Offenses and extenuating circumstances

[*I had no time to write a new post, so I’m reprinting one from a previous blog that encourages us to find better ways to deal with young offenders; especially those with extenuating circumstances.]


Did you see the story of the family evicted from section 8 housing because the 13-year-old son stole a pair of shoes from K-mart to keep his feet warm? A single-mother and her three children have been told to vacate their Grand Junction apartment in two weeks, right around Christmas, because of the incident that had nothing to do with the apartment complex.


By no means am I condoning the act of stealing, but what type of lesson has the system just taught this family (especially the young kids)? This boy, after being forced to wear tattered shoes because of the family’s poverty, which kept his feet cold and hurting, was tempted (as any child would be) to find a way to relieve the pain. And he made a wrong choice. But the system that blindly and callously casts the entire family, including the boy’s two younger siblings, out in the dead of winter is a far greater criminal act than what the child did.


The manager of the apartment complex in Grand Junction said in a statement to the media that “shoplifting violated the family’s lease agreement” — (Huffington Post). Any criminal activity, even off the premises, is grounds for immediate eviction. But what they fail to take into account is the extenuating circumstance. This was not a case of a hard-nosed delinquent trying to get over on the system; it was a poor child with hurting feet trying to ease the suffering. And now that child is riddled with guilt over his mother and siblings being cast out into the cold for something he did.


The act of shoplifting should not be condoned, but the manager missed a great opportunity to make a huge difference in the life of both this boy and his family. Instead of evicting them it would have been much better to let the boy see the error of his ways, and then give him the opportunity to make up for his mistake by working around the apartment complex (about two weeks), and then paying him enough to buy a pair of shoes. The boy would learn he had to take responsibility for his actions and that it is better to work for things you need instead of stealing. And his younger siblings would have seen the lesson as well, and their mother would have felt that someone in society actually cared about her circumstance and attempted to help instead of simply adding to her burden because it’s easier for the manager and property owners to callously cast an adult and three children into the cold: hoping they can find a shelter that will take them.  


The action taken by the manager and property owners has only reinforced the belief to this family, especially the children, that nobody cares for them so they need to look out for themselves. And that kind of belief will create the temptation for more bad choices.


The majority of Americans use to have compassion and think about others more than themselves, but those days appear to be long gone. That’s what happens when you take a loving God out of a society’s belief system.


© JW Thomas


My church

Many people feel awkward about inviting others to their church. And a lot of times when they get the nerve, they fail to make the invitation mean anything: as if their church is no better or worse than any other. We should all remember that the church is not the building.


I met a friend the other day

and he posed a simple question.

“Have you ever been to my church,

the one up on the hill?”

I cannot say I have,

would it be your suggestion?

But before I make the choice,

what about it can you tell?

“What’s to tell?” said my friend.

“It’s a church like any other.

No better or no worse,

just a new place to try.”

If there isn’t something special,

why should I even bother?

Why should I cross the threshold

just to turn and say, “Good-bye?”

“Well,” said he. “What would you say

about the church you now attend?”

And his frown became a smirk,

not like Scrooge, more like the Grinch.

I found his actions awkward,

since friends should not contend.

But my church is also family,

so I answered in a pinch.


There is Herman and Paul,

Deacons on the ball,

and they each perform their task like godly men.

And we have greeters like Brother Bob,

who jokes about his sit-down job,

while he welcomes each arrival like a friend.

And there is Judy and Deloris,

with a long history here before us,

so they will always be a treasured pair.

We have Glenn, Veldora, and Robbie,

and Doris with her hobby:

she has hugs enough for all and some to spare.

And there is Margaret and Regina, her daughter,

who crave the Living Water:

the Word of God that makes our life complete.

Margaret use to play for worship,

now Nancy makes the piano her ship,

and sails each joyful note into a treat.

We have the Coach and Julie,

with her greeting card ministry:

she reminds absent members that we care.

And there’s Mark and his mother Tura, our Grande’ Dame’:

our Royal Missions Queen,

who teaches with compassion how to share.

And there is Jeanne, so organized

that the devil runs and hides,

cuz’ he cannot find a loophole anywhere.

And our church body would have a large hole

if Allen and Juanita were ever to go:

for they are a godly couple beyond compare.

The wisdom of this man,

so respected by other men,

is a leader like Peter, a solid rock for us all.

And his loving wife Juanita,

you’ll never meet anyone sweeta’,

and she’s the rock behind the man with a heavenly call.

And then there’s Don and Ellen,

the pride of Courtney Corner,

who tackle more tasks than anyone.

Like our Lord, they live their lives

like a living sacrifice,

and they never quit until the job is done.

To know them is a blessing,

and if you’re wounded they’re the dressing

that God might send to help your healing.

He’s the friend closer than a brother,

and she is Proverbs thirty-one:

and they’ve earned our respect and loving feelings.

There are many others — like James, Tricia, Rodney, and more —

that I can add to the list, my friend;

but I think I’ve made my point quite clear.

Though I would be remiss

to keep one couple off the list,

a couple the church holds very dear.

Pastor Steve and his first lady, Pat,

quick to pray or a friendly chat:

he likes to joke and she likes to sing.

We hear about sports and cycling,

ATV trips and what grand babies do;

but their love for God is still the most important thing.



And so I told my friend

that no church is like another,

cuz’ it’s not the walls or the steeple.

It’s the spiritual sisters and brothers —

it truly is the people.

   ©  JW Thomas

Open door is closed: but church still reaches out

Last year I spent time with J.P. Dyer and James Melvin from the First Baptist Church of Madras. J.P. and his partner J.C. (who were not available during the interview) led the outreach to the needy called Open Door. Because it is a small church in a small community lack of resources was their most pressing and consistent obstacle. But the three men had a strong desire to make a difference in the lives of the impoverished within the local community. But the congregation could not allocate funds to Open Door, so the expense was shouldered primarily by a handful of members.


(Closed doors are never as inviting as doors that are open: unless you have a welcome sign.)

Last winter Open Door housed 51 homeless people. J.P., J.C., and James supplied most of the meals out of their own pocket. But the congregation did average 1-2 special meals per month in the large dining room for anyone who desired a free meal. Plus the church continues to have a room set aside for food, clothing, and toy donations that are given to people in need. And some congregation members often participate in a Secret Santa type program where food and gifts are dropped off to poor families during the holidays.

Unfortunately, the Open Door program had to be discontinued. As is often the case, poor choices by a few eventually affect many. And who was right or wrong seems rather childish when you compare it to the 51 homeless people that had to seek shelter elsewhere during this cold winter. Thank God, the rest of the programs were continued.

Additionally, the church partners with other churches and organizations to tackle different concerns. For instance, a group called Sacred Road is housed at the church once a year while they spend several weeks working down on the Warm Springs Reservation. They build, remodel, landscape, do clean-up, and anything else that needs to be done.

The aforementioned examples confirm my belief that people with a desire can get things done, even with limited resources: especially when they work together. And smaller groups like this (for the most part) do it with love, compassion, and respect. But the demise of Open Door also reminds us that the decisions we make can have long-lasting consequences. Having God’s guidance during the holidays, and throughout the year, is always the best way to proceed.

[* This post is a year late as a result of illness and the prior website having unresolved issues.]