AS ONE CHAPTER ENDS, A NEW ONE BEGINS: As if I Don't Get Enough of This in REAL Life!

Between Norbertine Chapter meetings, Abbey Dedication Anniversary celebrations, Norbertine funerals, parish weddings and Saint Norbert College First Year Student Summer Orientations one after the next after the next, the post-academic year season has not really slowed down at all yet. Given I'll be headed out for a Packer wedding early next week, I don't think I'll recognize "summer" until the 4th of July -- then it's half over! Nevertheless, I have used the late-night hours as an opportunity to do some reading -- just for fun.

My nephew David was actually the one who recommended a few books for me to consider, "My Bloody Life" and its more current sequel, "Once a King, Always a King." Young David is aware that my ministry at GBCI requires me to work closely with any number of gang members. As such, he thought I'd find the books interesting, and perhaps a bit helpful to me in my ministry as well. Well, I finished "Bloody" in late May, and I just finished "Once a King" earlier tonight.

Normally, it is Dr. Cheryl Carpenter, a Saint Norbert College sociologist, that is the one who usually recommends such reads to me. Given she is pretty current when it comes to urban gang life, she's exposed me to some good books over time. But David was the one to recommend these books. And honestly, I am shocked!

It seems as though these books have appeared on David's high school reading list. The books are chocked full of pretty graphic situations including urban violence and intense sexual encounters. I hope that I do not sound too prudish, but I cannot imagine this sort of educational experience to be advantageous for a 16 year old's educational formation. And yet, I must assert, it has helped broaden my horizons to understand my prison-parishioners experience to a greater degree; I am grateful for David's recommendations.

Whenever I finish reading a book, like you, perhaps, I do feel a sense of accomplishment, but I also feel a sense of loss in some strange way. It seems as though a reader opens his or her world to various characters while reading in quiet settings of undivided attention -- when the book is over, it's although these people with whom you've just spent the last month with have walked out of your life. Finishing these books does have a bit of a bittersweet effect.

And yet, in my ministerial experiences, the story continues in a very real and lively way. I've encountered some inmates with IDENTICAL stories of life on the streets -- mainly from those who have grown up in Chicago or in Milwaukee. Like the characters in the books, they are looking for an out, searching for a new way of life, hoping for a time to start anew; but for various reasons, it seems so true, "Once a King, Always a King!"

At times I run the mistake of "problem solving" when it comes to ministry -- regardless of which ministerial setting is in the immediate spotlight. With the best of intentions, I sometimes dare to imagine what life could be like for my 'parishioners' if I could find jobs and housing and education for all sorts of people whereby they can really find an opportunity to start a new life. Such a life, in my mind, would require them to quarantine themselves from the 'hoods' from which they originally came.

And yet, I have to realize that in doing so, perhaps a new type incarceration would be established for them. I must contemplate, "What if I were banned from Antigo?" "Or DePere?" That would hardly seem fair or appropriate. And yet, it was these communities that healthily molded me or shielded me -- appropriately -- from a life of violence or terrorism. It was a combination of a firm foundation of Family, Friends and Faith that resulted in a pretty good life for me up to now. Can or should similar communities exist elsewhere? Therein lies the challenge, I suspect. Instead of evacuating crime-ridden and poverty stricken neighborhoods, how about investing in these communities instead? And wouldn't it be cool if the Church or the local neighborhood parish church would be the primary stockholder in such an investment? Could we dare to imagine really making a difference in such places in a spirit of openness, hope and courage?

You will notice in my next few posts that I'll be shifting gears just a bit. As you can imagine, just finishing these two books has resulted in my mind running in certain dark, yet hopeful, circles. That seems natural after reading some pretty provocative biographies. I'll soon be covering some different topics as the weekend unfolds. And yet this topic -- like the next ones to come -- is evidence that no matter where you are or what the circumstances you face in your own unique neck of the woods might be, "God's flock is in your midst; give it a shepherd's care!"


Anonymous said...

If YOU were shocked, those must be some VERY DARK books -- given your contacts with GBCI. The youth of today are bombarded with too much violence already without feeding that age group with this type of reading.

Do you ever have a chance to read (or watch)something that's a little less depressing? Is it dangerous to dwell on the "dark side" so much? ... not that we want to hide from reality.

There are soooo many people willingly doing good things for others (without expecting praise, etc.) but all you hear about are the terrible acts that people commit on one another, thanks to the media.

Prayer becomes more and more crucial for everyone's welfare.

Okay, I'll get off my "soap box"!


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