As I recounted in my previous post, I had asked my PO about whether and how I could assist my friend Jerry, who is due to be released from prison tomorrow (Thu, Nov 15) to a halfway house in SW Florida. On Tue, Nov 6, we dissussed the matter on the phone. He then said he was going to be in my area the next day and would like to stop by and drop off my Permission to Travel document for my upcoming Thanksgiving vacation to, where else, Pensacola FL.
For those who have not followed this blog since the beginning, I live near Charlotte, NC, my case was out of Philadelphia, but requested placement at the Pensacola Federal Prison Camp so that my parents, who live an hour from there, would be able to easily visit. My father is from Pensacola, which is where all of his surviving family members live. I have returned to Pensacola for our family reunion Thanksgiving celebration virtually every year since I was a kid. Indeed my prison stay is the only time I recall ever being in Pensacola outside of Thanksgiving -- although I am sure there must have been one or two other occassions.
It will be so tempting to take a little drive back to the prison as a free man while I am down there.... maybe drive through the front gate and wave to a few friends who are working.
NOTE TO BOP (just in case you are reading this): THAT WAS A JOKE. I AM NOT SERIOUS. GET A LIFE!
It would however be interesting to just drive to the edge of the fence (see satellite map at bottom of page) to just make sure that there really is a prison there and this hasn't all just been a bad dream. Just the thought of doing so feels surreal, like visiting the grave of someone you still can't believe is dead.
But I digress.
As I was saying, my PO was going to drop by on Wednesday morning to drop off the travel document for my trip to Pensacola as well as check off his monthly home visit. Except... he said he was going to come by late morning since I work out at 7:30a and usually don't get back till about 9a.
At 6:30a, I hear our home phone ringing. Voicemail picks up before we get to the phone and I hear my PO, Chris, as is his habit if he is showing up at an unannounced time, leaving a message that he is 1 minute away! (As it turns out, he had to rearrange his schedule and happened to be in my neighborhood early.)
I jump out of bed, throw some clothes on and, sure enough, here comes Chris pulling into my driveway as I hear my cell phone ringing.... he is leaving another message to let me know that he is now in my driveway, which I can already see.
Now, Chris is actually simply being polite; he is under no obligation to give me any advance notice that he is arriving. Indeed, under the terms of supervised release, he is allowed to arrive unannounced and perform warrantless searches of my home in the middle of the night if he wishes. However, he has no reason to suspect anything untoward going on in my life or home so, as a courtesy, he gives me 1 minute notice :)
I welcome him in -- t-shirt, shorts, bed-head: "Morning, Chris, how's it going." :) He apologizes for being early. I say it's better than 7 FBI agents showing up at 6a unannounced (which is how my whole story started). He laughs.
He gives me my Travel Documents. I give him the documentation and contact information for my Thanksgiving vacation. I am also leaving that same afternoon for a 2-day internet marketing seminar in Chicago. Business trips do not require a Permission to Travel document, but I still need to let him know whenever I am leaving the district and where I am going.
Now to the Bad Karma (you've probably noticed I have a problem getting to the point of the title of my posts).
As I drive to the Charlotte airport that same afternoon for my 4:30p flight , I hit a pothole at 60mph a couple miles from the parking lot. Right front tire blows out. (I drive a Volvo S80. It has 2600 miles on it -- prison graduation present to myself.)
I am running late, so I drive with the flat tire to the long term lot, park the car, and catch the shuttle bus to the airport. I will deal with the tire when I get back (at midnight on Friday!).
The flight is uneventful and on-time. I am staying at the Sofitel so I take a cab downtown. 45 minutes and $45 later I arrive. During my ride, I am on my cell phone with my wife, ex-wife, and daugther (not all at the same time -- I can only handle so much!) who is getting married in December, trying to help resolve some issues related to who has and has not been invited to the wedding reception. Fun, fun, fun.
The calls last another 30 minutes while I sit in the lobby of the hotel, at which point my wife and I were disconnected and I couldn't reach her back. Then my phone battery died. I guess I listened to too much music on my phone on the plane.
I walk to the front desk to check in only to be told I don't have a reservation!?!?!
"What do you mean I don't have a reservation" as I pull out my Expedia itinerary. I look at my itinerary and it says Sofitel O'Hare NOT Sofitel Downtown. The Sofitel O'Hare is 6 minutes from the airport on a free shuttle. I am now downtown. All rooms downtown are full due to convention season, so I have no choice but to take another cab ride (another 45 minutes and $40 later).
I finally arrive at my room 2 hours later and $85 poorer than I should have been. In addition, I still have unresolved wedding drama to deal with.
I finally plug in my phone to discover 4 voice mails from my wife apologizing for hanging up on me! (Huh? I thought we had just been disconnected. Who knows how long I had been talking before I even realized she wasn't on the other end?) In addition, she is wondering where I am and in each voicemail, she sounds increasingly suspicious. She had called the Sofitel Downtown, who claimed I was not there, nor were they expecting me! (This is just too funny.) In addition, she was told there were no other Sofitel's in the area!?!?
Fortunately, I was able to explain to her satisfaction my drama for the evening. (Yes, dear, I really am in Chicago for an internet marketing seminar. No, dear, there is no one else with me.) She was able to explain that there was no more wedding drama... it had all been happily resolved.
All's well that ends well. (Except for the $700 it is costing me to replace the wheel and realign the steering.)
Karma is the Hindu/Buddhist doctrine that, roughly speaking, holds that the effects of all of one's deeds actively create past, present and future experiences. Popularly understood, karma generally means that good things happen to good people and bad things happen to bad people.
While I wouldn't exactly classify these events as "suffering," they did cause me to look skyward and wonder if maybe there was a message I was missing.
