Tag: #thechurch

Celebrate good times!

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25 Years of rebuilding lives

I’ve written about Bud’s Warehouse before.  It’s a Christian ministry that helps people coming out of prison, addiction and homelessness get their feet back under them with entry level employment along with a generous dose of the Gospel.  Largely self-supporting through the resale of gently used, donated construction material, we have a large retail store at Mississippi and I-225.

A couple of weeks ago, in the teeth of that raging blizzard, we celebrated our 25th anniversary.  But despite the weather, we had a huge turnout for three very tasty food truck offerings.  Along with a heaping side of compelling testimonies from people who’ve successfully come through the program and emerged with a radically new perspective on life and its possibilities.

A “coincidence?”

With the weather and the three lines of people patiently waiting for their food just outside the front door, my wife and I were a bit late sitting down with our meals at a table in a large space that had been cleared toward the back of the store.  To my left was a guy that I immediately recognized as someone I knew but, of course, couldn’t immediately recall his name.  However, not long after shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries, it came to me:  Bob.

He then introduced me to his son, Stephen, to his left.  Stephen has a face you won’t quickly forget:  it’s heavily tattooed.  But I certainly didn’t recognize it; probably because I’d never seen it before.  But I’d heard plenty about the man behind the ‘tats’.

Years before, when I’d been campaigning door to door for a seat in the Colorado House of Representatives, I’d rung Bob’s doorbell.  Bob answered and invited me in for an always welcome glass of water on one of those hot summer days pounding the pavement.  He invited his wife, Dorcas, to join us, which she readily did.  (Dorcas is a biblical name from Acts 9:36-42 meaning “gazelle”; I’ve always loved the name and the even more lovely story.)

As the three of us sat around the kitchen table, Bob and Dorcas told me Stephen’s story.  He’d grown up in suburban Denver and, in part, because Bob was a devoted Boy Scout leader, Stephen had even earned the Eagle badge, the highest rank in Scouting.  After school, he joined the Navy.

Off the rails

But somewhere along the way, Stephen’s life went badly off the rails.   Brandishing a squirt gun, he committed a series of robberies-a pricey drug habit, no doubt, played a part.  The squirt gun, quite rightly in the eyes of the law and in the eyes of his terrified victims, made no difference.   Stephen got caught up in Colorado’s “three strikes and your out” law and was sentenced to life in prison.  But Bob and Dorcas never gave up on him.

While I was in the Legislature, of course, I did a number of things.  One was sending out an email newsletter to interested constituents.  Another was holding periodic town hall meetings for constituents.  Bob and Dorcas got on my email list.  And learned of a town hall where I invited Ari Zavaras, former Governor Ritter’s head of the Department of Corrections, to speak.  Bob and Dorcas saw my email, came to the town hall, met Director Zavaras and spent quite a while talking to him about Stephen.

Back on track

That seemingly insignificant step became a small part in a painful and years long journey that eventually led to Stephen sitting to my left on that snowy evening.  And even standing up in front of that large crowd and telling us all the story of how Bud’s had provided him with his first entry level job when he got out of prison.  And, building on the computer programming skills he had learned as a model prisoner while behind bars, he had used the job at Bud’s as a stepping stone to land a job at company that does sophisticated computer programming.  Where, to boot, Stephen is thriving.  Despite the tattoos.

The sick get well

As the evening wound down, I had the opportunity to speak with Stephen for a few moments.  Among other things, I asked him, “Where are you going to church?”  “I’m not,” he answered, “but I am a spiritual person.”

Now, obviously, this young man has faced and overcome obstacles that I can scarcely imagine.  Just surviving years in prison in one piece is no mean feat.  But surviving outside the “the big house” isn’t without its challenges either.

Saint Macarius, an ancient church father put it this way, “The Church is not a courtroom where your vices and virtues are scrutinized before a judge who decides your fate.  The Church, established by Christ Himself, is a spiritual hospital where the sick come to get well.”

Sure, the church too often looks and acts like its too good for the average guy.  But those folks have it exactly backwards.  Rightly understood, the church is a hospital for hurting people like Stephen.  And we’re all hurting in our separate own ways.

 

 

On the water front

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The Lord still inhabits the praises of his people

Last winter my sister, Linda, and her husband came to Colorado for a visit.  Don’t ask me how, but they managed to wedge it in amongst all their other globe girdling trips.  As I’ve said of them before, throw a dart at a map of the world.  And they’ve probably been there.

Over dinner, they mentioned that they were going to Scotland and England this spring with a group of friends.  I took the opportunity to invite myself along.  Graciously, they didn’t let the opportunity go by.  Even though she introduced me to her friends as “my brother who tells corny jokes.”

So here I am in Scotland in the little seaside town of Oban, staying at the Alltavona B&B. My hostess tells me that in Gaelic the name means “beside the water.”  Which is appropriate; I’m watching the ferry go by no more than 200 yards from my window.

Today, however, I’d had enough of the “cozy” 8 seater van, counting sheep and lochs, tasting whiskey, eating bangers and mash, and watching three thousand foot peaks go by that are all above timber line because we’re so near the arctic.  So I stayed behind while the rest of the gang jumped on a small boat to go to an island to see puffins.  Not my thing.  It’s time for me to fire up the blog and reflect on the trip.  Not to mention that I consider sea sickness, to which I’m so prone, a fate worse than death.

Rosary beads aplenty

I asked our hostess about an internet cafe.  She was puzzled, “We have internet here.”  I assured her that I preferred to work in a coffee shop.  “Well, in that case, why don’t you try the chocolate shop?  It’s just down the way.”  So I walked down the bay, crossing the street a time or two, trying to avoid getting run over by looking the wrong direction.  And there it was: the Oban Chocolate Co.   The coffee was good.  So was the scone and jam (too early for chocolate).  But the internet connection was terrible.  So, after some futile fiddling, I headed back to the Alltavona.

Halfway there, the bells of a squat, stolid church began clanging; it’s Wednesday morning here and time for mass.  Even if far from musical, the bells were, at least, the real thing.  I walked up a few stairs and went through the doors behind a couple of elderly ladies.  Finding a place to sit was absolutely no problem.  To describe the interior as austere is an understatement.  Roughly quarried from the grey, volcanic rock of ages that underlays so much of this part of Scotland, the charcoal stone was only broken by the white lines of mortar that bound the structure together.  Sun streamed through simple windows, faintly stained rose.  The church had been built during the lean days following the end of World War II.

The tiny congregation in the cavernous structure was just finishing the rosary as I sat down.  Several participants fingered their beads from where they prayed on wooden kneelers.  Soon, a priest began saying the mass.  His homily was brief.  And even forgettable.  But it was a welcome sabbath from days of restless movement, of random historical fact strung on random historical fact.

Brendan and Kenneth

I paused for a few minutes to read about the church when the service was over.  The bells that had summoned me to worship were good Catholic boys: Brendan and Kenneth.  The church is named after St. Columba, the Irish evangelist who brought Christianity to Scotland in the 6th century.

Christianity’s never been a popularity contest.  Consider what they did to its founder.  But no more could it be extirpated by hanging Jesus on a cross than it could be stamped out by a scant attendance at a Wednesday morning mass.  Like the resurrected Christ himself, the Church is built for the ages.  And the long haul.