Shame Doesn’t Define Us

Experiencing shame is an emotional trek. There are instances where shame becomes personal or observant. Either way, we tend to judge shame on various emotional levels. The question is, “why?” What triggers shame into something so emotionally driven that is sometimes consumed how we perceive self versus others view us? The fact remains that shame begins with emotion but manifests into something more significant because assumptions are somehow believable facts when actually they still stay as emotion.

I chose to share a mug shot of myself taken years ago. It is not one of my proudest moments nor represents how I look. But it does share a brief moment of how I felt. The expression is angered, disappointment, emotion, and of course, shame. But the sentiment extends to areas I cannot control. Those areas are how others interpret the mugshot. The question I must keep asking myself is, “does that mugshot define me?” and “does it matter anymore?” The quick answer is, “no.” My mugshot is something that stirs shame and embarrassment at first. However, I began to look at it and wonder why it triggered shame. That is the moment I decided to take that mugshot and make it no longer shameful.

The first step in dealing with shame is to confront it face to face. That implies that I must take steps to de-escalate the emotion replacing it with a bit of laughter, mild anecdote, and restraint. Our lives are made up of decades of decisive moments yet sometimes a shameful moment of a few hours erases all the celebrated importances that do define us. My first step was to buy a really nice frame and print out my mugshot to hang somewhere prominent in my home. While this sounds ridiculous to some, it was a change to desensitize an emotional moment and perhaps introduce a talking point should someone ask, “is that a mugshot of you?” It is at that moment I am able to practice how to overcome fear, shame, and embarrassment by providing a short story of a chapter in my life that demonstrates perseverance over a brief moment to keep moving forward. It is someone similar to how the author Stephen Covey mentions the “inside-out” approach in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. The suggestion is to develop a reasonable, workable, and controlled mitigation plan so that you are in control of information that may be continually available to the public. Without these tools, at our side, there will always be shame thus placing an emotional gravemarker in the way we live and move forward.

Yes, there will always be discourse, criticism, vulnerability, and of course argument about public records, mugshots, and sensitive information in our daily lives. The sex offender registry presents a valid argument in how public shaming has become a targeting mechanism for the welfare of safety and perception by others. But it is that emotional and mental grave-marking that allows many to further disconnect from society because of shame and minimized voices with nearly one million registrants silently and quietly attempting to move forward leaving the first voice to allies. I would suggest to anyone on the sex registry to discover how to find your story, strength, and willpower not to hide with shame, but to confront it along with materials accompanying it.

Shame and public shaming is an emotion. Mugshots are a fact of public record that cannot be controlled but may be mitigated. A definite part of mugshots is that it provides an expression the emphasizes pain, hurt, and emotion. When others attempt to amplify that the accused wasn’t remorseful, expressed guilt or shame. I would argue to look at any registrant mugshot; you won’t find anyone smiling.

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No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service

Say goodbye to Land of the Free

Growing up I can recall moments where I would often see a sign posted on a business establishment window with the words, “No Shirt, No Shoes, No Service.” Those words set a standard of particular behaviors expected by society. Fast forward and those signs have been removed, bypassed with the introduction of flip-flops, or completely ignored. There appears to be a standard that implied rules or laws are meant to be broken or perhaps apply to individuals we selectively want to create constructive prejudisms.

Decades ago establishments and Jim Crow laws applied to where an African-American could legally use a restroom, water fountain, eat, shop, and perhaps live. Eventually, those ridiculous laws were overturned, but someone migrated under the table towards the homosexual community as a silent gesture. However, if people look closely, there are continual hints that such laws used in a discriminatory fashion that continually apply restrictions but in discrete methods. Such methods begin when areas wish to gentrify neighborhoods, business districts, or rezoning regulation. Grandfather clauses became a thing of the past to be replaced with loitering, eminent domain, low-cost housing initiatives, immigration reforms, and group home regulations. These issues present an odor of Jim Crow legislation but masked and prepackaged to tailor a politically correct argument with a single vision and directive to make it nearly impossible for people to have an actual say regarding their wishes or wants.

