We Are The Ones We Have Been Waiting For..*

*From Alice Walker’s blog, on the occasion of the events of November 4, 2008

We not only are the ones we have
been waiting for, we’re all we’ve got. Pray all day and all night for the next month, send your miracle-seed donations to whatever shyster television evangelist you choose, or otherwise passively wait for something supernatural from the sky to occur to solve your financial problems. Write angry letters to the editor of your shrinking daily newspaper, call the offices of your congressional representative weekly, go on strike, organize a boycott, find somebody to sue, or sit around the cafe and make jokes about people who for whatever reason- color, age, gender, sexual preference, nationality- are not as good as you and bring their financial problems on themselves and it’s just not fair because now they’re going to be helped and you’re not and God knows you’ve worked hard and you really are a victim: of bankers, Jews, Socialists, Obama, William Ayers, that guy who kills turkeys in Alaska, the CEO of GM, Affirmative Action, and/or global warming, Big Oil, gay guys who want to get married, gay women who believe in evolution, et.al., et.al., etc., and so forth . Do those things; hand the responsibility for your individual fix and our collective predicament over to some thing or some one outside yourself and begin the long slow descent into madness then death, while watching TV and waiting waiting waiting for what once was to be again..

Or..

We can start new philosophical, spiritual, and even legal balls rolling that will culminate one day in a very different set of economic attitudes. And those new attitudes are not an option; they are a necessity. An economic system based on perpetual growth is a Ponzi Scheme Supreme. It will fall, as all top-heavy things do. (read Genesis 11, about the Tower of Babel..it’s an old, old too oft-ignored story.) The American economic system of 2006 was bound to fail!! The fact that it is so amazingly easy to see that now is exactly the reason we can’t be tempted to return to it.

We need new thinking. It probably won’t be fun as we have been prone for too many myopic years to define fun: i.e., “Hey kids, let’s go the mall!” or, “Wow! Look how much our house is worth! We can retire early!” or “Just put it on the credit card.”

Nor will the new thinking we must undertake be able to have the old assumptions of unlimited natural resources, unlimited and willing labor, and an always expandable world market to be constructed upon. In fact, if we hear ideas based on those presumptions, we can know- even without being an economist- that they are wrong.

Here are some things I think MUST be thought about, reconsidered, redacted, discussed, argued about, and then allowed to evolve. These are just a few things and I’ll write more about each and add to the list as well. I hope you’ll talk about things like these in your circles of influence, too- in honest and open ways and in full knowledge that this is a New Creation we are part of..which is both scary AND exciting, isn’t it?

1. We must focus locally and in smaller ways, in every way we can. Interestingly, building “up” is a way to do both (think Manhattan). Walking more, sharing tasks, making do with 1 car instead of 2 or 2 instead of 3 won’t be options one day. The ‘New Marketplace’ will be the hub of the New Community, and for the sake of local employment we should not listen to any proposals by Walmart or any other large corporation to run those Marketplaces!

2. Speaking of Corporations, let’s not, as much as possible. Theirs is a legal status which must be redefined as we move this country from Corporate Socialism with their attendant strangleholds to something far more humane- something really strange and wonderful and new: small businesses, in real competition. (wow, what a concept!)

3. Everything I say about Corporations I say about Big Unions, too. It’s time to rethink everything no matter what color your collar is. Blue collars don’t automatically make you into a working class saint, and white ones don’t mean you’re a bourgeois sonofabitch.

Bottom line: Big has proven to be a hazardous concept, generally speaking. Small must b demonstrated to be the cool new kid on the block that everyone wants to be friends with, because small can give life. Big sucks life away. As someone’s grandpa used to say, “Put that it in your pipe and smoke it.” Really.

4. Here’s something else we should be allowed, if we choose to, to put in our pipes and smoke: hemp. Marijuana. There is a huge industry waiting to be begun in the growing, processing, transportation, selling, and taxing of hemp. Marijuana. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry that exists already but doesn’t raise a single taxable nickel while most of the proceeds flow south. Legalizing hemp (marijuana) would ease our prison costs, allow huge fiber industries to begin (Rule: If you’re going to buy hemp fiber, you’re going to process it in the USofA, ok? Good. We understand each other.)

