Most of us have grown up in an environment where we have been taught to respect our leaders. Others may have been told that the community is more important than the individual, so they have been taught to defer to those in authority. The Bible tells us to honor those placed in roles as our leaders and we are encouraged to pray for them.
Recently I have engaged in learning about the relationship between human beings and complex machines and technologies. It is a field of study called Human Factors. As a result of this learning experience I have become deeply convinced that each human being is responsible on an individual basis to respond meaningfully to the spiritual core at the center of every life. We are all made with an awareness that life is a remarkable promise that unfolds like a continuing mystery.
But who designed the mystery of each and every individual life? What force impels the vibrancy of this experience we call life? How is it possible that some individuals take a more productive pathway than others? What are the human factors which underlie the decisions we make about our behaviors? How do these factors relate to the operation of complex equipment like a modern airliner? Is it possible to use this scientific method and apply its analysis of our choices and actually reveal something useful? Have these human characteristics always been so potent in shaping lives?
And if they are predictable, what means do we have available to recognize an impending personal disaster and avoid certain catastrophe? I think that there are answers to be found and I have summarized them below.
Our lives are oriented by our senses and the way that we process our perceptions. In other words we respond to events as they occur based upon our understanding of these events and our history of prior experiences. Well the computer systems onboard an airliner do much the same thing. They have been programmed to respond to a broad spectrum of possibilities. When they encounter a familiar problem, they trigger an alarm for the pilot’s attention. The airplane will continue to fly while these alarms are going off, they are meant to draw the attention of the pilots who should take some action to correct the problem. The airplane‘s systems are designed to support the knowledge and skills of the pilots. They are not instruments of absolute control that will take over the active flying functions.
In fact a continuing study of former airplane crashes has demonstrated that there are usually a minimum of 4-5 compounded problems (one on top of another) that lays the groundwork for a plane crash. In other words, the pilots have made a series of errors that finally put the airplane in jeopardy of a fatal crash. When I read this information I was surprised how similar this pattern of errors is to the events which occur in human lives.
Many times, even though we know we have made a mistake, we continue to push onward toward our planned destination. We blow off the warning signals that are going off in our heads and we become more determined to force our way toward an ending that we think will bring us success. We push on with bells and warning signals going off and we ignore the warnings they are trying to bring to our attention. For many of us, that journey only ends with the wail of police sirens marking the end of an exercise in futility.
One more time we start down the long dark road of experience, each time more painful than the last one. When we crash and burn we usually do not just destroy ourselves, but others as well. Some of those who are directly affected are people who love us and care for us. They become victims of our personal crash, like the passengers on a commercial flight that crashes and kills all those on board.
What amazes me is that the multiple decisions which have been made that led to a plane crash can be reviewed when they recover the airplanes black box and cockpit voice recorder. Very slowly at first the engineers and other professionals track all of the events and finally a pattern of events/errors starts to emerge. These errors eventually culminate in the destruction of the airplane and the lives of those on board.
Our lives are similar in many ways. But what is different is that after we crash and burn we are usually in a place where we can look back at the events of our lives and see the errors that we have made that led to our final crash. In a fiery airplane crash, few people have the chance to prepare for the ending of their lives. They are just about to become victims of someone else’s mistake. It is a sad way to end our lives.
Why would we want to examine our decisions especially when we are faced with the consequences of our actions? That is a fair question and one that demands an answer. The airplane that crashes was made by hundreds of human beings with diverse talents and abilities. All of their skills come together and are focused upon building an elegant machine that can take to the air and carry travelers across oceans and continents safely. No one plans that the finished product will have defects that will cause it to crash later. Everyone who works at the airplane factory is inspired to do the best job that can be done.
Well God is like that. He has created us with a soul that will live eternally. Even after we crash and burn for the final time, we will have a time to review our lives with Him. He created us out of love and wants us to soar through this life and return to spend eternity with Him. When we are born we have all been given the special place within our beings. In that secret place we have an awareness that our lives are meaningful. We are all connected to God’s presence even if we refuse to answer His call upon our lives. It would be like a pilot refusing to answer the call of an air traffic controller. In that event the pilot would be flying blind and limited to “seeing” only what his/her instruments showed them about what was out there before them. It would be incredibly risky for a pilot to fly blind without guidance from those on the ground, especially about weather and the movements of other airplanes in their immediate vicinity.
Well, in many respects we live our lives like the pilot who flies blind and refuses to communicate with the air traffic controller. Many of us crash and burn several times before we finally get to the place where we start to take directions from the air traffic controllers in our lives. That seems to be part of the overall human experience. Mercifully we have a God who loves us dearly and continues to reach out in love to us throughout our lifetime. If we are willing to bring our mistakes and errors to Him, He will forgive us and continue to guide us through this life until our long flight home is over.
