BPI – Bard Prison Initiative

Several of my fellow Citrus County residents advocate the theory that educating incarcerated men and women only results in smarter criminals upon release from prison. The money spent, they say, could be put to better use in other programs and government projects. However, statistics following release from prison support the advantages of providing educational opportunities to inmates. We must recognize the need of communities to welcome back those who have served the time for the crime and honor their rights as restored citizens to pursue that which provides a fulfilling life. A recent amendment to our state’s Constitution supported the overwhelming will of Florida voters to reinstate voting rights to those who have served their sentences, yet the Legislature led by partisan politics is attempting to circumvent this amendment.

I am a strong advocate for education for everyone.   A high school diploma is not enough. Only continued technical or college instruction will provide the tools necessary to gainful employment and competitive skills in the labor market. The failure to provide an affordable education to all young people has resulted in stunning statistics showing the United States trailing other industrialized nations of the world in areas of societal stability, happiness, and productivity. We, the wealthiest nation on earth, cannot provide for our citizens a healthy lifestyle free from the fear of unemployment or neighborhood violence. Our nation is depleting the future of its young people due to its unwillingness to spend a mere modicum of its wealth on education enabling economic advancement for the socially or economically disadvantaged.

That would include prison inmates who have made mistakes, erred on judgement. Due to an unfair for-profit prison system, the USA has highest rate of incarcerated men and women in the industrialized world. A controversial approach has been undertaken by the state of New York, a state which has 53,400 inmates. BPI (Bard Prison Initiative) has 300 of these inmates enrolled in a program funded by private donations to provide college degrees. Of its graduates only 4% return to prison after parole compared to a 50% rate overall. Opponents cite the expense to taxpayers, but this is not government-funded. Opponents claim educated convicts will become smarter criminals; this also is proving to be untrue. PBS has aired a 4 part documentary, ‘COLLEGE BEHIND BARS”, addressing a novel solution. We have a choice – spend the money on education or spend the money on prisons.

 WASHINGTON POST

separation of church and state

Living as a Democrat in rural, Republican Florida challenges one’s sense of inclusiveness and social propriety.  A recent controversy in local politics regarding funding our library’s request to make the New York Times available online to library cardholders is a case in point. My friend at BY HOOK OR BY BOOK has shared a great post regarding this issue.  It is indicative of a population which refuses to leave the 1950s.

On Florida’s horizon is a bill filed by a State Senator which would require courses be made available in our public schools at taxpayers’ expense providing studies of the Bible.  The following is the letter which I have submitted to our local newspaper.

State Senator Dennis Baxley, a Republican representing the Ocala region, has filed SB 746 to be considered during the 2020 legislative session. The bill would require courses providing studies of the Bible’s Old and New Testaments in public schools. According to the sponsors of the bill, “all state and federal laws and guidelines maintaining religious neutrality” would be maintained.

One can easily favor this endeavor to educate students regarding religious doctrine because the writers of SB 746 guarantee that such studies would not “endorse, favor, or promote or disfavor or show hostility toward a particular religion, religious perspective, or nonreligious faith.”

Certainly it would be educational and advantageous for students to learn about man’s trek across the numerous religious philosophies created throughout history by holy men, theologians and scholars to instruct, comfort and control the masses. However, knowing the history of our state’s policy-makers, can we be assured that their explicit guarantee of neutrality will be followed? It sounds reassuring today, but, what will our teachers, students, and public schools face 5 or 10 years from now? Would it not be wiser to focus this Christian educational effort in the hands of the experts in religious education – our county’s esteemed parochial schools where children are educated in an atmosphere conducive to their family’s beliefs?

Of course, should these religious studies include all the major faiths of our world including Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam among others worthy of study, then, perhaps this bill could provide a well-rounded education to young people regarding various man-created philosophies of religious belief.

The key word in SB 746 is public – public education system. It is our duty to oversee and maintain this public system serving the diversity of religions, races, creeds, and lifestyles which make us a strong melting-pot nation. E Pluribus Unum, on the Great Seal of the United States, was a motto included on the seal in 1782. It means “out of many, one.” That is who we are. We are one people, one nation worshipping or not worshipping as conscience dictates. We are church people and synagogue people and mosque people and temple people. I applaud our legislators’ work to introduce religious studies into our public schools, but let’s include all faiths as worthy of study, not just Christianity and Judaism. I would enjoy a course in Buddhism, my neighbor favors Islam. Red-blooded American citizens, we are E PLURIBUS UNUM.

my creed, your creed, whose creed?

