Day: November 12, 2014
BESIDES choosing lawmakers, on November 4th voters in three American states and the District of Columbia considered measures to liberalise the cannabis trade. Alaska and Oregon, where it is legal to provide “medical marijuana” to registered patients, voted to go further and let the drug be sold and taken for recreational purposes, as Colorado and Washington state already allow. In DC, a measure to legalise the possession of small amounts for personal use was passed. A majority of voters in Florida opted to join the lengthening list of places where people can seek a doctor’s note that lets them take the drug. However, the measure fell just short of the 60% needed to change the state constitution. Even so, that such a big state in the conservative South came so close to liberalising shows how America’s attitude to criminalising pot has changed.
The drug war has produced profoundly unequal outcomes across racial groups, manifested through racial discrimination by law enforcement and disproportionate drug war misery suffered by communities of color. Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial lines, people of color are far more likely to be stopped, searched, arrested, prosecuted, convicted and incarcerated for drug law violations than are whites. Higher arrest and incarceration rates for African Americans and Latinos are not reflective of increased prevalence of drug use or sales in these communities, but rather of a law enforcement focus on urban areas, on lower-income communities and on communities of color as well as inequitable treatment by the criminal justice system. We believe that the mass criminalization of people of color, particularly young African American men, is as profound a system of racial control as the Jim Crow laws were in this country until the mid-1960s.
The Drug Policy Alliance is committed to exposing disproportionate arrest rates and the systems that perpetuate them. We work to eliminate policies that result in disproportionate incarceration rates by rolling back harsh mandatory minimum sentences that unfairly affect urban populations and by repealing sentencing disparities. Crack cocaine sentencing presents a particularly egregious case. Since the 1980s, federal penalties for crack were 100 times harsher than those for powder cocaine, with African Americans disproportionately sentenced to much lengthier terms. But, in 2010, DPA played a key role in reducing the crack/powder sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and we are committed to passing legislation that would eliminate the disparity entirely.
The life-long penalties and exclusions that follow a drug conviction have created a permanent second-class status for millions of Americans, who may be prohibited from voting, being licensed, accessing public assistance and any number of other activities and opportunities. The drug war’s racist enforcement means that all of these exclusions fall more heavily on people and communities of color. DPA is committed to ending these highly discriminatory policies and to combating the stigma attached to drug use and drug convictions.
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As a POW, “I said I want to go home, as an inmate “I said I want to go home, As a free man addicted to fame and fortune and cocaine and the game of life, “I said I want to go home, as a believer in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, “I am saying I want to go home. After trauma and bad choice in life one can only feel empathy for Charlie in this video. I feel so much empathy for those who are coming home having to adjust to society that isn’t prepared to show forgiveness and any empathy for their plight of life. I saw this tonight as I was watching my Metv channel and I was crushed because my wife and I have spoken to sixteen people who are facing these fears of adjustment that are coming their way as they are getting released with no life skills nor family to assist them. We cry real tears of passion as we entreat God for finances and a building to help instill hope for those ex-offenders who really want to live the rest of their life independent and restored.
What does it take to break the cycle of criminal life and incarceration? Based on the accounts of those who have lived this experience, it requires an intense will to change attitudes and behavior to improve one’s life, a willingness to learn new skills, and an ability to overcome rejection time after time. The obstacles that are in store for the ex-offender who is released into society are enormous.
Transitioning from a prisoner number to an adult person expected to take on adult responsibilities can be overwhelming for many ex-inmates, particularly those who were incarcerated for long periods of time. The prison industry is flourishing because America is locking up more people than any country in the entire world – 2 million-plus and counting – most convicted of non-violent offenses.
The subsequent psychological, sensory and physical impact that many of these returnees experience often goes unaddressed and isn’t discussed very often by politicians or mainstream media, even though each day many of us will share space with someone who has spent a significant portion of his life in a cage.
Every one of us should be concerned because these men and women are of us and will be returning to us, our communities, many to our own families. This is dedicated to better understanding the impact of this system’s “corrections” from those who lived it.
