The Sherpa’s Perspective

I have previously described the Keryx weekend as a mountain top experience, and having worked as a member of the Inside team I now have a sherpa’s perspective. Sherpa is actually the name of an ethnic group of people who live in the mountains of Nepal, central Asia and work as porters for mountain climbing expeditions in the Himalayas.

The Outside team members are the mountaineering guides who have dedicated their lives to leading candidates up the mountain. They lead the expedition from the base camp to the summit, instructing the candidates and encouraging them every step of the way. Their vision, planning and experience make this adventure possible.

The Inside team members are the sherpa’s. We’ve been to the mountain top before and it changed our lives. Now we have made the choice to serve, to give back in appreciation to the mountaineering guides. Enthusiasm from our own mountain top experience has caused us to invite our friends, the candidates, to experience what we’ve experienced.

Our role is to assist at the direction of the guides, taking care of the routine tasks that make the adventure possible for others. Cooking, cleaning, running messages, entertaining; all the details of camp life that go on behind the scene. I’m not saying we’re indespensible, but the journey goes smoother since many hands make light work.

The Candidates can’t make this journey without their guides or their sherpas. They don’t have the experience, knowledge, or strength to climb the mountain safely or carry the necessary supplies to reach the summit, it requires a team effort. No one climbs Mt. Everest alone, but each person’s experience is unique.

The view from the top of the mountain reveals the beauty of God’s creation. Looking down from the top, everything becomes clear. The world takes on new grandure. Now that you have a new perspective you’ll never look at things the same.

It has been a privilege to share this view with those who are no longer candidates, but rather, Brothers. We share something in common. We accepted the invitation, we made the journey, we learned from our guides, and we have been changed.

We are grateful to our guides and will now join them and our new Brothers to meet weekly to share about what we’ve learned, to continue the journey along the lowland paths, encouraging one another, and looking forward to the next expedition.


In the prisons where Keryx is active, the 3-day spiritual formation weekends are held twice a year. After completing the weekend, the candidates are invited to join the 4th day meetings. Once a week Keryx members gather together with outside volunteers for a time of worship and small group meetings. Once a month there is an Ultreya, a special meeting with an extended praise and worship time and a program with prayers and testimonies, typically attended by more of the outside volunteers and their spouses.

The newest Keryx members are encouraged to participate on the Inside team for the next spiritual formation weekend. Keryx provides an ecumenical environment where men from different religious traditions meet to strengthen and encourage one another in the faith. Keryx is open to everyone regardless of religious affiliation, however it is distinctively Christian.

During the Keryx weekend the Inside team works at the direction of the Outside team to provide a number of services including: food servers and kitchen workers, musicians and sound technicians, porters, Palanca and Prayer team members. Members that are not actively working the weekend are invited to join a Prayer Vigil where people from around the world cover the event in prayer 24/3.

As an Inside volunteer I worked as a sound technician twice and in the Prayer room once. Running sound allowed me to relive my own weekend experience as the same words were repeated, giving me chills at times as the power of the Holy Spirit was active in the room. Watching men raising their hands in worship, bowing their heads in prayer, and crying as the emotion was expressed was humbling. Listening as words of encouragement, testimonies, and praise were spoken by those leading and those following was empowering.

My weekend in the Prayer room gave me a totally different perspective. In the Prayer room Inside and Outside volunteers prayed for whatever was going on in the hall. We prayed for the speakers, the listeners, and the workers. On each table in the hall were pieces of paper and the attendies were encouraged to submit prayer requests, which we then prayed over individually. Some were simple requests or words of thanksgiving and praise. Some were heartfelt pleas for healing on the behalf of family and friends. Some were heartbreaking cries for help to restore relationships or intervention in situations you couldn’t possibly imagine. Some were prayers of salvation or forgiveness of sin. All were genuine.

They say that prayer changes the one who prays, and I was certainly changed as I lifted up requests from people I did and sometimes did not know. I added my voice to the choir of “Amens” as others took turns lifting up these faith-filled, hopeful, and urgent requests before the Throne of Grace of the Almighty God.

