Reconciliation in Chicago: Positive delusion

This article appears in the Reconciliation in Chicago feature series. View the full series.

Editor's note: "Reconciliation in Chicago" is NCRonline's newest blog series, a weekly blog from the Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation, a ministry of the Missionaries of the Precious Blood based in Chicago's Back of the Yards neighborhood. Each post will feature hopeful reflections from the ministry's staff and volunteers, as they share their stories about working with youth and families affected by violence and incarceration.

"Reconciliation in Chicago" will be published every Monday at the feature series page Reconciliation in Chicago.

Recently I was coming back to the Precious Blood Center (where our ministry operates) after a meeting. As I was walking towards our building, I came upon two police officers who had apprehended a young man and were in the process of searching him. The police had the young man with his hands on the hood of their police car. That in itself isn't out of the ordinary in our area. I might have walked on by, but the young man called out my name: "Hey, Father Kelly!" 

I recognized him immediately. He was one of the youth who comes to the Center regularly. I walked over to where the police were searching him. They told me that they were sure he had been selling drugs. Of course, the young man said that was not the case. He was looking at me to speak up for him.

The young man was upset, stating that this was "bogus" while mumbling a few other choice words. The police asked if I knew him and I told them, "Yes, I was talking to him earlier today." They went on to disparage the kid with language unfit for this blog. Needless to say, we had different perspectives. The conversation ended with the police saying something like, "Father, there are just some guys you can't help, and you're delusional if you think you can." I responded, "Then, I guess I am just delusional."

Frankly, it is not the first time that I have been called "out of touch" or "not in the real world" or "delusional." Many think that being a priest means that, somehow, I "don't get it."

A couple of days ago, someone posted a video on Facebook that used the phrase "positive delusion." It was about a man who had been sentenced to life in prison, but lived his life as though he was going to go home one day. He lived his life preparing for his freedom. People called him delusional; after all, he had a life sentence.

But every day, for more than 20 years, he lived his life as though one day he would go home. He took every class he could; he attended every kind of activity possible. You have to understand that people who have life sentences are rarely put on any list for educational or other activities. So, to continue to sign up for classes or activities in the hopes that your name will someday be on a list is delusional in itself. The institutional thought is why "waste it" on someone with a life sentence, someone who will never get out of prison and will have no need for an educational or art program. But that didn't stop him; he continued to prepare for the day in which he would get out.

The thing is, he did get out, and today he owns two businesses.

The phrase he used -- positive delusion -- struck a chord with me. To choose to live with a positive delusion is embracing a spirituality that sees beyond the reasons why not and embraces the possibilities. Positive delusion is a spirituality that sees the cross as a sign of hope -- that God can bring forth life from death (or from a life sentence).

What might seem delusional -- thinking that a young man who might sell drugs can change -- is, in so many ways, at the core of what keeps me going after so many years. 

I recognized a long time ago that there is much more to each of us than the negative we might have done -- or will yet do. Positive delusion is seeing the whole of the person and understanding, to the degree possible, the inherent goodness which lies within each of us, in spite of what we say or do.

There are days, too, that I am tempted to dwell on all the failures and all the disappointments, and give in to an attitude of "he's never gonna change." Frankly, I know a lot of people who do give in; good people who have given in to a sense of hopelessness. But I choose to believe that God can bring about change in any of us.

God is the model of one who is positively delusionary -- believing in the impossible. So, "yes, officer, I am positively delusionary." I continue to strive to see that beyond the tragedy of the cross, lies the hope of a new life.

[Precious Blood Fr. David Kelly is executive director of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation.]

A version of this blog previously appeared on the website of Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation. NCRonline presents the blog in collaboration with Precious Blood Ministry of Reconciliation.

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