adult education

What Are Prisons For?

At first the answers may seem simple. Prisons are for the punishment of people who have broken the law. Prisons are for the protection of the community from potentially dangerous offenders. Prisons are for the correction of behaviors that threaten life in community. But prisons are also communities where people live and work, where babies are born and people die of old age. What do we make of the fact that the U.S. has the largest prison population in the world? How effective are prisons in accomplishing what they are supposed to accomplish?

This fall we will meet numerous times for conversations around incarceration and how it relates to our faith. Some of the conversations will happen in our fellowship hall, others in homes, in a local prison, and in our sanctuary. We are well aware that we cannot address every dimension of this seemingly simple question, What are prisons for? Once the planning team started naming themes for programs, we quickly realized that we were looking at a complex and multi-layered set of issues.

The idea behind prison:360 is not to look at an issue from every possible angle. What we try to accomplish is integrating traditional classroom learning with opportunities for fellowship and service, as well as spiritual practice and reflection. 

All of the programs are open to the public, but please note that a registration is required for some.

Wednesday, October 12

6:30 p.m. (dinner begins at 6 p.m. ) in the fellowship hall

Robin Porter – How Do Prisons Work?

Robin began working in prisons as an intern when she was a student at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and today she is the Director of Victim Services with the Tennessee Department of Correction. She will share with us from her own experience how prisons work, system-wide and on the day-to-day level in a specific setting.

Make your dinner reservation by Monday October 10

Thursday, October 13

8 p.m.   Documentary night at the Kleinert’s

American Drug War (2007)

The U.S. has the largest prison population in the world, and illegal drugs have a lot to do with that. The War on Drugs has become the longest and most costly war in American history, the question has become, how much more can the country endure? Inspired by the death of four family members from “legal drugs” Texas filmmaker Kevin Booth sets out to discover why the Drug War has become such a big failure.

Map and directions

Sunday, October 16

9:30 a.m.   in the fellowship hall

Gayle Ray – What Are Prisons For?

Gayle is a former sheriff of Davidson County and former Commissioner of the Department of Correction. She will talk about the purpose of prisons: what is incarceration supposed to accomplish, and how well does the system work?

Sunday, October 16

10:45 a.m.   worship
Lee Camp, guest preacher
Lee is Professor of Ethics at Lipscomb University, at both the college and graduate level, and he is well known as the host and creator of Tokens, a “theological variety show.”

Monday, October 17

7 p.m.   Documentary night at the Kleinert’s

What I Want My Words To Do To You ( 2003)

The film goes inside a writing workshop at New York’s Bedford Hills Correctional Facility led by playwright Eve Ensler. Fifteen women, most of whom were convicted of murder, delve into and expose their most terrifying realities as they grapple with the nature of their crimes and their own culpability. The film culminates in a prison performance of the women’s writing by acclaimed actors Mary Alice, Glenn Close, Hazelle Goodman, Rosie Perez and Marisa Tomei.

Map and directions

Tuesday, October 18

5:30 p.m.   Riverbend Prison

Life Behind Bars

We have the opportunity to visit one of Nashville’s prisons, Riverbend Maximum Security Institution. Visitors get a close look at life behind bars as well as time to talk with two of the inmates. The group size is limited and early registration is required. Please register here or call the church office at 269-5614.

Sunday, October 23

9:30 a.m. in the fellowship hall

Prisons – Places of Healing?

Many non-government agencies, groups, and ministries work with inmates and ex-offenders. Mark and Dana West are with The Theotherapy Project, and they will tell us about their work with convicts while in prison as well as after their release, when they face the challenges of life outside. Graduates of the program will talk about their experience during worship.

Monday, October 24

7 p.m.   Documentary night at the Kleinert’s

The Dhamma Brothers (2008)

An overcrowded maximum-security prison in Alabama is dramatically changed by the influence of an ancient meditation program. Behind high security towers and a double row of barbed wire and electrical fence dwells a host of convicts who will never see the light of day. But for some of these men, a spark is ignited when it becomes the first maximum-security prison in North America to hold an an emotionally and physically demanding course of silent meditation lasting ten days.

Map and directions

Wednesday, October 26

6:30 p.m. (dinner begins at 6pm) in the fellowship hall

Charlie Strobel – When Crime Becomes Personal

Most of us know and love Fr. Strobel for his work with the homeless in our community. What many of us don’t know is that Charlie’s mother, Mary Catherine, was murdered in 1985 by a man who had escaped from a prison mental ward. We have invited Charlie to talk about how his faith shaped his response to the violent and painful loss of his mother.

Make your dinner reservation by Monday, October 24

Wednesday, November 2

6:30 p.m. (dinner begins at 6 p.m. ) in the fellowship hall

Robin Porter and Nicole H. Smith - Victim Impact

Incarceration is a means to punish and rehabilitate offenders. What about the victims of crime? How does the prison help offenders take accountability for what they have done? What systems are in place to support victims of crime? Robin is the Director of Victim Services with the Tennessee Department of Correction. Nicole has used her experience as a victim of crime to teach victim impact classes for inmates and facilitate victim offender dialogues.

