Tag Archive | humility

Imagine you have just been arrested! Now what?

arrestedImagine you have just been arrested – for a crime that you may or may not have committed.

Your life has suddenly been put on hold – for who knows how long. You may have small children at home. Who will care for them? You may have a job. What will happen to that? Think of all the ways your life will be disrupted.

Imagine how helpful it would be to talk to a chaplain, someone who could help you think through and pray about the changes that are suddenly happening to you and your family.

In 1970, forty-four years ago, an organization called Madison Area Lutheran Council (MALC) was formed to address this need, along with several other needs. The idea was for Madison area Lutheran Churches to work together to provide a ministry to inmates of the Dane County Jail, as well as to work collaboratively to address other needs (like coordinating the collection of food and clothing for humanitarian relief organizations in Dane County and in other parts of the world). Over the years, other (non-Lutheran) churches have become involved in this ministry, as well.

chaplains

Chaplains John and Julia

Currently, MALC employs two chaplains who work in the Dane County Jail. The Rev. John Mix is chaplain to a daily average of about 800 men in jail, and the Rev. Julia Weaver is the part-time chaplain to a daily average of about 150 women in jail. This ministry is entirely supported by donations from churches and individuals. (You can check out their website for more information about the organization: http://www.madisonjailministry.org/)

As some of you may know, I’ve been involved with jail ministry for the last three years. As a volunteer, I play the piano for the women’s worship service twice a month in the chapel of the Dane County Jail in Madison. In this role I’ve been privileged to hear some of the stories inmates tell of how being in jail has changed their lives, and of how helpful the chaplains have been to them.

One woman talked about how being in jail, talking with the chaplain, and worshiping God with other women in the jail chapel had taught her humility. When she was first incarcerated she thought she was a better person than the other inmates. She was in jail for a mere white collar crime – income tax evasion. She would never hurt anyone or do drugs or commit any of the violent crimes other inmates had committed. But during her months in jail, she learned that God loves all of us despite the mistakes we make in life. And we all make mistakes, just different mistakes. The chaplain provided the opportunity and the atmosphere in the jail chapel for this time of sharing, learning, and spiritual growth to happen.

Another woman sat in jail for two years, accused of killing her little boy who was three years old. When she was arrested, her brand new baby was taken from her and put in foster care. She never saw her baby again. Eventually the trial and sentencing processes were completed and she was transferred to prison to serve time, a 13-year sentence. (She claims she never hurt her little boy. She says her boyfriend was too rough when he tried to discipline the boy, and she is terribly sorry she was not able to protect her little boy from him.)

During her two years in the Dane County Jail, she came to the women’s worship service whenever she could, usually twice a month. She was one of the kindest, gentlest people I’ve ever met. I’m sure the hours she spent in worship services and one-on-one with Chaplain Julia were a tremendous help to her in dealing with her grief.  (I wrote about Maria’s Story in this blog about a year ago.)

yellow pencilIn order for this kind of jail ministry to continue, someone needs to pay for it – salaries for the chaplains, and money for materials like Bibles, paper, and pencils. At every worship service, Chaplain Julia passes around a basket of paper and pencils. Each inmate is invited to write down her prayer requests so that Chaplain Julia can continue to pray for her throughout the week. Chaplain Julia tells the women they can keep their pencils if they need them. Everyone keeps a pencil. Inmates don’t have junk drawers filled with pens and pencils and other odds and ends like most of us have in our homes. A pencil is a valuable gift – a tool that inmates can use to write down their thoughts, or to write letters to loved ones.

JAZZ for the Jail is an annual fundraising concert to raise money to help support this jail ministry – from salaries to pencils. If you are in the Madison area this Sunday evening, I invite you to join us for a wonderful experience.

Chance Allies - 3 heads small

Chance Allies – David, Tisha, Lucas

Chance Allies, a jazz group, will be performing. The group includes a female vocalist (the Rev. Tisha Brown – a UCC pastor), a pianist (Dr. David Allen – a pediatric endocrinologist), and a bass player (Lucas Koehler – the professional musician of the group). Chance Allies was created to do fundraising concerts for churches and other non-profits in the Madison area. Their style of jazz is primarily the smooth jazz from the 1930s and onward – George Gershwin, Cole Porter, and so on – the kind of music I love to sit back and listen to. (You can preview their sound at www.TishaBrown.com)

Love Mosaic

Created by the Backyard Mosaic Women’s Project

In addition to the concert, there will be a silent auction for works of art (mosaics, quilts, and other works) created by inmates and by friends of the jail ministry. There will also be desserts and beverages.

