Tuesday Reflections: Jailhouse Monk

Over the next couple of months, I’m offering Tuesday reflections on pain, healing, and recovery. I hope you’ll join the community of folks walking this road together. (To keep up with this reflection series, signup for blog updates in the maroon box in the left sidebar.)

***

At first, my requests for relief only rattle and echo in my stomach. So I ask again and I hear. What? The coming of something quiet?

Yes.

I am the Lord your God; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

I hear a smaller voice too, a younger one. I tune my ears with the faith of my five-year-old self in his mesquite sanctuary, the boy before the wrecked mechanics of a well meaning, systematized adulthood." ~Coming Clean, October 16

***

We sit in a large circle, inmates and a sparse number of volunteers. Black, white, advantaged, disadvantaged, petty thieves, dope-slingers, repentant, unrepentant, guilty, not-guilty--all of us sitting in the round, no positions of prominence. No head of the table. No foot, either.

These are the men of the Elkhart County Jail book club, men who've been reading and discussing Coming Clean.

A broad-shouldered black man in jailhouse khaki with a thick beard and hands balled up like sledgehammer heads asks, "how do you know when God is speaking to you? I heard God's voice as a child, clear as a bell. But as I get older, it’s so absent. Really, God seems to get my attention these days by throwing bricks at me, and the last one was hot.”

Mark (not his real name) rubs his head just below his hairline as if he’s just caught one of those hot bricks between the eyes. A slow chuckle rises in his gut--tragedy and comedy are kissing-cousins, see--then ripples across the rest of the room. He wheezes as he laughs, lungs hissing like wet firewood.

Mark finds himself on the wrong side of Elkhart County's walls. He may or may not have committed the crimes for which he is now awaiting trial, or sentencing, or who knows what. In his moment of disadvantage, of pain (whether self-induced or not), see him pitched forward in his chair, straining to hear the voice of voices.

You remember that same voice, the one who spoke to you as a child; don't you?

One of the volunteers—a man with paying work, a driver's license, and great privilege—looks across the circle, says, "Last week, you said a something in the book club that hit me like my own hot brick; it was in line with the scripture I read that morning, something I'd been praying about, something convicting. So, you may not hear the voice of God, but you were God’s voice to me.”

He sits, this man in the uniform of a jailhouse monk, and says nothing. Light leaks into his eyes, into his cheeks, spreads across his teeth. He stops rubbing his forehead. He nods, says “thanks,” and looks at the floor between his feet.

***

[tweetherder text="'Who's mentoring whom?' The story of the jailhouse monk."]

Who's mentoring whom? Does that question make you uncomfortable?

[/tweetherder]

 

***

Book Club-2

Last week, I visited the Jail Ministry of Elkhart County, Indiana. There, I saw this kind of exchange more than once—some inmates struggling to hear the voice of God, others sharing their wisdom with each other, with the volunteers. Yes, the Elkhart County Jail chaplain, Cory Martin, and his group of volunteers help train and mentor the inmates. But sometimes, the mentoring goes the other way. Sometimes, the volunteers hear the Spirit speaking through the inmates. Sometimes, the volunteers learn this truth: we're not all so much different; our pain is not all so much different.

What if this is true: Jesus called us to set the captives free. What if this is also true: society's freemen are often the captives, and the great emancipator speaks freedom through the most marginalized of voices, even the voice of the inmate.

Questions for Reflection:

1. Have you spent time with those in pain lately, those on the flip-side of advantage, those on the wrong side of society's walls?

2. If not, will you carve out time to listen to their pain, to identify with their stories? How might you meet them? How might they mentor you?

3. Ask yourself this question: is your pain so much different than the prisoner’s? Imagine yourself in their shoes.

 

 

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Tuesday Reflections: The Lenten Fast (Part 2)

Over the next couple of months, I’m offering Tuesday reflections on pain, healing, and recovery. I hope you’ll join the community of folks walking this road together. (To keep up with this reflection series, signup for blog updates in the maroon box in the left sidebar.)

***

There are ways around this sort of living, yes. We can avoid the pain of the past, the confrontation of any of our accusers. We can numb everything as a way to avoid exploring our histories, to avoid the necessity of mustering a forgiving spirit. Alcohol was my best anesthesia, but any addiction will do. I don’t have to tell you yours.

Coping is easier for a season, isn’t it? The best medicine for the pain, though, is to extend the forgiveness of Christ.

~Coming Clean, December 7

***

We walked into Lent last week, and I outed my own Lenten fast, a fast from unforgiveness. It's not an easy process, this daily exercise of listing those who've wounded us, who will wound again. It takes a certain sort of crazy to relive the stabbings inflicted by our fellow men, to release resentment over the bloodying of our best, whitest shirts.

I suppose I could fake it. You could, too. We could talk about forgiveness in a hypothetical bubble, bat around the idea as if batting around the idea might somehow actualize it. The spoken word poet Buddy Wakefield says it best. “There are ways around being the go-to guy.”