What could be more comforting or real than to know that God never lets go of us. That His loving hand is always on our lives, but like the guidance systems on an airplane, He does not over rule our own decisions, nor does He force us to accept His love for us. It saddens Him when someone decides to ignore all the warning bells and signals that He sends our way. But since we were created with the gift of “free-will” He will not force His way upon us even if it means that we choose to spend eternity outside of His love.
This letter was written to you because I believe in the eternal value of your soul and mine. We both have incredible worth to God who created us. I believe that all life is precious and that if we seek to have a relationship with Our Creator, He will respond to our prayers and calls for help. That is His loving nature. I know these things, because I have experienced them in my life. I know Him to be real and loving, but most of all to be forgiving. Not like man forgives, but with an everlasting love that does not want to see any of us perish.
Even living in a death row cell there is much you can accomplish with your life. You are not alone, there are others who believe in the value of your life and we personally know the power of the Holy Spirit to touch lives and change them so they honor and glorify the name of Jesus Christ, Our Savior.
These letters are written to provide instruction, support, direction and encouragement. What you have done previously is not the issue, it is what lies ahead of you. How will you use the weeks, months and years ahead? I propose a partnership between you and Dismas Project. There are many things that you are limited in and cannot do. Let Dismas Project be your hands and feet. How would you bless others if you were free for just one day? Maybe we can help to make some of those desires a reality, but alone most of us do not accomplish a great deal. It takes an effort between us to bless others.
What has God spoken into your heart? What dreams live in your mind that you have never shared with anyone else, because you did not want to be rejected? What talents, skills and abilities to you have that could touch the lives of people far beyond the walls and barbed wire of prison life? I would like to work with you to accomplish those dreams.
I truly believe that I am yet to meet some of you when I am called home by Our Father. Remember He looks upon the heart, not just upon our past behaviors. I look upon each of you as a brother or sister, just one that I have not met yet. By God’s law I should be there in your midst, but given that my journey has not led me there, I am committed to be a spiritual partner for however long God sees fit to keep this ministry functioning. I pray for you, please pray for us that God will send someone who is motivated to continue this ministry after my time has passed.
There will always be suffering on this earth until the King returns in all of His glory. Until then, let us be faithful in bearing each other’s burdens. Some of you have been kind enough to write directly to me, please know that I will respond to all personal letters, but it may be a month or two before I am able to do so. It is Mardi Gras season in New Orleans and I am preparing to move our last household items out to El Paso. I expect that I will be busy with these tasks for the next 2 weeks and then a week’s traveling and unpacking. So, in the time before my next monthly letter, be blessed.
Kevin and Quinta
Dismas Project is a Louisiana corporation so it will always be located in the State of Louisiana. It seems to be very appropriate since this is the state with the toughest sentencing laws and the highest per capita prisoner population. In the weeks and months to come we are seeking to work out a fine balance between our personal needs and the ministry outreach needs.
You may find yourself wondering why someone on the outside writes to you each month. I write because inside I am the same as each of you. I too was an outcast until I was adopted into God’s family. I am convinced that there is a warm welcome awaiting each outcast that comes home.
We are loved beyond measure and it is my heart’s desire to share that joy and hope with each of you. If I were on the row today I would want to know that someone valued my life and cared for my well-being. I am only doing for you what God has done for me already. If you are filled with feelings that you cannot express, write some of them down and send them to me. I care and want to hear from you. If you have a desire to make things right with your family members or others, but cannot find the words, I am happy to help you write those letters. If you need forgiveness and cannot turn to another human being, you will find it here. Because that is what I have been given freely. I pass it onto you freely.
My hope is that everyone who reads this letter will have their hearts touched with some measure of peace and hope. It is my privilege to share with you in these letters each month. Don’t let the time and thoughts escape your attention. Sit down today and write about the things that you want to accomplish in the days ahead. Let us pull together to get some of these goals achieved in the coming year. Together we can accomplish things that we would never be able to do alone.
That is the essence of what it means to have family who truly care about you and your life. No explanations will ever be necessary or expected. All is forgiven, come on home and accept your place at the table. We have all been waiting for you. No one can separate you from this love.
In this letter and those to come in future months, I have asked a number of people that I know from all walks of life, to share some thoughts with you in these letters. (Here is one 🙂
A Message from the other side of the world: Indonesia.
Hello, Brother and Sister.., whatever your name is; my name is Posma, an Indonesian senior of 73 years old.
