First Baptist Church of Bridgeport
Sunday, August 24, 2014, 10 am
25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. – Matt. 6:25-34
I’m going to start this sermon by putting my social location on the table.
Most of you know that I served as Associate Minister and Director of Prison Ministries at this church until February of this year. From this pulpit, I’ve shared with you my transformation story of how I went from addiction to prescription narcotics, to Federal prison for a white-collar crime, to earning a Master of Divinity at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York, to founding with my wife Lynn a prison ministry for people accused or convicted of white-collar and other nonviolent crimes and their families.
What I haven’t shared with you is that I suffer from bipolar depression, and that in 2002 I attempted to commit suicide. It has been a long road back since then that has included a regular course of treatment for my bipolar depression – with varying results.
What I am going to try to do this morning is describe what it is like to suffer from depression when issues of incarceration are present in your life.
Let me tell you about a car accident I had on Wednesday morning. It was a car accident that I had in my own driveway.
I got up late, at least late for me, at about 5:30 am. That’s about two hours later than my usual 3:30 in the morning wake up time. Usually, I have enough time to brew myself a leisurely cup of coffee, or two. Enough time to sit at the computer for a couple of hours and blog, respond to emails, write a sermon, and maybe work on my ever-unfinished book. Use my time the in the way I need, in the pattern I need to quiet the chaos in my head and instill in myself a sense of calm. It is a calm I’ve learned I need to start my day.
But on Wednesday morning, I was moving fast. Way too fast as it turned out. I had forgotten that our friend Michael was staying with us overnight and had parked his car in our driveway. Exactly where I, in my supreme rush to get where I was going, needed to back up to get out of the driveway. I didn’t look over my shoulder. And the backup camera and beeping noises coming from my car were useless in my mad rush to get where I was going. Luckily, my car only had a broken taillight. Michael’s car had several thousand dollars of damage – damage that my insurance company and I will be paying for.
Here’s the point of my story. I immediately felt that old feeling when the floor dropped out from under me. I didn’t know what to do and my mind started racing? I started to blame everyone I could think of – I blamed Michael for parking his car in the driveway. I blamed God for dealing me such a bad hand yet again. I blamed myself. I became despondent and overwhelmed with my depression. I lost my bearings and my composure. Luckily, I have a very loving wife, a wonderful support system, and tools I’ve learned in various 12-step programs and in my faith journey. I recovered from my depressive episode in a few hours.
For those four or five hours I was in my depressed hole this week, I can tell you that I sympathized with the families of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. And that Robin Williams’ suicide from his own battle with depression was on my mind. And that I was concerned about the Israeli-Hamas crisis, prison overcrowding, solitary confinement, and all of the issues that, on most days, motivate me to do the things I do.
I could tell you that, but I would be lying.
Because on Wednesday, the only thing I could do for those four or five hours was get through the day. The only thing I could do was breathe.
It’s been this way episodically since my legal issues began fifteen years ago. With experience it’s gotten better – but I never seem to get used to it.
What makes this driveway/car-crash/incarceration/depression incident really troubling is that only a few days earlier, I had already reached out for help on the topic of “Incarceration & Depression” – and in a big way!
For the balance of this sermon, I am going to share with you some of these important contributions on the topic of Depression & Incarceration, and then I will conclude with the balance of my personal reflection.
“The Greek word for anxiety, Merimnao, means, to be drawn in different directions. From a psychological perspective, Anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, and uneasiness, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing. It is often accompanied by muscular tension, restlessness, fatigue, and problems in concentration. Anxiety can be appropriate, but when it is too much and continues for too long, it can cause what is known as an anxiety disorder. And because anxiety can have a debilitating effect on our lives,” that’s why the psalmist says:
“Dump all your anxieties upon Jesus because he cares for us. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him and he will help you. He will make your righteousness radiate like the dawn and the justice of your cause will shine like the noonday sun.”
Carrying our worries, stresses, and daily struggles by ourselves shows that we have not trusted God fully with our lives. Sometimes we think that struggles caused by our own sin and foolishness are not God’s concern, but when we turn to God in repentance, he will bear the weight even of those struggles.
“Generally speaking, at the root of our cares are our anxieties about any number of things; our jobs, our marriage, our families, our future, the economy, to name a few. A significant amount of our time is spent thinking about our financial security, planning events that may never materialized, being restless and sleep deprived, trying to make the pieces fit. Where God seems to be silent, we feel compelled to fill in the blanks, but I want you to remember that during a test, the teacher is always silent.”
Brother Michael Jones (peoplexcelnlove.weebly.com), who runs a Bible study at the Merton House here in Bridgeport, shared with us his interpretation of Galatians 4( 7): As an heir we obtain an inheritance with Christ, but many have yet to believe and accept their identity as a child of God with all the Rights, Authority, Privileges, and Power. But instead, we succumb to the ways and cares of the world, and become Depressed, Anxious, Fearful, Confused, and Deceived into believing lies. We have a chicken coop mentality living beneath the standard of life that is promised. But the goodness and great love of the Father sent instructions in Romans 12:2, that we,
“do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” – Romans 12:2
Brian Jorgenson, during this difficult time he is having before he reports to Federal prison, shared that 1 Peter 3:15 has been his mantra. According to Brian, “if everything is going great and I’m nailing life, then why would anyone ask what my hope is found in? They would assume that if I’m having success by worldly standards that there’s no reason to even ask about my hope.
