Redemption and the Manson Family

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For me, and possibly you, the Manson “family” has been a reoccurring presence. I was 11 when the Tate-LaBianca murders happened, and certain names were indelibly etched into my memory–Charles Manson, Tex Watson, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel, Leslie Van Houten. Their names have kept popping up over the years, usually in relation to parole hearings. And each time, the gruesome details are recounted.

Except for Manson, who is insane, all developed into model prisoners. And interestingly, after all this time, only one of them has died–Susan Atkins, in 2009, of cancer.

This morning, I read that Leslie Van Houten was denied parole for the umpteenth time. Parole was recommended, but Gov. Jerry Brown denied it, saying she “currently poses an unreasonable danger to society.” I’ll confess, there is a very large part of me that wants to see her released. She’s not the same person she was at age 19. But after reading, again, what she did in 1969…well, it’s shocking.

In Norway, the maximum prison sentence is 20 years, regardless of the crime. A person might remain imprisoned longer than that, but the initial sentence doesn’t go beyond 20 years. There is no “life sentence,” and certainly nothing like our obscenely unjust “three strikes” laws, which are so beloved by law-and-order politicians.

Part of the reasoning, in Norway, is that people change over time. I’m reminded of the scene in “The Shawshank Redemption” where Red says at his parole hearing, “I look back on the way I was then: a young, stupid kid who committed that terrible crime. I want to talk to him. I want to try to talk some sense to him, tell him the way things are. But I can’t. That kid’s long gone, and this old man is all that’s left.”

Norway apparently believes in redemption and life-change. In America, our focus is punishment and vengeance. You can argue that some of these Manson fanatics did redeem themselves, but must continue paying the consequences. I don’t know. It’s an interesting discussion to have.

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Republican Convention, Night One

I thought the first night of the Republican convention went well. It was a good collection of speakers, and they (from what I could tell) stayed on message and didn’t say anything stupid. I’ll never vote for Trump, because my criteria emphasize biblical values, and Trump doesn’t embody or stand for anything that Jesus values. But for those who like Trump, I’m sure they feel pumped up after tonight, and rightfully so.

It was even upbeat. I’ve gotten used to Republicans continuously dissing America–that we’ve become a broken, second-class, non-great country with a decrepit military and where nothing works. I beg to disagree, as does the rest of the world; we are the Gold Standard. But the Republican honchos decided to refrain from hammering those negative themes tonight, and I thank them.

I watched CSpan, instead of a cable news channel, so I could hear all of the speakers without pundits breaking in with their spin. The two guys who talked about Benghazi were riveting. Flynn and Joni Ernst–especially Ernst–were perfect for this base. Melania: she did commendably. I didn’t learn anything new about her husband–no great, insight-filled stories, like I was expecting (and which Anne Romney delivered). But it was fine. She rose way out of her comfort zone, so kudos.

I was totally astonished that Trump kept brief his introduction of Melania. I thought he’d ramble on for a while, unable to avoid the spotlight, and that tomorrow the pundits would only talk about him. By giving only a cursory introduction, he will allow the spotlight to focus on all of these other speakers (at least for tomorrow).

In 2012, I got tired of delegates repeatedly breaking into the “USA! USA!” chant. I still feel that way. “Oh, here we go again.”

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A Glimpse of a Father’s Rage

I’ve been thinking about a devotional speaker I heard during an Evangelical Press Association convention back in the 1980s. He was a pastor and an award-winning author. in addition, he and his wife, both white, had adopted and raised two black boys.
 
During one devotional, he mentioned how his sons had been stopped by cops different times, and he KNEW it was because they were black. No other reason. He related this in a calm, objective way, as he used it to illustrate a point. But I distinctly remember something very different about his voice, for just a second. Leaking through that pastoral calm exterior, I saw a father’s rage. It was just a glimpse, and I think he meant to hide it, but it was there. His beloved boys had been treated unjustly, and there’s no way he could disguise his anger.
 
How many moms and dads in the black community, how many grandparents and siblings and spouses, live with the scars of having been treated unfairly because of their color? Injustice casts a long shadow. It’s not something you get over.
 
