: Exodus International. A good look at the sparse site suggests he and I would have considerable theological and political differences.

Yet, the RoG doesn’t hide from the issue at hand. On the home page, it states:

The River of Grace Church in the news

We believe in the power of God to save and change people, both inside and outside prison walls. While we are committed to love and support ex-convicts as they seriously seek to re-enter society and follow Jesus, we also recognize our responsibility to provide a safe-haven for the families and children God has committed to our care.

Pickney didn’t invite Guay home on a whim though. He explained his process and thinking in a letter to the Concord Monitor. He reported that after examining records and with interviews with Guay and numerous others, he firmly believes there is no danger to anyone in Chichester.

As Pickney wrote, “He has committed some horrendous crimes in his past. What doesn’t get reported is that since 1993 his life has been on a very different course. That year he became a follower of Jesus.” Sixteen year of good behavior and avowed Christianity convinced the minister.

For a differing view, a neighbor who lives across the street told the paper, “I say B.S. Once a murderer, always a murderer. I want him off my street, and I won’t rest until he’s gone, period.”

That seems to be the American way and the practical limit of Christianity for most people.

By the bye, the contact for The Fortune Society’s treatment options is here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,