Family and supporters
Former prisoners should ideally receive counseling before release and as part of their release plan to help move through the potentially challenging moments they may experience upon re-entry. Likewise the family should – also ideally – be offered counseling before the inmate is released, particularly the children of soon-to-be ex-prisoners. Caretakers of the children during the incarceration need to know the pitfalls that could occur and learn the tools to protect everyone emotionally while remaining as supportive as possible during the readjustment period.
The family members are changed people as a result of the inmate’s incarceration, just as the inmate is, and so things will likely not ever get back to the way they once were. Supporters should always offer encouragement and guidance geared toward smoothing out potentially bumpy transitions and not make the returnee feel as though they owe them something for having supported them while incarcerated nor exacerbate negativity that only serves to further divide and cause pain within the family.
Ex-prisoners may not readily accept the advice of others because they are finally free to not follow anyone else’s orders and so may make errors in judgment when dealing with seemingly simple situations. Opportunists may take advantage of some of these vulnerable returnees, as some can be easily manipulated and led into situations that are detrimental to them. Former friends and dangerous influences may arise and ex-prisoners may even fall into some old patterns.
Ex-prisoners may not readily accept the advice of others because they are finally free to not follow anyone else’s orders and so may make errors in judgment when dealing with seemingly simple situations.
Even when mistakes are made, the last thing returnees need to deal with is ridicule or condemnation, breeding resentment and deterring badly needed support. Many have been terrorized mentally and physically at the hands of guards and other inmates and have deep scarring that no one can see from the outside looking in. Comparing one ex-prisoner’s successes to another’s lack thereof is meaningless because each individual’s journey through their prison years varies greatly and so shall their journey upon release.
“I had a family. I had a house. I had a car. I had a job. … I was making good money. Everything was going well, and now I don’t have the patience for anything. … I have problems with my physical self. I have aches in my body and my legs. … [My] life is a lot harder. No matter how many visits, phone calls and letters you have shared with people, you still don’t know how much they have changed over a lengthy period of time until you’re actually around them regularly, and they feel the same way about you.”
“My son wasn’t a baby anymore and he hadn’t seen me in 10 years. Now he was 12. He wouldn’t let me hug him. He wouldn’t even shake my hand. I’m trying to understand this. I cry every night.”
“I want to prove to myself and those who stuck by me that I can make it right. I’m so scared of letting anyone down after the burden I’ve been.”
“Everything has been taken from me while inside. My mom had been taken from me, my dad has been taken from me, I have no family at all out here and I am completely on my own with $75 and nowhere to go. I was engaged when i got locked up at 18 – now I’m 45, the rest of my teens, all of my 20s, 30s and most of my 40s gone! My only child was born while I was inside and is now himself an inmate and so we’ll never be together.”
“I live with my mother in my old neighborhood. I need a pardon in order to get paid for wrongful imprisonment. After all they’ve taken from me, you’d think they’d at least provide me with my basic needs. I’m embarrassed to depend on my family as a 45-year-old man to have to eat.”
“Every night I pray and pray for the prisoners I left behind. I feel so badly for them living under such horrible conditions and promised many of them I would help them when I got out. My one friend is getting out of prison this week; she has been locked up for eight years. … She was 18 when she got locked up. I want to see her, but part of me wants to leave that part of me behind! I want to help, but how can I help? I barely have my feet on the ground as it is. But I promised I would and she is counting on me for support.”
“I went into a serious depression and was put on a medication that drove me into a prison within myself. It took the program staff several months to realize I wasn’t talking to anyone or eating, that I had lost about 30 pounds. I was ‘gone’ even though I was performing my required duties. After all those years of taking care of myself, to be so strong and resourceful and get myself paroled – by God’s grace – and then not know how to do anything for myself was really difficult.”
The real world
A study of the attitudes of released prisoners in the United States revealed that most expected to be labeled “ex-cons” and treated as failures and pariahs. Getting paperwork together to apply for services such as a birth certificate, social security card, driver’s license etc. is very difficult and yet very urgent in order to become recognized as a person in this system. Learning bus and subway systems or even walking routes may be difficult because of the changes that have taken place in the landscape.
A steady diet of encouragement is necessary in order to try and help them find a new “normal” in their life and set and achieve goals. The feelings of alienation may still be present, no matter how many people may feel that they are close to the inmate.
A steady diet of encouragement is necessary in order to try and help them find a new “normal” in their life and set and achieve goals.