I can tell you from hearing the testimonies of the Outside volunteers that they experienced the same life changing power that I did as an Inside volunteer. In fact many of the Outside volunteers have served in Keryx for 10, 20 or more years across multiple prisons around the state. They don’t keep coming back because of the food, the accomodations or the scenery; rather they come both humbly and boldly to share the Gospel with those who need it. The have responded to a call on their lives to participate in the work of the church serving the “least of these” both the lost and those who have found the light.

Mountain Top Experience

A mountain top experience is a time in your life when you experienced God in a deeply profound and meaningful way. A time when you felt closer to God than any other time in your life. It is the pinnical of both emotional and spiritual awareness. It is a life altering encounter with the Almighty. While the euphoria of the emotional component made fade over time, the power of the spiritual component should grow and increase.

The mountain top is not the culmination of the journey, but is in many ways the starting point of the next. You can’t live your life on the mountain top, as much as you would like to. Life is really lived out on the hills, valleys, and plains.

They say that lightning never strikes the same place, in the same way twice but mountain tops are a frequent target. We need to take the energy we absorbed on the mountain top and channel it into action. This may be to prune away the old dead parts of our lives and burn them up. It may be in stepping out in obedience to follow a call into ministry. Or it may be to return to our daily lives with renewed purpose and vigor.

Mountain top experiences are something that every Christian has at least once in their lives, when they are born again. But God wants us to continually seek him and when we do we will continue to have new mountain top experiences. Each one a unique and personal encounter with the living God, who loves us and wants our undivided attention, so that we can clearly hear the message He has especially prepared for us.


I wrote this meditation after I participated in a Keryx spiritual formation weekend while I was incarcerated in the MDOC.  This is a three-day short course in Christianity modeled after the Cursillos in Christianity.

Cursillos in Christianity (Spanish: Cursillos de Cristiandad, “Short courses of Christianity”) is an apostolic movement of the Roman Catholic Church. It was founded in Majorca, Spain, by a group of laymen in 1944, while they were refining a technique to train pilgrimage Christian leaders.

Cursillo is the original three-day movement, and has since been licensed for use by several mainline Christian denominations, some of which have retained the trademarked “Cursillo” name, while others have modified its talks/methods and given it a different name. In the United States, Cursillo is a registered trademark of the National Cursillo Center in Jarrell, Texas.

The Cursillo focuses on showing Christian laypeople how to become effective Christian leaders over the course of a three-day weekend. The weekend includes fifteen talks, called rollos, which are given by priests and by laypeople. The major emphasis of the weekend is to ask participants to take what they have learned back into the world, on what is known as the “fourth day.” The method stresses personal spiritual development, as accelerated by weekly group reunions after the initial weekend.

Today, Cursillo is a worldwide movement with centers in nearly all South and Central American countries, the United States, Canada, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Germany, Austria, Australia, New Zealand Aotearoa, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka and in several African countries. The movement is recognized by the Holy See as member of the International Catholic Organizations of the Pontifical Council for the Laity in Rome.

This retreat is also used by Episcopalian/Anglican Cursillo, Presbyterian Cursillo/Pilgrimage, Lutheran Via de Cristo, Mennonite Way of Christ and various interdenominational communities as Tres Días.

Analogous retreats: The Cursillo method is used by ACTS, Encounter, Antioch, Search, Awakening (college students), Cum Christo, DeColores (adult ecumenical), the Great Banquet, Happening, The Journey (United Church of Christ), Kairos Prison Ministry, Kairos (for older teenagers), Emmaus in Connecticut (for high school age teens), Gennesaret (for those living with a serious illness), Koinonia, Lamplighter Ministries, Light of Love, LOGOS (Love Of God, Others, and Self) (Lutheran teen), Teens Encounter Christ (teen ecumenical), Residents Encounter Christ (REC) (a jail/prison ministry), Tres Dias, Unidos en Cristo, Via de Cristo (Lutheran Adult), Chrysalis Flight (Methodist Youth), Walk to Emmaus (Methodist Adult), The Walk with Christ (interdenominational), Anglican 4th Day (Anglican Adult), The Way of Christ (Canadian Lutheran adult), Tres Arroyos (Charismatic Episcopal Church). and Journey to Damascus (Catholic hosted Ecumenical with weekly reunion groups for alumni) in the Corpus Christi, Houston, and Austin, Texas, areas.

