Sticks and stones

This morning I read a parent’s rebuttal to “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” The mom’s daughter committed suicide over relentless verbal bullying at school and via internet. Words hurt.

Words have power. Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing. (1 Thessalonians 5:11 ESV) If that is possible, then so is the opposite. We can discourage and tear one another down.

The “sticks and stones” thing is one of those sayings that has wide acceptance while actually contradicting God’s Word: And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. (James 3:6 ESV)

A counselor friend told me that in her work with women who’ve been abused, she hears things like, My physical injuries healed. But the stuff he said still cripples me.

I think the sticks and stones saying must have been invented by someone who verbally beat on people and wanted to minimize responsibility for the damage done.



I wonder if we are any better in what this inmate calls the real world?  What are our soap operas, reality shows, celebrity gossip, sports analysis (ever watch daytime stuff on sports networks?), political “news”, etc., except entertaining ourselves with the failures, misfortunes and pain of others, and writing scripts of dysfunction into our souls?

The other night there was a fight between two individuals out on the yard. I don’t know what it was about, and that’s not the point of this little rant. The point is: fighting is high entertainment in prison. Rarely does the average prisoner get so excited and have such a great story to tell, […]

via FIGHTING IN PRISON — Stone City Blog

We look down on others instead of up to the Lord:

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8 ESV)

Wherever Two or Three

An always worthwhile perspective from a ministry to prisoners.

God in the Max

The unit is still on a more restricted schedule so they are only allowing out 1/4th of a tier at a time, and the men have to choose between Bible Study, or recreation time – shooting baskets and other physical activity. Because they spend so much time in their cells I completely understand why they would opt for physical exercise rather than sitting in a study.

They also had us run two different groups. We had one man for the first group, and one man for the second group. In Matthew 18:20 it records Jesus saying, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” That was definitely true. The other volunteer and I got to talk to each man for an extended period of time. We got to hear each man’s story.

That is why it has taken…

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A lust to punish and correct

I’ve been reading some Tolstoy lately.  Here’s a bit from Resurrection,

The thought that seemed strange at first and paradoxical or even to be only a joke, being confirmed more and more often by life’s experience, suddenly appeared as the simplest, truest certainty. In this way the idea that the only certain means of salvation from the terrible evil from which human beings were suffering was that they should always acknowledge themselves to be sinning against God, and therefore unable to punish or correct others, because they were dear to him. It became clear to him that all the dreadful evil he had been witnessing in prisons and jails and the quiet self-satisfaction of the perpetrators of this evil were the consequences of people trying to do what was impossible; trying to correct evil while being evil themselves; vicious men were trying to correct other vicious men, and thought they could do it by using mechanical means, and the only consequence of all this was that the needs and the cupidity of some people induced them to take up this so-called punishment and correction as a profession, and have themselves become utterly corrupt, and go on unceasingly depraving those whom they torment. Now he saw clearly what all the terrors he had seen came from, and what ought to be done to put to put a stop to them. The answer he could not find was the same that Christ gave to Peter. It was that we should forgive always an infinite number of times because there are none who have not sinned themselves, and therefore none can punish or correct others.

The “culture wars” have coincided with Christianity’s massive rout from the public square.  The church went to war, but not for its foundational assumptions, such as the fallen nature of all humanity and the futility of building righteousness by works.  The church went to war, but not to inspire others to mercy, the cause of Christ.

Instead, the church sought to claim status as a chaplaincy to groups “trying to correct evil while being evil themselves.”

Planned Parenthood, ordering the culture through violence.
Highway of death
The “Highway of Death,” ordering the world through violence.

If you’re an American, it is likely that you will be grieved by one of these pictures and offended by the other.  One of them will resonate with you as a record of great evil that the church should resist; the other an expression of justice that the church should support (or at least refrain from criticizing).  Some of that will be driven by your affinity with (or desire for affinity with) this or that social group.

A few Americans will be grieved by both.

God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. (Romans 11:2-5 ESV)


The Thief On His Own

“Paradise,” you said.

Can you hear what I’m thinking?  It hurts too much to breathe, let alone talk.  And anyway you’ve stopped talking, too.

