Category Archives: Citizen

A Humble Way Forward

I am, by training and vocation, a systems thinker. When I hear a problem, I first seek to understand the issue as best I can and then pose this question: What system might have caused or contributed to this issue and how can we utilize that same system to bring about movement towards a workable solution?

In the past few days, I have read about and heard a great deal of anger, confusion, frustration, angst, and, above all, grief in relationship to the Charlestown shooting. This morning, I listened to an NPR call in program where highly educated professors and journalists talked about the issue and what I came away with was this: there is a problem with racism in this country. Full stop.

Ok, so now what?

I mean, really – what can actually be DONE about this problem?

I humbly offer this as movement towards a workable solution:

  1. I have experienced over and over again that education and exposure leads to tolerance which, when leaned into, can produce (at its best) an eventual celebration of differences. I observed this phenomena at its height while overseeing the “7 Habits on the Inside” program. By the time I left after three years teaching and learning from my inmates, I watched as correctional professionals and inmates (some of whom had been going after each other for years) listen to one another. I watched them sit down, hear one another, seek to understand one another and seek mutually beneficial solutions. That kind of understanding only comes through intentional learning and growth – on both sides. The 7 Habits program fostered that growth.
  2. One of the reasons this worked was the hard work of CH (LTC) Mark Jones, myself, other committed correctional staff and chaplains who embraced their own growth and change while making the effort and sacrifice necessary to patiently teach others. In twelve weeks, inmates would look within themselves to discover what was holding them back, do deep personal work, and then seek to understand others. The change that families and correctional staff saw was convincing and permanent. Over them, trust happened when there was no trust before.
  3. Chaplains are professionals who are held to a professional ethic. They are responsible for ensuring the free exercise of religion. In that role, they often will work to expose others to different religions and thought while seeking to establish common denominators that are necessary for tolerance, dignity, and respect. In that way, they are able to help those who have different cultures, opposing viewpoints, religions etc to relate to one another and move forward in relationship.

Why couldn’t this happen in schools?

Why not have chaplains in schools?

In this country, we have an embedded system of thought which says that we just should not talk about “religion and politics.” The problem with that is, because we are not taught how to have respectful discourse, we only talk about those things in the worst way possible. I offer the anger, hate, and vitriol spewed on social media as evidence.

What if, as I did in my 7 Habits program, we taught religion in schools in a way that promoted healthy and respectful discourse based on seeking understanding? What if every school had a chaplain whose job it was to promote the free exercise of religion by educating (NOT proselytizing) all the students in all the systems of thought that make up our great nation? What if students took field trips to all the places of worship in their cities? What if religion included atheism and “free thought?” What if students learned to see other systems of thought as interesting and not as something to be afraid of and fight against?

There was this moment in teaching the 7 Habits that I came to really see how powerful this could be. The students were engaged in an exercise that had been written by myself, CH Jones, and other inmates. The exercise was to take an intentionally controversial question and discuss it. However, in discussing it, the students had to hear everyone’s past relationship to the problem. They had to make a real and concerted effort to understand the perspectives of everyone at the table (each person would have to agree they had been heard and understood) before they even began to work towards a solution.

It. Was. Powerful.

Over and over again, in class after class, students would break down decades old barriers simply by seeking to understand in a systematic way. It was there that I learned that we’re just not taught as Americans to hear and listen with understanding. It’s a skill that needs to be developed, honed, and constantly practiced.

What if that was a goal in education?

What if this troubled young man had to go through a class like this? Would it check the hate he was learning? Perhaps and perhaps not but I daresay it might have been enough of a check to hold back violence.

I’m a believer that if we taught our children how to listen with understanding, taught them that other races, cultures, belief systems were what make us great, exposed them to all those cultures in a systematic way then we would go a long way toward making better Americans.

I, for one, humbly advocate for chaplains in our school systems to do work like this.

Imagine that.

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Filed under Chaplaincy, Citizen

A Prayer for Veteran’s Day 2014

This morning, I will be at First Christian, Columbia, SC. They have asked me to pray for veterans and their families.

Veteran’s day is a bit of a struggle for me. I want to acknowledge that not evey veteran is proud of their service, that often, families bear the brunt of the after effects of war, that suicide, homelessness, and joblessness are a reality of the veteran community.

I also want to acknowledge that many veterans struggle and many are doing fine, that the stereotype of the “crazy-eyed veteran” is exactly that.

Oh, and also the reality that the Kingdom of God has no borders. That service to Jesus Christ transcends all ideas of nationalistic sentiment.

