This is part 3 of a larger series:
I honestly cannot remember how I first heard of Dominique, but I know that the moment I did I had to pursue it further. I distinctly remember sending IVP an email asking if a conversation would be an option, and they coordinated it. Then I was off to do what I do and prep for this episode.
Some context as to why this would be a hard conversation to prepare for: All past chats had dealt specifically, or mostly, with theology and interpretation directly. So few, if any, of the episodes had much to do with application of what it looks like to live with the tension of what Christ calls us to do and not just believe. Thinking back on this, I can clearly see in my note-taking, and in my sequencing of questions, the reason behind this. To be concise, I was afraid to push people at a personal level in their communities and afraid to be entirely open in my public voice. Theology is one thing, but religion, politics, racism are all topics that turn away friends and those closest to you while they wonder, “What happened to him?” What happened? Jesus happened.
Hell, atonement, ecology, etc.—they are big words that deal with a larger community involved. They call us to face God at a deeply personal level, and at that level the growth that comes is often moving us forward, even when what that looks like is hard to articulate. But at work, at home, in person, seemed to me to move the needle very little with how I presented and postured myself in front of others.
I remember the day I cracked open Dominique’s </I>Rethinking Incarceration</i>. I was at my son’s baseball practice; it was freezing outside so I watched from the car and read off and on as the kids batted and (tried) to catch pop flies. Then the words:
The church must confess that its support of a broken criminal justice system has emboldened systematic injustice. One of the ways the church has been complicit in our criminal injustice system is our uncompromising support of law-and-order legislation. We must repent of our complicity. Repentance requires naming sin, renouncing it, and turning away from it in order to return to God. (emphasis mine)*
They haunted me. How had I not known this? At some level I feel like I always did, but had been fine to let “government” work this out. Surely they were better or smarter at the convo than I was. Surely they had worked this out already. I read of private prisons and the economy of them. Of the slavery that still exists and of the apathy or blatant complacency that those that call Jesus Lord had about it.
This book caused me to deal with things more openly than I wanted to. But to do it right, I’d have to step well outside that comfort zone and be more vocal. I used to think that my voice was so small it didn’t matter. But in wrestling with this book and in wrestling with the conversation with Dominique about mass incarceration, I instead learned the value of one voice. I may not have a megaphone, but what I do have is two hands and two feet—and I’ve been called to use them for Christ. It was time I acted like it.
Nothing was the same for me after reading this book. The way I view criminals, the way I look at punishment, and the way (more importantly) I view forgiveness and grace for those that have wronged others. It’s made me a better person.
In closing, I’ll end with a voice raised with lyrics from the song woven into the episode by A New Liturgy:
Can’t we just admit together we’re not fine? Cause I’m not fine and you’re not fine. Can’t we just admit together we’re afraid? Cause I’m afraid and you’re afraid. Can’t we just admit together we have doubts? Cause I have doubts—do you have doubts? Can’t we just admit together we’re not free? Cause I’m not free and I wanna be. If you’re not free, then sing with me. Emmanuel-God with us today.
Miss the episode with Dominique find it everywhere it is or here you go:
*Dominique Gilliard: Rethinking Incarceration - p46