Make your dinner reservation by Monday, October 31

Thursday, November 3

8 p.m.   Documentary night at the Kleinert’s

Prison Town, USA (2007)

In the 1990s, at the height of the prison-building boom, a prison opened in rural America every 15 days. The film tells the story of Susanville, California, one small town that tries to resuscitate its economy by building a prison — with unanticipated consequences.

Map and directions

Sunday, November 6

After weeks of conversations and experiences, we address in worship and in the context of the gospel some of the questions that have been raised. Our faith traditions speak and sing about prisoners losing their chains and prison doors flying open, about repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation, and the scriptures are full of prison stories – Joseph, Daniel, John, Peter, Paul, to name just a few. Who knows what will emerge when we juxtapose recent experience and ancient tradition, burning questions and living Word?

Sunday, November 6

4:45 p.m.   Documentary night with the youth group

(the title of the film will be announced shortly)

Wednesdays in May

During May, we continue our aging:360 focus with a series of Wednesday night programs (and meals! See details below). Our members have raised many good questions, and we will address at least some of them each week:

As an adult child, how can I be more diligent in ensuring that my parents are able to retire and be cared for? Are there any tips on how to talk with aging parents about choices? At the end of life, when is it time to let go, and how do I make my wishes known? Medicare, long-term care insurance, supplemental insurance, reverse mortgages – it’s such a jungle! Where is God in the so-called Golden Years?

May 4 – Easing Difficult Conversations

Dinner 6pm – Program 6:30pm - Dinner reservations by Monday, May 2
Childcare provided - Call the church office if you need transportation

Facilitator: Carol Smith, Counselor, Pastoral Counseling Centers of Tennessee

Communication between aging parents and adult children is often strained because of difficult decisions that need to be made. Many of us just don’t know how to talk about making the home more accessible, changing living arrangements, finding in-home care, monitoring bank accounts, writing living wills, managing medications, or dealing with driving limitations.

Carol Smith is a Family Therapist; she will give us some tips that apply to all kinds of situations, and she will also try to answer our very specific questions.

May 11 – Caregiving and Support

Dinner 6pm – Program 6:30pm - Dinner reservations by Monday, May 16
Childcare provided - Call the church office if you need transportation

Facilitator: Nancy Pertl, Caregiver Education Specialist with the Mental Health Association of Middle Tennessee

Caregivers provide 80% of the care for individuals. Especially with Alzheimer’s disease and related dementia, caregiving can be particularly stressful. Making decisions about healthcare, communicating with physicians, knowing what to expect as the disease progresses, mobility and safety, making arrangements so the individual can stay at home and making decisions when that may not be possible any longer, are all decisions that caregivers face. What about the caregivers needs? When do they feel that they have time for friends, church, a movie, or a walk in the park?  What about the caregivers’ health and well-being?

May 18 – End of Life issues

Dinner 6pm – Program 6:30pm - Dinner reservations by Monday, May 9
Childcare provided - Call the church office if you need transportation

Facilitator: Greg Rumburg, Chaplain, Odyssey Hospice

Our physical, emotional, and spiritual needs change as we near the end of our life. When individuals and families are faced with decisions about the type of care they prefer at the end of life, they often wait too late to make their plans. Discussions about hospice care for life-limiting illnesses and discussions about palliative care for those with terminal illness can often be supportive to both the individual and to the family members. Knowing what to expect and making plans can take some of the burden off the family. Grief is inevitable, but support from clergy and bereavement experts can help. Knowing the individual’s wishes about funeral arrangement can help the family make better decisions with which they feel comfortable.

Greg Rumburg is an Elder at Vine Street, and as a hospice chaplain he walks, talks, sits, and prays with individuals and their families as they approach death. He will share his knowledge and wisdom with us.

May 25 – Navigating Medicare and Planning for the Future

Dinner 6pm – Program 6:30pm - Dinner reservations by Monday, May 23
Childcare provided - Call the church office if you need transportation

Facilitator: Lucy Utt, Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, Supervisor, State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP)

Medicare is a federal government health insurance program that provides medical care and prescription drug benefits. You become eligible for Medicare when you turn 65 years of age or if you are under the age of 65 and have a disability. Medicare Part A is for hospital coverage, Part B is for medical care, and Part D is for prescription drug coverage. What all does Medicare cover? Do I need an Advantage Plan? Do I need supplemental insurance? What about long-term care insurance? What happens if I need long-term care in my home or in a nursing home? What if I can’t make decisions on my own? What if I run out of savings, will I lose my home?

Meals at 6pm

The Wednesday nights in May are great opportunities for learning, but they are also opportunities for fellowship and for getting to know each other. So pick up the kids and come on over for dinner! We have partnered with Copper Kettle to provide a delicious meal for us each week, and we will have childcare available as well.