And then there is the reality that war is the ultimate human tragedy, the failure of humans to work out their issues without killing one another.

Here is that humble attempt with thanks to Peter Marshall:

Prayer for Veteran’s Day 2014

First Christian Church, Columbia SC

Good morning. As an Active duty service member, I am honored to pray this morning for veterans and their families. Serving one’s country in the Armed Services is a challenge to anyone who also serves Jesus Christ. There is an inherent tension between Christ’s call to peace and the country’s call to arms. Those who have lived and served in that tension have done so at their own peril. They have offered their very lives to the service of others. They have done so not always agreeing with the action they were ordered to do, they have done so even when the result is death or serious harm, they have done so  even when they were not appreciated for that service, they have done so even when promises are not kept.

Some of our nation’s veterans this morning have served and have gone on to other work in the country having been able to work through the lasting vestiges of war in their lives. Other’s struggle with the memory of war and traumatic stress it brings. Veterans are turning to suicide as an answer to their pain. Some veterans this morning are feeling the benefit of living in this country, others are homeless, jobless, and wondering where to get care. This morning, I remember all veterans and their families. Those doing well and those doing poorly. Those who have been able to integrate their pain and those who struggle with their memories. Those enjoying the freedom of this land and those who are now behind bars. Those with homes and those homeless. Those who are still with the family of their youth and those who are now divorced and separated from those families because of the effects of war. Those who remember their service with fondness and those who daily grieve the pain of it. We remember them all and pray for them.

Oliver Wendell Homes, himself a veteran of the American Civil War once said, “We have shared the incommunicable experience of war, we have felt, we still feel, the passion of life to its top. In our youths, our hearts were touched with fire.” I know that fire. I know that it still burns.

From one veteran to another and their families – thank you for your service.

We approach the Throne of Grace:

Lord Jesus Christ, we are the children of God. Yet we would not be human if we were not sometimes fearful, if our hearts did not ache and harbor anxiety for those we love who wear and have worn our country’s uniform – here and in the far corners of the earth.

Yet, we also know that the Everlasting Arms reach out across the world. We know the shadow of your wing covers all your children.

We know that in this world there are troubles. Whether diseases in Africa, extremists in Iraq and other places, homelessness and poverty here in America, and a host of other ills, that nothing can separate us nor those we love from your love and watch care.

We know that the bonds of the fellowship of prayer are real. We know that at the throne of grace we are all united, that our souls can mingle with those we love on earth even though separated by tumbling sea and dreary miles. In that spirit we ask for our nation’s veterans that you:

              Support them in time of need,

              Give them strength beyond their own,

              Confidence that you are their shepherd and will never leave them nor forsake them,

              Strength in temptation that they may be kept clean,

              Give them the gift of inner peace, a serenity that no tragedy can destroy,

              Give peace to spouses wondering how much longer they can hang on to their marriage,

              Keep those veterans preparing for another winter without a home or job safe,

              Calm the dreams of those who struggle with sleeping at night,

              Encouragement to those who are thinking of suicide as a way out to know that they are loved, have value and are important,

              Give us the peace that passes all understanding that keeps our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. May Peace come to the world so that War can be no more. We look to the day when Soldiers are no longer needed with great anticipation. Until then, we serve.

May we feel your presence and see by faith that day when the love of Christ shall live in the hearts of all people everywhere. Amen.

Iraq Band of Brothers

 

 

 

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Filed under Army, Chaplaincy, Citizen, Peace

Google Glass in Law Enforcement

When I worked in the prison, I was initially put off by the ever present camera. They are everywhere in a prison, always on, always recording.

At first, I thought about them, found myself looking distractedly in the corner, and fascinated when in the control room looking at the live feeds.

Which is where I was the first time I witnessed and incident. I watched the inmate’s actions, the correctional specialists response and the resulting team effort calming the situation.

I was amazed.

The camera footage actually protected the inmate in that the cadre could not contradict video footage. It protected the correctional specialist in the same way. And, by reviewing the footage, all the Soldiers could benefit by using it as training. It is a mark of a profession that they self-evaluate, self-police, and train to a standard. The cameras were a vital part of that effort.

Turns out, cameras were good for everyone.

I thought about this after reading about Ferguson. If only there was some video footage of the incident. That got me wondering about cameras in regular policing. The dash camera has been in use for years but what about something like Google Glass?

Then I looked it up. Here, NYPD is considering using it; here, it is analyzed for use by police.

Technology never solves problems in of itself but why not use what we have to protect both law enforcement and citizenry?

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Filed under Citizen, Responsible Gun Ownership