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a POST Card from John Flynn

JF sees some beautiful smiles while performing with WXPN’s Musicians on
 Call at Wilmington Hospital…

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Hi Friends,

I hope this note finds you well, and enjoying the very best of the holiday season! As the bells of Christmas begin to ring out, it seemed a good time to tell you of an idea I’ve been wrestling with. This year, I’d like to find a way to repurpose those bells for a few moments. I’ll explain in the second half of this email...

But first, some catching up!

My Annual Benefit Concert for Camp Dreamcatcher*, a therapeutic summer camp for kids dealing with AIDS/HIV, will take place on Sunday, December 28 at the Merion Tribute House in Merion Station, PA , 7PM* We’ve been doing this yearly holiday show for going on two decades! For info on this and other shows please go to my web page:

I’ve been very gratified to see my new CD, Poor Man’s Diamonds, sited for some special year-end recognition! Philadelphia’s City Paper sited me as one of the Philly artists who “kicked ass in 2014”!

And legendary folk DJ and former Dirty Linen Magazine editor Paul Hartman picked PMD’s opening track, Lonely Enough, as one of the top three songs of 2014!

At this time of year I’m so especially thankful family, friends, and the opportunity to do meaningful work (both professionally and wearing my various “volunteer” hats)!

One of the highlights of the holiday season thus far was our New Beginnings- Next Step Christmas Party!

One of these hats has to do with my New Beginnings and New Beginnings- Next Step groups. Eagles coach Chip Kelly has famously said, while speaking of preparing his team for the challenges ahead, that culture trumps scheme. I’ve seen firsthand the wisdom in these words.

After prison, returning citizens need a good plan. But before they can even begin to implement a post-release strategy for success and freedom, they need to do the essential internal heavy lifting that will prepare them for the trials and temptations that surely wait on the streets. New Beginnings, and New Beginnings-Next Step continue to support these efforts by building real communities of accountability and possibility, both within and outside the prison walls. Thank you so much for supporting our work, especially in our endeavors to provide basic material assistance like bus passes, food vouchers, and even shelter to men in dire need.

You can read more about the work of New Beginnings-Next Step here:

My dear friend, Brother David Schlatter

Which brings me to my idea about the bells...
My friend Brother David is the one who recruited my pop (and me) to take over for him running his New Beginnings group at the state prison a dozen years ago.
Brother D has amassed quite a collection of large bells that he hauls to places all around the country, to be rung in celebration, invocation, or remembrance. From the Ground Zero to Newtown Connecticut, his bells have been rung by, and for, the heroes, the innocent, the victims and the sorrowful. Speaking from personal experience, there is something very therapeutic about taking up that heavy piece of hemp in your hands and really sounding forth; putting your whole back and heart into it!

I’ve rung Bro D’s bells at celebrations and funerals, even from behind the orange safety-fence of the protest pen outside of the state prison after executions. Their tolling washes over you and through you. Enormous waves of sound and emotion become intertwined and fused with a deep solemnity. Like prayers, these waves seem to transcend their earthly origins, and transport deep longing up and out to the very heavens themselves. If nothing else, the ringing seems to assure that something profound- often something beyond the power of words to express- has been shared.

And in that sharing, you are less alone.

A few of Brother David’s bells at Camp Dreamcatcher*

Brother David’s bells came to mind recently while I was meditating on some of my NB-NS guys. I was reflecting on the remarkable success several of them have had upon leaving prison, and the powerful roles that community and fellowship have played in their accomplishments. (Actually, many have told me that they would not have made it through the early days of probation without the support of our Next Step gatherings).

I was wondering how we might more effectively convey this sense of possibility and encouragement to those still inside the prison.

And then I thought of the bells.

An image came to me of one of Brother David’s trailers in the parking lot of Howard R. Young or the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center here in Delaware. In my mind could see some of our Next-Step guys jumping up on those trailers and ringing those bells!

