Archive for December, 2010

20
Dec
10

red velvet cake and the spirit of christmas

I have a lovely Christmas story to share and a fine storyteller to introduce, but first I must give some background.

In the mid-1980s, members of the historic peace churches began seeking new ways to express their faith. Out of this desire came the Christian Peacemakers Teams, an organization, which seeks to embody an inclusive, ecumenical and diverse community of God’s love in partnership with local peacemakers worldwide. Denominations and organizations supporting active CPT chapters are—Church of the Brethren, Friends United Meeting, Mennonite Church USA, Mennonite Church Canada, Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, Congregation of St. Basil, Every Church a Peace Church and Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

My friends Mark and Sara—peace and justice (CPT) activists from my church—entered a letter writing program to prisoners through a Church of the Brethren friend of theirs. Through this program they met Glenn, an inmate at Alabama’s Holman Prison, where he has been on death row for the past 25 years. Mark and Sara have visited him 3 times since 2002 when their correspondence began. Each time, they found that they were the only visitors Glenn had that year.

A couple of days ago Mark sent this remarkable story….Red Velvet Cake and the Spirit of Christmas…to the congregation through our listserve :

Glenn called today and left a voice mail saying, “Brother, I have something important to share with you.”  I called him back.

He said, “You know what my favorite dessert is?” He’d told me some time ago, but I couldn’t remember. “Red velvet cake. Everyone (the inmates) around here knows that. Today, a ministry (program) was here distributing food packages.’

(Aside: there are a few ministries that distribute such food packages throughout the year. The inmates look forward to these. On death row, I’ve learned, food is a BIG deal. The daily prison food is awful, so anything normal is a major event.)

“Sister Antonia gave me my package and I told her my date was around the corner. I looked through the package and saw that there were a lot of good items. It was a pretty good collection.  And the dessert was…red velvet cake…home made!  Of all the desserts to be in there….I told her it was my favorite.”

“A little while later, she came back, and pushed another piece into my cell.”

“A little while later, another piece came, passed on down the line by the guys, from cell to cell.”

“And a little while later, another, and another, and another, until every guy on the tier had passed their red velvet cake.”

Glenn was choked up at this point in the phone call. He said jokingly, “I must have male menopause.” I told him it was a very touching thing and he was just being human and that the guys were just giving back in a small way what they’d received from Glenn over the years.  Glenn said, “Whatever they’ve received, it has been from God, not from me.”  Glenn is deeply faithful and very humble and attributes whatever positive influence he’s had on others as God’s working through him. And I believe it.

Mark goes on to share some about his friend Glenn:

Here is a story of part of Glenn’s transformation—one that happened in spite of the brutality of the so-called correctional system, and because Glenn opened himself and listened to God.

“When my sister was young, she was put into a mental hospital where she was raped repeatedly by one of the workers. As a young man, I was so angry. I pictured the man in hell, and I wanted to torture him to the verge of death so he’s feel pain like my sister.

“While in prison I asked Jesus into my heart. God said, ‘You shall know the truth and it shall set you free.’ I had to tell the truth before I could be free, and the truth was that I wanted to kill the man. The truth was not that I wanted to try to love the man. I wanted to mutilate him.

“Once I confessed to god this truth the way opened up. In a dream I heard the voice of God say:

“Glenn, there are people in your life that you hurt, not in the same way, but pain is pain, and they want you to hurt. But I don’t want you to hurt because I love you. And guess what, I love that man too, and I don’t want you to hurt him.”

“I Woke up and cried like a baby. I said to God, ‘I can’t do it, but I’m willing to let you, God, do it through me.’ I got to a place where I could envision being in the same room with the man, and telling him that I forgive him and that I love him.

“People who knew me when I was 19 (when I entered prison) will not recognize the person I’ve become; God’s love allowed me to forgive.”

In the 25 years Glenn has been on death row, the courts have denied his appeals and he will be executed in early 2011. Mark and Sara are his friends. They see a deeply wise, intelligent, compassionate and religious person in Glenn…a very different person today than who he was when he committed his crime. I believe this is true and do not understand the twists and turns that keep a redeemed person  pinned to the past. Many people say we are a Christian nation…if so, where is the repentance and compassion that Jesus taught us? He asked  the woman caught in adultery where her accusers had gone and if any condemnation remained. She tells Jesus that no one remains to condemn her. Jesus responds with compassion, and tells her that he does not condemn her either and exhorts her to go and sin no more. (John 8:1-11)

Our penal system practices an ancient code of an eye for an eye. It does not redeem, but God breaks through walls. I believe people can, and do change. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught: “You have heard it said, `an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not set yourself in violent or revengeful resistance against an evildoer.” (Matthew 5:38)

As Christian Peacemakers, Mark and Sara speak for me.  If you would like to contact Mark…write a letter of inquiry, or one of kindness to Glenn, here is Mark’s contact information:

Mark Frey, Administrative Coordinator
Christian Peacemaker Teams
PO Box 6508
Chicago, IL  60680-6508 USA

Phone: +1-773-376-0550
Fax:   +1-773-376-0549

And a little child shall lead them….

