If you are on death row in an Alabama prison, you are scheduled to get an hour a day of yard time. That is, time outside. You are scheduled to get an hour of yard time, but you don’t always get it. You get it unless it storms. You get it unless the prison is short-handed on corrections officers. You get it unless….
I learned about yard time from visiting prisoners. I didn’t understand it until Anthony Ray Hinton explained it.1 He described two types of liberty in prison. One was the trips he would take in his imagination. The other was yard time.
Hinton’s imagination reminded me of William Stringfellow’s statement that true freedom was Daniel Berrigan in prison. I can imagine Berrigan in the cell, eyes closed, boisterous smile. His body is there, but he is not. The truly imprisoned were the correctional officers, the warden – worried, fretting that Berrigan, like Paul, might disappear on their watch. But that is writing for another day.
Then there is yard time. Strange how fences and armed guards border Hinton’s liberty but it was liberty just the same. Not bounded by steel and concrete. A little room to walk. Fresh air to clear his lungs of prison stench. The sun. And the vastness of the sky.
After meeting Hinton, I started thinking about the fact that I could walk outside any time. But I didn’t. In fact, there were many days that I didn’t go outside at all. I had the liberty, but I was choosing to waive it -to give it away. When it comes to the actual experience of liberty, what is the difference between someone who gives it away and someone who it is taken from, even wrongfully taken from, like Hinton?
Now, most every day, I take an hour for yard time. I might be turning the soil, or trimming shrubs, or working on some experiment or project. But while I am out there, I try to experience liberty and how fundamentally American it is just to be outside because I choose to be.2
In the 2006 movie The Ultimate Gift, which is based on a best selling novel by Jim Stovall, a deceased grandfather (played by James Garner) posthumously presents his grandson with a series of tests designed to develop or test the grandson’s character.
One of the tests is a check for $100 million that the grandson has to spend on others.
Immediately, in my mind I started dividing up how the money could best be spent. A few million here would make a difference, another few million there.
The grandson got on the other side of the money. Rather than looking at it as an amount to spend, he saw it as an amount to leverage and invest. He put together a plan to build a $350 million dollar hospital that included housing so that families of sick children could live at the hospital and keep their family together. By investing the $100 million he had control over, he was able to convince other investors to invest hundreds of millions of additional dollars.
Also, at the end of my dividing up and spending the $100 million the money would have been spent and gone forever. It would have done some good, but it would have been unsustainable.
The grandson’s plan actually became revenue generating to the extent that families could afford, health insurance would pay, and so on. His plan was sustainable and would most likely outlive its original investment and investors.
It was just a movie, the money wasn’t real, but I discovered that when I think about money, my thinking is on the wrong side of $100 million.
Right outside the window where I have worked for the past months is a birdfeeder. The birdfeeder stays full of a wide variety of bird seed and draws a wide variety of birds. I’ve noticed that some types of birds – provided there is no imminent threat (like a neighborhood cat) – just plop down and eat. They don’t seem to care who eats next to them or how many are eating. These are the abundance birds.
Another type of bird, however, spends a good bit of its time and energy chasing away other birds. They do eat, but it is more of a hurried snack between flights to fend off others. These are the scarcity birds. While the abundance birds enjoy a relaxed meal, the scarcity birds dash in, grab a bite, and then rush off in their high anxiety flight to keep other birds away.
I’ve noticed a lot of people are like this too. The scarcity people get what they can get when they can get it cause it’s going to get gone. They spend as much or more energy keeping other people away as they do getting for themselves. Whatever they do get, they keep it tightly fisted.
The abundance of people don’t worry about keeping others out. These people tend to have an open hand.
Mother Teresa shares a story about taking a parcel of rice to a poor family in Calcutta who had been starving for many days. On receiving the parcel of rice, the starving mother divided the parcel in half and took it to her neighbor. Open hand.
in Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl shares stories about men in concentration camps who shared their last piece of bread. Open hand.
It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with how much bread (or birdseed) there is. The scarcity birds and the abundance birds in fact receive the same amount of birdseed. It seems to have everything to do with attitude. It seems to have everything to do with whether you are the type of person who sees the world through the lens of scarcity or the type of person who sees the world through the lens of abundance.
The Christian church is a gathering1 of people who are called according to Christ’s purpose, who are conforming to Christ’s image, who are justified by Christ’s sacrifice, and who are glorified by Christ.2
Membership is based on conversion resulting in a surrender of a member’s whole life to Christ.
The church may gather in homes, buildings, open fields, or anywhere.
Unfortunately, some churches have named buildings “church” and this has resulted in confusion. Some people enter the building named church and attribute the building name to their own membership in the church. Attendance does not make someone a member of the church. Some people pay the church and consider their payments evidence of church membership. Payments, even sacrificial payments, do not make someone a member of the church. Some people are employed by or serve the church voluntarily and consider that their employment or service evidence their membership in the church. Neither employment nor service make someone a member of the church.
Attendance at the gathering is by invitation and never coerced. In this age, everyone11 is invited to the church, however, not everyone who gathers is a member of the church.12
When the church disperses from its gathering, the members are still members of the church and sometimes referred to as the church informally.
In 1889, James Alexander Bryan came to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as a full-time minister.
Bryan, of Birmingham, has been one of God’s chosen men to bring down under the powerful force of love the prejudices which divide the races in this new world. Like his master, he has been able to clear the barriers in his ministry to man.
He has counted twenty-seven languages among the people to whom he has ministered. “In this immediate vicinity,” he says, “where my work carries me into every corner, I find Hungarians, Slavs, Germans, Bohemians, Chinese, Japanese, French, Armenians, Sicilians, Italians, Greeks, Irish, Scots, Africans, English, East Indians, etc. – a varied assortment to be sure.”1
In 2021, through the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Jefferson County’s broad business interest, Sister Cities, and missions, it is hard to imagine that every nation, tribe, and tongue is not represented, in some way, in Birmingham.
Brother Bryan taught us a superior method to clear the barriers between us. I cannot imagine there was ever a time from its birth when Birmingham citizens did not experience inequity and mistreatment. I cannot imagine there was a time when the evil of racism or nationalism, or tribalism did not exist in Birmingham. But around Brother Bryan people worked for a common need and the work was energized by the powerful force of love.
He who dares not offend cannot be honest. -Thomas Paine
Confrontation does not have to be disruptive. It does not have to be condescending. It does not have to demand the accolades of being right, or more intelligent, or any other form of being better. It does not have to win an audience, village, tribe, or cult. It does not have to be received well or not well.
Faced, however, with evil, or errancy, or danger the Christian Way requires leaning into the fear of responding with an answer.