When I see African Americans marching, I remind myself that they are individuals with stories to tell–if not from their own lives, from the lives of people they know and love. It’s not something I know anything about, but as a Christian wanting to reflect Jesus, I’m trying to learn. Or, at the least, I’m trying not to be blindly critical of things beyond my experience.
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Thinking About the Unthinkable

Donald Trump has ramped up his enthusiasm for torturing prisoners, saying we need to do the “unthinkable.” What do you think he means? Pulling out fingernails? Attaching electrodes? Breaking toes? Gouging out eyes? Raping family members in front of prisoners? When you’re talking “unthinkable,” all of this is fair game. So if you’re going to vote for Trump, you might want to learn what exactly “unthinkable” means to him.

This would obviously go way beyond what the Bush administration started, striking at the heart of what we stand for. And it would make it profoundly absurd to then sing, “God Bless America.”

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No Do Overs

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Many Brits are wanting a do over of their vote to withdraw from the European Union. But in addition to letting off some nationalistic steam, they are now stuck with their decision. No do overs.

Elizabeth Warren greatly wanted to become head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2011, the agency she designed, but her name was withdrawn because of Republican Senate opposition. Had she been confirmed, she would have disappeared into an obscure government agency, perhaps never to be heard from again. Instead, she became a US Senator and is now continually crawling under Donald Trump’s notoriously thin skin. I’m guessing the Republicans would like a do over.

Republicans also passed on a relatively moderate, and relatively old, Supreme Court nominee in Merrick Garland–somebody Republicans were once somewhat enthusiastic about. In Garland’s place, Hillary Clinton will probably nominate a 40-something liberal firebrand to the Supreme Court. Once again, they’ll wish for a do over.

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Where to Disgruntled Brits Move to?

For the record, regardless of who is elected president, I won’t be moving to Canada. Celebrities often threaten to move to Canada if so-and-so is elected, but they always wimp out. Well, sorry to disappoint you, but I’m staying put, regardless. I believe the American system, despite its flaws, can check-and-balance any president. Listen to all the apocalyptic predictions you want from talk radio and cable news, but we’ll be fine.

What is the counterpart for “moving to Canada” for British folks? Turns out a lot of them, in the wake of Brexit, are looking to get off the island. Their Number One preferred destination is…yep, it’s Canada. But will Canada end up being as jilted by Brits as they are by Americans?

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Mother Knows Best

As diagnoses go, “shingles” would not have been my first choice. But sometimes you don’t get to vote. I, personally, would have preferred “poison ivy” or “Pam’s using too much bleach.” But hey, what can you do?

Several years ago, after Dad got shingles, Mom urged all of us kids to get the shingles shot. She said we DEFINITELY didn’t want to ever get shingles. I checked with my doctor, and he advised waiting until I turned 60. I turn 60 in four months. So that bit of life-planning didn’t exactly work out.

The moral of the story is this. Children of the world: listen to your Mom.

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Two Success Stories

Renee (left) and Alicia.

Renee (left) and Alicia.

Alicia's baptism by Kevin Whitacre and Tomi Cardin.

Alicia’s baptism by Kevin Whitacre and Tomi Cardin.

Renee's baptism by Kevin Whitacre and Tomi Cardin.

Renee’s baptism by Kevin Whitacre and Tomi Cardin.

Yesterday, Pam and I attended the graduation of two women from Redemption House Ministries.These are always such joyous occasions, and I always find myself fighting back at least a few tears as their journeys are told.

Renee and Alicia came to Redemption House Ministries a day apart in January, and completed the six-month program with flying colors. It’s a huge accomplishment in their lives. Interestingly, my pastor, Kevin Whitacre baptized both of them a few weeks ago during Anchor Community Church’s annual baptismal service.

For Renee Russell, it was a case of third-time’s-a-charm. All three of Fort Wayne’s superior court judges have now sent Renee to Redemption House. She was one of the original residents when Redemption House started in 2012, but left after a few months. Two years later, she came back, but returned to prison after just a few days.