20
Dec
10

christmas letter from me to you

This year we wrote and sent the catch-up, Christmas Letter. There was so much to say and so little blood left in our veins to say it all, that we decided to create a picture-book letter. Between email and the post office we got them all sent out. Then I thought of all of you who read this blog and decided to separate text from art so I could include all of you by posting it here.:

Greetings to one and all,

Time feels completely different at the end of the year. Different than in… say…February. At this time of the year, we think a lot about past; people we’ve met, people we’ve lost, pivotal events, past Christmases….February is more of a future think. Will it snow? When will it be warm again? Just how long will it take to loose my “winter insulation” (you know…the holiday feasts that have taken up residence on our bodies)?

Last year, our circumstances didn’t allow the “time” needed to send greetings to you, so this year, we will try to make up for that with an especially “condensed” greeting.

The benefit to us in writing this may have already eclipsed the goal of this letter. As we started the outline, it was soon clear that the “Gratefulness” list was impressively longer than the “losses” and “challenges” lists. (Granted, some of the line items could have gone either way.) So we start the “gratefulness” list acknowledging that it is God’s grace that allowed us to see the bigger picture of our lives.

We lost some very significant people in the past two years; Naomi’s sister Florence, our dear friend and Naomi’s adopted daughter Bettina, our builder/handyman, neighbor, scrabble playing friend and sage Ken, Judy’s dear special cousin Sam…and her faithful old cat Frank.

Gained: New friends, deepening relationships, reconnecting with friends from the past,*new family, Naomi in remission, Judy still has a job, our 33rd anniversary, Naomi’s art integrated into the worship experience in two churches, Judy’s re-entry into music, the books of Marcus Borg & Richard Rohr…and the list goes on.  Naomi & Judy

*The new family seen here with Big Dawg and me…Darling Daughter, the Captain, Miss Green and Miss Pink…the fabulous grandchildren…just add water and stir. See June 6, 2010 /  Family Plan.

15
Dec
10

you’re it

Long ago.

Back in the olden days of my childhood, we played a scary playground tag  game during recess. It may have had a name but we just called it You’re It. This was basically a run around game with one person the tagger, whose mission it was to catch someone—anyone. We ran like crazy, screaming and yelling as though our very lives were at stake. This was especially true when played with boys and girls together. (Remember, this was before co-ed gym and way, way before co-ed dorms!) The tagging was quite aggressive. Being tagged, and hearing you’re it screamed out gleefully had a nasty feeling to it…like being a big fat loser, or at the very least, being hit by a bag of slimy worms (yuck!). Yes we had losers in those days, but the term had not yet been designated as a life-long failing…just a momentary humiliation between children at play.

Fast-Forward 60 years.

Last week I was hit by a nasty respiratory virus and tagged: you’re it and so I am: another victim of this year’s respiratory nemesis, down and out on the side-lines.  I’d been warding off all sorts of bodily ailments for quite a while, but this time, completely exhausted from two months hard work (see Drawing Sacred Circles Advent 2010) and bottomed out over a small incident, the virus I call Wicked, had no trouble tagging me, but I didn’t know it right away. Wicked did this quite silently, like a lion stalking its prey.

Profile of Wicked, 2010.

After a short incubation period of 24 hours I began feeling sort of low in spirit and a bit cranky. After another 24 hours, my throat started to feel like burnt toast still burning. I began my usual ZiCam protocol, thinking I’d lose the bug as I had several times before. By the end of the week (about 56 hours later) I felt better and thought I’d thrown off Wicked.  Then in an Alice in Wonderland moment, I went down like a Christmas tree—cut with an ax at the ankles. I was sick, more sick than I’d ever been with a cold. I had fever and was completely miserable. Felt like flu, but without the body aches—all too reminiscent of the sweaty, feverish weeks before my cancer diagnosis in 2006.  The next day I called my homeopathic physician, received a recommended medication and began getting better, but the process was really slow. Four days passed. I called the doctor. He agreed…progress was too slow…and prescribed another remedy, which has sped things up dramatically.

I am doing a lot better, but not well yet. Still, this state of health/unhealth is way better than where I was 10 days ago. I plan to continue burrowing my way out of this rabbit hole and returning to the land of the living. Wicked can go take a hike!

Conclusion.

This is a really nasty illness—not your average sniffles and sneezes. Take care and beware of those who say…I just have a sore throat… That’s how this particular bug starts its pathway through the human body. Apparently some folks have remained stricken for weeks. I don’t intend to be one of them. I shall not be tagged; I shall not be It. I have plans to take my grandchildren to the fancy French bistro for a Christmas lunch in a few days. I want to see their eyes light up in delight. It will warm my soul.

Take care everyone and don’t take any wooden nickels. 🙂




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