Bobo Used To Rob Banks

This is a picture of Bobo at his 70th birthday party.

I took him to Wegmans a few days after he had gotten out of prison. He had to sit down after he walked through the chip aisle. “There are so many different kinds it makes my head spin,” he said. He was stuck in the men’s room trying to figure out how to turn on a faucet that had no handles until he saw another man stick his hands underneath and the water magically appeared.

It took forever to find him an apartment. No one wanted an ex-con in their building. Finding a job was even harder. He interviews fine, my friend said, he just looks bad on paper. I guess thirty years behind bars for felony murder is a tough hurdle for most employers.

But the Bobo who went into prison was different than the man who came out. The man who came out had changed the lives of more than ten thousand kids. This was not the scared straight program, this was Bobo’s program.

It started because he decided to attend Bible study. The scripture worked on him like rain on a rock. He began to feel a call. He didn’t want others like him to end up in prison.

He got sponsors like Xerox and other corporations to pay to bring kids from inner-city Rochester to Attica. Bobo said, he would sit them down and start telling his story, how he robbed banks and how he got caught and how someone lost their life because of his robbery. I didn’t shoot him but my actions caused him to get shot. He told the kids.

The corporate sponsor would provide a bag lunch for the kids. Bobo would grab a sandwich out of one kid’s hand and start eating it. He would give his prison meal to the kid. It was effective.

I had Bobo talk to our Summer of Opportunities high school youth. The boys were riveted. Bobo talked about how difficult prison is and how there is no freedom. He did not volunteer any details about his bank robberies but he did tell the youth that they could ask him any question they wanted. They were more curious about prison.

Bobo was one of the most authentic people I ever met. He was open about his life, he was incredibly sorry about the pain he caused others, and even though he was granted his freedom, his life didn’t get easier. His only daughter died from a drug overdose. Bobo’s kidneys failed and although he got a transplant, the kidneys didn’t last long.

I went to see him in the hospital when he was dying. He was so gracious and in awe that I had taken the time to visit. He had no real inclination of how he had transformed me.

It doesn’t matter who we are or what we may have done in our lives, once we say yes to God, God will open up a way to minister to others.

https://13wham.com/news/local/after-serving-time-he-served-others?fbclid=IwAR3KNPFIY_Vc3yjrSSLyHPnfbag8FbcAxVjEfUvvJP4e2R0XDXdqKh0VP0U

The Unwanted Visitor

Nothing can prepare us for the experience of loss and grief. We may think we know how we are going to react but we don’t and it is different for everyone.

Grief is the unwanted visitor that hangs around outside listening to the unthinkable news being delivered. It may wait a few minutes but then it charges the door and envelopes us. Eventually, we become so exhausted that we don’t see grief and it sneaks off into a corner and may even leave for a few hours but then it’s back banging on the door. We open it, recognize it and slam the door. I can’t, we think. Not now. Leave me alone.

Grief slinks away, looking over its shoulder mouthing I’ll be back when you least expect it.

We are out doing something perfectly ordinary like grocery shopping and we run into grief in the coffee aisle. It’s kneeling in front of the coffee studying the different packages and springs up as we notice the Dunkin Donut package of whole beans that our loved one used to plunge his nose in and take a good long sniff. Tears stream down our face, our hand frozen in mid-reach for the bag of coffee. Kind people ask if we are ok. We nod and move on leaving the coffee bag on the shelf.

People visit, bring food, send flowers and grief hangs around the periphery. We are so busy, we miss grief’s face in the crowd. Weeks go by, we are still numb going through the motions wondering if we will ever enjoy anything again.

The doorbell rings. It’s grief. We open the door. What do you want? They stand there, head down, shoulders slumped, hands in their pocket like a sullen teenager that wants to be noticed. Fine, we say and invite grief in for a chat.

Grief settles in on the couch. They sip their coffee waiting. We don’t want you around, we say. We’ve had enough. You need to go. We want our life back we scream.

But grief keeps showing up. Sometimes it’s for morning coffee, sometimes it’s at 3am, and sometimes it’s in the middle of the afternoon.

When we invite grief in we notice that grief lays down on the couch and we have the sudden realization that they are here to stay like a house guest that just doesn’t leave. Grief seems to have matured through the weeks and one day during morning coffee, grief reminds us of a wonderful story about our loved one. We find ourselves laughing along with grief as grief points out the time we got our father a beer when he was mowing the lawn complete with ice cubes. He said he wanted a cold beer. We watched him chug it and then throw the cubes on the freshly mown grass. He never said a word but just thanked us and continued mowing. Laughter ends in tears but they are happier tears.

