Dating God Meets Googling God

Photo Credit: Julianne Wallace
Br. Dan Horan was in town and asked if I had time to be on his podcast, so I jumped at the chance! He uncovered much in the “How I Met My Ministry” so I will let this post serve as the latest version of “HIMMM”.

You can listen to his podcast here. And check out if you have not already.

Br. Dan also offers an interesting interview with Br Steve Dewitt OFM on a pipeline that is being built across the U.S. and Canada.

Should Prisoners Be Allowed to Go to College Behind Bars?

An NPR story today tells us about San Quentin State Prison and the Prison University Project.  The question of whether while serving time prisoners should be allowed to have access to higher education while others may not, is indeed one to explore.

From the NPR story:

The Prison University Project is the only on-site, degree-granting college program in the state’s prison system. There are well over 100 teacher volunteers from schools such as UC-Berkeley, Stanford and San Francisco State. They go through three security checks to get into the prison. And then they hold classes in a nondescript trailer overlooking the prison’s baseball field

Phillip Senegal and valedictorian Felix Lucero earned associate of arts degrees in 2009 at a ceremony in San Quentin state prison, where they are inmates. The college program is an extension of Patten University in Oakland, Calif.

The program started in 1996 with two volunteer instructors. The program grew. But in 2000, its part-time coordinator quit. One of the volunteers, UC-Berkeley graduate student Jody Lewen, thought if nobody took the program over, it would fold. So she agreed to do it, thinking it would only be temporary. That turned into a full-time commitment.

Lewen decided she had to create an independent non-profit to raise funds to keep the program strong and stable. The project operates with no state or federal funds.

Today, 320 inmates are enrolled in the college program that could earn them an associate’s degree granted through a partnership between the Prison University Project and Patten University, based in Oakland, Calif. Two of this year’s five graduates have been paroled.

The question of whether this helps inmates is at the heart of the matter. Are prisoners given a better chance to not end up back in prison if they get educated while they are there? There’s not enough evidence yet, says our story. But anecdotally, one can certainly see the positives.

We don’t know enough about rehabilitation for prisoners but we do know that locking them up and not giving them enough to keep themselves occupied is not a recipe for success on the outside.

Pet therapy is another way to give prisoners some responsibility and keep their anger at bay. Check this vid out from a prison in France.

Similar reports about maintaining calm have surfaced with the education offerings as well.

Again from NPR:

Scott Kernan, who manages day-to-day operations at California’s 33 adult prisons, says the college classes and other programs are important not only for the inmates. “You give them something meaningful to do, something they are engaged in, something that is exercising their mind, then it becomes a safer place for staff,” Kernan says.

If inmates are idle, he says, there’s a much higher chance of violence.

San Quentin certainly experiences the violence. In May, there was a riot in a wing of the prison dedicated to the short-term inmates awaiting transfers to other state facilities. They don’t have access to the college or other programs. But the general population is encouraged to participate. Among that group, which numbers around 1,800, there are far fewer incidents.

Bobby Evans Jr., who is not eligible for parole until 2020, earned his degree at San Quentin five years ago and now tutors other inmates.

“I’ve seen guys transfer in from other high-level prisons and they come in with that mask,” says Evans, who says he came in with that hardened attitude, too. He says it takes time for new arrivals, even those not in the college program, to get used to the calmer atmosphere at San Quentin.

“In a couple of weeks they start opening up, because it’s different,” he says. “The racial tension is less. We start valuing things, and we don’t want to destroy them. And so it’s a life-changing thing.”

It seems to me that the question is two fold: First, there’s a question about money. Will San Quentin be the only school of it’s kind or will states or even Universities invest in this process? Secondly, is taking someone’s freedom to come and go as they please enough of a punishment for heinous and violent crimes?

I would say it is. And that educating them just might be the link that they all need to not return.

Corapi Leaves Priesthood

On the 20th Anniversary of his ordination, Fr. John Corapi has decided to leave the Catholic Priesthood an concentrate on a “wider audience” as he announces his new web site The Black Sheep Dog. A statement on his website says it all. A clip:

I accept moving on, but I am not ready to be altogether extinguished just yet. In the final analysis I have only one of only two viable choices:
1. I can quietly lie down and die, or
2. I can go on in ways that I am able to go on.