“Paradise,” you said.  “Today.”  And with you.  But you’re not saying anything now.  

Even in all this crazy pain – my useless body is straining to keep breathing and it’s helping these Roman dogs torment me – I felt joy when you said what you did.

But I thought you would help me along the way there.  And now you’re not saying anything.

My partner on the other cross isn’t talking either.  I could see the disgust in his eyes when we talked about Paradise.  I can’t say I blame him.  My last words out loud were to snap at him for mocking you.  His eyes have angry heat – he’s still alive and hurting like me.

But you.  It’s like you’re asleep now.  Are you going to wake up and say something else?  Are you going to help me through this pain and pathetic fear and walk with me to Paradise?

Oh God, I don’t want to cry.  The Romans and this deadbeat crowd of gawkers would take pleasure.  But Paradise.  You said I was going to Paradise with you.  And now you’re not saying a thing.  Are you already there?  Why did you leave me alone?

How can you be like this? How can you not care for me?  I know you felt alone, too.  I heard you call out that holy song, “My God, why hast thou forsaken me?”  And when they mocked you I spoke up, painful as that was, on your side.  But now you say nothing.  

Well, I know some of those songs too.  Even a thief hears the prayers sometimes,

“Friend and companion hast Thou put far from me, and mine acquaintance into darkness.”

Will I just wake up in Paradise?  O do I need to keep suffering until you wake up and talk to me again? What?  What must I do?

Here come the soldiers with spears and iron rods.  This is it.  They’ve had their sport and now they want to go back to town so it is time for us all to die.  No respect for our lives and our deaths are boring them.

Can you hear these thoughts?  Have I been talking to myself all this time?  You’re not even twitching.  Are you gone already?  Gone to Paradise?  

I don’t care if the tears come.  You – wherever you are – are my last bit of life.  Remember me, please.  Remember me.

The joy of dishonour

The Anglican tradition in which I was raised is freighted with a “state church” history, which in America translated into a “mainline” church of cultural consensus.

In the breakdown of that consensus, the Episcopal Church (the historic Anglican province in the United States) suffered an ugly identity crisis, bouncing from chaplaincy to a social elite and labeled  “The Republican Party at prayer” or “Catholic lite” to a limousine (or, today, alternative fuels) liberalism reflexively siding with any movement opposed to traditional Christianity.

Can Anglican Christians in North America rediscover a discipleship that isn’t saddled with social status and approbation?  That’s not unknown.  The “Oxford Movement,” quaintly aesthetic as it now seems, was at first a protest against the Church of England’s cultural captivity and a quest to reclaim identity with the transcendent kingdom of God.

Tonight my course readings in the Book of Acts ended with this intriguing passage,

…and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonour for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. (Acts 5:40-42 NRSV)

ThumbsDown650They rejoiced because the cultural powers-that-were mocked, abused and rejected not only them but the Lord in whose name they taught and preached.  They were not concerned with positive reviews from those considered their cultural betters.

The Daily Offices of the Book of Common Prayer (USA 1928 and 1979 versions) include Psalm 100 as canticle in response to a Bible lesson or an invitatory to start the day.  It is a song of joy, based on the greatness of God and the peoples’ unique identification with Him:

Be joyful in the Lord, all you lands; serve the Lord with gladness and come before his presence with a song.  Know this: The Lord himself is God; he himself has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.  (Rite II, 1979)

BE joyful in the LORD, all ye lands: serve the LORD with gladness, and come before his presence with a song.  Be ye sure that the LORD he is God; it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.  (Coverdale Psalter, 1928 version)

A church on the margins, not counted among the respectable or at least tasteful, is not the usual Anglican/Episcopalian comfort zone.  Can North American Anglicans rediscover joy in dishonour?  (I put the “u” in despite spell check.  Anglicans got to represent, after all.)

Slum Lord

A short story I entered in an Irish university’s competition was part of a bunch selected for recording to air on radio there.

It is dark, with some mature-to-offensive content and language. But I hope it perks the imagination in an ultimately positive direction.

As the title of the blog suggests, sometimes you write something, even something dark, and fling it out there to do what God would have done.