Prisoners are persons whom most of us would rather not think about. Banished from everyday sight, they exist in a shadow world that only dimly enters our awareness. They are members of a "total institution" that controls their daily existence in a way that few of us can imagine. "[P]rison is a complex of physical arrangements and of measures, all wholly governmental, all wholly performed by agents of government, which determine the total existence of certain human beings (except perhaps in the realm of the spirit, and inevitably there as well) from sundown to sundown, sleeping, walking, speaking, silent, working, playing, viewing, eating, voiding, reading, alone, with others. . . ." It is thus easy to think of prisoners as members of a separate netherworld, driven by its own demands, ordered by its own customs, ruled by those whose claim to power rests on raw necessity. -- Justice William Brennan, dissenting in O’Lone v. Estate of Shabazz, 482 U.S. 342, 354-55 (1987).

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Threshold Church

Today, for the first time in almost 4 months, I was able to go to church. My electronic monitoring conditions allow me to leave the house from 9a-1p on Sundays. Church is at 10a.

Actually, I did attend chapel while in prison for the first two weeks (I still need to write about that), but I did not find it particularly edifying and it also sometimes conflicted with my wife's visits and I would rather see her.

My wife and I have attended Threshold Church since it began as a satellite church of Forest Hill Church in Charlotte in 2002. Threshold Church is a member of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church but really is not your "father's church." We meet in a YMCA gym, the music is, well, upbeat (we have a full band), the dress is casual, the coffee is good (or so I am told -- I don't drink coffee), and they have a cool staff. They have also been supportive, if that is the right word, of my "situation."

I have not written much of my religious journey in this blog except indirectly I suppose (and there are some other articles I have written that make references but they have not been posted yet).

I used to be really religious when I was younger. I was quite a good little pharisee as a teenager... it makes me cringe when I think about it. My parents were not religiously strict and neither of my siblings were super religious -- it was just me, beginning with my "conversion" at 14 till... well... until "life" happened and I realized that I really didn't have my act together and have everything figured out at 25. (Or was it 30? I don't remember; it all seems like such a blur now.) Perhaps someday I will write more on my religious pilgrimage, but I need more time to think about it. Right now I am just trying to be authentic. I just got out of federal prison -- there is not much point in trying to impress anyone with my spirituality! You know what? I find that rather liberating. I don't have to worry about my reputation, I can just be me and let the pieces fall where they may... for better or worse. I have never been more secure in who I am, which is another way of saying my "sins" do not threaten my identity.

Yesterday, I read an awesome article on apologies and forgiveness written by.... Oprah. I was so impressed.

The defining quote is worth repeating (even worth memorizing) and is a good follow-up to my earlier post Attitude and Gratitude:
Anne Lamott [an amazing writer by the way] refers to forgiveness as "giving up all hope of having had a different past." The same words apply to apologizing. An apology is the end of our struggle with history (emphasis added), the act by which we untangle from our past by accepting what it actually was. From this truthful place we are free to move forward, whether or not we are forgiven. Apologizing doesn't make us perfect, but it shows our commitment to be honest about our imperfections and steadfast in our efforts to do better.
I love that!!!

But I digress....

Threshold is not a "religious" church, a point reinforced again today (for perhaps the 1000th time) by our pastor Jeff Gardner. It is a little strange being in church on this side of prison rather than the other side. The gospel feels different, maybe more relevant. After all, as Jesus said in Mark 2 (the Bible passage for the day): "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (v. 17)

You can listen to the "talk" (we don't call them sermons) at:

Jeff chose to assign the acronym "mangy" (!) to describe the church:

M - Messy
A - Authentic
N - Non-Religious
G - Grace Oriented
Y - "Y"d open :)

Cute huh?

He referenced one of his favorite books called Messy Spirituality by Mike Yaconelli. I haven't read the book yet but growing up I knew of Mike Yaconelli as the founder of the Wittenberg Door (the evangelical equivalent of Mad Magazine), a source of great entertainment, if not spiritual insight, while I was in college.

If your life is a mess and you are sick of institutionalized religion, I suggest you give it a shot.

Like I said, I had not been to church in 4 months. Several people came up to say hi immediately. As usual, they didn't realize it had been so long... another reminder that time passes slower in prison than out. Most didn't know where I had been (one assumed, since my wife and I travel a lot, that I had some exotic adventure to tell her about... if she only knew!), which, in a sense, is a tribute to the leadership of the church because in most churches I would have been the topic of much gossip. Gossip will kill a church faster than anything.

Several indicated that they had kept up with my blog and liked it.

I sat with a couple who wrote me while in prison and have been supportive. We shared communion at the end of the service and talked afterwards about my "adventure" and insisted that I continue my blog. I have to keep reminding myself of how unusual my life has been the last two years. My "normal" isn't anyone else's normal. Prison is such a part of who I am now that I can't imagine life otherwise; or what it was like before that. Perhaps by way of comparison, it is like losing a family member or surviving cancer -- life on the other side just doesn't look the same. I have crossed a threshold.

My "rabbit hole" metaphor still holds. How could Alice possible explain to people in the "real" world what she had seen? I even like the Harry Potter analogy. Once you have discovered the "wizarding" world, how do you explain it to "muggles?" I view non-prison people as the equivalent of Muggles.

I didn't leave church till after noon, needing to be home by 1p. I bought some light bulbs at Home Depot and stopped by Chili's at 12:35p for take-out. I told her to hurry, but didn't explain why. Pulled into the garage at 12:58! Whew! I've got to do this for 3 months!?!?


Anonymous said...

With 200,000 inmates in the BOP system, according to the BOP site, you kind of hit their jackpot, I mean you had a better chance on hitting the lottery or even being hit by lightening several times before getting trapped in this brutal system...

Bill Bailey said...

I will take that as a compliment, although I'm not quite sure if that is what it was :)