Did Jesus Really Mean What He Said?

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This book is like a ticking time bomb. It should come with a label: "Warning: asking God to show you the world as he sees it and yourself as he sees you may cause disorientation and soul searching. Read with caution."

Why did I put Now I Walk on Death Row by Dale S. Recinella in my review books pile? Death row ministry and an endorsement by Sister Helen Prejean smack of bleeding hearts and that's not really my cup of tea. Nevertheless, there it was when I looked for something new to read.

I always evaluate every book I receive by reading the first chapter. What had I seen in this one that earned it a place in the stack?

"Don't be a rube, boy." His large arms move upward and his hands grip the cell door bars that frame the sides of my face, twisting back and forth with each breath. "You think some cracker judge put me here? You're wrong. You think some cracker jury put me here? You're wrong!"

On the heels of the tirade, his pause seems louder than his words have been. The moment has come to respond. Sounding as neutral as possible, I ask the obvious question.

"Then how did you get here?"

"I was born on this side of the door!" His head thrusts forward with each phrase, delivering the verbal equivalent of pummeling head butts. "From the first day of my life, everything put me on this track for this cell on death row. I was born on this side of the door."

. . .

"Let's assume that you are right." I speak firmly while locking my eyes on his and intentionally leaning into his space that has been extended to my side of the bars. "That means I was born on this side of this door, that I had just as little to do with being on this side of the bars as you did with being on that side of the bars."

He freezes, then steps back a half step, with his fists still firmly gripping the bars on either side of my face. My words have met an angry but open heart. . . .

"Here we are," I continue. "What are you and I going to do now?"

He looks puzzled for a moment. Then he drops his hands to his side, muttering a stream of expletives punctuated by glances at me and the repeated phrase "crazy white whatever."

No wonder I kept it. Anyone who could use perfect logic to turn the tables on an age-old argument is someone who interests me.

Dale Recinella grew up in a Catholic family with not much money but all the right values. He witnessed his parents' super human efforts to care for a severely handicapped daughter, their love for the others, and their unflagging trust in God. As a young man, he became a talented lawyer and lost his way in the heady atmosphere of Wall Street, high finance, and 80-hour work weeks.

Much of this is familiar ground, although Recinella tells it well, but the story takes off into uncharted territory when Recinella meets his wife, Susan, a faith-filled woman who helps keep their relationship grounded in God. When their spiritual focus is waning due to the demands of daily life, Recinella hears a Gospel reading that hits hard. It is Jesus' encounter with the rich young man in Mark 10:17-15. Jesus tells him, "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

Recinella and his wife ponder the reading, wondering if Jesus meant his words literally.

Susan shrugs. "Does anybody think He meant that? Does anyone take it literally?"

"Well, I guess priests and nuns do," I concede in acknowledgment of the well-known assumption by Roman Catholics for centuries that the literal Gospel only applies to those called to the so-called religious life—priests, brothers and nuns. "But the guy He was talking to in the Gospel tonight was not religious. He was like me. He was like us."

"And . . . ?" Susan leaves both her words and her fork hanging in midair.

8/17/2011 4:00:00 AM
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    Julie Davis blogs about it at Happy Catholic and discusses both books and movies at A Good Story is Hard to Find podcast. Her new book is Happy Catholic, published by Servant Publishing. Follow Julie on Twitter and Facebook