Wikipedia

August 2016 Letter

(Excerpt from a letter)

Brother,

As you leave prison know that you don’t go out in the same condition as you came in. According to 2 Corinthians 5:7, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.” Also know that you don’t go alone. Hebrews 13:5-6 reminds us that God has promised that “He will never leave you nor forsake you. So we may boldly say: ‘The Lord is my helper: I will not fear. What can man do to us?'”

In addition to God watching over you, Jesus interceding for you at the right hand of the throne, and the Holy Spirit dwelling inside you, you have your Brothers in Christ rooting for you. Know that you are never alone or far from our thoughts, no matter how may miles away you travel.

No matter what labels or names man may call you, the only name you answer to is “child of God.” Claim the words that the Lord spoke to the prophet in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you not to harm you; to give you hope and a future.”

It has been both an honor and my solemn responsibility to tutor you in school, mentor you in our shared faith, and to call you friend. I have every confidence that you will complete your education and accomplish anything else you set your mind to. Jesus said in Mark 9:23, “all things are possible to him who believes.”

Remember the lessons I have taught you: study hard, take notes, and share your new found knowledge with others. Keep asking the questions: Who, What, Where, When, How, and Why. Wherever you go make sure to seek out a mature Brother in Christ to mentor and befriend you. Don’t be afraid to admit your weaknesses. Remember the words the Lord spoke to the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Until we meet again, whether it be in this life or the next. “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling. And to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.”

Your Brother in Christ.

Winter 2016 News Letter

Greetings Brother,

Wishing you the best during this holiday season. Knowing first hand how difficult holidays are for those incarcerated, I encourage you to celebrate the true meaning of Christmas in your heart. Keep watch like the Shepherds, follow the signs like the Wise Men, worship like the Angels, be fearless like Joseph, and humble like Mary. Then you will experience God’s gift of grace and peace, the true meaning of the season.

Things are going well for me, but everything is taking longer to get organized than anticipated. Please note the return address and feel free to write. Getting the ministry up and running was a major milestone. CCP Ministries stands for Christ, Crime and Punishment. Its mission is to encourage those behind bars, educate the public regarding prison conditions, and seek discourse with those in government about the importance of religion in the rehabilitation process.

On a personal note, God has continued to bless me beyond my expectations for reunion with my family. I have plenty of work to keep me busy helping out around the house, as my mom is dealing with knee issues. For the first time in years I decorated the house for Christmas. It was just like getting my driver’s license. Yes I passed the test, enough said. I put up my grandmother’s motion sensitive singing Christmas tree on my dresser and her wreath on my bedroom door. These were her Christmas decorations during the last year of her life when she was in the nursing home. I’ll be baking Christmas cookies next week to take to the local nursing home. Wish I could send you some. I’m not trying to rub it in.

I had dinner with my other grandmother the other night. She is 96 and still kicking. Her stories about hospitals, rehab centers, and convalescent homes sound an awful lot like prison, except for the ritual sacrifices. I think she imagined those. There are some universals when dealing with institutions of all types.

I’m attending a small church with a good worship team and a pastor that brings a good sermon every week. Still looking for a small accountability group. I’ve been re-reading Richard Foster’s “Celebration of Discipline.” This was the book that first exposed me to the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I highly recommend this book as a great read if you want to take your walk with Christ to a deeper level.

Know that you are not forgotten. I pray for you every day. Your Brother in Christ.

January 2017 Letter

(Excerpt from a letter)

Greetings Brother,

I hope the new year will treat you better. I’m still vacuuming up glitter around here. I think 75% of the Christmas cards in the store had glitter on them. The new ornaments had glitter on them. My mother’s stylist even wanted to put glitter in her hair at Christmas. I’m glad I could share some of this year’s holiday trends with you.

I knew it was the Holy Spirit that prompted me to look up your address and include you in my Christmas mailing. I’m glad to be an encouragement to you. That is the very heart of my ministry. No one can understand the prisoner better than one who has been in the same place.

May the peace of God which surpasses human understanding guard your heart and soul in Christ Jesus.” -Philippians 4:7 Even before finishing your letter I began praying for you and your whole family. Being locked up and helpless to assist during a time of family crisis is one of the worst aspects of incarceration. I empathize with how you are feeling and the concern that you have.