Society claims to be free embracing the rule of law only if it applies to their standard which varies from person to person. In fact, legislation and regulation have been either pedestaled as too extreme or either too weak. There is no middle ground or an act of understanding anymore – at least from my daily observations. Instead of “no shirt, no shoes, no service” we have constructed conditions where people are no longer free to choose where they live. Such choices could be if a person has deemed a registered sex offender or an individual ordered by the courts for domestic violence has restrictions placed upon them. Again, these are hidden versions of Jim Crow styled laws not allowing free people to move freely. But when registrants, parolees, or rehabilitated drug users attempt to find work, housing, and to integrate into society once again, the Bill of Rights, Constitution, the rule of law, human rights, societal behaviors of redemption have been somehow tossed out the window. My argument is that law has become a new form of selective prejudices to create and manufacture how we can hope to keep others to their standard rather than an equitable and equal standard.

A fact is that society continually seeks not justice but an issue it wants to either rid of or kept hidden, invisible, and unnoticed by others for the sake of properly value and supposed safety. Americans do like to pick on the underdog quite often. However, a free nation that enjoys and employs a vast sex registry among a large jail and prison network it won’t even with the best prison reforms be able to hide the fact that supporters of such methods are no different than Jim Crow supporters. In fact, they are enabling the visions of Jim Crow standards no differently by citing freedoms to live, shop, work anywhere as long as it’s not in my neighborhood or community. Say goodbye to Land of the Free based on that assessment.

Congress Does Not Forgive

Many tow the party line over redemption or values.

Regardless of your personal political compass watching the congressional appearance of Michael Cohen may present a valuable argument that when it comes to politics and justice there are many that tow the party line over redemption. This isn’t to suggest that Mr. Cohen is a saint or to shift the blame towards anyone else. Instead, the testimony appeared to become an issue to continually beat a person while he was down. Additionally, it provided a change of evidence opporunity towards the opposition. 

I couldn’t help be reminded of how those either found guilty by the courts or exiting the prison system are viewed by either lawmakers or the public eye.  I think we all collectively witnessed how a piece of new evidence or perspective could overturn or change an outcome typically used against the accused. For example, if an individual convicted of a sex crime had new evidence that could turn an issue, there will ultimately be others that habitually lay claim towards absolute guilt rather than trying to understand or apply new evidence. Perhaps people are stubborn enough to still think the earth is flat because they want to exercise methods to go against the grain to prove a political point.

There is plenty of data and evidence suggesting that prosecutors, defendants, investigators, and even juries have tainted viewpoints. These groups attempt to look beyond personal or political issue in discovery between truths or evidence because they have an agenda to tow a particular line. Credibility, while a formidable part of justice has its flawed issues too. But it is when distrusted or those convicted capable of providing facts, data, and a path towards redemption are consistently met with opposition to be silenced and unheard. It begs to question, when is credibility restored or allowed to reenter as a moving forward moment? If we wonder why society won’t become involved in remedy towards complex situations is perhaps because there are those in power to exclude others based on guilt or association. Proof that christians claim to be forgiving, but sometimes have another agenda at hand.

Witnessing the Cohen testimony I felt as if the whole process was a grandstanding moment for everyone involved. Similar to the behaviors of courtrooms across America where distraction, finger pointing, and perhaps the best tears win the sympathy of living room juries. I am afraid that justice as we once knew it has somewhat disappeared and replaced with theatrics, showmanship, outrageous theory, and a politizied pursuit of maintaining a win not for democracy but for a particular side. I would argue that the side we should choose is for the pursuit of honesty, understanding, and compassion so that society can move forward becoming moral and ethical people where mistakes, misdeeds, and forgiveness can be reintroduced in what was once considered a neighborly and virtuous society. 

One thing I did learn from the Cohen testimony is that justice is indeed a politicized moment than an integrity moment with each side representing its base instead of attempts to discover and understand the truth.