Are you shocked? At a preacher saying this- at any good American saying such a thing? Well, get over it. I’d much rather have my kids (or your kids) passing a pipe around a circle of munchie-hungry friends, than slamming down Dos Equus and Grey Goose in a bar 10 miles from home, while some guy in the corner over there is getting alcohol-angry and is about to rage on the girl who is about to vomit on the kid who is dying alone and silently under the table of alcohol poisoning.

And anyway, it’s the prison building corporations and the alcohol distribution corporations who really don’t want the hemp industry to take off in the U.S. That speaks volumes, doesn’t it? (Ok, now..pass the Cheetohs, wouldja, and the chips and the bean dip, and where’s that cake? [Just Kidddiiinnnggg!!!])

5. Barter, trading. I’ll mow your yard this year for you if you’ll allow us to pick from your apple and pecan trees. I’ll paint your house in return for piano lessons for my kid. I’ll keep your pickup running if you’ll help replace my furnace. I’ll trade you my TV for your extra lawnmower. I’ll give you 2 pickups of wood for a calf. I’ll trade my extra room to you for janitorial work at the store.

You see what I’m saying. I know you do. It’s how people all over the world lived for tens of thousands of years but it’s a way of life most Westerners have put behind them. It became easier to hand people money rather than friendship or time. Behind the security fences there are people who need you. And you need them. Don’t wait until you or they are hungry to make introductions. (Ask the elders among us- the veterans of the Depression- if that last statement makes any sense; they will assure you it does.)

6. Death. No, I don’t want to talk about it. The trouble is, nobody wants to talk about it, so we continue to treat it as if it’s something that can be denied, put off, or foiled. We make absolute fools of ourselves with the massive amounts of money we spend to gain a few years of uncomfortable life at the end of our life. This is a huge subject that is very much a part of any discussion of a new economy, a New Community. And I’ll have more to say.

OK, that’s a start. Discuss amongst yourselves. Just don’t spend a moment humming “The Way We Were” or wishing you could have a conversation with your stockbroker like you used to have in the late 90’s. Those days really are gone. Kaput. Fini. The saviors we were hoping for never arrived. We really are all we’ve got; we really are the ones we’ve been waiting for.

Cool, yes?

(and yes, there are a myriad of other subjects in the new economy- all things green, for instance, cottage industries, family and community gardens, and on and on. But w’ve all got to start somewhere. These are the places I chose to begin.)

"The Other Side of the Fence"- Kairos Prison Ministry

“This takes me to the other side of the fence..”

That was Cameron’s* reaction to eating BBQ sliced beef and red beans for the first time in seven years. Cameron is 60, and a long-time inmate of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Five days ago, I didn’t know him at all. Today, I can’t get him out of my mind.

prison

The Fence is four foot coils of razor wire, attached to the top and the bottom of two parallel sets of 16 foot chain link barriers, in between which there is a 10 foot wide dog track. To even get to The Fence from where we were eating BBQ , involves a hundred yard walk through a no-man’s land overseen by guards in towers with rifles, the entrance and exit of two locked sally ports, and another long walk over caged and gated sidewalks and past numerous prison officers, with radios and handcuffs hanging from their belts and immediate access to in-prison, highly-trained SWAT teams, with weapons. At each of the sally ports, visitors must note the posted signs: “ No Hostages Beyond This Point!” That means that those rifles will be aimed, if necessary, should the occasion ever arise, through hostages.

In other words, getting to the other side of The Fence is pretty much an impossible thing to do if one is a maximum security inmate of the TDCJ.

Unless he is eating BBQ and red beans.

~~

Kairos Prison Ministry is a four day event in which approximately 40 men from the “free world” spend 10-12 hours per day with 42 men who are incarcerated. It is a Christian ministry, and is supported by 30 (or so) women and men outside the prison in a central location who are preparing two hot meals to be brought in each of those days to the 82 men inside. All of that food is the kind of food- fresh, tasty, and unlimited- that the inmates will never otherwise enjoy while they are incarcerated. It is eaten in utter and profound silence, not by rule, but in awe. It is prepared with love, and eaten piled high with the condiments of memories- “other side of The Fence” memories.

