Inside Faith with Brother Joseph

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America is fascinated with crime and punishment. Criminal Justice programs are overflowing at colleges~ keeping pace with our burgeoning prison population (the largest per capita in the world), because crime and punishment are en vogue “and an exciting career field.”

Meanwhile, from our sofas and recliners we relive the zeitgeist through the abundance of crime and orison series on television. Almost every channel offers a crime or prison show, many times as “reality TV”.

The Apostle Paul tells us to fill our minds with things that are pure, beautiful, worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Do Cops, CSI, Hard Time, The First 48~ etc., meet these criteria~? Considering demand is driving a steady flow of these programs, what are they providing for our society? Why are they so enticing? Does watching another person suffer make people feel better about their hurting selves? Does seeing a “bad guy” get punished give people a jolt of self-righteous pleasure? Are inmates the newest animals at the zoo of popular media?

We are behind bars after all! Whatever the appeal–people love it and crave more. America hungers for something, we yearn for satiety of our deeper desires. We are being fed by these shows, and in some way they titillate enough to create a desire for more.

But as Christians, called to look for the beautiful and pure, we must stop consuming this poison. We must remember that though inmates are often cast-offs and lawbreakers, they are still human beings, imbued with the image and likeness of God.

To patronize programming that showcases human suffering and crime, we are celebrating the work of the Enemy, glorifying his destruction of our society. Next time a crime or prison show comes on your TV, turn it off. Put down your remote, and instead of enjoying the pain of prisoners from afar, go visit one at your local jail or prison as a volunteer.

Come experience the “real thing” that so intrigues you, and by doing so, visit Christ in the process.

KEYWORDS: Crime; Punishment; Criminal Justice; Prison; Television; Paul; Inmates: Christian; God; Christ 

If you were put on trial for your faith, would there be enough evidence to convict you of being a Christian?

I’ve heard this adage many times, but never had I met anyone to whom it could be applied. Enter Father Louis. Louis Vitale, a 78-year-old Franciscan priest, is one of the foremost peace advocates in our country. He believes unconditionally in the sacredness of human life, and he is willing to put his body—and at his age, his own life—on the line for his faith. To Louis, being Christ-like means serving the Gospel no matter the cost.

He is a leader of the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), and has been protesting war and nuclear weapons for decades. Imprisoned hundreds of times for “Trespassing” on Pharaoh’s property, our lives intertwined during his most recent six-month Federal “bid”—this time a SOAW protest at Ft. Benning, Georgia, landed this septuagenarian in the slammer.

However, this outspoken protester is anything but a troublemaker. He is a daily presence of peace, joy, and love, and truly believes in the goodness of the men here. Not for a minute does he resent doing time. Whether he’s breaking boundaries by eating with different races, mixing with men of all faiths, or humbly vacuuming our small chapel, his service oriented life is a beacon of faith no matter where he goes.

The first Christians lived and died to radically alter the world, as Fr. Louis is doing today. In this narcissistic, self-indulgent age, are you willing to sacrifice your life, your freedom, for what you believe?

KEYWORDS: Christian, Franciscan, Louis Vitale, Gospel, School of the Americas, School of the Americas Watch, Ft. Benning, Faith, Peace Inside Faith

When Obama was elected, many pundits exclaimed that America was officially post-race. Clearly, they haven’t visited a prison lately.

Inside, many aspects of life revolve around race –who you talk to, sit next to, throw the ball to. Race even determines which TV you watch. There is no racial hierarchy: All races are equal in their self-segregation. As Christians, race shouldn’t matter; we are all children of God.

But all too often Christians are masters of self-segregation. Not by race, mind you. I’m talking about denominations. Racial bigots denigrate outsiders with brands of “inferior” or “evil’ Christians, with a slight variation, accuse each other’s belief systems and traditions of being “fallen” or “evil”, or better yet, “deceived.”

