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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Say “You are not thrown away! No, you will not be
Grievous though mistakes have been, they will never
to Remove you from the rolls of the names we hold so
On the hour of your return we will welcome you back
Like the banging of a gavel may the sound of those
Through the halls of every courtroom, every prison,
Let them echo in the cells and at the very gates of
Proclaiming we may be forgiven for God’s love will
© 2014 Flying Stone Music