Behind the bars there is a garden, that when tended and cared for can spring forth new life.

 

one of the simple way community gardens in Philadelphia

 

Behind the bars there is the possibility for love… the possibility of restoration… the possibility for forgiveness… the possibility of encountering the Christ, whose storied feet are beautiful, rough, worn.

A series of challenging life experiences and revelations since March 2010 led me to the book Touch by Rudy Rasmus and a closer intentional walk with the Gospel writers, Matthew and Luke. Mid-August I came across words in Touch that caused me to pause and confess, “Lord, I think I have forgotten what you look like. Will you help me remember?”

Matthew 25 is pretty clear on where we can go to find Jesus, so I thought receiving time with those who were literally hungry, thirsty, sick, naked and in prison would be the best place to start.

During this time of questioning and longing my friend & colleague, Lisa Gwock, told me about a Restorative Justice class being offered at the Charles B Bass Prison through American Baptist Seminary and Belmont University.  Lisa could not participate this fall, but gave me the information to see if I could. I trust Lisa and have always admired her silent ways of loving God & neighbor, hunger to learn how to love others well and provide opportunities for others to learn the same, so I took her to be an arrow God was using to point me to Christ at this particular time. I sent the email to see if there was room in the class for one more.

There was room.

I had Dr. Janet Wolf sign me up and anxiously awaited the first class with my classmates and teachers, half of whom would be insiders. I was smiling and giddy like I get waiting for the first date with a boy who has captured my attention. Despite the peace I had not yet found in the senseless murder of my cousin for his car in Philadelphia by young men caught up in gang life, my heart was ready to learn beside insiders and outsiders of the Charles B Bass Prison.

I was ready to remember what Jesus looked like, but most of all I was ready to continue wrestling with a question I had been asking for six years and desperately needed to receive some answers, “How in the world can Christ be with and in both the prisoner who killed my cousin and my aunt who will forever mourn the death of her son? And what does this mean for me?”

 

The naked branches of a tree in North Philadelphia whom fall paid a visit

 

When I came to the realization on October 1 I needed to take a sabbatical and what I needed was outside of Nashville, I immediately thought of my Thursday evening class. I tried to figure out how to schedule around the class, but it was not a realistic venture. I was going to need to miss at least three weeks. Heart broke a bit. My class had quickly become the Body of Christ in my life in more ways than one. The touch of all sharing the experience, God was using to transform and restore my weary dry soul.

I could not imagine a week without being with them, but I also could not imagine another day without receiving this sabbatical and help.

So, I left Nashville. Earlier this week I finally had the energy and words to write Dr. Wolf to let her know why I had been absent. I asked her to share some words with the class, and ask them if it would be okay for me to join them once I returned to Nashville.

Friday morning she responded to my email and shared a couple of messages from my classmates. I would like to share a few lines of the email with you:

 

One of the plants growing in the simple way garden pictured above

 

“We did share your word with the class on Thursday and everyone looks forward to welcoming you back.  B wrote a note that says:  ‘P.U.S.H.  pray until something happens’;  M and C wrote:  ‘we’ve missed you these past couple classes and are keeping you in our thoughts and prayers.  you’ll always be a part of this community.'”

My soul got giddy again with delight, gratitude, hope and most of all love. I look forward to being back with my peers who have taught me about the power of forgiveness, social responsibility, hope, restoration, humanity, vulnerability, honest confrontation with the junk that can lead us down a path of death instead of life and imagining other ways of restoring communities broken by crime and injustice.

They have been arrows pointing me to Christ and what is possible if we, as followers of Christ, live the things we believe. I have appreciated every step I have taken with them, both near and miles away.

Behind the bars there IS a garden, where new life springs forth due to the tending and caring it has been given.

Behind the bars there has been for me love, restoration, forgiveness, and Christ whose storied feet are beautiful, rough, and worn.

 

 

 

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