Let me share with you my experience of being ‘trapped’ in my old age, contained not by walls, but by the weakening of the limbs, dimming of the sight and also dulling of the hearing. This situation is like being in a penitentiary cell, having a limited interaction with the outside world, even though there are no walls around me.
This is the way I am eligible to be called a Death Row prisoner, as you are, waiting for the unknown time when the strength of my limbs are totally lost, the sight in my eyes is becoming pitch-dark and my hearing is dulled to deafness; waiting for Death, without knowing when it will come. (In Indonesia, the average life expectancy does not exceed 70.)
But regardless of these limitations, one thing is clear: my ‘thoughts’ are still active; their activities stay the same since as long as I can remember. My ‘thoughts’ are comparable to a mustang: no walls can contain them, no ropes can limit their agility, no shackles can hold them down. Deep in my soul I know that even Death could not stop the ability of my ‘thoughts’.
Considering all of its superiority, ‘thought’ must have been created by some Super-Being, since the time of creation. By the Super-Being, ‘thought’ was granted to men and not to beasts or animals, such that there is a saying: “Man is a tool-making animal,” because no animal (they are ‘thoughtless) can make a tool. Let us call that Super-Being the Creator of ‘thought’!
Besides ‘thought’ we all know that each of us possesses another faculty for our well-being: ‘feelings’. This faculty was also granted to men by the Creator of ‘feelings’. Again no scientist can prove if animals possess these ‘feelings’; hence ‘feelings’ are also a gift for men by the same Creator. Also, as with ‘thoughts,’ ‘feelings’ could not be contained by any walls or ropes or shackles. Only our physical body can be contained.
The proof of the freeness of ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’ is simple: Even while sleeping (say: while dreaming) we can still feel ‘joy’ or ‘suffering’ and we can still think about bad or good things.
Considering the above discussion, it is safe to conclude that there exists a Creator of men, who created men with independence, even when the physical body is being contained. You see, you and I are exactly in the Death Row situation, correct?
Therefore, it is of prime importance that we maintain the freeness of our thoughts and our feelings in a healthy state, in order to live in joy whatever the situation: Physically alive or dead! And living in a penitentiary environment can now be considered as an opportunity to exercise ‘thoughts’ and ‘feelings’ in a healthy state, such that they will healthily pass through the border between life and death.
One more faculty we own must be considered: ‘Intelligence’; something that is superior to ‘thought’. Without ‘intelligence’ we would still be living as those stone-aged men. This also is a gift from the Creator of men. Without ‘intelligence’ no tools can be created by men. And without tools, men are no match to the beasts or animals becoming an ‘underdog’ compared to the microbes!
Without all those faculties, hence without tools, the human species would had been wiped out from the earth by other creatures, say, elephants, tigers, lions, eagles, sharks, snakes, insects, even microbes. It was ‘intelligence’ that helped humans defend their species on earth, to overcome other species!
With this thought it can be seen that the Creator of men loves men very much; He does not want the human species to be wiped out by the other species; He does not want us individuals, to be killed in vain; and also He does not want us to murder other humans, ruining their lives in vain.
So now, Brothers and Sisters, we in the Death Row still have time to make peace with the Creator. I am not trying to urge you to embrace Christianity or any other religion. Religion is useless without making peace with our beloved Creator. And He demands that we live in peace with fellow-humans, even in fellowship with Him, whatever His name is.
He is always ready to communicate with us, to have communion, because we have the noblest faculty in ourselves: the spirit that He granted and put within us, that He wants to grant everlasting life, because He is everlasting.
At last, Brothers and Sisters, if you desire to have a sweet communion with our Creator, just talk to Him, He is always around and listening to whoever wants to have communion with Him.
If you are moved to have it, you can just speak out the sentences below:
I am calling out to You, the Great Creator, my Creator;
I want to have peace with you, Lord, since I had ruined my life in the past; now I come to you asking for forgiveness, from all my bad behavior.
Only You, my Lord, can repair my personality and behavior, such that I will become a valuable member of society and also to You, even that Death can come any time to take me.
And Lord, please tell me, with what name shall I address You, because I don’t like to have miscommunication with my Creator. Tell me Lord; put Your name in my heart, even Your Spirit; because not every man is trusted these days.
In humbleness I pray to You, my Creator.
Brothers and Sisters,
Please repeat those words every day, fervently, until you learn straight from the Creator His true name and His Personality; then you will further be taught by Him to waive the sweet communion with Him, our Lord. That is the true joy of life on this earth, and a guarantee to have eternal life together with the Good Creator.
Indonesia, Dec. 2014.
P.S. At Dismas Project, we believe that Jesus Christ is Our Creator and Lord. May you find Him in your prayers and reflections. Kevin and Quinta