Grief becomes a shadow following behind us where ever we go but they are like a professional detective keeping us in sight but trying not to let us know they are there. Promises were made with grief. They can continue to live with us as long as they quit sneaking up in the worst moments, behave when company is around, and don’t bother us in public. We promise grief that we wouldn’t ignore them and that we would sit down with them on a regular basis.

Grief is our constant companion. Not one we would have chosen but one foisted upon us. It may not be the visitor we want but grief visits anyway so it is good to invite grief in for a talk, get acquainted, and set up some ground rules.

I lived without grief for many years. Yes, I experienced small losses but it wasn’t until my father died that I met grief at the door. We have an understanding, grief and I. For the most part our relationship works. We are comfortable with each other.

The Season of Easter

Easter is not just a day, it’s a season in the Church year and it lasts for fifty days. It’s a great time to think about how to live as people of the resurrection in the world today.

Every Monday I will be posting a meditation about living in the Easter Season. Thank you for reading and supporting my posts this past Lent. Come back next Monday for the first of the Easter Season posts!

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter, the day of resurrection. There is always resurrection. That is our Christian hope and our experience of the creation. Each winter, out of the cold, brown earth, new growth emerges.

The interesting thing about the resurrection of Jesus is no one recognized him at first. It was only after eating the fish for breakfast or when he broke the bread that people understood who he was. He had changed. He was different.

Resurrection does not mean going back to the way things were before the loss. Resurrection means a new life is coming out of the cold dark earth or rising up out of the ashes. Resurrection is a new life, a different life.

Resurrection life also carries forth the scars from our life before. Jesus offered up the scars on his hands and feet so that Thomas would believe. Somehow I thought the resurrected body would be perfect but no, it carries the scars of our lives. We may have scars but they don’t keep us from having a new and abundant life.

We say that life has changed not ended. We know that love never dies and we know that nothing separates us from the love of God. This is what we celebrate today.

Holy Saturday – The Void

Holy Saturday is the in-between day. It is the time Jesus was laying in the tomb, where the disciples were trying to process the horrific death of their savior. How hopeless they must have felt. The person they had followed the last few years, the person they had put all their hope in, was gone forever. They were left alone to cope with a world that had destroyed the one who had come to proclaim a new kingdom based on love.

They were left empty and unfulfilled.

I presided at a woman’s burial. I was the only one there. The funeral home had come and unloaded the casket at the graveside. The gravedigger stood and watched them place it on the canvas cloth strips over the hole. There was no artificial grass hiding the dirt. I took out my prayer book. The gravedigger said he would be back after lunch to finish the job and I could take my time.

I said the usual prayers and then I sat near the casket wondering who this woman was. The funeral home said a man from California had called to make the arrangements. The woman had died alone at home, the funeral home had been called, I had been called, and here was the casket.

It was a Holy Saturday moment. We believe that we see the face of God in all people. Here was one of God’s people that had faced death alone and we had been chosen to accompany her to the tomb.

I waited for the gravedigger to come back from lunch. I prayed as he lowered the casket into the grave “All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.”

In my own life, I know there is time in-between those moments of loss and resurrection. They can be long periods of time to the point where we may not think any resurrection is possible. But sometimes we just need to wait through the darkness for the first light, the first fire of Easter that will illumine a new path for us. We are people of hope and even when it seems like no one cares, perfect strangers arrive and accompany us even to the grave.

Good Friday

When I was young, no one worked on Good Friday. Businesses were closed and people went to church. I remember sitting though one very long service. I wanted to leave but my grandmother told me that we needed to stay to get the sadness out. What sadness I wondered? My Grandmother had been preparing all week for the big Easter dinner. There was a ham soaking in ginger ale, scalloped potatoes waiting to be cooked in the refrigerator, and a green bean casserole. I was happy thinking about the family getting together.

Everybody has sadness, she said. When we come to church to mourn the death of Jesus, it allows us to feel our own sadness. We know God is sad about people killing his son so we know God understands what it’s like to be sad. God knows what it is like to feel devastated, hopeless, and alone.

“But doesn’t Jesus get resurrected?” I asked. “We don’t talk about that on Good Friday.” She said. “The disciples didn’t know what was going to happen. We need to be like them. Let it sink in about what happened to Jesus and why.”

“Why did those people kill Jesus?” I asked.

“They were afraid that the love he showed the people would make the people rise up against them and they would lose their power. The tried to kill that love by crucifying Jesus.”