The suggested donation for the Jazz for the Jail fundraising event is $25. The Concert starts at 7:30. Come as early as 6:45 to see the works of art on display for the silent auction. The fundraising event will take place at Messiah Lutheran Church, 5202 Cottage Grove Road in Madison.

If you want to learn more about the jail ministry…
If you want to see (and bid on) some beautiful works of art…
If you want to sit back and enjoy an absolutely delightful concert…
If you want to feast on rich desserts and lively conversation with some friendly people…
Then I invite you to join us for the JAZZ for the Jail fundraiser this Sunday evening at Messiah.

Please feel free to call me (608-212-6197) or email me (mariankorth@gmail.com) if you have any questions. Hope to see you Sunday!

 

My Thoughts on Last Weekend’s Big Event

Not the Super Bowl – Church!

Humility SandLast week, as I was planning music for church, I read the lectionary readings for Sunday, as I usually do. I was happy to see that two of the three readings were among my favorites.

The Old Testament reading was Micah 6:1-8, which ends with the well-known verse:

What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NRSV)

The Gospel reading was Matthew 5:1-12, a passage commonly referred to as “The Beatitudes.”

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 5:3-12 NRSV)

Sheet Music 2 - Theyll Know We Are ChristiansAfter I read the Scriptures, I thought about what music might prompt people to reflect on living the kind of life God wants us to live. Two songs came to mind: Lord, I Want to Be a Christian, and They’ll Know We Are Christians by Our Love. Fortunately, I remembered a couple arrangements of those songs that would make a good prelude and postlude. All I had to do was find the music. I found both pieces within an hour, and was all set for the service – after a little practicing.

Last weekend I was scheduled to play for the Saturday evening service at Messiah. (We have three services – 5 pm Saturday, 8:15 am Sunday, and 10:30 am Sunday.) The service was so good, particularly Pastor Jeff’s sermon, that I went on the Internet to the church’s website Sunday morning to watch the 8:15 service as it was streamed live (messiahchurch.com/streaming/).

emptying ocean 9The most vivid image that’s still in my mind from Pastor Jeff’s sermon is a story he told about St. Augustine. The 4th century priest was walking along the shore of the ocean, deep in thought, pondering what God really is like. He saw a little boy who had dug a hole in the sand and was running back and forth to the water’s edge, pouring bucket after bucket of water from the ocean into the hole. Augustine asked him what he was doing. The little boy replied, “I am trying to empty the ocean into this hole.”

Augustine said, “But that’s impossible.”

The little boy responded, “No more impossible than your being able to understand the wonders of God.” Then the little boy disappeared.

The point Pastor Jeff was trying to make by retelling this legend is that we need to be humble. Humility is a virtue that underlies all the Bible readings of last weekend’s service. And it’s a virtue that is undervalued and quite scarce in our society. “To do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” is what the Old Testament prophet Micah said God wants us to do.

The gift I received from participating in worship last weekend was this image. I can picture myself trying to empty the ocean with a little plastic bucket, and I’ll be reminded – that’s how little I really understand the grand scheme of life on earth and how each of us fits in with God’s plan.

I guess there’s good reason I should be humble.

emptying ocean 10

Stumbling along in Life

Abbey looking up colorized 2Abbey was lying on the floor beside my desk as I was going through emails. After about ten minutes, she looked up at me and asked, “Hey, Mom. Have a few minutes to talk?”

“Sure, Abbey. What’s up?”

“When we were out for our walk this morning, did you notice me stumble? I was prancing along, really enjoying our walk. The grass was completely covered with a slippery coat of frost, but it felt nice and cool on my paws. We walked on the sidewalk for a while over by the neighbors, and then we turned around to come home. I was thinking about what a beautiful, crisp, fall day it was. Then splat. My face hit the ground. We had turned onto our circular drive, and I was trotting along next to the curb. I guess I tried to hop up on the grass, and my leg didn’t do what I expected it to do, and I fell right on my face. It hurt a little, but mostly, I was embarrassed.”

