Pennies For Heaven
I am working with a convicted felon under community supervision who is trying to work his way into being a productive member of society--become employed, father his children, contribute to our community. My guy, who sexually molested two young children, meets with me every week and I offer encouragement and support and tell him the truth in all things. One thing that was quite surprising to me is the amount of psychological therapy felons and sexual offenders are required to complete, some at their own expense. He has completed an extensive and exhaustive unit of counseling called "Moral Recognition Therapy". When he told me this, I wondered what the hell is moral recognition therapy? One day the time was right, so I asked him, Just what is this moral recognition therapy anyway? What do you learn? He gave me that slightly startled, slightly puzzled, calm look as he answered It's Where I Learn How to Tell What Is Right and What Is Wrong. Oh, says I. And I think So you can morally recognize things? Hmmph. Another What Does He/She Mean Now/Boy Am I Completely Clueless Moment between us.
Not too long ago I was a the American Museum of Natural History in New York City. I had the most puzzling experience. I was in the butterfly conservatory; this is a controlled garden, a tropical rain forest environment, where tens of thousands of brilliantly colored butterflies, some the size of your hand, some the size of your littlest fingernail, live and play. P.S. 23 from Brooklyn was there and at a point, the teacher stood in front of her group where she held her arms out wide, as if to lead them in song. The butterflies flocked to her and landed on her hands and arms and she said to the group, Now--are these real? The children grew still, anxiously still, until one girl in back of the group answered with quiet confidence. Yes, those are real. A relief spread through the children and I moved on, completely perplexed, a little annoyed. What was that all about?
The next day I was at the Slave Exhibit at the Historical Society of the City of New York, where another public school was touring. I was standing at an exhibit that included some stuffed animals and heard one little boy from Harlem say to another I'm not buying any of this. Them birds ain't real. He was utterly disgusted and I was utterly fascinated. This little kid thought the museum was trying to pull a fast one. What was he talking about?
My neice was in a recent production of 'West Side Story' at Lewis and Clark High School here in The 'Kan. On Saturday night she borrowed her mother's car to go to the performance and parked right at the front door of the school, ran in for hair and make up and to dance the closing night. Mom drives a Hummer. My neice came out afterwards to see her mother's car spray painted with huge bright, flourescent letters: NO! This at the front door of her own high school, in her own neighborhood, in her hometown.
I have wondered much about what all of these things mean but when my little neice was the victim of neighborhood terrorism, it became clear to me: we have raised children who can't always tell what is real and what is fantasy. They have played so many video games with incredible animation and animatronics but without any bridge to and from reality that they just aren't sure what acts of violence, hostility and terrorism really are. We are now having teach the real here and now in our grade schools, in an effort to provide a broad context for the inputs and stimuli that children routinely receive. Not only that, we have raised children who will express themselves, under any circumstance. We have asked them how they feel about all things and nurtured and prized their self-esteem so extensively, they believe that expressing themselves in any manner is acceptable. It's okay to tell someone, in a malicious manner, if you don't like the car they drive. Nevermind if they are a member of your neighborhood community. They need to know how you feel. And finally, these same expressive children grow into adults who don't know right from wrong and have to experience the aftermath of a heinous crime to begin to understand. And at the root of most of this is our failure as parents. We have dropped the ball.
Now we must all live with what we have created. We must continue to retro fit and try to go back and make reparations, as in the case of my felon. We must be there for each other when we suffer at each other's hand, as in the case of my neice. But most importantly, we must walk alongside the new generation and carefully explain and delineate everything in absolute terms, as in the case of the school children at museums anywhere. We have to be the bridge between the imagination and reality, firmly rooted in natural consequences and pillared by respect, contemplation and self-restraint. How we got here from there is not quite clear, given our own upbringing, but here we are. In a prison that we have built ourselves. And amongst us are our own little terrorists who are in for a long ride, if humility, along with the last penny, aren't forthcoming soon.
You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment. But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, Raqa, will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna.
Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you,you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.” --Matthew 5:20-26
The 'Kan EWA