Posts Tagged ‘prison

02
Aug
22

Perspective Tune-up

I’ve decided: I hate quarantine.

Since receiving a positive COVID diagnosis over a week ago, I have been in a state of doctor-ordered quarantine here in my home. That has meant sleeping in the upstairs guest bedroom, not coming close to, touching – let alone kissing – Joan, and wearing that stupid N95 mask ALL THE TIME. 

Many of you have experienced this and know exactly what I am talking about. Some of you have probably even gone through much more severe COVID journeys than mine, involving hospitals, ventilators, and questions of life or death.  

And most of you – I’m pretty sure – have done it with a lot less whining about it.

All things considered though; this experience has not been that bad. 

Don’t get me wrong; the first three days were rough. But because I am double-vaxxed and boosted, the main symptoms went away on the fourth day, leaving me feeling almost back to normal. Isolated and bored, yes. But overall feeling well. In fact, I’ve felt well enough to hop on my bike and go on long rides both yesterday and the day before. 

No… quarantine isn’t any fun. But when I start feeling like it is time to convene a meeting of Russell’s Private Pity Party, I pick up the Bible and start reading a little from Paul. As you might recall, Paul had a bit of a “quarantine” thing going on there in the beginning of his letter to the church at Philippi. Right there in the first chapter we read these words; “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually resulted in the progress of the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ…” (Philippians 1:12-13 NRSVU). 

Of course, the phrase, “… what has happened to me…” there refers to being thrown in jail for his public preaching about Jesus. And instead of sitting there in that cell and whining about the cruel nature of his situation, Paul instead focused on the OPPORTUNITY it presented him! 

Crazy, eh?

Then there is that little passage in 2 Corinthians where Paul momentarily goes out of his mind – his words, not mine – and starts listing all of the CRAP he’s had to endure in order to carry out his evangelical mission. 

Remember that passage? You can find it in 2 Corinthians 11:24-28. But to save your valuable time, I will reprint it here: “Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And, besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches.”

I also found ministry to be a VERY rugged profession. But I honestly don’t think I can recall ever being beaten with rods or stoned. 

My point is this: ALL of us… no matter what we are going through… can benefit from a “perspective check” now and then. That “check” is what these words from Paul provided for me.

Speaking personally, I will confess the ease with which MY momentary reality can become THE universal reality… at least in my head. My worldview narrows to ME and the two-foot bubble of life surrounding me. Nothing outside that bubble matters.

But the truth is, my reality is nothing more than a decision I made about how this current situation is going to affect me. Either I will see it as a unique kind of OPPORTUNITY I’ve been handed (Paul style), or I’ll see it as some kind of horrible injustice I’ve been saddled with. 

So, I will decide to use the gift of this quarantine time to catch up on my fiction reading, learn a few new songs on the guitar, ride my bike (weather permitting, of course), and as a time to take the opportunity to get my perspective tuned up …

… which it needs only about once every three minutes.

Abundant blessings;

22
Apr
20

An Innocent Man

Darryl Burton photoIn 1984, a drug dealer was shot to death at a gas station in St. Louis, Missouri. The shooter was identified as a light-skinned African American male, 5’5” in height. Police immediately began looking for suspects.

Even though Darryl Burton was dark skinned and 5’10” in height, he was summoned to a police lineup. Two men came forward identifying Darryl as the murderer. Both men were awaiting trial on other charges at the time but were offered a lighter sentence if they testified that Burton was guilty.

Darryl was assigned a public defender who spent one hour with him before his trial. A jury convicted him in less than an hour. Darryl was sentenced to life in prison without parole. He was sent to the Missouri State Penitentiary, one of the most violent prisons in the U.S.

As the sentence was being pronounced in the courtroom that day, Darryl remembers thinking, “When I heard the jurors say ‘Guilty,’ I felt shock and disbelief. I just didn’t think that, in America, an innocent man could be sent to prison, especially for capital murder.”

He also clearly remembers a huge banner that hung at the entrance of the penitentiary bearing this ominous advice: “Welcome to the Missouri State Pen. Leave all your hopes, family, and dreams behind.” When I saw that banner, it deeply affected me, and I lost all hope. I hated the place, the system, and anyone that had anything to do with it. It was hell on earth – filled with violence, evil, and hate.”

Darryl spent 24 years in the Missouri State Penitentiary as an innocent man. During that time, he wrote over 600 letters protesting his innocence, all to no avail. Darryl was finally freed in 2008 when an eyewitness declared under oath, “You have the wrong man. He’s too dark.” Darryl’s entire story – and information about his ongoing work on behalf of the wrongly convicted – can be found at: https://www.darrylburton.org.

After his release from prison, Darryl enrolled in seminary, and trained to become a pastor. He now serves as an associate pastor at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas (https://www.cor.org). Church of the Resurrection the largest United Methodist Church in the U.S.

Personally, I have a hard time imagining a situation less conducive to hope than Darryl’s. Prisons – by their very design – drain the vitality from their inhabitants. Their purpose is to continually remind prisoners of the mistakes of their past and to suffocate any hopes for the future they might entertain.

I am not sure I would last 30 days in such a place, let alone 24 years.

And yet… in the midst of that literal hell on earth, Darryl somehow found hope. Besides poring over volumes in the prison law library, Darryl began reading the Bible. In its pages he discovered that, in his words, “… anger and hate can be another kind of prison.” The story of Jesus, as he hung on the cross, forgiving the people who tortured and executed him (Luke 23:34) changed his life. At that point, Darryl wrote one more letter; a letter to Jesus. In it he said, “Jesus, if you’re real and you help me get out of this place, not only will I serve you, but I’ll tell the world about you.”

Ten years before he was exonerated and physically set free, Darryl says that he was set free emotionally and spiritually.

Darryl’s story proves to me that hope can thrive in even the harshest environment. Hope is always there, like a seed lying dormant in our souls. All it takes is a little water and sunlight from God’s eternal Spirit to cause it to sprout and grow.

It is in the tough times – not the easy, breezy ones – when we discover that the breaking open of our hearts is the thing that allows that water and sunlight to come in.

Abundant blessings;




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