When we experience a difficult situation and are able to cope with it, others will naturally ask how we are able to respond this way. This is when we can do as commanded in 1 Peter 3:15 — be prepared to give an answer to those who ask you for the reason of the hope that is in you. This is our opportunity to point to God and give Him glory, especially in our low points.”
Barry S. Diamond, a white-collar criminal and administrator of reentrysurvivors.com, a web-site dedicated to publishing the success stories of released prisoners, shared with us,“a method that I used to keep mentally healthy was to ask everyone writing me to tell me about the mundane, everyday silly things they were doing. Who got engaged, what parties they went to, who got promoted, fired, what siblings were fighting, fighting over what?” According to Barry, “the trick is to stay mentally connected.”
Dick Sederquist, a hiker, depression survivor, and volunteer secular prison minister (dicksederquist.com) shared with us his “trail wisdom,” in which he compared hiking to mental health. As Dick put it, “the hiker becomes accustom to ‘false peaks.’ It’s a way of life. The hiker knows that the journey is more important than instant gratification. He or she knows there will eventually be a true summit.”
Raul Baez is a prison reform advocate who served time at Otisville Federal Correctional Institution. While incarcerated, he started a financial literacy program that he has since adapted to his nonprofit in the Bronx, W.I.C.O., Inc. (wicoinc.com). Raul shared with us in his powerful testimony, “Bridgeport is where my youngest son lives and he is attempting to get into the prison system as we speak, literally! He is definitely fighting depression and without the proper intervention, is only a matter of time before he ends up in prison.” Raul acknowledges in seeking help for his son, “I’ve done enough time to compensate all that is required for the men in my family tree.”
And we heard from Melanie G. Snyder,Executive Director, Lancaster County Reentry Management Organization (RMO), who’s TEDx Talk, “Breaking Out of Prison Thinking,” (http://tedxtalks.ted.com/video/Breaking-out-of-prison-thinking) is a must-see for anyone interested in this issue. In Melanie’s contribution, “I am sending you a short excerpt from my book, Grace Goes to Prison, (Brethren Press, 2009) that you may use in your sermon or in any other way that may be useful – it shares a brief story from the experiences of a man named Jerry as he grappled with deep depression remembering his children while incarcerated. (Jerry is still in prison, and has now been incarcerated for over 28 years – my husband and I have been walking alongside him through his journey for about the past 7-8 years…).
Last Wednesday, I was armed with this outpouring of generosity. I was imbued with the collective wisdom, experience, strength, faith and hope about Incarceration and Depression by people I respect and admire, each of whom had taken the time to share with me their innermost thoughts and secrets.
I had been given all this and still, I backed up into a car and fell into a pit of depression anyway. Because that’s what Depression is about. It’s unpredictable. It’s cunning and baffling. And it’s tragic.
I feel better today. I get to wake up this morning, pray, kiss my sweet wife good morning and start a new day. And I get to preach at a congregation I love with all my heart.
My condolences to the families of Michael Brown, of Ferguson, Missouri; Eric Garner, of Staten Island, New York; and Robin Williams, of Tiburon, California.
May God Bless You and Keep You Always.
Progressive Prison Project/
Innocent Spouse & Children Project
at Christ Church Greenwich 254 East Putnam Avenue
Greenwich, Conecticut 06830
Mailing Address: P.O. Box 1232, Weston, Connecticut 06883
Central Ministry & Office: Weston, Connecticut
Rev. Jeff Grant, JD, M Div, Minister/Director
Lynn Springer, Advocate, Innocent Spouses & Children
George Bresnan, Advocate
Comments from Social Media:
Incarceration leaves a permanent scar on your soul. It may blend in so that it is difficult to see sometimes but I can tell you that every morning I shower, for a few moments I experience being back in jail. – Barry S. Diamond
I never would have guessed you were having a difficult day when we talked last Wednesday. I too had an accident in my driveway this past March. I thought my car was in park and when I got out it rolled away tossing me to the ground and running over my foot. I too was not present in the moment. Rob and I were fighting due to the stress of his case. Today the pain in my foot is a constant reminder of that horrible night. One day I will get surgery but in the meantime it reminds me of where I never want to be ever again. I know God made sure I never forget.
I also suffer from depression but I have always questioned weather it was a result of the many years of black clouds hanging over us. Each day is a struggle. I do have faith that there is a faint light in our distant future.
We finally had our hugs Thursday. It was wonderful the guard let all three of us go in together. Our daughter is 19 and officially an adult. Usually they make her go in alone, which I don’t like. We laughed and joked. It was priceless to be all together again. We were ribbing each other like usual.
I guess as long as I keep reminding myself that tomorrow will come and go, I need to be here to experience whatever is thrown at me good or bad. I know things could always be worse. Thank you for sharing your experience. Peace
– J (Anonymous)
This is your best sermon yet. I'm sorry that it had to be motivated by a car wreck and a depressive episode but know that your experience has benefited others.
Everyone has had depression but few people have had access to resources that help them deal with it. I'm glad that I had the opportunity to read about other people who are dealing with similar issues. It reminds me that I'm not alone and that my days will get better.
I am very encouraged by your sermon and I have sent it to my husband who is currently serving time in a Federal Prison Camp. In talking and praying with my husband we see how easy it has been for us to slip into depression. It is like black ice, so very dangerous and unseen, and once you make contact, has the potential to be oh so very destructive. Each day we have to set aside time to choose God and His hope, peace, and comfort. Some days it is easier than others to live in this. We are thankful to serve a mighty God who is bigger than our trials and offers deliverance. Thank you for your honesty, God is using you.
This was exactly what I needed this evening. Thank you, as always, Jeff!