It was heartening to read that you are praying more. I have learned that prayer changes the one who prays it, even if you don’t see any response from the heavenly Father. So keep it up. We grow stronger as we surrender both our hopes and our fears to the one who knows us better than we know ourselves. Faith requires trust, so trust that God will heal in a way that is in his will. I will pass along your request for additional prayer from my church. I know from firsthand experience that “the earnest fervent prayers of a righteous man avails much” and that many hands make light work. When we ask anything in Jesus name he hears and honors our request.

Here it is near the end of January and I am sitting on the back patio wearing only sweats, writting this letter, drinking a cup of coffee, while listening to the birds and watching the squirrels play and soak up the sun. A widow maker fell in my yard, so yesterday I was out in the backyard with my brother working in the rain to cut up a fallen tree with a chainsaw. Sure beats shoveling snow.

Since one of my goals is to encourage those behind bars, feel free to give my mailing address to any Brother that wants a penpal. I want to make sure that guys are getting birthday and Christmas cards. It brought tears to my eyes to think that you haven’t been getting cards. The only ones I received this year were from Brothers behind bars and I treasure them. I’ve reached out to old friends and haven’t gotten any replys. But given how I used to be, I’m not suprised. I probably wouldn’t write me either. They don’t know the same guy you do.

I’ve started a daily devotional by Tim Keller that looks at the Book of Psalms verse by verse over an entire year. I’ve also got two books on prayer to read next from my mother’s library, one by Charles Spurgeon and the other by Andrew Murry. I don’t seem to have enough time to read everything that I want to. While I’m not getting as much writting done as I would like, I do have plenty of material to work with.

I did manage to write a brief meditation for you:

“When Ephraim spoke people trembled; he was exalted in Isreal. But he became guilty of Baal worship and died. Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, all of them the work of craftsmen. It is said of these people, ‘They offer human sacrifices!’ ‘They kiss calf-idols!'”

Hosea 13:1-2 NIV

In this modern era there is still human sacrifice. We sacrifice our wives and children for the sake of our careers, our pleasures, and our selfish desires. What ever idol we place ahead of God and our family will destroy all that we shoud have held near and dear to our hearts. We hurt them deeply, often to the death of the relationship, as we vainly persue activities that have no eternal value, whose return on investment will utlimately cost us everything we have.

I learned this the hard way. Now I make an effort every day to put God first, then family, and things last. It is I who must be the sacrifice, but the rewards are worth it. I’m much happier now and experiencing less stress and more love towards God, my family, and myself.

Know that God is watching over you. Please keep in touch, update me with any changes to your or your family’s situation so I can pray for your specific needs. My heart goes out to you and your family. “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” -James 5:7 I look forward to hearing good reports from you soon.

Keep the faith. Know that you are not forgotten. Your Brother in Christ.

Spring 2017 News Letter

(Excerpt from News Letter)

Greetings Brother,

A women took her pet duck “Fluffy” to the vet because she thought it was sick. The vet took Fluffy and put her on the exam table, pulled out his stethoscope to listen to the heart and lungs. After examining the duck he turned to the women and says, “I’m sorry, your duck is dead.”

“But doctor,” the women says, “aren’t you going to run any tests?” So the doctor leaves the exam room for a couple of minutes and returns with a Labrador Retriever that walks over to the exam table, rears ups up and puts its front paws on the table top and sniffs the duck. The Labrador then looks at the vet, shakes its head, puts his head down and walks out of the room.

The vet turns to the women and says, “Your duck is dead.” “Please doc,” the women says, “are there any other tests you can run?” So the vet walks out of the room and returns a few minutes later with a cat which he sets down on the exam table next to the duck. The cat sniffs around the duck, stares at it for a moment then looks up at the vet, shakes his head, jumps off the table and stalks off.

The vet again turns to the women and says, “I’m sorry, but your duck is dead.” He then turns to his computer and prints out a bill and hands it to the women. She looks at the bill and exclaims, “$150!” The vet says, “It would have only been $50, but you asked for additional tests. So I charged you $50 for the lab report and $50 for a cat scan.”

