Wednesday, July 14, 2010

He to Whom We Call

We use it all the time. We whisper it. We curse it. We sing it. It’s part of our basest slang and our most sacred expressions. But where does the English word “god” actually come from?

The other languages I am familiar with all have a Latin base. The word for “god” in Latin languages comes, originally, from “zeus”. It survives in English in terms like deism or theology.

I’ll cover the Latin roots in a follow-up post, but the roots of “god” are not Latin, but rather an ancient Germanic language. Many of English’s most basic words come from this source: man, woman, child, hunger, thirst, sun, death, birth, and water all have nothing to do with parlance of Rome. The word we use for the One we worship is no exception.

So let’s take a look at where we get the word for “god”.

Before “god”, says the linguists who study Proto-Germanic (the theoretical, reconstructed root of all modern Germanic languages), we had the word “ghutan,” which was used in the sense of “supreme being.” But that word had an even older root (ghut), which in turn had an even older root: “gheu”. And “gheu” once upon a time meant “to call, to invoke.”

So when our ancestors spoke of god, they meant not merely a spiritual being, but one on whom they called. One with whom they could interact. A relational Person. God was “the one to whom we call.”

I like this—very much.

Because regardless of our personal theologies, we all do this. In the foxholes of our daily lives, we invoke the help of a Being we may say we don’t believe in. How many atheists have been forlorn to hear themselves cry out, “God, please!” in the moment of their personal distress?

It’s as is we cannot help ourselves. Because at some level beneath reason and will, we poke our fingers through our measurable, material surroundings in search of the spiritual we instinctively know to underlie it.

Scientific studies sometimes bump up against this phenomenon.

One of the scientists quoted in the above article explains at length how the human experience of “god” is an evolutionary adaptation, an almost universal response to the pressures of sentient, rational existence.

But what if it’s the other way around? What if we call upon God because He designed us to call, and because He loves it when we do?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Chasing Tony (From Jubilee, July 2010)

“Can you get a gun?” asked Tony, then 16.
He and two friends had run out of drug money. To get it, they robbed seven convenience stores with a sawed-off double-barrel shotgun. “We just wanted play money,” remembers Tony.
At the seventh store, the cashier reached for the phone. The boy wielding the shotgun fired, and the clerk went down, a red stain blooming on his flank.
How had it come to this?
When small, Tony was raised by his Catholic grandparents in Chicago, and at the church of a believing aunt, he remembers reciting John 3:16 before the congregation.
But when he turned eight, his father, who lived in Dallas, brought Tony to live there. Tony resented the change—and his father’s battle with alcohol. He started failing school and fighting.
“Every week,” remembers Tony, “I had to bring a note home explaining my bad behavior. . . But it didn’t seem to deter me.”
Tony stole to fund his spiraling drug addiction, and he ran away to avoid the consequences. Whenever he ran, his father patrolled the streets all night in search of him. Tony failed to recognize his father’s love at the time, but now he recognizes that “my father never gave up on me.”
After he was arrested for the convenience store robberies, Tony was released to his father’s custody pending trial. Before long he ran again, hiding from both his father and the police.
On February 1, 1989, Tony was apprehended fleeing from a stolen vehicle. He was certified to stand trial as an adult and sentenced to 25 years.

When Lightning Strikes
By then, whatever faith Tony possessed had dwindled to a faint memory of brimstone and catechisms.
“I was 16 going on 17,” he says, “and I wasn’t going to be nobody’s fool.”
Prison only honed his criminality; after 10 years of incarceration, he lasted four months on his first parole. Tony returned to a hole that no light penetrated—until lightning struck.
Tony’s pregnant Aunt Tina was hit by a lightning bolt. Though she survived, doctors recommended terminating her pregnancy. Tony’s Aunt Margie offered God her life if He spared Tina’s child. When Tina delivered a healthy boy, Margie surrendered her life to Christ.
Margie and her husband, Mark, began to visit Tony. He scoffed at their mention of a caring God, but their own compassion bewildered him.
“Don’t worry about me,” he assured them. “This is my world.”
They wept for the nephew who could imagine no life but prison, but eventually, their perseverance bore fruit.
“God started giving me a soft heart,” says Tony.
He began to pray before parole hearings. When denied, he would give up on God again. But God never gave up on him.
In 2006 Tony reviewed his note card with scripted statements to impress the interviewer at yet another parole hearing. But something made him throw it away; for the first time, he approached God without conditions.
“I’m tired of the games,” he confessed. “If I serve the rest of my term, that’s fine. I want to know the power that’s behind the people who come into prison to visit me. Just help me.”
Tony was shocked when he was offered parole and his choice of reentry programs: nine months of drug rehab or 18 months in the InnerChange Freedom Initiative® (IFI), a reentry program developed by Prison Fellowship and based on the life and teachings of Jesus.
Though tempted by the shorter program, Tony remembered his request of God. Here was his chance to meet the Power behind his aunt. He asked to be sent to IFI.

