Walking and Talking
By Steve Clemens. FPC Duluth. April 30,2006
As Yogi Berra said, “It was deja vu all over again.” When I saw in the chapel bulletin that the prison chaplain was bringing the sermon this morning, I had the same sinking feeling I had back in the mid 80s when I discovered Jimmy Carter was slated to preach at Koinonia’s worship.
Actually, as sermons go, both were good and, at times, inspiring. It wasn’t the proclamation but rather the practice that caused my consternation. It was difficult to hear President Carter talk about Jesus when what went through my mind was a Commander-in-Chief who threatened the Soviets with nuclear weapons and an administration which proposed a neutron bomb which would kill people but spare buildings.
When I hear the chaplain’s name (or title), I immediately think “police” rather than “pastor.” When one’s role involves the continual caging of other humans, it is hard to set that fact aside to hear anything else. When one has threatened an action which could precipitate the end of the world as we know it, it makes it difficult to suppress that awareness to honor such a man with the Nobel Peace Prize.
Incarnation—the words becoming flesh and blood must also be coupled with consistency for the message to be heard. There must be a correlation between one’s proclamation and one’s profession. When Carter puts on his bib overalls and grabs his Habitat hammer I can hear what he says about the son of the carpenter of Nazareth. But when he acts in his role as commander-in-Chief, the words about the Prince of Peace are without effect. The chaplain’s sermon, “Did Easter Make a Difference?” talked about God’s presence, the peace Jesus gives, the new purpose we are called to, and the power of the Holy Spirit to get the job done. But when he talked about “the peace that frees us” while wearing the name tag in the pulpit that is inscribed Federal Bureau of Prisons, FPC Duluth, Chaplain, the “freedom” he is talking about is not the same as the gospel that calls us to tear down the prison walls, release to the captives. When the chaplain included in our “new purpose” being “advocates for the poor and seeking social justice,” somehow I don’t think his critique applied to this “compound.” When the benediction at the close of the service included “render no one evil for evil” I could think of nothing but the real nature of the prison system. All of us have blind spots in our faith journeys. It is my prayer that all of us help each other strive for consistency between our walk and our talk.
PS I highly recommend Lee Griffith’s The Fall of the Prison to understand the scriptural perspective on the prison.