Posts Tagged ‘prison’

Advent 3: Isaiah 61

Isaiah 61:1-2a

The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me;       

  he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,

to bind up the brokenhearted,

         to proclaim liberty to the captives,

            and release to the prisoners;

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor …

My uncle is a prison chaplain, ministering to inmates and staff in a high-security facility.  Many of the inmates where he works suffer from severe mental illness.  I wonder if anyone ever reads this text there — I’ve been meaning to ask him.

He tells me that although the idea of having a religion is pretty popular within the prison walls, Christianity is about the least popular choice.  Why?  Because many of the inmates see the weakness of the cross and reject it.  They would rather express their spiritual side in a way that celebrates power.

It’s a complicated place, the prison.   Some inmates do profess faith in Christ, often at a heavy cost within the closed society of inmates.  As I mentioned, many would prefer a more macho savior.  Yet they still hold Christmas parties, hosted by churches that are willing to come in and provide the refreshments.  I have met some of the inmates, and they are complicated people.

I wonder what it would mean for them to experience release, liberty, and good news.   How does the year of the Lord’s favor impact someone who is hardened against it?

For that matter, how do God’s promises impact us?  Do we like what we hear when God speaks?

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a big feed

Some time ago I overheard a person talking about cooking for many people at an event.  He said, “We did a big feed.”

To me, it sounded like something you would say in reference to filling the bellies of livestock.  I pictured cattle lined up at industrial stainless steel feeding troughs like the ones at the farm-supply store near my home–not people enjoying a meal.

Then again, sometimes getting food into people’s stomachs seems not much different from feeding livestock.

This weekend, the college students prepared and served a meal at our local homeless shelter.  Mountains of food got placed into hungry, waiting hands, but it was a “big feed” with an institutional feel.

The shelter must make do with a minimal staff, and unbelievably meager resources.  So to keep the kitchen clean, the volunteers are behind a locked glass window and locked door while they prepare the meal.  When it’s time to serve, volunteers hand meals through the window.  For whatever reason, getting your own plate and eating with the people you just served is not part of the process.  So the volunteers serve, clean up, and lock the door behind them.

After it was over, I began to think about people who spend their lives taking their meals at “big feeds.”  In prisons, shelters, and even in some nursing homes, people are herded through the belly-filling process, and then on to their next assigned location.  Rarely, if ever, do they experience the joy of a family meal at home. 

I wonder if the cooks get any joy out of the process either.  Several years ago I talked with a prison dietician/food supervisor, and it struck me how much stress she went through just to fill stomachs.  Worries over budget, special diets (many sick and elderly prisoners were housed where she worked), and staff occupied her days.  Her cooks, who were inmates themelves, worked behind locked doors with knives chained to the counters.  Her servers handed out meals through a slot in a steel wall.  No one ever thanked them or asked them for the recipe.

The author of Hebrews writes, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  (Hebrews 13:2)

I wonder if we can ever turn a big feed into an occasion of hospitality?  I think Jesus and his angels are hidden in the faces of the homeless, the sick, and the inmates.  So how are we to feed them?