They tried to kill the love of God?

“They tried to kill the love of God. They wanted to exert their power over the people and their land. So they killed Jesus in a horrific and public way. Instead of fighting back, he went to the cross to atone for all of us.

Let that sink in.”

Maundy Thursday

Tonight many Episcopal churches will gather for Maundy Thursday. Some will have an agape meal (a communal meal centered around the love of Christ), some will wash feet (remembering how Jesus washed the feet of the disciples, and some will celebrate the Eucharist.

Food is such an important part of our lives. I tend to take it for granted. I’ve never gone with out food. Instead, I spend my days trying to limit my intake. However, I have spent the last ten years working with people who are hungry, people who don’t have access to healthy food, and people who can’t afford the fresh fruits and vegetables I take for granted.

Our church, St. Mark’s and St. John’s on Culver Road in Rochester turns vacant lots into gardens. We partner with colleges and Universities to teach students about the effects of racism and the cycle of poverty in Rochester. We employ high school students from impoverished neighborhoods to work in the gardens in the summer as part of the Summer of Opportunity program.

We had a senior in High School work for us who had never tasted a raw tomato. Cindy, our priest says we are saving the world one tomato at a time.

We have a food shelf once a week where people can come and get food. The stories of our guests would fill a book. The only way to really understand the poor is to be in relationship with the poor. There buy by the grace of God go I. And by grace of God, I mean I was born into priviledge. I had every advantage – good food, good education, clothing, housing, cars that ran, parents with a college education and good jobs. And I’m white.

Jesus showed generous hospitalty to everyone and we try and do the same. After volunteering at this church I no longer take my privledge for granted. Aside from feeding people, we are trying to help change a broken system. We recently found out that 95% of the students in our church’s neighborhood school are reading and writing below grade level. The same holds true for math.

There is plenty of money in Rochester. There are plenty of smart, creative, and action oriented individuals as well. We just need to focus.

Beneath the surface

For the first part of my life, when I sat on a beach, I was only aware of the surface of the ocean. I was mesmerized by the waves, the varying heights, and the way they crashed on the sand. I remember thinking how vast the ocean looked and not being able to imagine how it stretched between continents. I never thought about what lay beneath.

I was an adult when I first went snorkeling. By then, I knew there was an abundance of life in the ocean. I had seen photos and movies but these did not prepare me for witnessing countless multicolored fish right in front of me. I was shocked, just below the surface there was a whole other world.

I had the same experience with my spiritual life. I only engaged with the surface. I went to catechism, I memorized the answers I needed for confirmation, and I rarely went to church. My family was busy on the weekends skiing and hiking. We made the major holidays but it was more of a cultural experience than a spiritual one. I was more concerned with my Easter dress.

I discovered the beautiful world underneath the surface when I gave birth to my first child. Everything changed for me after that. I took nothing for granted, I felt a keen sense of gratitude for the child that I had been unable to conceive for years. I realized that there was something more below the surface of everyday life. It felt like energy from the Holy Spirit prompting me to pray. My gratitude for the new child I was holding poured out to God. I kept saying “Thank you, God”.

Prayer changes everything. When we pray, our awareness becomes focused on the prayer and we see things differently. We become aware of our internal spiritual life and we can connect to it. We can connect to the love and mercy of God and become aware of where God’s grace is happening in our lives. This connection makes all things new.

When I went to tell my priest about my discovery of an internal spiritual life, he gave me a book by Henri Nouwen called “Making All Things New.” I read this book once a year. It reminds me of the time when I discovered prayer and my relationship with God deepened.

I talk about prayer a lot. The question I get asked the most is “How should I pray? What is the right way to pray.” There is no right way to pray. People have told me that when they hear me pray, I’m very direct and I don’t use many words. This is true. Sometimes the pray is simply “Help” or “thank you.”

There is much life below the surface, we just need to look.

Betrayal

There is nothing worse than betrayal. I think this is the most difficult emotion to resolve.

Everyone experiences betrayal, some experiences are worse than others. A common reaction is the desire to hurt the betrayer like they hurt us.

When I was in Israel on a trip with a bunch of clergy, we were sitting on some steps outside Jerusalem reading the scripture where Peter betrays Jesus. Just as we finished reading we heard a cock crow. It was just like it was written in the scripture.

I always feel sympathy for Peter. Who wouldn’t be tempted to deny Jesus when acknowledging him would cost you your life? I can’t imagine how Jesus must have felt when he heard that his closest friend denied knowing him. How disappointed and sad.