“The dysfunctional consequences of institutionalization are not always immediately obvious once the institutional structure and procedural imperatives have been removed. This is especially true in cases where persons retain a minimum of structure wherever they re-enter free society. Moreover, the most negative consequences of institutionalization may first occur in the form of internal chaos, disorganization, stress and fear. Yet institutionalization has taught most people to cover their internal states, and not to openly or easily reveal intimate feelings or reactions. So, the outward appearance of normality and adjustment may mask a range of serious problems in adapting to the freeworld,” .
“(W)hen severely institutionalized persons confront complicated problems or conflicts, especially in the form of unexpected events that cannot be planned for in advance, the myriad of challenges that the non-institutionalized confront in their everyday lives outside the institution may become overwhelming. The facade of normality begins to deteriorate, and persons may behave in dysfunctional or even destructive ways because all of the external structure and supports upon which they relied to keep themselves controlled, directed, and balanced have been removed. …
“Parents who return from periods of incarceration still dependent on institutional structures and routines cannot be expected to effectively organize the lives of their children or exercise the initiative and autonomous decisionmaking that parenting requires. …
“Those who remain emotionally over-controlled and alienated from others will experience problems being psychologically available and nurturant,” .
“It felt like I was walking into another world again. I couldn’t believe it. Because I’ve been fighting so long, when (my release) eventually came, I didn’t know whether to take it or run back inside.”
“I was very frightened to walk across a street. I couldn’t judge the time, distance and speed of on-coming traffic. I had a problem with my sensory depth perception from bars being right in front of my face. I realized it was a problem after wildly running in an almost panic across the street, only to see the on-rushing traffic to remain still considerable distances down the street. I told myself, ‘You’ve got a problem, so get over it – fast.’ And that’s exactly what I did. I worked and worked on it.”
If you won’t consider donating to our cause, Then can we solicit your prayers and faith that this vision will not depart from our hearts nor will we faint until it materializes. I want to thank you in advance for whatever you decide to do especially for your time in reading this post.
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Not Playing Games in Corporate Worship
I have tried these three-a-half years to lead my family and all that worship with me in the experience of sorrowful yet always rejoicing. I turn with dismay from church services that are treated like radio talk shows where everything sounds like chipper, frisky, high-spirited chatter designed to make people feel lighthearted and playful and bouncy. I look at those services and say to myself: Don’t you know that people are sitting out there who are dying of cancer, whose marriage is a living hell, whose children have broken their hearts, who are barely making it financially, who have just lost their job, who are lonely and frightened and misunderstood and depressed? And you are going to try to create an atmosphere of bouncy, chipper, frisky, light-hearted, playful worship?
And, of course, there will be those who hear me say that and say: O, so you think what those people need is a morose, gloomy, sullen, dark, heavy atmosphere of solemnity?
No. What they need is to see and feel indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow. “Sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” They need to taste that these church people are not playing games here. They are not using religion as a platform for the same-old, hyped-up self-help that the world offers every day. They need the greatness and the grandeur of God over their heads like galaxies of hope. They need the unfathomable crucified and risen Christ embracing them in love with blood all over his face and hands. And they need the thousand-mile-deep rock of God’s word under their feet.
The Thousand-Mile-Deep Rock of God’s Word
They need to hear us sing with all our heart and soul,
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
They need to hear the indomitable joy in sorrow as we sing:
His oath, His covenant, His blood,
Support me in the whelming flood.
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
If you ask me, Doesn’t the world need to see Christians as happy in order to know the truth of our faith and be drawn to the great Savior? My answer is yes, yes, yes. And they need to see that our happiness is the indomitable work of Christ in the midst of our sorrow — a sorrow probably deeper than they have ever known that we live with every day. They need to see “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.”
So let’s put some of that rock under out feet now — the rock of God’s word. What John Piper and Jason Meyer think counts for nothing compared to what God thinks. So let’s go to the Bible and see if these things are so.
Why Emphasize “What the World Needs”
We will focus on 2 Corinthians 6:3–10. Why have I put the emphasis on what the world needs? Why have I framed the main point of this sermon as: What the world needs from the church is our indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow? The answer is in verses 3 and 4. Paul says, “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.”