We Are Pontius Pilate

Since the first of the year, I have been going to the gym 3 to 4 times a week to rediscover how to get my body back in shape and to fit in reasonably sized clothing choices once again. I attend a wellness center filled with many people, usually mature or older, seeking to either get in shape or highlight therapy towards injuries and such. After a vigorous swim, I decided to enter the hot tub. For some reason, the hot tub at this wellness center has jokingly become the informal roundtable pool

Todays topic began with the R.Kelly grand jury indictment. I carefully listed to all the various unscholarly noise and gut assumptions. After nearly five or so minutes of listening I felt as if the conversation had become judge, jury, and executioner well before evidence or trial can present its arugment. 

What ended the conversation quickly is when an older lady looked over and asked me directly, “do you think he is guilty?”  I replied with, “I have no formal opinion on the matter because I don’t know R. Kelly nor do I live in the Chicago metro area.”  The hot tub quickly became quiet. The facial expressions snapped over to glare at me to suggest I am the onion in the soup. She then said in a careful tone, “but there are perverts like him out there harming kids.”   I said, “yes, but R. Kelly’s issues don’t affect me directly. However, what I am most concerned about our citizens that may be called to be potential jurors claiming to not know anything about R. Kelly but do and want to spread bias while affirming an oath to a judge and God then they will be fair an impartial. Now, that does affect all of us.”  Quickly the hot tub emptied. I knew that I hit a raw nerve. But instead of listening there is cult or gang-like atmosphere that people insist that we agree with fears and affirm everyone is out to get us or do harm despite the fact that it is thousands of miles away or next door.

Rather than engaging in an argument I quickly became the advocate of reason. Did I obtain any winners or sway people? Perhaps not. But what I did convey is pushback towards normative behaviors that we must agree or nod to keep the peace when in fact we are just reinforcing a bad behavior. 

I managed to get out of the hot tub and go to the locker room to change ending a workout. In the locker room I saw a few men from the pool area. As I was changing, one leaned over and said, “you know that woman is a preachers wife?”  I looked back with a smile and said, “I could tell with all those virtuous Christian values pouring out.”  Everyone in the locker room laughed with agreement. The men began suggesting I was the only person that ever stood up to disagree with her. I tried to explain that as a Christian my beliefs are to seek justice, then mercy, and forgiveness. I said, “People have a choice to either be more like Jesus or become like Pontius Pilate.”  That alone cemented that we are often quick to adjudicate before weighing evidence.  It is not my intentions to sound overly biblical or born-again. Instead it is important that people claiming to be Christians practice what they preach. 

On that note, there are many people not only entering correctional facilities today but a large number are let out and attempting to reintegrate into society. In my eyes those exiting the legal system in America have paid their price and should be treated as paying that debt to society. If our culture has no planning towards atonement and reentry into society then we have no reason to provide love, worth, or ambition in excelling as life continues by those affected or connected to incarceration or registry requirement.  It is fine to dislike the crime, but our energy shouldn’t be consumed with hating the person. Disappointment should be brief lapses over time. Instead, we live in a world today where we want to lock people up and throw away the key. Eventually that place too will become overcrowded and bursting with no room to reform and teach others because a person influenced others to think like them. It’s not gangs we should be worried about. It is the ganglike mentality that fails to separate between the street gang and the hypocrites that appear ganglike we should worry about. 

Unique Double Entendre

Sometimes in life, we may experience an event or circumstance where we are accused of something that didn’t happen, or we were not responsible for but cannot seem to shrug the allegation. All too many times we hastily read a splash headline where someone is charged with something and naturally our perception and sensation rush to judge just because there is something reportable. Either way we are either consumed by noise or the noise consumes us.

What we fail to realize is that partaking the sensationalistic and judgemental journey is no different than a sidelined lynch mob forming judge, jury, and executioner well before any established facts are assimilated. Regardless of narrative we either enjoy watching power being used in hopes for good or are overpowered in an attempt to recover the good from within ourselves. Often when we discover that truths are twisted or false allegations are discovered an immediate reaction is to become angry for a swift moment at the accusor but briefly feel remorse for the accused adding “I bet he/she learned a lesson.” But we as the observers learned absollytely nothing only to put unnecceary energy into the next upcoming news allegation.