I did not start this process, the Bishop of Corpus Christi, Texas ordered my superiors, against their will and better judgment, to do it. He in fact threatened to release a reprehensible and libelous letter to all of the bishops if they did not suspend me. He has a perfect right to do so, and I defend that right. Bishops aren’t bound by civil laws and procedures in internal Church matters. I agree with that, and would defend to the death the Church’s right to proceed as they see fit. He is the bishop and he has the right to govern as he sees fit. It isn’t an easy task. Many forces besiege him, including pressure from other bishops.

My canon lawyer and my civil lawyers have concluded that I cannot receive a fair and just hearing under the Church’s present process. The Church will conclude that I am not cooperating with the process because I refuse to give up all of my civil and human rights in order to hold harmless anyone who chooses to say defamatory and actionable things against me with no downside to them. The case may be on hold indefinitely, but my life cannot be.

I guess the Bishop of Corpus Christi shouldn’t expect a Christmas card?

There is one curious statement toward the end of his announcement.

I will not try to fight this irrational and unjust situation for the simple reason that I don’t want to be placed in an adversarial posture against the Church. For 20 years I did my best to guard and feed the sheep. Now, based on a totally unsubstantiated, undocumented allegation from a demonstrably troubled person I was thrown out like yesterday’s garbage. I accept that. Perhaps I deserve that.

“PERHAPS I DESERVE THAT?” Those are his words and not mine, but that’s as close to an admission of guilt that I think you’re going to get. I think there’s something more to this but I doubt that we’ll ever hear the whole story.

That said, I liked Fr. Corapi. He wasn’t someone I would say that I agreed with all the time, but I thought that his humor was often funny and that he had a pretty good show. There were times I didn’t like what he had to say, but also times that I thought he was spot on.

I do find this a bit distasteful that he continues to use this moment to plug his new website instead of coming forth with evidence of his innocence himself. Maybe that day will be coming and I pray for it.

But perhaps, there is good reason for his leaving. Perhaps he is quitting because he is guilty? I hope he isn’t, but I fear that he did something that is irreparable. Otherwise why else would he not produce the evidence of his innocence? A second thought is more positive, he’s giving up to not harm the accuser any further. Either way, Corapi had some kind of dealing with her. What happened after that is anyone’s guess.

It’s a sad day for him and for the priesthood and most of all, for the church. Detractors will pile on and say, “Yep, there’s another bad priest who has problems with sex and women.”

I’m wondering what supporters and detractors will do. Will the 5000 facebook fans he has leave the church now? Doubtful–but it will be interesting to see what happens.

Do Your Vulnerabilities Keep You Hostage?

This year I’ve been journeying with some of our Catholic Volunteers here in Buffalo. Their experience of living in community is always a challenge for each one of them. I look back to my senior year in college and found that living with 5 other guys was actually difficult. We sometimes got on each other’s last nerve. One of the things about living in community is that at times you may think you’ve gotten to know someone well and then they surprise you and do something you didn’t expect, or they hurt your feelings.

Secondly, sometimes someone’s annoying quirks signal something deeper. And sometime what we perceive to be meanness, or aloofness or even just weirdness is actually not so far removed from an understandable experience. Once we discover what someone fears or needs, we often are able to let our perceptions grow into an actual opportunity. Sometimes our own pride gets in the way of forming deeper relationship because we are too afraid to let ourselves be vulnerable for whatever reasons we may have for protecting ourselves.

As I was driving to the gym this morning, my old radio colleague Steve Inskeep introduced National Public Radio’s Story Corps Feature–which gives real people the opportunity to tell a meaningful story. Today’s came from a writer who is interviewed by his son. The writer was always trying to impress his father with his writing but …

“He never said anything good about my writing,” Walter says. “And that really, that really hurt, that really bothered me a lot.”

Trying to make an impression on his father, Herbert Dean, Walter started to use some of the stories he’d heard around the house in his writing.

“I even would take his ghost stories and publish them,” Walter says. “And I would show them to him, and he would never comment on them. So when I did that, then I said, he hates me. You know, he hates me.”

“Did you ever ask him about it?” Christopher asks.

“No, no. When he was dying, I brought him a book that I’d just finished. And uh, he picked it up and he looked at it, and then he just laid it down.