In other words, Paul is saying: What I am about do in this chapter is remove obstacles and commend our ministry — our life and message. He wants the church in Corinth, and the world, not to write him off, not to walk away, not to misunderstand who he is and what he teaches and whom he represents. He wants to win them. If you want to use the language of seeker-friendly, watch how he does it.
A Seeker-Friendly Apostle
It’s amazing what he does here. Many savvy, church-growth communicators today would have no categories for this way of removing obstacles and commending Christianity. In fact, some might say: Paul, you are not removing obstacles, you are creating obstacles. So let’s watch Paul remove obstacles and commend his ministry. This, he says in effect, is what the world needs.
He does this in three steps: he describes the sufferings he endures; he describes the character he tries to show; and he describes the paradoxes of the Christian life.
The Sufferings He Endures
First, he describes the sufferings he endures for Christ (2 Corinthians 6:3–5):
We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger.
So be asking yourself: How is this removing obstacles? How is this commending his ministry? Why is this not putting people off rather than drawing them in?
The Character He Shows
Second, he describes the character he tries to show (2 Corinthians 6:6–7):
. . . by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left [probably the sword of the Spirit in the right hand and the shield of faith in the left, Ephesians 6:16–17].
So instead of being embittered and frustrated and angry and resentful by all the afflictions and hardships and calamities and labors and sleepless nights, by God’s grace Paul has shown patience and kindness and love. His spirit has not been broken by the pain of his ministry. In the Holy Spirit, he has found resources to give and not to grumble. To be patient in God’s timing, rather than pity himself. To be kind to people, rather than take it out on others.
The Paradoxes of the Christian Life
And third, Paul describes the paradoxes of the Christian life (2 Corinthians 6:8–10):
. . . through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.
When you walk in the light and minister in the power of Holy Spirit, and speak the truth in “purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, and love,” some people will honor you and some will dishonor you (verse 8a); some will slander you, and some will praise you (verse 8b). And that dishonor and slander may come in the form of calling you and imposter (verse 8c). You’re not real. You’re just a religious hypocrite.
Remember Jesus said, “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). Which means that in Paul’s mind a mixed reception (some honoring and praising, some dishonoring and slandering) was part of his commendation. It removed the obstacle: You can’t be a true prophet, all speak well of you.
Outside Perceptions with Some Truth in Them
Then come six more paradoxes. If you aren’t careful, you might take these to mean that Paul is correcting false perceptions of Christians, but it’s not quite like that. Every perception here of the outsider has truth in it. But Paul says, What you see is true, but it’s not the whole truth or the main truth.
Verse 9a: You see us “as unknown, and yet [we are] well known.” Yes, we are nobodies in the Roman empire. A tiny movement following a crucified and risen king. But O we are known by God, and that is what counts (1 Corinthians 8:3;Galatians 4:9).
Verse 9b: You see us “as dying, and behold, we live.” Yes, we die every day. We are crucified with Christ. Some of us are imprisoned and killed. But O we live because Christ is our life now, and he will raise us from the dead.
Verse 9c: You see us “as punished, and yet [we are] not killed.” Yes, we endure many human punishments and many divine chastenings, but over and over God has spared us from death. And he will spare us till our work is done.
Verse 10a: You see us “as sorrowful, yet [we are] always rejoicing.” Yes, we are sorrowful. There are countless reasons for our hearts to break. But in them all we do not cease to rejoice, one of the greatest paradoxes of the Christian life!
Verse 10b: You see us “as poor, yet [we are] making many rich.” Yes, we are poor in this world’s wealth. But we don’t live to get rich on things, we live to make people rich on Jesus.
Verse 10c: You see us “as having nothing, yet [we are] possessing everything.” In one sense, we have counted everything as loss or the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8). But, in fact, we are children of God, and if children, then heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17). To every Christian, Paul says, “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s” (1 Corinthians 3:21–23).
Exactly Opposite of the Prosperity Gospel
Now step back and remember what Paul said in verse 3: “We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” He has been removing obstacles to faith and commending the truth and value of his ministry — his life, his message, his Lord. And he has done it in exactly the opposite way that “the prosperity gospel” does it.