This exercise of listening, of pushing into your pain and forgiving your wounders is hard work. You could ignore those who continue to wound you, could reach for the human salves, the best distractions--gin, chocolate, the midnight run or midnight porn. You can beat back the voices of pain by way of performance, or achievement. You could minimize the volume of pain by turning up the theological sound system, by creating constructs that discount the hurt. You could; couldn't you?

There are ways, see; there are ways.

These salves are a way around the pain, at least for a while. But where there’s cancer, a skilled surgeon reaches for the scalpel, not a Band-Aid.

How is your forgiveness list coming?

Reflective Exercise:

1. As you push into the practice of forgiveness, as you review your daily list, do you feel the coping mechanisms calling? Have you already skipped a day or two?

2. If you've been participating in this forgiveness practice, tell me: how do you feel after you finish speaking forgiveness over your daily list?

 

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Tuesday Reflections: A New Kind of Lenten Fast

Over the next couple of months, I’m offering Tuesday reflections on pain, healing, and recovery. I hope you’ll join the community of folks walking this road together. (To keep up with this reflection series, signup for blog updates in the maroon box in the left sidebar.)

***

There is a universal truth in the human experience: we are all the walking bitten; we are all stung by our fellow humans. And here’s the rub: I’ve stung others along the way, maybe some of you.

Consider it: haven’t you felt the poison of the lying, cheating, abusing world? Haven’t those with well-meaning words wounded you? Hasn’t the venom of manipulation coagulated in your veins? Haven’t you harbored bitterness, unforgiveness, doubt in your fellow man, doubt in God? Hasn’t it become your best pet malady?

It is mine.

~Coming Clean, November 20

***

It's Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday--whichever you prefer. It's the day before the season of Lent, the season of penitence and fasting. That being the case, today is the binge day, the fill-er-up-while-you-can-because-you're-about-to-run-your-addictions-dry day. Don't you love Fat Tuesday?

You may know the fasting tradition of Lent, of giving up some indulgence in an effort to better fix your eyes on the divine. It's a tradition long celebrated in the Christian faith, in liturgical and non-liturgical settings alike. For some, it's the highlight of their year. For others, it's the bane of the liturgical calendar.

I've been considering my personal fast, and I've decided to come at it from a different angle. I'll keep drinking coffee, eating chocolate, and indulging my sweet tooth. (What good is it to torture the body but indulge the soul?) This year, instead of fasting from food, I'm pushing back into a practice I started in Coming Clean. This year, I'll practice fasting from anger, angst, and bitterness toward my fellow men.

If you sit in the quiet, if you contemplate the course of your history, do you feel the sting of your fellow men? Do you cling to the wrongs wrought against you by mothers, fathers, friends, ex-husbands, or children? Do you seethe with anger toward a boss or co-worker? You've had trouble with other humans, yes?

In this world you will have trouble--it's a promise. But here’s the tricky bit: in this world, you’ll inflict trouble upon others, too. How, then, will you receive forgiveness for the pain inflicted upon others if you refuse to forgive your own enemies, family members, and friends? (Matthew 6:15) This is not a rhetorical question.

It's Shrove Tuesday, and tonight I'll feast on pancakes at our church's second annual pancake supper. Then, I'll retire to my house, grab a pen and paper, and make a list of those who've caused me pain. I'll look at that list, allow the emotion to surface, and I'll pray the words "I forgive you," over each name. I'll ask God to help me release the emotions, to see each pain-bearer with divine love. I'll ask for help in fasting from anger.

[tweetherder]Would you join me in this fast?[/tweetherder]

Reflective Exercise:

1. Would you commit to participating in a new kind of fast? Would you consider joining me in the work of forgiveness?

2. Consider the times in your life when you’ve been wounded. Pick a specific example—perhaps the pain inflicted by a lover, child, your mother or father. Make a list of the individuals that inflicted these wounds. As new names come to mind, add them to the list.

3. Pray forgiveness over each name on your list, and commit to continuing praying the same prayer each day throughout the Lenten season (from now till Easter). 

4. If you’d like to discuss this prompt, along with other reflections, feel free to join the Coming Clean Insiders Group on Facebook. There, a few souls gather and discuss a range of topics, including addiction, pain, and the path to healing.

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Tuesday Reflections: The Gift of Pain

Over the next couple of months, I’m offering Tuesday reflections on pain, healing, and recovery. I hope you’ll join the community of folks walking this road together. (To keep up with this reflection series, signup for blog updates in the maroon box in the left sidebar.)

*****

"What if pain, what if the thing parents try the hardest to protect their children from, was the thing your child needed most?" ~Good Morning America, July 5, 2012

Ashlyn Blocker came into this world with the pushing pain of her mother, came screaming into this world like any other new life come screaming into this world. She was wide-eyed, sweet, and as she settled into her new digs, her parents noticed her quietness. She was so quiet, in fact, that she didn't cry when she was hungry, didn't scream when diaper rash spread across her bottom. Toddling, she didn't make a peep when she fell and knocked her head against the coffee table.