The whole Rabbit Hole experience (from beginning to end) oftentimes causes one to glance upward and wonder.
This is really a slight variaton on the lament "Why do bad things happen to good people?" For defendants, the complaint is slightly more nuanced: "Why do really bad things happen to not so bad people?" :)
It's not that most defendants think they are "good" in the sense that they didn't deserve some consequence for their actions; it's just that they usually (and in the case of federal crimes, I tend to agree) think the consequence is grossly out of proportion to the conduct.
In other words, "Life is not fair."
This "karma" mindset seems to be human nature. Even in the Bible, the question arises:
As [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples
asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born
blind?” (John 9:1-2)
There were some present at that very time who told [Jesus] about the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And [Jesus] answered them,
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other
Galileans, because they suffered in this way? .... Or those eighteen on
whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse
offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? ” (Luke 13:1-2,4)
Who is to blame for these tragedies?
To the charge, "Life is not fair," karma says "It is what it is." Karma does not so much make moral judgments as it simply says that ultimately, everything that happens to you is somehow organically and mysteriously connected to how you conduct your life.
Certainly there is a connection between actions and consequences. The Bible famously remarks: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7) Thus, there is such a thing as biblical karma I suppose, yet the Bible is very careful not to draw bright theological lines connecting all of one's experiences to one's conduct. Much of what happens to us is clearly beyond our control. This is, of course, the story of Job.
Jesus' answers to the two passages I quoted above above are striking... he appears in fact to finesse the questions.
To the matter of the blind man, "Jesus answered, 'It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him'" (John 9:3)
To the matter of those massacred by Pilate or killed in the crash of the tower, he says, rather coldly it seems: "By no means! But I tell you, if you do not repent, you will all perish as they did!" (Luke 13:3,5)
In other words, in the face of suffering, we should not be asking, "Why me?" but "Why not me?" Indeed, Arthur Ashe famously remarked while suffering from AIDS: "If I were to say, 'God, why me?' about the bad things, then I should have said, 'God, why me?' about the good things that happened in my life."
There is a certain presumption to the complaint, "Why me?" It presumes that you deserve better.
Let me put the question differently. If God needed an excuse to make your life utterly miserable, how long would He have to search to find such an excuse. I know in my case, it would not take long. It is not so much that any particular bad experience is connected to any particular bad thing that I might have done (although that is certainly possible), but that I am so guilty of so many things in my life, that any one of them could be a legitimate justification for suffering.
I suspect, however, God wants us to ask a different question: "Why do good things happen to bad people?"
Isn't it odd that we rarely question God when good things happen to us, when in fact that is the more difficult moral dilemma. It is the biblical doctrine of "common grace," which is the Bible's answer to karma. "Common grace" is the grace that is common to all humankind. It is “common” because its benefits are experienced by the whole human race without distinction between one person and another. It is "grace" because it is undeserved and sovereignly bestowed by God.
Ironically, Bono, of all people, describes the difference between karma and grace in this 2005 Interview with Michka Assayas (please read full interview) as well as I have ever heard it described:
At the center of all religions is the idea of Karma. You know, what you put out
comes back to you: an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, or in physics—in
physical laws—every action is met by an equal or an opposite one. It’s clear to
me that Karma is at the very heart of the Universe. I’m absolutely sure of it.
And yet, along comes this idea called Grace to upend all that “as you reap, so
will you sow” stuff. Grace defies reason and logic. Love interrupts, if you
like, the consequences of your actions, which in my case is very good news
indeed, because I’ve done a lot of stupid stuff.
Bono has given up on the self-righteous silliness that he is a good person and is therefore prepared to receive grace. It is no coincidence that the first step in the Beattitudes (Matthew 5:3-12) is "Blessed are the poor in spirit." Karma is not such an attractive idea once a person recognizes his spiritual poverty!
Jack Miller frequently remarked, "Cheer up: you’re worse than you think you are." That sounds incongruous until you hear the second part. "But God’s grace is greater than you could ever imagine!”
One of the reasons I can write this blog is because the idea that I am a federal felon does not threaten my identity. It's not that I am not embarrassed to some degree but that, if I were to list the 100 things I am most ashamed of in my life, I don't think being a federal felon would make the list. There are so many other things about myself that I am mortified by (almost all of which are probably not illegal) that I don't have time to be mortified over this.
The advantage of coming to grips with one's "badness" is that you don't have to spend so much energy defending your reputation! One of the downsides of self-righteousness is the tremendous amount of energy one has to expend to convince everyone else that you are as good as you (foolishly) believe you are.
Some of you out there are facing prison time; some of you have a friend or family member in prison. Some of your are innocent; some are guilty. Some are receiving a fair punishment; some are receiving a harsh punishment.
None of you are receiving grace from your government....there is a reason it is called the Department of Justice, not the Department of Mercy :)
Yet, I am convinced that the key to dealing with all of this mess that is your life right now is, as trite as sounds, to rise above the current circumstances, which includes the bitterness you likely feel towards a system that is literally taking your life, or so it seems.
Jesus said, "In this world you have tribulation. Take courage, I have overcome the world." In today's pop culture, he might have said, "Shit happens. Don't worry. Be happy."
OK, he probably wouldn't have said exactly that, but I thought it was kind of cute.
I don't share all of the emails I receive, but what has consistently surprised me is how desperate people are for a blog like this. While I don't get a lot of traffic, the handful of people who do check me out are so comforted and encouraged by what they read. The Rabbit Hole experience can be very isolating. The fact there there is someone... anyone... out there who understands what they are going through and can help them go through it is like oxygen to a drowning man.
That is the power of grace, not karma.