The recent highlighting of sexual assault or sexual allegations has become so weaponized that despite all the warnings from high profiled cases as the Duke Lacrosse scandal didn’t teach or instill any valuable lessons learned that people, in fact, lie or misrepresent circumstances. Today, truth, reality, evidence, and motive have been significantly replaced by dishonesty, fabrication, concealment, and agenda. Why would people lie is perhaps that first plausible argument? A supporting fact is selling and technique. A salesperson may bend, adulterate, or skew the truth about something to convince and persuade others to rid of a problem or product. After all, corporatism is an integral part of our American DNA. While ethos, value or other attributes may be instilled upon all of us, we do have a nasty habit of cutting ethical corners where lies, deception, and opportunity become opportune weapons tucked away in our arsenal despite how insignificant it may appear to self or others. A common mantra for some is “just don’t get caught!” That alone can be a double edged sword or a unique double entendre.

A majority of individuals on sex offender registries or incarcerated are there because of plea deals created and expedited by a legal system with its own politicized agenda. This is not to imply that every person on the registry or incarcerated is innocent. What it does suggest is based on two stages. The first is the state possibly reduced a criminal charge for convenience to a judicial system without actually reflecting the merits of the crime. If it is convenience to the legal system then why not allow prayer for judgements as an alternative? Perhaps a reason is the legal system doesn’t make money from dismissals or set aside cases. Second, most sexually based offender crimes are either technologically related or he said-she said disagreement with a developmental phase towards the creation of violative standards. What that means, is interpretation instead of facts are introduced with the baggage of emotion, tissues of lies, and a hunch of what occurred. Examples could be where people arrested for possession of child pornography are deemed equal or similar to those that create and promote it. It brings to mind drug dealers versus drug users. Both are treated in the eyes of justice as criminals yet we rarely witness the prosecution or pursuit of drug lords or manufacturers. Why? Because of our clinging to the corporatism model that we disrupt one business opportunity to shift towards a newer and vastly improved business model much harder to pursue and capture. Therefore, law enforcement will continue to seek the little man because it creates an opportunity to rush judgment to hopefully develop a credible case and argument. 

Ten Million Registrants?

Recently the Attorney General for the State of Michigan, Dana Nessel presented an argument to the federal court that the sex offender registry is so burdensome and fail to distinguish between dangerous offenders and those who are not a threat to the community. However, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals previously ruled, that Michigan’s registry is punishment and cannot be applied retroactively.

Before we pop the Champaign corks and begin to celebrate that those affected by the registry and its advocates observe various rulings only to have them become ignored or administratively adjusted. It is somewhat similar to when we hear that a person is “free to go”. But there seems to be paperwork or other administrative details before the individual is actually free. We do live in a nation where statue mandates “fast and speedy trail” but there is no clear rule or policy to mandate the efficiency and workflow of civil procedures.

While I am exited about the Michigan case and its merit lets not forget that a federal court made a previous ruling that hasnt propelled the required traction for immedete enforcement. If the Attorney General wants to gain trust to those affected by the sex registry then the next step of good faith is to stop enforcing a requirement that Michigan registrants to pay an annual sex offender fee. While this sounds like an extreme format towards legislative battles between executive and legislative branches of government, the validation lies with how sincere Dana Nessel intends to pursue how to fix the registry or abolish it, should that be a future project? Perhaps Dana should reach out to current registrants and families affected by the registry for a comprehensive evalution of options?

Let’s face facts that a sex registry is an entertainment tool in the eyes of the general public than an educational tool. To date, there are at least a million registrants. But the bigger picture is undisclosed of those connected to the sex registry. There are parents, grandparents, siblings spouses, and children connected to the daily lives of registered sex offenders. This implies that the sex registry could potentially affect not just one million registrants, but over five to ten million citizens. If registrants are not allowed to be a part of a child’s developmental and parental programs, then that facilitates others such as grandparents, siblings, or friends to remedy that a child has equal access to programs. But if one parent is excluded because of public policy or law then the registry itself is an accomplice portion that devides families, communities, and facilitates potential homelessness issues for Americans. Perhaps this is why Attorney Generals are quickly discovering the sex registry has outgrown its usefulness and should be dissolved.