“Yeah, I saw you stumble, Abbey. I’m glad you were able to get right up and continue the rest of our walk. I’m always afraid you might be hurt when you stumble.”

“Why did that happen, Mom? I never used to stumble. Now it seems I stumble a lot.”

“Remember, we asked your vet about that. He said a few long words that basically mean that some of your muscles are getting weaker. That’s why you can’t open your mouth wide enough to pant and why you’re beginning to stumble. He says there’s nothing we can do to fix it. But, Abbey, try not to be embarrassed about it. All of us stumble in our own ways sometimes.”

“Really, Mom? How do you stumble?”

“Oh, sometimes my mind stumbles – that is I forget something. Several weeks ago, I forgot to go to a haircut.”

“I bet you were embarrassed about that!”

“I sure was. My mental clumsiness affected others, not just myself.”

“Yeah. At least when I stumble, I only hurt myself.”

“What did you do, Mom?”

“I apologized profusely, and scheduled another appointment for another day. The person who cuts my hair was very gracious about my mental lapse.”

“That’s good. It’s really hard not to feel bad when we don’t meet our own expectations of ourselves, isn’t it.”

“Whenever I make a mistake, like when I’m playing the organ in church, I say it keeps me humble. We always like to see ourselves as perfect. But we aren’t.”

“I’ll try to remember that, Mom. Whenever I stumble on a walk, I’ll say God tripped me to keep me humble.”

“That’s not exactly what I said. Perhaps God allows you to stumble and that gives you the opportunity to develop other traits, like humility, or patience. God always loves you, and doesn’t like to see you hurt or embarrassed.”

“Oh, Mom, that’s too many words to remember when I’m trying to pick myself up as fast as I can before too many cats and other dogs in the neighborhood see me flat on my face. I’ll just say God tripped me. Of course I know that God still loves me and always wants what’s best for me.”

Well, okay, Abbey. How do you feel about going for another walk this afternoon?”

“I can hardly wait. I don’t think I’ll stumble. I’ll try to concentrate harder on how to move my legs. But if I do stumble, I’ll consider it simply an exercise in strengthening my character. I guess even when life seems to be getting harder, it’s really helping me become a better dog!”

Abbey Profile 2

What Best Friends Talk About

One of the nice things about living with your best friend for forty years, is that you’re comfortable with regularly sharing your thoughts with each other. Mim is an avid reader, and almost every day she tells me about something she’s reading in one of the books she has in progress. Likewise, I tell her about interesting things I find on the Internet, and occasionally in books, magazines, or newspapers.

Senator HironoLast Friday provided a good example of our two-way sharing of thoughts. I did a quick check of emails and Facebook before going upstairs for breakfast, my usual pattern.  A friend of mine had posted this picture (on the right) of Senator Hirono on Facebook.

I printed out the picture for Mim, along with a thoughtful piece by Joan Chittister on the “weariness” of the people of the church worldwide, and how Pope Francis may really bring some new hope. The new pope’s humility may indicate an ability and willingness to understand some of the concerns of the poor, and to respond lovingly to their practical needs, just as Christ would respond.

An hour later I was back at my desk, and Mim came downstairs to ask me if I knew anything about Teilhard de Chardin. I said he was one of the theologians we studied in a religion class my senior year at Wheaton. That was 43 years ago, and about all I remembered was his name. Mim said she had just read an interesting quote by him. “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

What a clear way of describing the perspective on life I need to keep in mind! As spiritual beings, we are not confined by our human experience. That says a lot to me. I’ve been thinking more than usual about the temporary nature of life on earth. In the last few weeks, four people have died who have been extremely close to my nieces and nephews – a best friend, a mother, a father, and a mother-in-law. How comforting to know that they are spiritual beings, and that their spirit lives on. We all are spiritual beings, and our existence doesn’t end just because our human experience on earth has ended.

Now you know. The secret is out. This is what lesbians talk about in the morning – at least those who have been best friends for forty years.

Family Portrait - 2012    Kevin Korth, photographer

Family Portrait – 2012 – Kevin Korth, photographer