Recently, friends, those who know of my Christian tradition, question how we Christians can justify our faith considering the rhetoric and actions of a minority of evangelical leaders who glaringly contradict everything the Scriptures teach according to the words attributed to the one whom they claim as Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Fr. Richard Rohr CAC.ORG addresses this issue with the following post from his daily meditation blog.

Quaker pastor Philip Gulley superbly summarizes how we must rebuild spirituality from the bottom up in his book, If the Church Were Christian. [3] Here I take the liberty of using my own words to restate his message, which offers a rather excellent description of what is emerging in Christianity today:

  1. Jesus is a model for living more than an object of worship.
  2. Affirming people’s potential is more important than reminding them of their brokenness.
  3. The work of reconciliation should be valued over making judgments.
  4. Gracious behavior is more important than right belief.
  5. Inviting questions is more valuable than supplying answers.
  6. Encouraging the personal search is more important than group uniformity.
  7. Meeting actual needs is more important than maintaining institutions.
  8. Peacemaking is more important than power.
  9. We should care more about love and less about sex.
  10. Life in this world is more important than the afterlife (Eternity is God’s work anyway).

If this makes sense to you, you are already participating in evolving Christianity. Do read it several times. It only makes more and more sense.

Fr. Richard Rohr @ CAC.org

I thank Richard Rohr and Philip Gulley for simplifying in 10 salient points our creed and how it should manifest in Christianity.  Our tradition has within it the power to create righteous leaders walking aside other faiths of the world advocating social justice and peace rather than bullying and fear-mongering.

LOVE

rainbow-solidarity

a better way

Fr. Richard Rohr, in the mission statement for the CENTER FOR ACTION AND richard rohrCONTEMPLATION, shares the following:

“The best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better. Oppositional energy only creates more of the same.”

It’s all about energy, isn’t it?  Physical exertion, emotional expenditure, spiritual contemplation – it all revolves about the issues that are present in our lives.  Where we spend our time and energy determines who we are, what we advocate and ultimately the state of mind we enjoy in peace or endure in turmoil.  Therefore, next time I am tempted to jump into the mud with the other mud wrestlers (or whatever else hangs out in the slime), perhaps I should remember the exhortation of Fr. Rohr.

…and they all chimed in, “Yeah, Larry, and we’re going to nominate you for sainthood.”

Y’all ought to know by now that I live by the principle of progress rather than perfection, that lofty ideals are meant to be pursued, not attained.  It’s the journey, not the destination that constitutes a successful life.  Striving for a world dedicated to non-violence begins in me with every action, thought and prayer offered to the cause of personal earthly peace – “oppositional energy only creates more of the same.” 

That’s difficult to digest.  Does it mean that I should not be concerned about the injustice and hypocrisy which permeates the world?  Should I just throw my arms up in frustrated surrender over the racism and intolerance infecting American society? Should I sit in my quiet place with my beads and prayer shawl praying away the hatred and bigotry?

No, certainly not.  I should continue to see with dismay the horrors of social injustice, I should continue to speak out against the racism in my neighborhood, I should continue to protest by whatever resources I have the denigration of brothers and sisters of another race or creed or nationality.  But, I should not jump into the mud and lather up in my own  hypocrisy, intolerance and bigotry.  Justifying my disagreement and winning a victory over another’s viewpoints is not the goal of non-violence.  Proving the insanity of national politics will not make ours a better country.

I refer often to the wisdom of the ancients.  The thoughts, the words, and the sayings which have survived the test of time have done so because they are – wisdom.  In my opinion (and yes, I have many) the one nugget of wisdom erringly ignored by religious leaders and politicians alike is lead by example.

What examples are we choosing to lead us and guide us through an extremely violent period of world history?  Whom do we choose to inform us and thereby sway our opinions?  To what and to whom do we listen?  What do we read and view on media screens?  Where are we expending physical, emotional and spiritual energy?  Is it oppositional or is it conducive to understanding and peaceful solution?

Hillary (yeah, don’t allow the name to betray your religion) famously said in her campaign, “When he takes the low road, we take the high road.”

Doesn’t really matter whether she meant it or actually lived it.  The advice is great wisdom.  Let’s not get mired in the mud (or sewage) which poses as moral guidance or political leadership.  Observe it, digest it, and then continue to follow the compass which points true north.  Let our criticism of the bad be tempered by practice of the better.