The food is but one aspect of our (the various volunteers) attempt to demonstrate to these imprisoned men the reality of Jesus-love. Live music, active ears, open hearts, and whatever semblances of freedom that we can give the men within the confines of a prison gym setting, are our other offerings. But the food (supplemented between meals by several thousand dozen homemade cookies), is the primary gate to everything else. You’ve heard me say before that the most important part of the gospel for many people is a hamburger. Participation in the Kairos Ministry over the past 14 years is where I formed that foundational Truth of my own ministry. I see it confirmed all the time.

Jesus said, when he stood up for the first time in his hometown of Nazareth to announce the new turn his life had taken, that he had come to “proclaim liberty to the captives, to set prisoners free.” He was reading from the Isaiah scroll which described “The Day of the Lord,” and he said that day had come. That day is both present now, and always coming; that’s what motivates those of us involved in this ministry. We don’t go inside with master keys or literal escape plans. We go inside to demonstrate that prisons can come in all shapes and forms, that captivity is an epidemic human affliction, and that the commonalities which bind us as humans are far more important than the superficialities that we allow to separate us.

Cameron was four years old when his father died. His mother, a drunk, put Cameron and his sister in a series of Texas orphanages, during those times when she didn’t have a boyfriend to semi-support the family. Cameron and his sister hustled rent and food money during those times, beginning when Cameron was 4 and his sister was 6, by picking up bottles on the streets for the 2 cent deposits, by repackaging yesterday’s donuts found in dumpsters and selling them on the street, and by picking up dropped bananas from unloading banana boats and selling them for 3 cents each to those who didn’t want a stale donut!

No mother, no dad, no home. His first time in jail was soon after he joined the Army, and drugs and drinking greased the path for a number of subsequent prison terms. He makes no excuses for his life, though. He regrets his choices, but didn’t even have the ability for much of his life to know that other choices could be made! Hustling at 4 years old for rent and beer money for mom caused a prison to be built for Cameron long before the one he now resides within.

Cameron’s was one of 42 such stories which had the opportunity to be told this weekend, often for the first time. Those stories were not listened to in judgment, nor in some kind of tsk-tsking false sympathy. They were simply listened to and accepted. In return, though, the storytellers were able to see, hear, and feel a response most of them had never before experienced: “I love you, anyway.”

Those words don’t have to be spoken, though sometimes they are. They can be written, perhaps in one of many letters the inmates are given by team volunteers and others during the weekend. Those words can be heard in the lines of a song or the sounds of a blues harp or guitar. They can be felt in the sincerely welcoming, looking-at-you-in-the-eye embrace of a guy who could be out on a boat this weekend but instead has chosen to sit beside you in a prison gym. Those words- “I love you, anyway”- can be seen in the tears which inevitably and often gather in the corners of the eyes of those who are listening.

And they can be tasted in BBQ and red beans. They can enable someone who will never again be able to literally be there, to be on the other side of The Fence, forever.

The most important part of a Kairos weekend is that the volunteers go home. They leave. Many will be back for periodic visits, but the inmates are now able to live within a community of other inmates who have shared their four day experience. Racial divisions, age, faith, gang, and experiential separations, have begun to fade in the Light of human commonality. They have shared laughter, tears, food, time, respect, song, prayer, and natural human empathy in ways that are potentially life-changing.

As those things are for the volunteers who have gone home now, too. This is not a one-way ministry! Our hearts have been broken, too, and are re-forming this day in new and better ways. Part of us lives on the “other side” of that Fence, too, even as we continue to go about our lives in our so-called free world. That’s the Affliction of being Jesus followers. But that is also the flat-out, never-ending, wouldn’t-trade-it-for-anything Joy.

~~

(Some of you who read The First Morning know that it was during a Kairos weekend in 1994 that I decided to become a preacher. I saw Jesus- alive- that weekend in the simple acts of one of the prisoner-helpers in a way that I had never before witnessed, in a church or anywhere else . I figured then that I might be able to tell about Jesus in that way to other people, too, and for 13 years now, that has remained as my main goal.

I’ll write that story again here soon. For you, but mainly for me. It was green beans that put me on the other side of that Fence, and I need periodically to remind myself of that fact.)

*pseudonym