Pastor Bob E.

I can’t resist a bad pun, especially as the punchline to a joke or a funny story. As a sermon starter it serves to get the listener’s attention, so that they will be engaged to hear what the preacher wants to communicate to the congregation. On the evening news, the newscaster likes to start with dramatic footage of breaking news to get the viewer’s attention. Newspapers do the same thing by putting a big picture and large bold print with the title of the lead article to get the reader’s attention.

I watch the local and national news on television and read the newspaper almost every day, the USA Today and Detroit News usually. I have been taken by the number of articles I read about criminal justice and prison reform. I can’t help but notice that they are rarely on page one and hardly ever the lead story. This is a subject that apparently, while important enough to make the news isn’t headline worthy. People are hearing about the problems in the prison system and the calls for reform, I’m just not certain how well they are listening.

Like the political divide between the Republicans and Democrats, the country seems to be almost evenly divided between those who believe in retributive justice and those who want to reform the criminal justice system. However, the number of advocates for each perspective are relatively few, outspoken and highly polarized. The vast majority of the population falls somewhere in between with their personal opinion and tend to rank the importance of the issue below things like the economy, war, sports, and pop culture.

I am currently reading a book entitled “Pursuing Justice – The Call to Live & Die for Bigger Things” by Ken Wytsma that has some really powerful statements about Christianity and Justice.

“Justice is the sum of many parts, with similar overlapping concepts including: love, mercy, service, charity, ethics, truth, integrity, laws, and righteousness.”

These concepts represent the character of God that we are called to emulate. The Old Testament is the story of God’s justice from Adam in the garden to Moses and the children of Israel in the desert to the kings in Jerusalem to the diaspora of Judah and Israel. The New Testament is the story of God’s redemption through Jesus Christ his Son. Together they tell a story of how hopeless, fallen man can be rehabilitated into the children of God.

In Luke 18 Jesus told the parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge. The reasoning of the judge is most interesting. Verse 4-5 says, “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!'” Justice doesn’t necessarily come easily, quickly or cheaply, so you must be committed to its cause. In verse 7-8 Jesus gives us God’s perspective. “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

Justice is not just the criminal justice system, there is also social justice and economic justice to name a few. Justice is the process by which those who are in need of relief from a situation seek remedial action from those in authority. It could be sought through the courts, the government bureaucracy, the legislature or public opinion. Justice is a process that must be worked through. (Except in the court of public opinion.)

“Race, gender, class, and education shape us to recognize some facets of justice and injustice more readily- and to be blind to issues that are clear to those who are different.”

As I am sure you can attest, spending time in prison brings you into contact with those who are so very different from ourselves, and that their beliefs about justice and injustice are a real eye opener. Jaded jailhouse lawyers who fight not just criminal convictions, but institutional issues that they don’t like just for sport. Cynics who hate everyone and everything around themselves. Sociopaths and psychopaths who have no conscience, morals, limits to their actions or an understanding of the repercussions. Gangsters who think they are slick but live in paranoid delusions that everyone else is a snitch. Drug addicts and alcoholics that will do anything for the next high. The one thing that they all have in common is the belief in their own innocence and the guilt of others.

Then there are the guards.

“It’s much easier to see someone else’s acts of injustice when they’re written on a piece of paper and disconnected from our current context.”

This takes me back to my newspaper reading. There are two types of news articles about criminals: those calling for their heads and those calling for their release. Some paint the accused as the devil incarnate, wholly unredeemable. Others question everything from the facts of the case to the motives of the police and prosecutor. However, it is the context of the reader: race, gender, class, education, and character that informs the acceptance/rejection or alteration of the truth in any given story. Notice that logic and reason are completely absent from the discussion. In the days of alternate facts, fake news, and relative truth, logic and reason cannot be relied on to reach consensus or agreement on the real truth of guilt or innocence.

I believe this is why so many people reject the Gospel of Christ. Faith isn’t faith until you accept the story as Truth. During this holy week we are reminded of this, not as a function of modern society, but the condition of man since the fall. The religious and political leaders in Jerusalem couldn’t accept Jesus as the Messiah because he didn’t fit their expectations or their own agendas.