Center for Action and Contemplation

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Alice’s Restaurant

social media

Why do we call it social media?  It’s not at all socially responsible and it is certainly not socially civil.  Its users will blast you with profanity if they disagree with your viewpoint and castigate your intelligence when you don’t march in step with their thinking.  So, instead of ‘social media’ let’s name Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. ad nauseum THE SCOURGE.

The Scourge is our punishment for relinquishing the ability to think and behave responsibly.  Undoubtedly, 95% of those folks, the ones who prolifically pound their keyboards cussing you and me with various impossible acts which we should perform upon ourselves, they would not have an ounce of courage in an up-front, face-to-face encounter.  So there, I’ve said it.  You just take your FB, Twitter, Instagram and assorted other forms of self expression and stick them where the “sun don’t shine.”  Hah! How’s that make you feel? Got a problem with that?  Here’s my address, I’ll be waiting out front at sunup.

You might ask, “Larry, what’s got you so riled this morning?”

Thanks for asking.  I woke up at 1 o’clock AM humming a few bars from ALICE’S RESTAURANT.  Trust me.  Strains from Moonlight Sonata or Frank Sinatra are welcomed music wafting through my head at 1 AM, but not Alice’s Restaurant.  Just like me in the 1960s, Arlo Guthrie also had a hair up his butt about society, particularly the government, the military and the Vietnam War.  I’m over all that 1960s crap, but I still like humming ALICE’S RESTAURANT –

“And can you imagine fifty people a day? I said FIFTY people a day
Walkin’ in, singing a bar of ALICE’S RESTAURANT and walkin’ out? Friends,
They may think it’s a Movement, and that’s what it is, THE Alice’s
Restaurant anti-massacre movement! And all you gotta do to join is to
Sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar”

The anti-massacre movement Arlo wrote about was the resistance to our government’s military draft which was expediting young American men to the jungles of Vietnam. During those years, the journalists whom we trusted to present factual, unbiased news reporting included names such as Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley & Chet Huntley, and Edward R. Murrow.  They gave to us straight-up news – no hype, no entertainment, no bullshit.  We listened to the newscast for half an hour or sometimes an hour and we were then informed citizens able to form rational opinions.

We could have a draft again in America’s future if the current Administration, believing it can institute anything deemed necessary to achieve its military ends, conscripts our young warriors to the sand jungles of the Middle East.  Sadly, today we don’t have much professional journalism to inform us truthfully of world events and political shenanigans.  Instead, we have a proliferation of ‘social media’, most of it posing as newsworthy journalism.

But, thank God I still have at 1 o’clock AM a place to go, a song to sing.  Join me?

“You can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant
You can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant
Walk right in, it’s around the back
Just half a mile from the railroad track
You can get anything you want at Alice’s restaurant”

🎶🎶😴

It has never been about Alice or her restaurant.  It was and always is about taking the protest to the streets, to the leaders in DC, speaking truth to power.  Some things never change – the inherent corruption of unbridled power is one.

Pete Seeger knew that, Bob Dylan sang it, Joan Baez and Arlo Guthrie had messages that I still hear today.  Times really haven’t changed a whole lot since 1968 and Vietnam.  You can still get anything you want at Alice’s Restaurant.

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the 7 deadlies

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”  C.G. Jung, MEMORIES, DREAMS, REFLECTIONS (1989)

Let’s allow those words to soak into our collective thick skulls.  Consider the person in your world whom you detest, whom you would never entertain in your home, whom you would vehemently argue will go to hell.  Yeah, think about that person for a moment and then let’s do a sincere soul search.  What is it within me, within you, that reflects with such intensity our dislike for that person?

“Well, Larry, I have a sense of values, compassion for fellow humans, a moral compass to guide me.  I am in no way like …….” (insert name here).

Okay, I get it.  You and I are stellar human beings with no quirks, no faults, no skeletons in our closets.  We have been nominated numerous times for sainthood and are just waiting for that moment when we will sit with the old man in the heavens pronouncing judgment upon the lesser of us – those whom we have previously decided will burn in hell.

Really?  Is that who we are?  Nothing more than pawns of runaway egos determined to remind others of the splinters in their eyes while ignoring the logs in our own eyes?  Is that what we are destined to be?  Granted, that is the human way, but aren’t we destined to be more than ego-driven bags of human flesh?  I am remembering a verse from the book of Luke, chapter 6, verse 41 which reminds me that the plank I carry in my own eye is needing my attention more than the speck of sawdust in my brother’s eye.  Matthew 7:3 has the same message.  Are these ancient writers trying to instill a bit of introspection in me to replace my self-serving ego-stroking?

