Two Sundays ago, I preached for my alma mater’s homecoming worship service. In this sermon I talked about how Christ calls us to people and places outside our spaces of affluence and comfort, to those who are invisible and insignificant in society, to those we would not think to go to ourselves if there were not some spiritual force pulling us (or even pushing us) in that direction.
Then, last week, I came across a video from The Work of the People where Dr. Christena Cleveland discusses the “Gospel of Individualism,” or when people see their own resurrection as distinct from, separate from everyone else’s resurrection. What’s the point of being Christian, Cleveland challenges, if your resurrection is separate from everyone else’s? If you believe the Gospel can transform the world, then how does your relationship with God take you outside of yourself and your personal world? How does your relationship with God transform the world of others?
Finally, a Christian Century article by prison chaplain Chris Hoke, just did me in with these words of challenge:
America leads the world in incarcerating its own people. Almost two and a half million human beings are locked away in mass social tombs, an overstuffed underground beneath our society. They are not physically dead like Lazarus, of course, but philosopher Lisa Guenther calls it “social death”—cut off from loved ones, family, and their children. Huge geographic distances, dozens of thick walls, and expensive phone calls seal these men and women off from the land of the living. They are effectively dead to society.
What if every church wrote to, adopted, and received just one prisoner? Two things would happen. We would empty the prison system, and every church would be changed.
A church has just about everything someone just out of prison needs: rides, friends, prayer, child care, employment connections, lawyer references, teachers, rental opportunities, lawnmowers, people to stand alongside you at custody court and neighborly misunderstandings, and a used car that runs. We could call the movement “One Parish, One Prisoner.”’
Hoke’s article arrived in my email feed while dropping my kids off at school. After opening it, I moved my car to a quiet spot in the school’s parking lot so I wouldn’t be in anyone’s way while I read. Hoke’s passion captivated and inspired me. So when I got to my office, I did something I had been meaning to do for five years since moving to Monmouth. I looked up the phone number for the men’s prison fifteen miles from where I live, called and asked to speak to the chaplain. His name is Manuel and he has served the inmates of my local prison for eighteen years. We scheduled a time for me to visit the prison next Thursday so we could meet in person and discuss ways we could partner in ministry.
I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t anxious about venturing down this road towards the incarcerated. The night after I scheduled this Thursday’s visit I had a nightmare that a riot broke out while I was in the prison. But mostly, I’m excited. Excited because I expect to meet Jesus behind those bars. I’m pretty sure he’s the one who keeps calling me to go.
[Feature Image: Dave Nakayama]