“And then after he died, I went to his house and went through his papers. And I would see X’s where his signature should be. The man couldn’t read. I mean, that was why he never said anything about my writing. It just tore me up, I mean, I could have read him a story at the hospital.”


Could you imagine the pain and embarrassment he must have felt? His own son just sought his approval but he was too proud to admit that he couldn’t read his son’s books. His stories were amazingly vivid and publishable and his son took pains to make sure they’d be honored. But Dad couldn’t write them for himself.

So he went on protecting himself and the son assumed it was because he was hated. Dad may have resented his son’s ability to read when he in fact, could not–but the chasm that divided them was one small admission of weakness, one that could have been overcome.

What is it that you can’t admit that keeps you from others. Do you avoid a conversation with a loved one because it’s going to bring up things that could start an argument? Perhaps there’s a weakness that you can’t admit so you avoid being in those situations? Or might you have a skeleton in the closet that is trying to break out and force you to deal with the fallout?

Whatever the matter is, it may not be worth secluding it further. I’m sure both the man and the son in the story have deep regrets.

As we posted earlier, dying people don’t look back on their lives with regrets of things they’ve done. No, they regret the things they didn’t do. So today, let us pray that we can be brave enough to face our own vulnerabilities and admit that they keep us hostage from real freedom–the freedom of being who we are–in all our human weakness. The more we are able to share that–the freer we can become and the closer we can become with others, who may just share our own fears as well.

Back to our volunteers, who have impressed me with just how vulnerable many of them have been for one another and with me as well. Pray for them as they begin their last month or so of service that they can end their time here well and move on to all that awaits them in their growing lives.

Working With Legends

For nearly 10 years I worked in New York City radio and got to meet and actually work alongside dozens of legendary broadcasting types. I remember the first time New York Mets broadcaster Bob Murphy said “studio operations by Mike Hayes” in the closing credits. It wasn’t that big a deal but one of my heroes just said my name and my heart felt 2 sizes bigger.

One of the legends that I worked alongside was Don Imus. Nobody gets to know Mr. Imus all that well, but the cast of characters that surround him, well, they were a lot easier to get to know. Lou Rufino, Imus’ engineer, in fact rents my old apartment in Queens now that I’ve gone west to Buffalo. When Imus got in trouble with Rutgers, I defended him because I’ve seen the softer side of Don. The one who cries when children die and who grabbed my shoulder while he gasped for air when recovering from a collapsed lung to steady himself.

But I’d often have the pleasure of bringing in weather updates to Charles McCord, the perennial newshound who would tell Don what was going on in the world. Sue Guzman would write his copy and I would assist her and sportscaster Mike Breen with editing audio actualities for them to use in their “shows.” Charles would always greet me with a “Hey Bro!” or “Thanks Bro” when I’d have the opportunity to interact with him. He was the consummate professional and today it’s hard to believe that his last broadcast with the I-Man is finally here.

My friend and best man, Crash, an engineer at Charles’ current radio home WABC reflects on the last go-round this morning.

Sometime around 9:54 am on Friday, May 6th, Charles McCord will turn off the microphone, put the headphones down on the console, and ride off into the sunset. (Note: May 6th is also, coincidentally, the birthday of Willie Mays, another genius who made his craft look effortless.) Radio news- and your listening habits- will never be the same. But for me, Charles wasn’t a legend, or a friend I welcomed into my car during the rush hour. For almost a year, Charles did the McCord News Hour as an Imus lead-in from the WABC studio. I engineered that show, and after that experince, I’ll take away an image of Charles as a funny and dedicated newsman, a writer who always had a synonym and a laugh at the ready.

I am reminded of a Pete Townshend quote about the rock and roll legends he played with, something along the lines of, “They’re your idols, but they’re my friends”. To paraphrase, Charles was, however briefly, one of my co-workers, and that softens the way you look at a living legend. Ask Frank D’Elia, for instance about the Music Radio days, and I’ll bet you get a similar response about Ron Lundy or Dan Ingram. Eventually, they’re just another face in the office. I may not have worked with Charles anywhere near as long as the I-Man, Bernie or Lou, but for the year he did the McCord News hour, it was still a treat to work with a consummate professional.

Indeed, Crash’s words also speak for me. Blessings on retirement, Chuck. May the bass be biting and the memories of the laughter be not that far from you.