“God Never Turns His Back.”
“He was just a different person,” marvels Margie, remembering the first time she visited Tony in IFI. On the four-hour drive back home, Margie and Mark wept tears of gratitude.
Tony grew to know God in IFI’s structured, values-centered environment. He also learned to release the pain of his childhood and to understand the consequences of his own choices. And when his business plan won at an IFI business fair, “it amazed me, and it gave me a new viewpoint of my capabilities.”
After his release Tony continued IFI’s post-prison phase. After a difficult job hunt, he finally found employment with Artifex Technology and was promoted to project manager. “I would trust him with anything,” says Artifex owner Jacob Cervantes.
Tony also married Annie Cervantes, a relative of Jacob, and became an instant father to her 11-year-old, Nathan, soon followed by baby Giovanni.
Giovanni’s birth left an awestruck Tony determined to make it on the outside. “Two nights ago,” says the dad, “I was holding Giovanni and the thought crossed my mind if there was a way I could earn some fast money. But he was just looking at me . . . and I realized that my son will look to me as the example.” For his own example, Tony can look to his father, about to celebrate eight years of sobriety. They talk daily.
Tony “understands what life is now,” says his father. Someday Tony wants to use his life to help other ex-prisoners, but for now he serves and loves his family. Despite some transitional struggles, Annie says he’s doing “excellent.”
Day by day, he looks to God for strength because, no matter how far Tony ran in the past, “God never turns His back.”

Raising Up Fathers (from

Raising Up Fathers from the Inside Out

View This IssueOn Father’s Day in America, the tangy smoke of barbecue will float over countless backyards. Young daughters and sons will present their fathers with hugs, homemade cards, and breakfast in bed. But for over one million children of incarcerated men, one thing will be missing: Dad.

The hundreds of thousands of fathers behind bars have an irreplaceable role in the lives of their children, and they need training and practical tools to become better parents. Prison Fellowship has partnered with the National Fatherhood Initiative® (NFI) to develop InsideOut DadTM Christian, a curriculum based on solid biblical principles to help men become the fathers that God created them to be.

And it’s available for your use!

Life Like a Locomotive
Rev. E. Gregory Austen, Jr., director of corrections programming for NFI and primary author of InsideOut Dad Christian, compares the situation of many incarcerated fathers to the biblical character of Samson. “Samson spent most of his life as a man who was unaware—going through life like a locomotive and not fulfilling God’s purposes for him. He couldn’t see clearly until he was in prison and blinded.”

Likewise, says Rev. Austen, men who have made serious mistakes and entered prison have an opportunity to see themselves clearly for the first time, especially in their parental roles. InsideOut Dad Christian is designed to illuminate for men their God-given purpose as fathers and equip them to begin to live it out.

Speaking to the Man
InsideOut Dad Christian “speaks to the man—not at him,” says Raeanne Hance, executive director of Prison Fellowship Florida. Through 12 core sessions, 26 optional sessions, and a reentry module, the curriculum addresses issues central to men, such as: exploring faith, handling and expressing emotions, improving communication, maintaining mental and physical health, and managing stress.

Check It Out for Yourself!
Click here for sample lessons of InsideOut Dad Christian.

Holistically grounded, men will be better able to tackle the fatherhood portion of the curriculum, which helps men to write letters to their children, understand their children’s developmental needs, and reestablish relationships with caregivers.

Each volunteer-led core session comes with optional sessions that expand on important themes. Participants study the curriculum, journal their thoughts, and discuss their findings in breakout sessions. The curriculum also suggests creative ways to interact with their children from afar, such as: “Paper Hugs from Daddy,” chess by mail, and recordings of storybooks. Woven throughout with Scripture, InsideOut Dad Christian is edited for a sixth-grade reading level.

“Volunteers . . . love the curriculum. They love the principles that are being taught,” says Raeanne. She has made InsideOut Dad Christian an integral part of reentry programming at four facilities in Florida and hopes to add a fifth in the near future. She also plans to train inmates to become peer facilitators and lead the program on their own.

The inmates’ “attitudes have changed,” adds Shawn O’Neill, who directs reentry for Prison Fellowship Florida. They have “that eagerness to take that rightful, God-ordained place as father of the family.”

From Sorrow to Hope
When participants were confronted with the importance of godly fatherhood, “their reaction was remorse,” says Bill Anderson, executive director of Prison Fellowship Arizona/Oklahoma, who oversaw promising pilots of the curriculum. But soon participants moved from sorrow to hope as the curriculum offered them practical ways to reach out to their children—and wait patiently for trust to grow back in broken relationships.

Shawn tells the story of one inmate who had a broken relationship with his daughter. Though he had written to her several times before, no answer came. He wrote to her again to share some of the insights he had gained from InsideOut Dad Christian. Soon, she re-opened correspondence with him. By the end of the program, says Shawn, they were “well on their way to reconciliation.”

Robby, an inmate and the father of three boys, wrote to Rev. Austen to say, “I just want to be the father they need in their lives. I truly am blessed to be apart [sic] of a program . . . and I really do appreciate the guidance. It’s only by the grace of God! I plan to apply what I have learned over the last 12 weeks to the best of my ability.”

Not only does fatherhood training help men become better fathers from the inside, but it also helps ex-prisoners stay out. Behind a saving relationship with Christ, claims Rev. Austen, nothing can motivate a man more than the desire to be there for his children. “When they believe that they have an irreplaceable role in the lives of their children,” he says, “it gives them a reason to care.”

Returning mature, well-equipped fathers to their families also helps to break the cycle of intergenerational incarceration. With children of prisoners at significant risk of entering jail, effective fatherhood training can help mitigate some of the worst consequences of separation and betrayed trust.

Implementing the Program
Although it is sometimes inappropriate, and illegal, for inmates to seek contact with children or their caregivers, Austen emphasizes that in the vast majority of cases, reconciliation can reap a harvest of renewed hope for prisoners and their families. Even when caregivers return prisoners’ letters to their children unopened, prisoners are encouraged to save the letters so that one day they might prove to their children that they cared.

InsideOut Dad Christian is published by the National Fatherhood Initiative. You can view samples online. If you would like to bring the curriculum into the prison where you minister, please contact your local Prison Fellowship representative in the field, or call the PF National Program Support Center at 1-800-251-7411.