Jesus was the victim of retributive justice. When the authorities reject the truth, innocence becomes irrelevant and that speaks to the character of the judge, jury and executioner (the High Priest, the Sanhedrin, and Pilot.) It seems that the more things change, the more they remain the same. Which as why after 2000 years it is the greatest story ever told. So I encourage you to continue to tell this story. I can think of no group that so desperately needs to hear a message of grace, mercy, redemption and forgiveness as those who are there with you.

You are not forgotten. Greet all the Brothers for me. He is risen!

Your Brother in Christ.

May 2017 Letter

(Excerpt from a letter)

Greetings Brother,

Thank you for your letter.  I was glad to hear how God has blessed you.  I pray that your time goes quickly and that before you know it, you’ll be home.  How goes the exercise routine?  I’ve settled into 5 days a week on an exercise bike (easier on the knees) and some free weight toning; low weight, high reps.   And lots of physical labor.  I moved a pile of dirt from the driveway to the back yard that was as big as a Volkswagen Beetle to try and fill in some spots that weren’t able to grow anything. I also put in some new flower beds.  With the weather turning warmer I’m trying to spend more time outside working in the yard.

I can’t spend the hours like we used to, walking the track in the big yard, and using all the exercise equipment.  I certainly wish I had access to a weight room.  My work out routine is more like Rocky when he fought the Russian.  He used what was available while his opponent used the latest high-tech workout equipment.  While we were dedicated to spending time nearly every day getting in whatever we could, we certainly weren’t as hardcore as some of the other guys.  If helped us manage stress and diet but certainly didn’t turn us into Greek gods.

I was reading in II Kings and was struck by the words in chapter 17 verse 15, “They followed worthless idols and they themselves became worthless.” You become what you worship.  If your worship money you become an ungiving tightwad without charity. If you worship beauty you become fixated on beautiful people, choosing to discriminate based on outward appearance rather than the heart; a rather shallow perspective on life. If you worship pleasure, you seek out only pleasurable activities, avoiding pain for yourself; instead causing great pain to others.  If you worship yourself, you become selfish, self-centered, and self-serving; unmoved and uncaring about the needs of others.

In Matthew 6:21 it says, “for where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” Things are worthless because they have no lasting value.  And they have no lasting value because they have no worth to anyone but the person who possesses it.  Idols are false gods because they are not real.  They can’t do anything for you because they don’t have any real power except what you invest in them.  So, when we worship money, beauty, pleasure, or self, you are putting your treasure where your heart is and will end up morally bankrupt.  Instead put your treasure where moths and rust will not destroy it (Matt 6:1).  Invest it in other people, in charity, in faith; and you will have rewards both in this life and the next.

I’ve been reading “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer was a man who clearly understood this principle.  In 1930s Germany he saw what was happening and tried very hard to warn the church that worshiping nationalism was not compatible with Christian ideals. When the mainline denominations acquiesced to Hitler, he joined a small group of others to resist.  He wrote, “Christians in Germany will face the terrible alternative of either willing the defeat of their nation in order to save Christian civilization or willing the victory of their nation and thereby destroying our civilization.”

In the book Bonhoeffer draws on the Sermon on the Mount as the model for the Christian life.  In chapter 17 The Simplicity of the Carefree Life he wrote, “The life of discipleship can only be maintained so long as nothing is allowed to come between Christ and ourselves”  All the things that could potentially become idols must be put away.  Further he wrote, “Worldly possessions tend to turn the hearts of the disciples away from Jesus.”  In prison where you don’t have many possessions it is easier to stay focused on Christ.  I have seen firsthand how many people who call themselves Christians out in the world are like the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22, when called to give up their possessions in order to be a disciple they just can’t do it, and remain only a casual follower instead of a committed believer.

Bonhoeffer said, “Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected.”  It is not true ‘that he who dies with the most toys wins.’  Jesus didn’t say it was impossible for a rich person to enter heaven, only that it was very difficult because it is so easy for people to put their treasure in the wrong place.  We need to have the right perspective on “stuff.”  We need to see ourselves as stewards of God’s blessings rather than claiming ownership over the things that come to us.

