All I Really Need to Know

Sep 03, 2017

By Mary Mortenson, Executive Director, Prison Congregations of America

Do you remember the book by Robert Fulghum entitled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten?”  It contains all kinds of lessons about sharing and playing fair, and my favorite, “Take a nap every afternoon.”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about all that this work has taught me, especially in the wake of all the tragedies of nature and humanity that have been evident this past week.  Montana burns while Texas, Louisiana, West Africa and South Asia are drenched.  Are these freaks of nature or God’s punishment?  Or is it that in defiance of Fulghum’s advice, we have not cleaned up our own messes or not taken things that weren’t ours to take, or not put things back where we found them? As a species, we have abused the earth that was given us as a gift by the Creator.  These are not 500 year or 1,000 year events.  These are the ever more frequent cries of a planet that is very sick.

So what does this have to do with lessons learned in prison ministry?  Every time I speak with one of our pastors or visit one of our congregations, I am reminded of the power of redemption.  “Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody,” writes Fulghum. I have seen the power of one saying he/she is sorry and then daring to believe the impossible – that God loves him/her – as much now as ever. There is still time for humankind to repent and to work together – but quickly – to help heal the planet.

To do the right thing is often the hardest thing.  This I have learned from people affected by incarceration.  It’s so easy to go back to the old ways – to even romanticize those times.  But it’s much harder to walk the new healthy path.  This is where Fulghum’s other advice rings true: “When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands and stick together.”  Through the horrific tragedies of the past week, we have seen this also, haven’t we?  Strangers reaching out to strangers, using whatever talents they have to help – to accompany.  In stark contrast to some who use faith for judgment or exclusion, the work of these people around the world has been fueled by love and a desire to help regardless of differences that a few short days ago might actually have been important to some.  In the work of PCA, this type of community is called congregation.  It has nothing to do with hatred or judgment or belittling, but it has everything to do with imitating – in word and action - the Jesus we claim to love.

Yep, a whole bunch of what I need to know I’ve learned in prison ministry.  I love my job.

Category: Leadership

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