It came to a head when Ashlyn was eight months old. Her doctors discovered that she had a corneal abrasion, and what should should have turned her into a throbbing, screaming mess, didn't seem to register. That's when they discovered it--Ashlyn couldn't feel pain.

CIP--Congenital Insensitivity to Pain--is a genetic defect so rare, medical professionals aren't sure how many individuals it affects. And though insensitivity to pain might seem like a evolutionary miracle, a blessing of sorts, consider this: CIP patients cannot feel the sear of a burn, the throbbing warning of appendicitis, or the crack of the broken bone. They are often unaware of their injuries, suffer infections, or otherwise succumb to treatable diseases. Their inability to feel pain is dangerous, often life-threatening.

Pain, see, is a gift.

The curse of pain is also its present. The throbbing, searing, stinging, and aching shows the locus of injury; it is indicative of the place weakness and need.

There's an analog here in the emotional and spiritual world. So many of us would rather numb the pain or otherwise not feel it. In Coming Clean, I put it this way:

"When life slides its shiv into the soft spot between two ribs, when the pain shoots through every nerve, common sense dictates that we run to the doctor or therapist. Common sense dictates that we allow them to take it out and bind our wounds. Why, then, do we so often ignore the shivs?" ~November 2

If Congenital Insensitivity to Emotional/Spiritual Pain were a thing, I'd take it, you might say. But [tweetherder text="Without pain, would you know the locus of your weakness?"]without pain, would you know the locus of your weakness?[/tweetherder] Without the emotional or spiritual pain, wouldn't the machinations of your life be robotic, unfeeling? Without sensitivity to these sorts of aches, could you enjoy the pleasures of healing and wholeness brought by a good healing-and-wholeness doctor?

Emotional and spiritual pain show us our need for treatment, show us the need for a greater physician. And it's the tenderness of this great physician that makes life worth living.

At least, that's my take.

Reflective Exercise:

1. This morning, take an inventory of your emotional and spiritual pains. Where do you feel battered, bruised, or cut by those in your life?

2. Sit in the silence and ask God to visit, to bring treatment. Do you sense anything?

3. If the pains run deep--perhaps too deep--consider calling a therapist today. Really. Do it.

4. If you’d like to discuss this prompt, along with other reflections, feel free to join the Coming Clean Insiders Group on Facebook. There, a few souls gather and discuss a range of topics, including addiction, pain, and the path to healing. 

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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Tuesday Reflections: Who Knows How to Listen?

Over the next couple of months, I'm offering Tuesday reflections on pain, healing, and recovery. I hope you’ll join the community of folks walking this road together. (To keep up with this reflection series, signup for blog updates in the maroon box in the left sidebar.)

1.

This is what it means to face the pain, and if you were to ask me how I feel in the quickening moments, I’d tell you that I feel abandoned, empty, sick.

There are hollow prayers I’ve considered not worth uttering. Today, I’ll pray them.

Liberate me! Heal me! Give me good news!

At first, my requests for relief only rattle and echo in my stomach. So I ask again and I hear. What? The coming of something quiet?

Yes.

I am the Lord your God; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

~Coming Clean, October 16

2.

I gravitate toward silence. For those of you who enjoy personality tests, you might say it's a product of my introversion. For those of you into the enneagram, you might say it's a product of my five-ness. For those of you into psychology or sociology, you might say it's a product of a noise-culture pressing against my still raw childhood wounds. Who knows? I'm not an expert on my own motivations.

Here's what I know: yesterday I sat on the shores of the Pacific Ocean, and a friend told me there were whales out beyond my line of sight. I sat and considered those prowlers of the deep, the way schools of fish meet their end in a single gulp, the way they surface to blow water twenty feet in the air. I thought of the majesty of it all, how I believe in "One God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth." And as I considered this credal belief, the imagination of the creator God, I wondered, "how could a God who makes such majesty leave us here to cut each other to death?"

I sat as the waves broke against the shore, sat in quietness of the ocean roar, and listened.

"Leave you?"

These aren't so much audible voices as inklings, rephrasings of the wind that come from the heart not the head. In the quiet, I knew the truth: we've not been left alone in our pain. We have a truer, consistent, and abiding bonded love. I listened for a few minutes, let it all sink in.

3.

Cultivating the practice of listening in prayer is a difficult sort of husbandry. What does the voice of God sound like? How do we know it’s his voice and not our own? What of the distracting thoughts that interrupt our prayers?

The voice of God sounds an awful lot like peace, patience, and love. It sounds a lot like constancy. Should it come as any surprise?

Reflective Exercise:

1. This morning, sit in the silence. What questions come to mind?

2. Wait in the silence. Listen. What do you hear? Can you hear the voice of God speaking to your pain?

3. If you’d like to discuss this prompt, along with other reflections, feel free to join the Coming Clean Insiders Group on Facebook. There, a few souls gather and discuss a range of topics, including addiction, pain, and the path to healing.

***TINY LETTER***

CC Austin OuttakesThanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you'll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes. The Outtakes share the story behind my latest release from Zondervan, Coming Clean|A Story of Faith.

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