What obstacle has he removed? He has removed the obstacle that someone might think Paul is in the ministry for money, or for earthly comfort and ease. He has given every evidence he could to show that he is not a Christian, and he is not in the ministry, for the worldly benefits it can bring. But there are many pastors today who think just the opposite about this. They think that having a lavish house and a lavish car and lavish clothes commend their ministry. That’s simply not the way Paul thought. He thought that such things were obstacles.
Enticing to Christ for the Wrong Reason
Why? Because if they would entice anyone to Christ, it would be for the wrong reason. It would be because they think Jesus makes people rich and makes life comfortable and easy. No one should come to Christ for that reason. Enticing people to Christ with prosperous lifestyles and with chipper, bouncy, light-hearted, playful, superficial banter, posing as joy in Christ, will attract certain people, but not because Christ is seen in his glory and the Christian life is presented as the Calvary Road. Many false conversions happen this way.
So how is Paul commending his ministry — his life, his message, his Lord? Verse 4: “As servants of God we commend ourselves in every way.” How? By showing that knowing Christ, being known by Christ, having eternal life with Christ is better than all earthly wealth and prosperity and comfort. We commend our life and ministry by afflictions. We commend our life and ministry by calamities. We commend our life and ministry by sleepless nights. What does that mean? It means Christ is real to us, and Christ is infinitely precious, more to be desired than any wealth or comfort in this world. This is our commendation: When all around our soul gives way he then is all our hope and stay.
Sorrowful — Yet Always Rejoicing
What does it mean (verse 10) that part of Paul’s commendation to the world is that he was sorrowful yet always rejoicing? It means that what the world needs from the church is our indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow.
Let me move toward a close with two pictures of this sorrowful yet always rejoicing. One from Jesus and one from Paul.
A Picture from Jesus
When Jesus said in Matthew 5:11–12, “Blessed are you when others 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,” do you think it is random that the next thing he said was, “You are the salt of the earth . . . You are the light of the world”? I don’t think it was random. I think the tang of the salt that the world needs to taste, and the brightness of the light that the world needs to see is precisely this indomitable joy in the midst sorrow.
Joy in the midst of health? Joy in the midst of wealth and ease? And when everyone speaks well of you? Why would that mean anything to the world? They have that already. But indomitable joy in the midst of sorrow — that they don’t have. That is what Jesus came to give in this fallen, pain-filled, sin-wracked world.
A Picture from Paul
Or consider Paul’s experience of agony over the lost-ness of his Jewish kinsmen in Romans 9:2–3. Remember Paul is the one who said in Philippians 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” But in Romans 9:2–3, he writes, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.”
Don’t miss the terrible burden of the word “unceasing” in verse 2. “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” because my kinsmen are perishing in unbelief cut off from the Messiah. Is Paul disobeying his own command to rejoice always? No. Because he said in 2 Corinthians 6:10, We are sorrowful yet always rejoicing.
What the World Needs from Us
Is this not what the world needs from us? Picture yourself sitting across the table at your favorite restaurant from someone you care about very much and is not a believer. You have shared the gospel before, and they have been unresponsive. God gives you the grace this time to plead with them. And he gives you the grace of tears. And you say: “I want so bad for you to believe and be a follower of Jesus with me. I want you to have eternal life. I want us to be with Christ forever together. I want you to share the joy of knowing your sins are forgiven and that Jesus is your friend. And I can hardly bear the thought of losing you. It feels like a heavy stone in my chest.”
Isn’t that what the world needs from us? Not just an invitation to joy. Not just a painful expression of concern. But the pain and the joy coming together in such a way that they have never seen anything like this. They have never been loved like this. They have never seen indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of sorrow. And by God’s grace, it may taste like the salt of the earth and look like the light of the world.
So I say one last time: What the world needs from the church — from us — is our indomitable joy in Jesus in the midst of suffering and sorrow.
Indomitable Joy in Suffering and Sorrow
This was Paul’s commendation of his ministry. May it be our commendation of Christ at His earthly church. It is no accident that Paul concluded the greatest chapter in the Bible — Romans 8 — with words that are designed pointedly to sustain your joy and my joy in the face of suffering and loss.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in [not instead of, but in!] all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31–39)
So, “Church”, let the world taste your indomitable joy in suffering and sorrow.
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