But this time, everything came together. Renee was ready. She quickly found a job in sales–pretty much created a job for herself, the way it was told–and keeps getting promoted. Throughout the six months, Renee’s story has been one of life transformation. There were a lot of tears this afternoon as we heard Renee’s story, and as Redemption House staff and residents testified to what they’ve seen occur in her life–not only during the past six months, but since 2012, when she was a totally different, very broken person.

Alicia Hart is just 21 years old, and has her eyes on entering college and becoming a dental hygienist. Staff members spoke about her age–how she has such potential, getting a handle on her life at such a young age, while others wander in their own wildernesses for decades. She’s moving in with her mother, who was there and struck me as a wonderful person. She said it was one of the best days of her life, sitting there and hearing people talk so glowingly about what has occurred in her daughter’s life. Choked me up, I tell you.

Paul talks about becoming a new creation in Christ. I give you Renee and Alicia.

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The Silliness Over Saying “Radical Islam”

I am SO tired of the phony fuss over saying “radical Islam.” It’s petty and silly.

Newflash: it’s a form of political correctness. Donald Trump brags about not being politically correct, and then insists that everyone say the words “radical Islam.” He’s blind to the hypocrisy.

So was every candidate during the Republican primary. Ted Cruz, Bobby Jindal, and others said we’ll never defeat ISIS as long as the President won’t “name the enemy.” Really? Suppose President Obama DID use the term “radical Islam.” Would that make ISIS shrivel up and go away? What difference would it make?

As far as I can tell, the term was invented deep in the bowels of FoxNews. Producers decided, “Let’s insist that President Obama say ‘radical Islam,’ and if he doesn’t, we’ll puff out our chests and act very very outraged.” Of course, it’s been going on for years. Every conservative pundit promotes the term.

President Obama has explained that he doesn’t want to give ISIS the legitimacy of representing Islam–which is what they want. Instead, he calls them terrorists, thugs, killers, violent extremists, and such. And he kills a whole lot of them.

It’s like saying the KKK is “radical Christianity.” To me, the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan has nothing to do with Christianity. The vast majority of the world’s Muslims feel the same way about identifying ISIS as part of Islam. ISIS, after all, has been slaughtering Sunni Muslims, who make up 90% of the world’s Muslims.

President Bush said, “Americans understand we fight not a religion. Ours is not a campaign against the Muslim faith. Ours is a campaign against evil.”

That’s almost identical to President Obama’s approach. “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam.”

Another time: “The terrorists do not speak for over a billion Muslims who reject their hateful ideology.”

And another time: “They try to portray themselves as religious leaders — holy warriors in defense of Islam. That’s why ISIL presumes to declare itself the ‘Islamic State.’ And they propagate the notion that America — and the West, generally — is at war with Islam.” Donald Trump and other Republicans also want to propagate that notion. Don’t go along with it.

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Sentencing Reform: Tackling an Out of Control Issue

An issue important to me is sentencing reform, and candidates’ views will influence my vote. It’s been a big problem in America for decades, with a most definite racist and class component (white rich people tend to get breaks). We need to get a handle on it. The Brock Turner rape case has magnified the issue.

Here’s a interesting and insightful article about a black student athlete who committed a crime similar to Turner’s, but received a 15-25 year sentence.

At the end, the article takes a broad look at criminal sentencing. For instance: “Black men are given prison sentences 20% longer than white men for the exact same crimes.” And: “African-Americans and Latinos are three times as likely to have their cars searched by police than whites and are twice as likely to be arrested for drugs over whites — even though studies show whites use and sell drugs at the same or even higher rates than African-Americans.”

Sentencing reform has actually become somewhat of a bipartisan issue. The Koch Brothers, for instance, support it. I’ve not heard Hillary address the issue. I knew Scott Walker took a hard-line approach and opposed a Madison prosecutor who was getting some national attention by taking some common-sense approaches, but Walker dropped out early. I can’t see Trump taking anything but a “get tough on crime” stance in favor of harsh sentencing, but he could surprise me. As with most policy issues, I kinda doubt he’s given much thought to it.

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