Progressive Prison Project
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
A White-Collar Minister At A
Pharisee’s House: Luke 14:8-11
By Jeff Grant
When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. – Luke 14:8–10
I tell this tale to almost all my ministees who are heading for prison. It’s based on a portion of the scripture passage often referred to in Bibles as, “Jesus At A Pharisee’s House.” Luke 14:8-11. I tell them:
Once you get to prison and settle in for few days, you’ll inevitably wonder over to the rec (recreation area). There, you’ll see some guys playing a pick-up game of basketball. You won’t know anybody yet, so you’ll probably be standing around for a while with your hands in your pockets not knowing quite what to do. After a little while, you’ll notice that there are some bleachers, the kind with two or three rows like you remember from elementary school or middle school. You will nonchalantly walk over to the bleachers to sit down and watch the basketball game.
Question: Where on the bleachers should you sit? Answer: In the back row.
If you sit in the front row of the bleachers, you will likely be sitting in somebody else’s seat, even if they are not there. Remembering this simple rule at all times, in all situations, might be the difference between keeping safe and getting killed in prison.
I am hurting.
If you are a close reader of prisonist.org, I suppose you wouldn’t really know it. Not with all the news and events we post, speaking engagements, sermons, and other positive stuff.
In many ways, it’s my job to project the sturdiness and resiliency needed to minister to, and advocate for, the sick and suffering outcasts accused or convicted of white-collar crimes, as well as their families. What choice do I really have?
But I also know it’s my job to tell the truth. To be open and vulnerable so as to give comfort and agency to these people at a time in their lives when they are deeply suffering. And right now, I’m hurt. So I’m telling the truth.
A few times in the past few months, I’ve left banquets to which I‘ve been invited with the grim reminder that the scarlet letter of having been convicted of a “white-collar” crime is really a tattoo – a tattoo that I wear, and that we all wear if we are poor, hungry, homeless, sick or suffering from incarceration issues.
What can I do about it when I am my computer at 4 in the morning? Well, I know I can change my attitude. I know I can pray.
Precious God, if suffering is the touchstone of spiritual growth – I pray that I have learned and will grow from this moment of reflection, and that this suffering has not been in vain.
Put not your trust in princes, Nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; In that very day his thoughts perish. Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help. – Psalm 146:3-5
It’s time to stop relying so much on the approval of other people. It’s time for more trust and faith in God.
I have a few banquets coming up soon where I can put this to the test.
Lynn Springer, Advocate, Innocent Spouses & Children
George Bresnan, Advocate, Ex-Pats
Michael Karaffa, Advocate, Disabilities
Comments from Social Media:
Founder/ Senior at Bullseye America LLC
As a minister it is very easy to carry pain. We preach, counsel and support people all the time to help strengthen their faith and family. We teach people to believe and have faith in God and at the moment of our lowness we need someone who will uplift us and help us through the pain we carry daily. I can tell you I have felt that way many times and I felt that I was Moses in the desert alone with no one to share my pain with at those moments I listen to music, I write, I counsel more so that I help more and lastly I pray more because I know that the devil is attacking me because my blessing and breakthrough is right around the corner.
God loves and I do too! Keep doing what you do!
Jeff Grant, JD, M Div-
Minister/Director, Progressive Prison Project, Greenwich, CT, The First White-Collar Ministries in the US prisonist.org
Eric, thank you for this beautiful reflection – just what I needed. A bishop is a pastor to pastors, that’s what you’ve been for me this morning. Many blessings my friend.
Barry S. Diamond –
Life is like a rose bush
something beautiful but also thorny
When I said life is good, I did not mean that there are no moments of bad. I just choose to concentrate on what is positive. We who have been incarcerated never forget. I agree that man has a problem forgiving but fortunately God does not.
So that your readers do not think your story is inaccurate, (about sitting in the wrong seat can be dangerous), I would like to tell you my encounter with this problem:
My first day in jail, I was in a cell with a young man who gladly let me bunk on the lower bed because of my age. We became friendly because he was a history buff and interested in hearing about Brooklyn , NY in the “ old days”. The first day I went down to breakfast and began to sit in an empty seat at his table. Before I knew what happened, I was being yelled at by someone who said it was his seat and if I valued my life I better never sit there. The only thing that saved me (which I did not know) was the fact that my cellmate was an important person in the cell block. He verified that I was his new cellmate and did not know better. I was “allowed” to sit at the next table over and was treated with respect by everyone who was at my new table.
Maybe it’s time someone wrote a short explanation of proper conduct for a newbie so that a first time person can more easily survive their incarceration. I would be more than happy to post it on our web-site reentrysurvivors.com.
Thanks for your strength in vulnerability. It is good to be reminded that the two so often go hand in hand.
May God continue to bless you and this ministry. You have a compelling story filled with redemption and hope and love. Who among couldn't use that in our everyday practical lives!
If what you are doing wasn't needed in the world, God would not have called you to this ministry. Keep the faith!
Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Your purpose is to be a voice. It will not always be easy, but God's guidance will help you stay the course.
I was just reading the blog post when your email asking for thoughts came in. I have so many thoughts about various things you said, but what has caused me to respond so quickly is your admission that you are hurting. I know how hard it is to be the one others look to for guidance and support when we, ourselves, are hurting and in need of support and are afraid to admit it.
In my mediations, parties sometimes compliment me on their perception of my interpersonal skills, strength, sense of humor or joie de vivre. It makes me feel as if I am being a complete fraud because their perceptions could not be farther from the truth. I don’t feel strong, and feeling joy—at least at this point— is a thing of the past for me. I hurt in silence while I work at solving their problems, and the pain worsens each day when work comes to a close and I am no longer actively engaging with others to achieve their goals. I imagine this is similar to what you experience.
I can’t imagine how hard it is for someone like you — who is still healing — to feel as if he needs to put others first in their healing. The situation you describe about being an invited guest, but feeling as if you are wearing a scarlet letter, is entirely understandable. You may or may not in fact be seen that way, but what we all have to remind ourselves is the way people choose to view us, or categorize us, is not OUR PROBLEM, but theirs and theirs alone. Judging others is so easy to do and so hard to resist. For some, it is the only way they can be assured they will always be “above” those they judge. Our job is to not let it affect how we see ourselves. I fight against my predisposition to worry about how others view me every day of my life. If it weren’t related to my husband’s situation, it would be related to something else. I want people to like me so I do what I can to please everyone and end up leaving myself out of the equation sometimes! I think you may do the same.
My therapist told me this week I need to do something JUST FOR MYSELF this week. She asked me what I could do that would make me happy, even if for just a little while. I really had to think because it has been an awfully long time since I thought about doing something for the fun of it. Believe it or not, I could not think of one single thing! Then she asked, “What about a massage?” And I responded,” Oh, I LOVE massages!” Bingo. My homework this week is to get a massage! Your homework is to think of something that might take away the pain and instead will provide you with pleasure, even if temporary in nature. I want you to tell ME what would bring YOU — and you alone — peace, joy or pleasure. And it can’t be doing something for someone else. It must be doing something JUST FOR YOU.
Hey, and that “tattoo” you talk about? Remember the Holocaust and the numbers tattooed on the Jews at Auschwitz? The meaning of those tattoos changed over time…. and now for the survivors and their families, those tattooed numbers are nothing short of badges of honor. You should think of your “tattoo” the same way. You made a mistake, you paid for it, became a better person for it, and now you are dedicating yourself to helping others. That sounds much more like a badge than a scarlet letter to me.
Thank you for talking about your hurt. Please let me know how I can help.