TODAY IS… a superb day to pray for peace. By Tony Casson

Time for another excerpt from the book, “Today Is….A Gift From God.


December 24


a superb day to pray for peace.

“God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.”  Matthew 5:9 NLT

All of the chaotic preparations of the season begin to wind down. Last minute shopping, wrapping, baking, cooking, traveling; all of these things begin to end and we are ready to enjoy our families, our friends, our neighbors. Businesses begin to close early – those that are actually still trying to get things done – and a quiet begins to descend on our communities.

All that we have done to celebrate this time of year is acceptable to God. He loves to hear our laughter, and the sound of excited children. He loves our music and He wants families and friends to draw closer, be nicer, and love each other.

But God also wants each one of us to reach out and pray for peace throughout the world. Some people laugh or become cynical at the mere thought or mention of world peace, but this is something that would truly please God because we cannot have peace throughout the world without people loving each other, respecting each other’s differences and being concerned for each other’s health and welfare.

World peace is not something that is just for beauty pageant contestants to hope for. It is certainly not something to laugh about or refuse to think about because we see so many obstacles to it.

World peace should be in our prayers every day, but especially on this day. We should gather our families and thank God for our good fortune and for the love we share with one another, and we should use that time as an opportunity to collectively ask God to use His power to help make us all kinder, gentler, and more compassionate. We should take this little bit of time to teach our children the importance of giving thanks and giving the gift of prayer for peace throughout this world that God created for us to share with one another.

Those who feel that world peace is impossible are the very people that Jesus Christ was talking about when He said, “You don’t have enough faith,’ Jesus told them. ’I tell you the truth, if you had faith even as small as a mustard seed, you could say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it would move. Nothing would be impossible.’” (Matthew 17:20 NLT).

Use the gift of prayer and your faith to move the mountains of hate, war, persecution and oppression. Pray to God for peace throughout the world.



Winter came early this year, covering much of the map with snow and downright frigid temperatures well before Thanksgiving.

Last night, I grabbed my thermal shirt and sweat clothes to layer up before heading out to the track, and wondered how will I survive my first Christmas inside a place as cold sounding as prison? Insulated clothing may keep my physical body warm, but how do I keep my spiritual body, my soul, warm? Place a liter bottle of soda in the freezer long enough and the expanding pressure of the cold will eventually explode the bottle. How do I keep my soul from getting so frozen that it breaks under the pressure?

The holidays are about family and tradition. We are bombarded with media images of hearth and home – a warming fire, warming food, warming friends and family. And as a child, though no one I knew had a fireplace in their 1970s ranch home, my family celebrated the holiday with warming traditions.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, wrapped mysteries would trickle in to find a tempting place under our tree. These presents were riddles. Fed up with our constant nagging of what Santa might bring, my Mom would put out one present for each of us in the family; a present that could withstand our “gorilla with Samsonite luggage” examinations. Guesses of the contents were based on exhaustive attempts to decipher Mom’s cunning disguises.

Large, lightweight boxes were as deceptive to decode as were weight-laden small boxes: to a child “large” should be heavy; “small” – light. Violently shaken, a silent box was as annoying as those resounding of gravel or nuts and bolts. What items from the Sears Wish Book catalog made those kind of noises? These gifts were like human pet toys, entertaining us kids with Holmes-like suppositions for hours upon days.

On Christmas Eve, we would pile into the station wagon and head for church. It was the one time of the year my Mom had no trouble getting the whole family to go to church; mostly because Santa came to our house while we were at the evening service.

I would sit in the pew imagining what Santa was doing moment by moment. Was he enjoying the milk and cookies we’d left? We’d gone to such lengths to leave him our favorites. Would he appreciate how good we had been by not eating all of our favorites in advance – overcoming our daily pre-Christmas temptations for his sake? Were the other reindeer jealous of Rudolph because we only left one carrot especially for him, or did he share by letting a different reindeer eat the carrot at each new house? Rudolph was the most popular with all of my neighborhood friends, so I knew no one ever thought of Blitzen or Prancer by leaving more than one carrot. Did Rudolph remember the pain of being left out of the reindeer games, which is why he gave his carrot away as an act of forgiveness?

