Friday, April 26, 2013

behind prison walls

Working for a human services organization, you find out some weird things. Recently I learned you can be mandated to go to prison every weekend. The courts rule that if you only do drugs on the weekends then you are a danger to society, your family nd yourself ....on weekneds. Solution: go to jail every week and you will no longer be a threat to anyone. One of my co workers has a friend of a friend of a friend who spends every weekend in the local prison on state road. I guess she misses a lot of weddings.

Now a fact about me, every third Sunday I go to prison too. A couple years ago some friends of mine felt convicted to go to prisons and participate in prison ministry.  Being the must-get-involved-in-everything person I am, I knew I had to check it out too. I went once and all of the sudden the event "Prison" at 6pm every third Sunday was placed on my google calendar, repeating with no end date.

We go into the prison and fellowship together, normally there are 6-10 in our very diverse group and 100 men dressed in blue scrubs waiting for a profound message. We start with songs and begin to preach the best way we know how - with humilty and prayer.

This past Sunday I was feeling especially anxious about church in general. I have been "church hopping" now for a little under a year and I am tired. I am tired of church and expectations and not being known. But when I entered the prison and sat down in the gray plastic chairs (which are purposfully not metal) I sighed and felt at home. I have been worshipping with these guys for almost 2 years and I always learn something new when I go.

I sat next to one of prisoners playing the piano. He played a beautiful piece I would have paid to listen to all night. I closed my eyes and listened to the music as the men entered, each one shaking hands with us and each other, saying "God bless you" "Hallelujah" "Praise the Lord" and "Thanks for coming". I watched as they filtered in and got on their knees and began to pray. I listened to the music and watched the men and breathed a deep sigh of familiarity, comfort, and beauty. It was such a beautiful moment watching these "criminals" enter and then begin to sing and worship with them. The kingdom of God, the beauty in brokeness, men who know about pain, suffering and regret.

I sat and listened and smiled knowing this is what Jesus meant when he said
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'
And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'"
(Matthew 25.35-40)

Loving others doesn't have to be pretty or perfect, and sometimes its scary; but i think regret is much more scary than loving others when its hard.