A judge looks at individual reform

Genuine reform involves a fundamental change of character. It reaches the heart, not just the head. To me, true reformation means that a person's way in the world, his or her attitude, has achieved a more spiritual altitude. Old selfish patterns are exchanged for more selflessness, patience, gentleness. This requires accepting responsibility for one's actions and not blaming circumstances or another person. It also means subordinating the mortal ego, since it is the incessant claims of this ego, undenied and unreformed, that result in bad life choices and the suffering that inevitably follows. That very suffering, however, can be a springboard for the kind of self-examination that produces genuine reform. Mary Baker Eddy makes clear that sorrow for wrongdoing is not enough. It alone does not end suffering or produce reform. Her book Science and Health explains, "The next and great step required by wisdom is the test of our sincerity,—namely, reformation" (p.5).

Every challenging experience, no matter how severe or painful, is an opportunity to see God's healing purpose. "The design of Love is to reform the sinner," Science and Health goes on to say (p. 35). Perhaps no one in the Bible understood this better than Paul. He is an outstanding representative of reform, and he wrote a lot on the subject in his letters to the early Christian churches. To be true followers of Christ, he says, we must "put on the new man," "be absent from the body," "walk in the Spirit," and "be ... transformed." That's a tall order! But it's what's required if there is to be any real salvation.

Any number of things may be the immediate cause of a change of character. In a criminal justice context, I see this more often with juvenile than adult offenders. The juvenile offender may have been repeatedly in trouble, in and out of court, and finally the day of reckoning comes when he or she may be facing an indeterminate sentence to a corrections facility. Experiencing those consequences is a wake-up call to these kids. Most come back for their court review hearing genuinely humbled. They have had time to step out of themselves a bit and see their life in some kind of context, often realizing for the first time the dead-end path their behaviors and attitudes have put them on. In their despair, a ray of hope appears. Most sincerely commit to do better. There is often genuine moral awakening and fresh receptivity to positive influences.

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To "become as little children"
July 14, 1997

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