It takes a long time to process betrayal especially if the person is close to us. Betrayal changes us. We may find it hard to trust anyone. Trust is so delicate and easily broken.

Dealing with betrayal is hard work. But necessary work. Holding on to betrayal is like allowing acid to eat away at a metal pail. The acid has to be scooped out and put in a safe container with warning labels. When we work at getting out our betrayal we need to do it in a safe place with a person who is familiar with this type of work. Stories need to be told and processed. It takes the time it takes. But it can be done.

A few days later during that same trip, we were up around the Sea of Galilee and there was a church that had three hearts leading up to it with the words “Peter, do you love me?” on each heart. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. One for each denial. Peter said yes three times and then Jesus told him to “Feed my Sheep!”

They worked it out. Jesus gave Peter the chance to reassure him. If Jesus were anybody else I could picture him saying “Well if you loved me, why did you deny me?” Jesus doesn’t go there, he makes Peter say yes, I love you, Lord three times. There is a lot here to unpack.

Betrayal is complicated. Sometimes people who have betrayed us don’t deserve our trust. I worked as a chaplain for abused women and abusers used God to trap women in relationships. We made vows before God they would say. I would tell them that physical abuse broke those vows and that God does not want anyone to be abused. We can forgive our betrayers but that doesn’t mean we have to submit to more abuse. And it doesn’t mean we have to trust people we know don’t deserve our trust.

Living with the residual feelings of betrayal saps all of our energy. It’s like inhaling carbon monoxide. There is no room left for life-giving oxygen.

Jesus did the work. He figured out what he needed from Peter to move forward and Peter did not disappoint. When it was over, Peter went on to feed the sheep. Intentionally doing the emotional work we need to do is life-giving and it’s what gives us the energy to go out and do what we are called to do.

Is Peace Possible?

The Westman Islands

Eldfell is a volcanic cone about 660 feet high on Heimaey Island. It erupted without warning on Jan. 23, 1973, forcing people to flee their homes in the middle of the night. Although nobody died, the eruption destroyed over 400 businesses and residences. The volcano was active for six months and the island actually grew by 20 percent.

We went to the volcanic museum on the island which recounted this event and saw what was left of a house that had been buried in ash. There were movies of the family returning to see their house being excavated and the trauma from this experience was written on their faces.

What I found interesting was that almost half of the people whose homes had been destroyed by the volcano did NOT return to the island. Almost three-quarters of the people whose homes were intact returned to the island. The population was around 5300 people.

What will happen to Ukraine? The number of people displaced is astronomical and the damage is pervasive. And yet, I heard a news piece talking about peace negotiations.

I sat in church listening to the reading of the passion (Luke 22:14 – 23:56) thinking about the people of Ukraine. Thoughts of betrayal, revenge, and forgiveness flashed through my mind as I envisioned Jesus dying on the cross.

Is peace possible? Isn’t that the goal? But what about all the people who have died and the destruction?

We are called to follow a different expression of power. I read a post by the Arch Bishop of Canterbury on this very subject. He says it best. These are his words below:

“As we enter Palm Sunday in the shadow of war, in a world of confusion and chaos, Christ the coming King comes with deep challenge about how to hold power, and how to use it.

Palm Sunday is a day of contrasts. A king, who arrives on a lowly donkey. A royal welcome for a poor, itinerant rabbi. A crowd who is eagerness to listen, and yet ambivalent to act. Palm Sunday is day of joy, yet, lingering in the background, we know this is the start of Holy Week: we are in the shadow of the Cross.

Palm Sunday is demanding; it asks us to look at our lives, and ask, who are you waiting for – and are you really ready to follow?

The king that is coming is a king that confounds all expectations. He does not come in power and might, he does not dazzle or overwhelm. He comes in humility, and invites rather than coerces. How often do we want a God who comes in and sweeps away problems, evil or conflict? We are given a king who doesn’t fight his enemies, but submits to them; who isn’t victorious in battle but dies the humiliating death of a criminal.

And yet, he is king. The idea that there is a king is somewhat offensive. The idea that human structures of power are not final, that their ideas of self-sufficiency are mistaken, that humans need God as king, to learn to order their lives well, alone and together, is not popular. It challenges the idea that I know best. That we know best.

Palm Sunday demands humility in every way: in our ideas of power and status, but even more so, in our understanding of ourselves as we come before God. Humility is dangerous, because it both challenges the powers that be, and refuses to respond to their challenge with force and conflict. Palm Sunday inevitably leads to the cross.” Arch Bishop of Canterbury

Peace only comes through the grace of God.

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