Yeah, guilty as charged.  That neighbor who always rubs me the wrong way, the city councilman who seems more concerned about his image than job performance, the preacher who doesn’t appear to walk the talk, the politician who is obviously lacking a moral compass – they are all a composite of me and my own character defects.  The national leader who seems to always be screaming, “Look at me, look at me, dammit look at me,” is the same small voice within me screaming, “Here I am, pay attention to me.”

The denial wells up within, but maturity, which can be so evasive, tells me that those seven deadlies – the 7 vices which challenge our spiritual journey – are inherent in each of us.  GREED, ANGER, SLOTH, ENVY, GLUTTONY, LUST, PRIDE are at the center of any and all distractions from the universal truth that we are all one humanity, one organism, one Spirit simply trying to navigate the impermanence of this life on earth.

Doing life perfectly is not the goal.  It is impossible.  The ending of this trek is not foreseeable, but we have within us the capacity to alter the journey.  What will it be?  Ego driven or Spirit centered?

LOVE

 

ALL WE NEED IS LOVE

“While scientists look desperately for medicines and mechanism to avoid catastrophe, many others are beginning to realize that what is needed is not only externally administered remedies, preventive or curative, but an internal change in the way we behave, a hard second look at the values which have brought us to this dangerous brink.”

-Anuradha Vittachi, Earth Conference Pace e Bene

I hate you

How often have you and I thought or voiced these emotionally-charged words?  Maybe it was yesterday when the neighbor was critical of our yard maintenance.  Or it could have angry emojibeen the boss unfairly expecting us to give up weekend plans in order to come in to work.  Or maybe it was a national leader speaking words which are contrary to our personal moral compass.  Or maybe it was directed inwardly because of our own faults and misdeeds.

“Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love…”

Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone (1181 – 1226) is attributed with these words, an excerpt from a  familiar prayer commonly called THE PRAYER OF ST. FRANCIS.

Hatred is one of the most difficult words to comprehend because it carries an immensely negative emotion.  Within that negativity we create enemies, despicable visions of others, and ultimately, discontent within our own souls.  Let’s, for the sake of rational dialog, nail hatred to the underlying emotion of fear which is a very real motivator in all of mankind.

Fear prevents unconditional love.  Fear promotes violence.  Fear murders, maims, persecutes.  Fear promotes separateness among men and warfare among nations.  Fear is the darkness in mankind’s soul which enables genocide and ethnic cleansing.

White nationalism embraces fear, our leaders project fear, some men of religion preach fear.  Hatred is taught, but fear is that innate human condition which in today’s society is being used as a weapon against practicing social justice, tolerance and equality.

That is why we recite the words of St. Francis – Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace.  We cannot fight hatred with hatred.  We cannot fight violence with violence.  We cannot vie to be top dog in the world at the expense of the huddled masses desiring nothing more than the crumbs under the table.  We cannot destroy our planet by exploiting resources to fill corporate coffers or because we fear that there is not enough for everybody.  Peace is not just a state of inner being – it is a call to action.  It is a determined effort to illumine the darkness.

We in Western culture have been conditioned to think of love as a warm, fuzzy feeling reserved for spouses, family, friends, others who step in line to our own personal march.  We celebrate love with cute greeting cards and expensive gifts.  We write romantic songs and poems about love.  We fall in love with the idea of love.

The ancient wisdom teachers would disagree.  In their writings love is the opposite of fear.  Love unifies the Christian and the Muslim, the white man and the black man, the Republican and the Democrat, the straight and the gay.  There are no enemies in the world of love, there are merely differences to be embraced.  Love is not the opposite of hatred;  it is the cure for fear which is the root of hatred.  It is the understanding that we as co-equal inhabitants of this planet are responsible for living in peaceful co-existence.

“The root of violence is the illusion of separation—from God, from being one with oneself and everything else, and from Being Itself.” CAC.ORG

Mohandas Gandhi said nonviolence was the active, unconditional love toward others, the persistent pursuit of truth, the radical forgiveness toward those who hurt us, the steadfast resistance to every form of evil, and even the loving willingness to accept suffering in the struggle for justice without the desire for retaliation. —John Dear CAC.ORG – FR. RICHARD ROHR