I am confident that the sex registry will eventually come to an end. The only people clinging on to the notion of registry requirements are those that seek enterprising methods to create a fear-based business model usually siding with law enforcement programs instead of social community programming. These models are facilitated without any facts, any data, any proof, or any rational support that lists work. Instead, there is a culture laced hobgoblin atmosphere that communities are laced with sexual predators creating unnecessary anxieties. Groups of law enforcement unions additionally lay claim to the high effective rate of registry requirements are directly power grabbing. If the registry is so successful as a deterrent, then why has the registry more than tripled in the decade? The answer is somewhat simplified that children are the newest growing members to the registry. With lifetime commitments naturally, the registry will continue to manifest and absorb more people discarding that the registry is, in fact, has deterrent features.

Again, it is essential to remain optimistic that leaders like Dana Nessel do bring value to the sex offender registry argument. However, as the states leading law enforcement agent, she has much more to prove by actions instead of appearing in a courtroom. Registrants and families are watching to witness the outcomes.

Welcome shouldn’t come with an asterisks

I recently wrote a blog about my thoughts on why church membership has declined over the years. The focus of that particular blog brought attention towards a message of “do unto others” and how we seem to have forgotten that everyone has a specific path when seeking a relationship with their God. After all, we are taught that God created all in his image. Rather than allow that particular message blend with our soul, we somehow became selective rather it be mannerisms, different behaviors, or ideologies to determine if membership and welcoming is qualifications for membership.

This brings me to today’s observation of church parishioners and leadership to particular congregations or perhaps denominations. There seems to be emphasis or expectation on how a person is welcomed into a congregation. Naturally, there are welcoming committees, interest cards to be filled and returned, and in some cases acknowledgment during a service to welcome new visitors. But are congregations and parishioners accidentally or purposely making the welcome feel somewhat unwelcoming? One Sunday I witnessed a car pulling into a visitor space reserved for new people at my local Presbyterian church. Most noticeable on the car rear windshield was an Obama decal. I watched the young couple get out of the car and greeted by a committee person standing at the doorway that could see the visitor parking spaces. The couple was met with a handshake, and the church member went back towards the door to watch for other cars that may be first-time visitors in the remaining parking spaces.

Standing in near the doorway I could overhear conversations as the area from the choir stairwell is adjoined to the area that the welcoming committee stands. What I overheard next from the welcoming committee to a fellow parishner was most disturbing. “Another Obama supporter. I doubt they will be back.” From the brief moment I was struck that membership and welcoming are how one makes and develops it. To some, this observation may be an overstretch of other congregations. But the message of how we receive any prospect of new members or welcoming others to seek whatever religious preference available has indeed become a select committee judging others by the tangibles rather than the merits.

It is as if by chance and constructive skill that some Christians view others in an unchristian like manner if they appear or support others that different than the greeter or congregation majority? A self-assessment would be if an individual at your church mentioned they went to a political speech of a high profile political speaker, despite your objections and opposition to the speaker, in general, would you view that person or member differently? If so, you are perhaps an additional reason church members will continue to decline.

Christian values and virtues should be met with peace, dignity, intercession, and supplication. It doesn’t imply that our personal compass must align with others. It merely means that we surrender at one moment when before our Lord or higher power that we may set aside the controversy and reflect our image of God as merciful and legitimately welcoming of all. Congregations shouldn’t have to become marketing and customer service oriented agents because we should be superlative in our welcoming.

If your congregation has an image of blue jeans, tee shirts, tattoos, unshaven men, or others that appear dramatically different than yourself? Consider your congregation to be lucky and privileged to retain those seeking a religious message of positivity and spirituality versus if they were never there at all. I am always reminded that the meek will inherit the earth. It doesn’t say anything about the best dressed and most successful is in the same line?