We ask that you make meal reservations no later than Monday morning of each week, but you can make them as early as right now. We will take your reservations online, over the phone (call the church office at 269-5614), in person on Sunday mornings (look for the people carrying sandwich boards!), or with print forms available in various places at church.

Ezekiel's Bones

On Sunday, Ezekiel calls us to sit with him in the middle of a valley. Now before your imagination takes you to the murmuring brook running between pussy willows and grassy banks, let me tell you about Ezekiel’s valley: it’s not a pleasant valley but one full of bones, very many of them and very dry.

In that valley, the Lord speaks to Ezekiel, and asks him a question, “Mortal, can these bones live?”

We're about to launch aging:360, and Ezekiel walks in to talk about old bones and remind us of our first name: Mortal. Strange and wonderful things happen when our stories cross paths with God’s story.

Aging and mortality are not the kind of topics anyone would want to face on a sunny spring Sunday, but when’s a good time to look at something we don’t really want to look at anyway? Aging is one of those conversations we’d rather postpone until…

So, frail children of dust, we’ll talk about our aging bodies, and memories, and harvest time, and retirement plans, and whatever else comes to mind when we think about people getting older.

After the 10:45 worship service, we will gather for lunch in the fellowship hall. We’ll have a blend of potluck and sandwiches – if you can bring something to share, please do.  During lunch, we’ll tell each other toy stories – childhood memories of the bear that never left our side, the one toy we always wanted, or how we made do with whatever we found in the kitchen drawer – and discover how very similar and very different it was to be a child in the 30’s, 50’s, or 80’s.

After lunch, Kathy Zamata will talk about the baby boom generation who are just beginning to retire, and what this means for them and their children and the society at large. And since with this “360” in particular we want to address the questions you have, Kathy will also solicit our input for the remaining programs. Some of us may want to talk about housing options, others are very curious about transportation and independence, and again others may want to hear more about legal issues like wills.

And when we’re finished with the meal, sharing toy stories, and listening to Kathy’s presentation, we’ll go back to the sanctuary for a time of worship with Ezekiel, the Rev. KK, and other old and new friends. And that’s because April 10 also happens to be Second Sunday, but mostly because strange and wonderful things happen when our stories cross paths with God’s story. We hope you’ll join us.

Letters to a young elder

During April and May, we will talk a lot about “aging” at Vine Street. No, not the kind of aging we like in our cheese, steak, wine, or scotch – our own getting older and the aging of our parents. We will have a series of programs on baby boomers and medicare and how to live independently as long as possible – a whole host of conversations about important issues we call aging:360.

While I was meeting with the group that is putting it all together, I thought about what I would like to do as part of this 360 project. The landscape of aging is so vast and universal, and at the same time it is so very personal. What else might we do, other than sharing important information? How about some wisdom?

Joan Chittister, a very wise woman and one of the most gifted writers on spiritual matters of our time, published a series of brief meditations when she was just over 70 years old. The title of her book is, THE GIFT OF YEARS: Growing Older Gracefully.

Each of the forty short meditations with titles like, DREAMS, TALE-TELLING, REGRET, AGELESSNESS, and PRODUCTIVITY, begins with a quote. “Old age transfigures or fossilizes.” So true, isn’t it? Another one I liked because it reminded me of some of my favorite old people, “How beautiful the leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.” When I sat with this one, “For the unlearned, old age is winter; for the learned, it is the season of harvest,” I just wondered what I might need to learn before the time of harvest begins.

In Chittister’s book, the quote in each chapter is followed by a meditation of about four pages, and the chapter ends with two pithy statements like these, “A burden of these years is to assume that the future is already over. A blessing of these years is to give another whole meaning to what it is to be alive, to be ourselves, to be full of life. Our own life.”

This is not a book for study, but rather one that invites deep reflection and response. I would like to read this book with a group of folks over 50. For eight weeks, starting sometime in April, we each read one chapter every day, five chapters per week. At least once a week, we write in response to what we have read. We may respond to just one particular thought, or to one or more of the chapters, or to the whole experience of reading, and we give our response the form of a letter.

At first I thought it would be fun to write this letter to a child or a grandchild, to a niece, or to the kid across the street. But then I started to think about bringing the reflection closer to the community where we live, work, and worship with several generations, closer to Vine Street. That’s when “letters to a young elder” crossed my mind like a bird you suddenly notice and then you can’t take your eyes off of it.

I like the idea that is beginning to take shape: Each week, we get together to listen to each other’s letters. We might read our own or ask someone in the group to read it for us. We may decide to talk some more. We may decide to collect the letters and give them to our folks under 50. We may decide to invite them to dinner and an evening of homemade wisdom. This is something I’d really like to do. How about you?

If this sounds like something you'd like to give some of your time to, call me or send me an email, let's say by April 10, and then we talk some more about how we'll make this happen.