What a sound it would make! Going right through the barbed wire fences. Echoing off the prison walls! In my mind I could see the hundreds of blurred face pressed against those opaque prison windows as free men boldly said to captive ones, “See us, brothers! Amazing change CAN happen! We are living, breathing PROOF! Do not be idle! Begin to work and prepare yourself to be FREE”!

Of course the prisons could probably not allow this. Nothing so disruptive could ordinarily be welcomed.

But, what if?

What if the ringing came from beyond our little trailers? From beyond the prison parking lot itself? What if it came from many local steeples in churches all across the city? What if all the bells in Wilmington could ring together for an entire five minutes, to say to the incarcerated, “We have not forgotten you. We pray for you. And we look forward to the day you come back to our family and our community to take up the work we need you to do to heal and strengthen our broken city”!

Would that sound (and it’s message) be loud enough to make it all the way through the prison walls? I believe it would, and I haven’t been able to shake the idea. Usually writing helps. Hence the lyrics to a song called The Bells of Mercy, which I share below. But instead of releasing me from the grip of this vision, the song seems to have only strengthened its hold on me.

That’s why I need your help.

I’d like to find a way to make the bells of mercy ring for real!

I’d like to enlist churches throughout our city (or state, or…COUNTRY?) to toll for our incarcerated population. I’d like to hear the sound of possibility, forgiveness, and hope echo off row houses and high-rise office buildings. Across parking lots and playgrounds.

It could do SO MUCH good, and not only for those imprisoned. It could help their families, especially their children. It could ease the shame and stigma for our returning citizens. And it could unleash a torrent of grace (cosmic goodwill? karma? Insert your own word…) on us all! I know of no better antidote to our current brokenness; to the deep dysfunction rooted in the stunning disregard for the value of human life underlying Wilmington’s recent christening as Murdertown, USA by Newsweek Magazine, or the heartbreaking tragedies involving Ferguson and the NYPD.
Our country currently incarcerates 2.3 million of our fellow citizens, the vast majority for non-violent offenses. We lead the entire world in imprisoning our own. Whether by faith or simple shared humanity we are charged, not to turn our backs on these men and women, but to reach out to them. And if the clergy – the steeple owners- were to be enlisted in this endeavor, who knows? Brother David’s trailers might even be invited into the prison parking lots. \

I know it’s a tall order and I don’t yet know how to bring it to pass. But I figure with almost 3000 of you on this email list, there has to be a good idea or two out there. If you’re visited by one while listening to the bells of this beautiful season, please share it with me.

Thanks for reading all my ramblings!

New lyrics below…

Have a wonderful and safe holiday season!


Bells of Mercy           by John Flynn
There is thunder in our silence that is louder than the sirens
that go Screaming past the prisons of these on blind and bleeding streets
And it echoes in the hearts as those who try to make new starts
Come to believe what they’ve been is who they’re always bound to be

Let us ring the bells of mercy
May each steeple in the land
Sound with prayers of hope and freedom
Now with bell rope in our hands
May we pull for those in bondage
May we pull for captive souls
Let us ring the bells of mercy
Let the bells of mercy toll 

Say “You have not been forgotten, and have not been left to rot
In prison far from sweet redemption’s promise in some dungeon dark
We’re your sisters and our brothers, we’re your fathers and our mothers
And we pray for you and always hold and keep you our hearts


Say “You are not thrown away! No, you will not be cast off!
Grievous though mistakes have been, they will never be enough
to Remove you from the rolls of the names we hold so dear!
On the hour of your return we will welcome you back here”!
Like the banging of a gavel may the sound of those bells travel
Through the halls of every courtroom, every prison, every jail
Let them echo in the cells and at the very gates of hell
Proclaiming we may be forgiven for God’s love will never fail


© 2014 Flying Stone Music

You can follow John on twitter @singwriter

© Flying Stone Music

Most of this stuff was typed by a songer-singwriter, so please excuse typos and double check all info!


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