Thursday, February 02, 2017

Fighting Injustice with Injustice

It seems we're prone to this. Whether it's filibustering a Supreme Court nominee to protest the filibustering of a Supreme Court nominee or punching someone who just punched you, "an eye for an eye" is alive and well in the world. We might talk about "being the bigger person" when we're speaking hypothetically, but its often another story when we're in the thick of reality. The problem, though, with "being the bigger person" is that we necessarily have to label the other as "less than," which it turn makes it easier to harm them. A vicious circle.

I'm really disturbed today. Yesterday, inmates at the James T Vaughn Correctional Center, a prison about 20 miles from my home, housing minimum, medium, and maximum security inmates, took several employees hostage and after the building was secured, one hostage was found dead.

I know several people who work in that facility. I don't think any of them were involved in this incident, but it certainly brings things home. I do not condone violence or kidnapping, threats or anything involved in this action. At the same time, it's not so simple as bad people doing bad things. It is part of this vicious circle. People in our society act out; we put them in jail - a system and process designed specifically to dehumanize them; they react, sometimes violently; they are responded to with violence. What I see here is: injustice; injustice; injustice; injustice. No one is right and everyone is wrong.

Prisons, like police, or the military play into a national (and probably human) narrative of good vs bad. The good guys need to beat the bad guys so order can be restored. Now most of the people I know who actually operate within those systems understand the real and structural problems that create this scenario - and if they can't see avenues for change, I don't want to presume to know something from the outside.

I do know it shouldn't be this way. I don't believe people change because they're punished; they change because they're loved. Consequences are a real part of life, society, relationships; I don't mean removing those, but we, as a human race, need to do a better job of addressing the real consequences of bad actions in redemptive ways.

I'm troubled by this because I abhor violence. I'm troubled because these inmates lacked the creativity to deal with their very real concerns in healthy ways. I'm troubled because our society, us, we lack the creativity to deal with anti-social behavior in healthy ways. It's a travesty, but a travesty all around.

I'm most troubled, however, by just how easily I'm willing to ignore the situation. When we first moved to Delaware, I worked to put in place what practices I could to shape and form my life in the image of Christ. Being of the Wesleyan tradition, I tried to use John Wesley's admonitions as a guide. He spoke often of spending time with the poor - for a time, I volunteered in a local organization, working with and for the poor; I need to do better there. He spoke of the importance of education. I've been involved with the local school district in a number of capacities: mentoring, tutoring, serving on committees, even substitute teaching. John Wesley all but demanded his followers go once a week to the prisons, as a way of loving and caring for those locked inside.

I'll admit I tried. I contacted the chaplain, twice, with no response and gave up. I looked for other volunteer opportunities, but the information was difficult to parse and I gave up. I called to see if I could visit inmates, but they don't allow even clergy access to prisoners without some prior relationship. I gave up.

If anything, this experience has shown not only how inadequate our human systems are at dealing with hurting people, but at just how inadequate I am at living the life I claim to live. I'd like to say I will change - that I will find a way to connect with the prison population and be invested, because there is no way to be a part of a change without being present - at the same time, I don't have a lot of confidence I will follow through all the way. I'll try, I'm sure, but will I fight for it? I don't know.

This is one of those times when spirituality makes total sense to me. When human systems and human beings lack the power and ability to do something right, our only hope is something greater than ourselves. I am inadequate. We are inadequate. I believe strongly, though, that the creator and sustainer of the universe longs to do impossible things through us, inadequate or not.

Lord, help my unbelief.

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