I passionately choose to discuss the subject of divisions within His Church. The last few posts I have written, as well as several prior, attest to this.
For the last couple of days, I have chosen to not put anything into word and just observe what unfolds. Sometimes, too much focus upon one subject can obscure a vision that is waiting to be seen. It has been a blessing while doing so, for I have seen how these divides are of a nuisance within not only His body, but within mankind as a whole. Through a recent personal experience, I was able to gain a deeper understanding of the importance of being unified, opposed to being divided and reaping what is derived from it.
Yesterday, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting a loved one in prison. We left home early and traveled several hours north to sit and chat with the man who’d made a big mistake along his road of choices. When we arrived, we were greeted with the same love and appreciation he always displays, and we had a few hours to share our individual stories. This is the usual, but yesterday also held a special event that followed our visit with him.
I won’t get into a lot of detail, but this event was something that was very rare within the facility. It was also the very first time it was allowed to be done before the public.
There is a group of men there made up of fifty-plus inmates. Within this group of men are many, very talented individuals. Singers, dancers, actors, musicians and genuinely good hearted men make up this group. Yesterday, we were able to watch a two hour musical the inmates had worked for over five months to develop. Their production was a shortened version of the American Musical, “Hamilton”, and I will just say that they received a standing ovation from the audience. It was a really good show! As I had said, the men were only allowed to perform their talents for the staff and the other inmates in times prior, but yesterday was an exception. For the first time, the inmates were allowed to all come together and perform for an audience from the outside. This musical is about the life of one of America’s founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. Playwright and composer Lin-Manuel Miranda is a Hip-Hop artist who developed the musical several years ago, and the inmates decided to diligently dedicate themselves (for hours a day, I understand) to come up with their own rendition of his masterpiece. The five member band, a lengthy list of actors, very great singers and wrappers, and a full choir backing the whole production made up this group of men who’d put in so much time to make a very cool thing come together.
As we finished up watching and applauding the group, it was announced that the inmates would be allowed twenty minutes (which ended up being much longer) to have cookies and punch with their families. During this time, the man we were visiting had informed us that the group of men were all regular attendees of the church chapel. He told us, “About ninety percent of the group are Christian, and the rest are either Muslim or have never gone to church”, which led me to believe that those remaining may or may not claim a specific belief.
His next words really spoke to me in a way that had me looking back on his statement for hours as I drove back home throughout the night. He had said, “…but they all attend the Christian services.”
His small declaration spoke measures. Not only did I see within the group of men a great unity through their production, I also saw the unity of Christ within them.
During a short and abrupt power outage during the middle of their play, one of the performers stepped up and said that they were having some technical difficulties, but the show would soon proceed. He also stated that life also has its difficulties, but it is our perspective that makes or breaks how we adjust to them. His next statement was along the lines of, and this is not verbatim, but he said, “We would just like to let all of you know that we all prayed for each of you for safe travels while driving up to see us tonight, and we thank you all for coming out.” Shortly after, the outage was fixed and the play went on.
I was driving home through the night as my wife slept, having plenty of time to reflect on the day with our loved one. I also allowed the whole experience to speak to me in an illuminating way. You see, it was a beautiful thing to see the hearts of all these men — in all of their personal struggle of regrets and in the midst of serving time for their mistakes — joined together. They were a unity that I had witnessed in a different light — not much like the type of unity I find within the organized church I have passionately written about lately. This type of unity was real. Organic. Simple. It was a loving unity that had me thinking about how all of these men were able to accept each other and work together to get a lovely thing done. It was the type of unity, in my eyes, that Jesus spoke of: loving thy neighbor — no matter who, what, why or how someone else personally is. There were no denominational divisions, no walls of division, no titles, no ranks, and no judgments.
It also had me thinking about how the Lord may be drawing every man there to the power of Christ. The Christian, Muslim, agnostic or curious man whom possesses and/or responds to the mysterious force that calls out to him is participating in a glorious fellowship at this prison. They are praying together, sharing and caring, working together as a team, bringing forth and bearing the fruit of the Spirit. Love really showed last night, and we were incredibly thankful for being able to share it with them. It meant a great deal to all of them, and it meant a lot to us to see them so elated over us being there for them.
So, the ride home last night had me thinking about many things. It had me looking at the experiences I’ve had, numerous times, outside of organized religion and institutionalized church that seem to be so much closer to the true nature of our Father, the Son and Holy Spirit. It is times like the evening spent in the prison with a group of unified men, the one on one time I’ve spent with the homeless men and the four or five men I’ve spent time with (who sometimes fall off of the wagon because they can’t seem to stay away from the bottles and joints) that make me think of the true definition of Ecclesia. It is the unified power of Christ in a very messed up world — in very messed up people — that has me seeing just how much He puts our shortcomings aside and is more than willing to fill each one of us with His grace, love and mercy.
The smallest glimpse of His true nature was caught last night. It is just a shame that the same is rarely caught within the religious establishments within my city. But, it’s okay. Anything like the experience yesterday and the ongoing experiences He continues to provide are where the true essence of Christ resides and His true Church is defined, and I’m all for experiencing more. It all contributes to having me at peace within the current place I am in my walk with Him.