One year my Mother forgot to buy carrots, so out of fear I panicked. I ran over to the neighbor’s snowman and stole the carrot from it. As I sat in church that Christmas Eve, I realized I had done wrong. I knew Rudolph wouldn’t eat, let alone share, that shriveled, weeks old frost bitten nose, plus I feared Santa would find out I had stolen it. Surely he spoke to all the snowmen in the neighborhood – after all, they had magic in their silk hats. Robbing Frosty to pay Vixen is always naughty. As a child in the pew, sometimes the secular and the sacred would become interwoven.

My favorite part of the service, the part where I forgot about Santa, Rudolph, the olfactory-deprived Frosty, and all the rest, was when Minister Peters asked us all to kneel as he read the Christmas story, Luke 2:1-20 (RSV).

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus…,” and as he read, the organist began to quietly play an interlude into the hymn Silent Night. The lights over the congregation were dimmed down and out so only the altar was swathed in bright light.

“And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the city of Nazareth…,” and the congregation softly joined the organ and sang as underscoring to the minister’s narration.

When the lyrics started, an acolyte took the center candle of the Advent wreath and lit the handheld candles of the first person seated in the front row on both sides of the center aisle. As Minister Peters continued and we sang, those first people used their candles to light the candle of the person next to them. Slowly the darkened congregation began to glow in candlelight as each successive person passed the flame from their candle to their neighbor’s.

“And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…”

“…all is calm, all is bright…”

I tipped my unlit candle into my Mom’s flame and then turned to offer my light to my sister. And so it moved down the pew through my other siblings to my Dad, and then to my grandparents in the pew behind, and on to my uncles and aunts, my cousins, continuing row by row to the very back door of the sanctuary where eventually even the “standing room only” glowed in flickering light.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will among men…”

“Christ the Savior is born… 

Christ the Savior is born.”

In that candlelight, with tears of joy streaming down my face and my soul wide open, I understood the mystery of God and the truth of Christmas. On a silent and often cold winter’s night, light and love moved from the altar, spreading across a sea of humanity, to fill that room with the hope that it would continue to burn in our hearts, and before our eyes, lighting our way long after the candles were out and we went forth into the cold, dark world.

For years after the service, my grandparents would ride back home in the car with us. Without fail, my Grandma would point out a red blinking light in the sky and declare it was Rudolph leaving our house. She did this long after my sister and I grew old enough to insist the light was just a plane circling O’Hare airport.

My Grandma kept the fantasy alive for my youngest brother and sister by rebuking that “planes never fly on Christmas Eve so Santa doesn’t have to worry about the reindeer getting hit by Pan Am.” (Later in life my Grandma came to despise the song Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer, mostly because she felt betrayed by Rudolph for all those years she gave him credit in denying the existence of an aircraft holding pattern.)

I’m not sure how I’ll recapture those feelings of Christmas while I’m here at Oakdale FCI. Without family, longtime friends, and all the traditions that go with celebrating Christmas, it could become a bleak midwinter’s night. How can the light shine here?

Bundled up on the track, I stood contemplating that and the Christmases of my past, while trying to imagine this Christmas to come. I looked up into the chilly night sky and thought of Grandma. No blinking red noses in sight. But there was a star. A bright star. I know I’m no wise man in finding my way here, though I did come from east of Oakdale. That star, and all the stars that filled the night sky, reminded me that I am free, even though I am imprisoned. Funny how reminders of comfort and love are often right in front of our eyes, if we only open our souls to see.

There will be no traveling for me this year, and I definitely don’t have any gifts to bear. I don’t even have a drum on which to play a song; however, my heart does beat the rhythm of life. A life that can once again kneel, see the light, feel the light, and pass that light on to others. With that knowledge in my soul, I am more free inside this prison than many who sit in their homes before a warming fire, or even some who sit in the packed pews on Christmas Eve.

I’ve realized it doesn’t really matter where I spend my Christmas – as long as my heart is in the right place. That is the flame of truth I’ll burn bright with, warming my soul from the inside out.

