Friday, November 23, 2007
Studying The Bible In Prison
I just returned from my Friday night Bible study at a local prison. This institution is one of the last stops for these guys before returning to their families, or at least to the street. About 30% are working outside of the prison during the day. As I've mentioned before though, it is still prison. Having all of them come from much harsher conditions, none want to go back.
At the end of last week's session, Allen asked if I could take a photo of them with my camera phone. I said sure, "So up against the wall, ok?" There was this sort of gasp. One of the guys joked, "You don't say that kind of thing around us. We're CRIMinals!" Big laugh. I mumbled something like, "I have a hard time thinking of you as criminals." Another said, "Oh, you just don't know us out on the street.."
Well. Unfortunately, the topic comes up now and then. Someone who had been in the Bible study and gotten out was back in (Always in a higher security situation of course. They don't come back here). My guys shake their heads, knowing how tough it has been for them to go straight.
With the best of intentions these men slowly prepare themselves for a return to their "lives". The prayer requests that I ask them to write down for me follow this pattern: "...That I can be patient as I await for my move to DACC for Earned Release. I feel anxious about not having answers provided....Also pray that my son and his fiance will be allowed to visit on Sunday..." "Pray that I receive a job. Pray that God's will be done in my life." "That me and Joanna to continue to serve God and to be Marry upon my release."
Tonight we had a larger group--six men. Allen, after eight years in various prisons in Wisconsin and Mississippi (where he was saved), is getting out mid-December! He wants to be a street preacher, but feels he needs to get some, uh, "seminary trainin'" as he put it. A new guy, Danny, had a lot of "off topic" questions for me. This often happens: someone comes for the first time with some hot issues he wants addressed. Tonight he wasn't the only one, for we saw the return of Chris, who is the spitting image of Chris Rock--personality and all.
Normally after I open with prayer we just read scripture, going around in a circle with a variety of translations, reading a verse at a time. From time to time we'll pause with a comment or question. Danny and Chris had a lot of them. We're reading through Acts just now. Danny's question: "Why in Psalm 82:6 does it say, 'I said, "You are gods, and all of you are sons of the most High"'?" Well, ok. No problem. I guess that has something to do with our topic, Paul's address to the Areopagus. We talked about it. Then Danny asked, "Why does it say in Genesis 1:26, 'Let us make man in our own image'?" We talked about that. Chris then got excited and started off on his own special heresy about how the spirit within him came awake when he got saved. I stopped there to talk about being dead in our sins--Ephesians 2:1; the Spirit we receive is not the same as the spirit of man, etc. Our salvation comes from without. It isn't easy to reason with a Chris Rock personality, and I don't think he's convinced. My concern was that the others did not come away confused about this. By their looks, they seemed to think Chris was just blowin' smoke.
It isn't usually like this. I don't normally have to fend off rampant speculation. But it illustrates the problem of trying to do a Bible study with a constantly changing group of men, all of whom show up with well-thumbed Bibles, and many of whom have often done some unsavory theological reading. None of whom are Lutheran. I try to keep the focus Christological and as simple as possible. I often speak of the humility with which we must approach the reading of scripture. Use the whole counsel of God; do not stray beyond what God has revealed. Tonight I told the old Augustine joke about the answer to the question, "What was God doing before he created the earth?" (He was creating another place in which to put people who asked questions like that).
They liked the joke. And now I'm wondering. I think it was Augustine...