When we claim ownership, we become anxious over the status and condition of our stuff.  When this happens, we take our eyes off Christ.  It is like those guys who liked to spend all day in the weight pit lifting weights to make their muscles not just big, but huge.  They hated to take days off in the winter when it was so cold or in the summer when it was so hot that the officers closed the weight pit because of life threatening conditions.  They were willing to put their health at risk just so that they didn’t miss a day.  They obsessed over mastering every piece of gym equipment to see what effect it would have on their physique.  My bunkie once crab-walked around the half mile track just to prove that he was in better shape than the other guys who were out crab-walking, as if he was claiming the title of world’s greatest athlete.

So, as you prepare to go home, get a job, and resume your life think carefully about your goals.  Having found the “pearl of great price” my prayer for you is that you keep faithfully to your commitment to be a disciple of Christ.  Put him first in all of your decision making and trust the Lord to provide you with what you need.

Your Brother in Christ.

July 2017 Letter

(Excerpt from a letter)

Greetings Brother,

Happy Independence Day. As a veteran I salute you and want to thank you for your service in defending this country and the ideals that it stands for on this day of commemoration of the birth of our nation. I pray that people would take seriously the words of our founding fathers when they said, “with liberty and justice for all.”

Thank you for your letter. I am sorry to hear that they sent you someplace without the programming you need. Hate to think they they’ll move you again. I’ve come to the conclusion that the MDOC is like Michigan weather- wait 10 minutes and it will change: personnel, policy, proceedure, direction, purpose, intension, and goals. It’s always too hot, too cold, too dry, too wet, or too windy. It just can’t seem to satisfy anyone and all we do is talk about it.

I’m sitting here on my patio looking at the flowers I have planted, listening to the birds singing, feeling the sunshine on my face and not a soul in sight. Just me and my thoughts. I pray it won’t be much longer and you’ll have an experience like this for yourself. Till then use your imagination to hear the wind chimes and leaves rustling, the smell of grass and flowers, and the view unmarred by fences.

I recently celebrated my 53rd birthday. I went out to lunch with my parents and brother to an Asian fusion resturant. You might say that I’m living the new normal for my life. It’s not my old life and not certainly one I could have expected but it has love, peace and blessings in abundance.

“I do not think that all who chose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road. A sum cannot be put right; but only by going back till you find the error and working afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develope’ into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit by bit.”

C.S. Lewis

This is from the preface to The Great Divorce. Lewis was writing about Heaven and Hell and how we should live on earth. I cannot help but notice that it is a perfect picture of what prison rehabilitation should be. It addresses the importance of not condemning individuals out of hand. It confronts the fallacy that longer prison sentences are a deterent to future crime. It speaks to the need for counseling, education, personal reflection, and recognition of the need for change.

A keen observer of the human condition, Lewis understood the concepts of God’s grace, forgiveness, and healing. His writings spoke to a world torn apart by war 70 years ago, and are yet relavent today. His works are found in libraries and bookstores and should be on your reading list.

We must all take responsibility for our own reformation. No one can reform you, you must want it for yourself. Lewis’ writings provide cogent arguments for why you should want this. It is up to society then to insure that the MDOC provides the right atmosphere in which reform can take place. Society should want this because it is in the best interest of everyone to ensure the safety and security of all its members, including ‘the least of these’ represented by those convicted of crimes against the society. Without this compassionate concern on the part of society, its elected representatives, and those entrusted with the care and management of the inmates, what hope have we of changing ourselves and being given credit for the change if this is not the case.

I pray for you regularly. I pray for your health and safety, that the time goes quickly, and for grace and favor with the parole board.

Your Brother in Christ.

August 2017 Letter

(Excerpt from a letter)

Greetings Brother,

The pastor shared this funny story to open his sermon the other week:

A group of church members got together at the old country church they attend to paint the exterior. The sky was gray and overcast, so they rushed to get the paint on. As they were in a hurry to finish when they ran low on paint, they decided to add water to complete the job. Just when they completed the project the clouds opened up and a downpour caused the fresh paint to run. There was lightening and thunder and as quick as the rain started it stopped. There was a beam of light shinning from a break in the clouds and a voice from heaven said, “Repaint ye thinners!”

Pastor Bob E.