May you know peace and joy this holiday season, celebrating love with those who surround you, and sharing that light with others who are still out in the bleak, cold dark night.

“WRATH v. LOVE” by George

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

I woke up the other morning with that snippet of a song from the musical Hair looping in my mind. Funny what one’s mind captures, stores, and then releases from Past’s vault. I put my Walkman’s ear buds in and searched the airwaves for something new. Even with that, I couldn’t shake it, or replace it with something catchier. Were my synapse just misfiring long neglected memories, or was my soul trying to tell me something?

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Standing against the wall of my housing unit’s day room, I tuned into the morning TV news hoping it would keep the Hair from running through my mind.

The host’s meaningless banter segued between regurgitated sound bites of social media trends: concert video of Kanye West demanding his audience stand before he continued with the next song – to the point of unknowingly shaming someone in a wheelchair who “wouldn’t” stand up; a four year old girl denying she had used her mother’s lipstick even though her mouth was widely ringed in ruby red gloss; a Miss America contestant giving her opinion of the domestic violence scandal swirling around pro football player Ray Rice, his then fiancée now wife, and the NFL at large.

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

I watched as the blonde beauty queen touted her domestic violence platform’s platitudes ending with “he should not be given a second chance,” her bright smile glinting.

Hmm, no second chances?

As a rousing hand of affirmation and cheers surged from the audience, I couldn’t help envisioning her as a form-fitting evening dress-clad barbarian brandishing a pike with Ray Rice’s bloody head skewered on its point, demanding more than a pound of flesh. She gave the Atlantic City plebeians what they craved – no mercy!

My heart sank. I took out my ear buds and walked back to my room, disappointed.

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness… in deed.

Domestic violence is a serious issue. It is an outward display of deep inward hurt wrongly expressed toward a supposed beloved. Often it demonstrates a behavior learned throughout childhood development. When a child’s emotions build to the point beyond an ability to process, he often does one of two things – cries or strikes out. For a boy, society’s norms dictate that crying is weak; striking out is therefore by default the re-enforced response.

Many state laws allow spanking as an acceptable form of child discipline – society condones it.

If raised in a household where discipline, often administered in anger, was delivered physically, it is not hard to conclude that the child’s naturally learned response to displaying anger would be to violently strike out. Repeat those experiences and examples day after day, month after month, year after year, until it becomes second nature for a boy to become a man who only knows one way to act when angered. Now add a successful career, built over that same time period, whose core attributes of dominance and aggressiveness are celebrated and rewarded, is it any wonder that domestic violence can be an issue?

Society is hypocritical. We seem to be saying, “Spank a beloved child, okay; spank a beloved adult, head on pike.”

I would be just as appalled and disappointed had the now infamous elevator security camera footage showed his then fiancée now wife knocking him out, or him striking a man. The “shock” of the video should not be gender based. Violence is violence and should not be condoned. Period. However, I am of the Christian mindset that he should not be crucified for his actions, nor should she be condemned for forgiving him if her heart led her to that decision.

I do believe in second chances.


“Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.” Psalm 34:14 (KJV)


Recently an Arkansas newspaper printed a “sound bite” blurb of a paragraph about Alabama Federal Justice Mark Fuller, who also had a domestic violence encounter with his wife in an Atlanta hotel elevator, caught on security camera footage too. However, unlike Rice, there is no national outrage about Judge Fuller’s wrongful actions.

Presidentially appointed to a lifetime position of deciding judgments justly, Fuller’s daily task meaningfully affect the lives of the accused – discerning between the innocent and the guilty. Rice’s daily task as a pro ball player is to assist his team in winning games – generating millions of dollars in profits. Though I am a football fan, Fuller’s career seems in the balance, one of much greater importance to the common good. Yet, a federal judge does not bear society’s burden of the badge “HERO” like a sports figure does.

Regretfully, this causes disparage between their punishments for the same act of violence. Fuller, only charged with a misdemeanor, faces no loss of salary or job, and must undergo domestic violence counseling. His punishment is redemptive in nature and tone. Though tarnished, his reputation and garnered respect still have room for repair. His “life” has been spared, allowing him to focus on healing without having to also struggle with complete financial demise. His punishment, “sentence,” seems fair.