But a house divided against itself cannot stand. Last Sunday, some like-minded believers founded a young men’s Christian fellowship: Faith. We instituted our group, Ephesians 4:3 as our guide, to emphasize brotherhood, diversity, denomination, race, and culture. We aim to build a fraternity that recognizes each individual first and foremost as a son of God. Not Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal. Not Black, White, Asian. But this: One body. One Spirit. One faith.”

If we, instead of building moats and walls, applied the same energy to the Great Commission –serve, love, evangelize –we could be moving mountains. Pray for us, that faith makes a difference here. Or better yet, start a group of your own.

KEWORDS: Obama, Race, Prison, Segregation, Christian, God, Denomination, Ephesians, Baptist, Catholic, Pentecostal

I got pulled over today.

That’s “inside” jargon for a random stop-and-search by a Corrections Officer (CO). In prison, privacy is a pipe dream. My person and property can be “shaken down” at any moment. Every phone call is monitored, every letter opened. The CO who pulled me over wanted to scrutinize the contents of my bag: thermal, radio, theology book. He dissected the book page by page dangerous material! “You’re Brother Joseph, right?” he asked with a sneer. “Not good to be known around here.” I swallowed my pride and wished him a nice day as I recovered my belongings and continued on my way. Stay low key, blend in, be anonymous –these are prison’s prescriptions for keeping out of trouble, staying under the radar. But as I walked away, the words of Jesus swept through my heart: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.” (Matthew_5:14-16) I knew these words were meant for me.

As a Gospel Christian, I AM the light of the world, a city on a mountain. I SHOULD stand out. Israel couldn’t stop talking about how Christ lived, the works He performed; his life shined brilliantly. If I don’t live or act differently than other men –if I’m not shining –then I’m snuffed, offering no light to a hurting world.

So thanks for the reminder, Correction Officer. “When your light shines before others, you glorify your heavenly Father.”

KEYWORDS: Prison, Privacy, Theology, Joseph, Jesus, Gospel, Christian, Christ, Israel, Matthew

Note: This post is by “Brother Joseph” who blogs about his experiences reconnecting with his Catholic faith while in a Federal Minimum Security Prison.

“Inside Faith” by Brother Joseph

I’m 31. I’ve had some lofty goals, traveled and worked all over the world. Never did I imagine I’d end up here. I was the first Latino Valedictorian of my high school. I have a BA and MA from an excellent university. I served six years in the military, deploying on numerous occasions to fight the War on Terror, and then worked for a medical school in the Southwest on Border Health issues. I was accepted to a top law school, briefly married to a beautiful woman, and had a wonderful step-daughter. Not too bad for a 26-year old.

Then I fell down the rabbit hole. On the eve of matriculating at an Ivy League law school, I ended up in a wildly different Institution. I’m currently on year five of a fifteen year sentence at a Federal Prison in sunny California. How does someone like me end up in prison? It seems the U.S. Government (our “Pharaoh”) is an equal-opportunity incarcerator.

But like Joseph, I’ve found favor in Pharaoh’s prison. Now, I serve as the Pastoral Coordinator of my prison parish, organizing services and teaching Bible study and a young men’s ministry. For work, I teach health and wellness classes, including Anger Management. I play on recreational leagues for softball and soccer, as well as bass and guitar for a Christian rock band. I keep a charming flower garden.

I’m a pragmatic idealist; a social liberal but conservative in regards to family values; a staunch advocate of woman’s rights but firmly against abortion. I’m evangelical, charismatic, and Catholic. Though my principles seem contradictory by post-modern standards, they reflect what I consider to be Gospel Christianity.

I hope you enjoy my postings about “Inside Faith,” life in prison from a Christian perspective. I hope my musings inspire you to think, reflect, and above all, realize that God is alive and working in prison. If inmates matter to Him, then let us matter to you.

KEYWORDS:  Latino, Prison, Bible Study, Ministry, Evangelical, Charismatic, Catholic, Gospel, Christianity, Faith, God, Joseph