The moral of the story is that we should always do our best and not cut corners. We don’t always get explicit feedback as these church members did, but we know deep down inside when we aren’t giving our all to the task. This includes situations where peer presure is brought to bear on you from others who have choosen to not give it their best effort. Instead these situations are a time where you can shine out and rise above and even it no one applaudes you, you will know you did your best and can live with a clear conscience.

In I Peter 4:10 and 11 it says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms…If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength that God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” As Christians how we act reflects on God. When we do good God is praised and when we do poorly we are called hypocrites. I know from first hand experience how hard this is in prison. Expectations are low, morale is low, competency is low, productivity is low, pay is low and there are a number of forces at work to keep it this way.

It really boils down for a Christian to realize who it is we really work for: God or man? Man may set the task, the hours, the pay, the work rules but we answer to a higher authority. Doing the right thing in the right way is never wrong. In a dark place you will shine bright when you exceed expectation, do the job without grumbling and complaining, giving your all to the task without counting the cost.

I was a unit porter for two years and I got noticed by the old timers who appreaciated that I actually cleaned the bathrooms. I met people who befriended me and respected me because I wasn’t like all the other porters. I was shown appreaciation and when I left the job to become a tutor so many guys came up to me and told me how much they missed me doing the job. Remember we don’t live for the accolades of man, but on that final day we long to hear the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

Remember you are not forgotten. I’m praying for you. Your Brother in Christ.

Fall 2017 News Letter

(Excerpt from the newsletter)

Here is my pastor’s latest sermon opener story:

“Uncle Cletus lived down south, back up in the hills. When he ate is favorite food his foot would swell up. He loved fried pork and his doctor told him he would have to avoid pork because it was the cause of the gout he was suffering from. When Cletus got home from the doctor’s office his wife asked him what the doctor said. Cletus took off his shoes, pointed at his feet and said, “I’m gong to have this problem about 3 times a week”

Pastor Bob E.

We are selective in our hearing and accept only the points we want to. I’ve actually read about this. People tend to accept information that backs up their beliefs. This is why some people like Fox News and others like CNN. The spin put on the news by the political perspective of the commentators either resonates with the viewer or it doesn’t and the viewer responds by saying, “Give me a break” and changes the channel.

Persuasive arguments don’t work because of this phenomenon. Compelling reasons aren’t enough to cause a person to change. They must want it first, then they will be willing to accept the information presented to them. Only by accepting that their’s is a failed system of beliefs will a person be open to accepting alternate truths. You can probably fill a phone book with the names of all the people you know who live by the phrase, “I deny your reality and substitute my own.” And some of them are pretty far out there. We live in an era of relative truth, not absolute Truth. We agree to disagree (on a good day) or simply dismiss other positions. President Trump and his alternative facts and “fake news” are a great example of this.

I think this is why some of the various religious groups attract followers in prison. Out in the world some of these religions don’t receive much attention or attract many followers but they have a much higher percentage of the prison population. When some people end up in prison it serves as a wakeup call that the way they were living wasn’t working. When they come to this realization they begin searching for another way of living.

Prison is a bit like Athens, Greece the way that the Apotstle Paul found it in Acts 17. Paul saw the large number of different religions represented in the city and even spoke to a large crowd at the Areopagus and presented the Gospel. In verse 32 it says the “When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of then sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ And in verse 34 it says that “Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed.” Some of the people were closed minded and rejected Paul’s message while others were more open minded.

Keeping an open mind is actually harder than it sounds because we are all closed-minded. We must make an effort to be objective and truly hear the other person out. Once we really listen to what another person has to say and carefully consider their words, only then can you have a converstion with them. Like Paul you can expect some who will be outwardly hostile and reject your message, others will want to have more information and some will accept what you have to say. Also like Paul we should use the situation to make our points by taking into account the other person’s belief system in order to reach them in a context that is more familiar to them.

Pretty deep stuff, but it is the heart of communication theory. Think about arguments you have had in the past. Very few are ever actually won. Instead every one is a loser because friendships are broken and enemies simply dig in deeper. It is only when we let down our walls, set aside our opinions and beliefs that have reached the point of dogma in our lives that we are able to have real discussions with others and for the dialog to truly work the other person has to do the same thing.

Know that I am praying for you. Your Brother in Christ.