God moments: Jesus in hell

 

Johnny Cash singing to the prisoners at Folsom State Prison

 

I forget how much I need God moments to survive. They are those too rare glimpses of incarnation that help to sharpen the Kingdom into focus before my eyes blur again and I start to believe that the orders and inequities and cruelties of this world are more Real than anything else.

I sat with my friend Claire over coffee yesterday. Like the Chilean miners who have risen from the depths of the earth, Claire has lived a similar story of abandonment to the abyss and resurrection. Her eyes light up as she speaks of entering back into the depths with a story of rescue for those who still dwell there.

Claire is a Chaplain for a girls’ detention center. Many of the girls there have been sexually, physically and emotionally abused. She adds that they come from a population that doesn’t know about story. They live in the moments of high drama to high drama, without plot and purpose and hope for movement and resolution. They don’t understand the world any other way. Some Christian groups have tried to go in and “minister” without understanding the generational mindset that has shaped these girls’ worldview and sense of self (and lack thereof). Without a grasp of story that can teach cause and effect, the building up of resources (such as education and savings) and rewards, the girls can’t follow a plan. The “ministers” truly mean well, but as is so often done in the church world, they seem to expect these girls to think as they do, and to be able to appropriate the same language of expression and meaning. The girls are often told of how their behaviors will send them straight to hell. Sin management has not worked well as a means of transformation or of bringing hope to the captives. They are already in hell, with no way out.

Claire has found the heart language. She recalled one young woman sitting across from her who said, “Well, aren’t you supposed to do something religious now?” Claire replied, “Talking to you is the most religious thing I do all week.” The girl didn’t quite know what to do with that. All she had known from religious folks were rules and measures and the reminder of being caught up in a system of life that she had little hope of moving beyond. But now, here was someone who believed that to sit with her was holy. Another woman told Claire, I believe you see me without these [prison] clothes on. You see me.

She speaks to them of forgiveness and the deeper, holy longings in their hearts that fuel so much of their surface behaviors. She blesses them. She is bringing them the Story, from which they can learn to have real life. I have a pastor friend who says that if you want to meet Jesus, go to hell. That is because He is there, preaching good news to the prisoners, calling them holy. In this particular hell, His name is Claire.

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6 comments
  1. [quote]Some Christian groups have tried to go in and “minister” without understanding the generational mindset that has shaped these girls’ worldview and sense of self (and lack thereof). Without a grasp of story that can teach cause and effect, the building up of resources (such as education and savings) and rewards, the girls can’t follow a plan. The “ministers” truly mean well, but as is so often done in the church world, they seem to expect these girls to think as they do, and to be able to appropriate the same language of expression and meaning. [/quote]

    I wonder why it is that so many supposedly mature Christians fail to understand this principal? This is why I’ve sometimes been very frustrated with Christian ministries and churches I’ve been involved with. It’s as if Paul never said “When I’m in Rome, I do as the Romans do.” And then there’s that whole section about eating sacrificed meat or not.

    If people really feel compelled to obedience to the Great Commission, we have to go where people are, in every sense. Our big brother set the example when the religious leaders of his time got upset with him for eating with hookers and the rough crowd. Why do we set up a 5-star restaurant in the name of perfection (holiness) and then expect those same hookers to be transformed into grande dames before they can cross the threshold?

  2. BT said:

    We do that because we desire mostly to make other people in our own image – like us, not necessarily like Christ.

    We believe ourselves to be both right and righteous (though we are not) so our goal becomes to conform others to our likeness, even when that can’t possibly do so.

    People are hardwired somewhere deep down in our Darwinian brains to trust only those who seem similar to us, and to distrust what is strange. Our first reaction then as we minister to those who are different, then, is to make them similar to us so we can get on with the business of “saving” them.

    Fortunately, Christ did not do that with us. In fact, he did the exact opposite and first became like us so we could eventually be like him.

  3. Kris Pearson said:

    Thanks be to God!

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