Rice, due to the sentence demanded by the court of public opinion, has been fired from the team, permanently suspended from his career, and has lost all sponsorship. Though he and his wife have been attending counseling for months after the elevator incident in February to overcome the obstacles and heal toward improved decision making, people like Miss Beauty Queen – and maybe you – level their crowd-pleasing vilification of “no second chance.” But without that opportunity for repair, for redemption, how can we expect him to learn a better way?

Heroes are mere men – sinners – not gods. We all stumble in error. No person is without sin. None.


“You have been born anew, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for ‘All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the Word of the Lord abides forever.’ That Word is the Good News which was preached to you. So put away all malice and all guile and insincerity and envy and all slander.” 1 Peter 1:23-2:1 (RSV)


As I sit in prison, a convicted sex offender sentenced by a federal judge, you might expect me to believe that Fuller, a federal judge, should be punished more for his crime. Not so. I believe Rice is paying too big a price. Both need and deserve healing and forgiveness.

I think a lot about judgment, redemptive punishment versus destructive punishment, and forgiveness. Looking back, as a child I often wondered about the same things, though obviously from a much simpler point of view and understanding. The subtle shades of fairness, equity, and balance, have always struck deep chords with me, especially when I saw their virtues absently displayed in the striking hues of unfairness, inequity, and misjudgment.

In second grade, Billy sat across the aisle from me in the next row. He was fun – a fidgety kid who always pushed the boundaries. Even at this young age, his mouth was often too eager to express his quick wit; something teachers hate, especially when trying to maintain control of the classroom.

One day I smarted off to our teacher, which erupted the class into hysterics. She scolded me and the class before proceeding with the lesson at hand. The next day Billy, with his keen sense of timing, smarted off to her much the same way that I had the previous day. But instead of being scolded, Billy was sent to the principal’s office. When Billy returned to class with his eyes puffy and red from crying (he had received a paddling), it struck me as unfair punishment.

His “crime” had been no different from mine. In fact, mine had gotten a much bigger reaction, so it was much more of a distraction. But I was a “good” student with excellent grades; Billy was not. His home life was much tougher than mine too. He often suffered discipline at the hand or switch or belt of his father. His welts bore witness.

For all of his rough edges, Billy did have a kind heart and an eager mind. But as we grew older, his past seemed to hang and build upon him in a way that did not encourage his heart. Instead, it built walls of toughness around it, and that toughness always garnered him more pain.

Today I can’t help but compare Billy to Ray Rice and myself to Judge Fuller. Much like me and Billy back in class, Fuller was only scolded while Rice was paddled. How much more room, freedom, is there for healing for Fuller by not having to recover from utter destruction at the same time? How much more beneficial would it be to Rice if he could seek healing in an uplifting, redemptive, and freeing atmosphere?

We can correct with wrath or we can correct with love. Man demands wrath; God demands love.


“If, because of one man’s trespass death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:17 (RSV)


My prayers for the Fullers and the Rices, plus all those struggling with domestic violence, is that they will learn and heal from their ordeals with redemptive support, and not from sheer desolation. Also, I hope that Judge Fuller, from his seat of judgment, remembers his failures and the merciful opportunity he received, as he continues to consider the failures of the accused that stand awaiting his verdict. I hope he is wiser than that beauty contestant, and believes in second changes. He is in a position to provide those.

I pray also that we, the court of public opinion, would cease to sentence those of us who fall short, who slip down a slippery slope, who lose our way along the path of “you should have known better,” who fail, to a fate of personal annihilation. If we could remember our pleading desire for forgiveness when we have sinned and could apply that empathy to those who desire forgiveness from us, wouldn’t we all be more blessed?

How much I desire for us to think with our hearts before we raise our voices or hands in anger, and that caused us to extend a helping hand and a comfortable word to assist each other back onto the path of happiness.


“Behold, we call those happy who are steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.” James 5:11 (RSV)


Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…

Peace, flowers, freedom, happiness…