What is your favorite bureaucracy ?
Another fight broke out in the yard during service. A basketball game drew more than a whistle. Running guards, paramedics, and Swat raced past the open chapel door as worshiping inmates hit the floor and I, the visiting chaplain, was ushered outside for safety. It wasn't all that dramatic this time, only one prisoner escorted away in chains, but the headcount and weapons search takes a good twenty minutes out of our scheduled hour.
I stood next to the Native Nations drummer during our timeout and, despite regulations to the contrary, we decided the holiest thing we could do was make jive plans for me to bring my saxophone to the sweat lodge and jam with the chanters. I can just imagine the paperwork for that scenario being a mountain worth Mohamed. My home church has a Native Nation dancer so on the way home I began to wonder if this crazy idea is perhaps something to pursue. The notion of combining faiths, besides being blasphemy to most everybody involved, took on a dreamlike quality as I wondered how my reeds and saxophone pads would fare in extreme humidity.
A good friend of mine, a reformed Pastor, now attends a church that welcomes the other as significant. Muslims, trans-gendered Republicans, even Hip-Hop artists are greeted warmly and encouraged to share experience and wisdom. From what he tells me the joke of heaven being a collection of rooms separating the denominations seems to be smirking behind their kiss of peace. I don't have a background of open minded catechisms. I remember crying, as a Catholic boy, when I learned Warren Spahn ate beef stew on the days he pitched for the Milwaukee Braves, even on a Friday. The best lefthander in baseball not going to heaven on a dietary restriction was my first serious crisis of faith.
What are we to do with the true or false, multiple choice filter of religious realities? There is a T shirt slogan extolling relationship with Our Creator as the cure for such dichotomy. My re-established relationship with my eldest son gives me an ever evolving perspective. He calls me names. Not derogatory ones, he simply has different ways of addressing me, of getting my attention. Sometimes it's, "Pops", sometimes it's "Schmit." The affection, the connection doesn't change with the word choice. What if God doesn't care what name we name Him with?
I do believe in false religions, but I think their names are greed, avarice, racism, misogyny and the like. Following Jesus makes the most sense for me because Jesus did the most for me, and because He requires the least of me. The traditional world religions all require too much effort on the part of their followers to be even remotely viable for me, but I'm not going to try and earn notches on my spiritual gun handle by trying to convert or convince people otherwise.
One of my supernaturally inclined mentors sums it up with the question, "How's that working for you?" If the Prince of Peace relates to you, then we're related. We might be distant cousins, or brothers from a different mother, but what is incontestable is we are Spirit breathed into existence in His/Her image. We will be known by our fruit; love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control, not by the name of our branch on the Tree of Life.
Chapel service is always about equipping the saints to be saints in the yard, in their cell, in their hearts. Today we discussed a diagram of the three R's that make up The Eternal Triangle (apologies to jazz buffs that know that's a title of a Sonny Rollins tune...)
The bottom two corners of the triangle are Religion and Rebellion, both common choices of people looking for a place to belong. The top of the triangle is Relationship which is the real cure for the alienation we feel and try to solve in a group setting, or a tribe mentality. Jesus said Eternal Life is in knowing Our Father(personally) and Jesus Christ whom the Father sent. John 17:3
Part of this knowing is of course belief. Hebrews 11:6 "But without faith it is impossible to please God, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." Jesus straight about how to diligently seek connection with Our Father.
Matthew 6:6 "But you, when you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut the door, pray to your Father who is IN the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly."
We all admitted to knowing about the door in the context of, "Knock and it shall be opened to you." (Matthew 7:7) but were a little surprised too see the instruction to close the door behind us when we entered the secret place to pray. Folks who meditate might see a reference to shut the world out and tune into the Divine Presence, I wouldn't say they were wrong. We drew a picture of a door with a handle in the center of our triangle to reinforce the concept of going in and coming out of a secret place to sit with the Lord.
And then the Holy Ghost took over the chalk board. There is no other way to explain it because as I went to write 'door' next to my poor illustration, the word came out Adore and we were given a key as to how to activate our time in the prayer closet. "The Lord is Holy and enthroned in praise." Psalm 22:3 We come into the secret place to worship, even silently, as individuals, we come to adore Him and a reward of being in Divine Presence is the divine attributes, the fruits of the Spirit, begin to root in us.
Love blooms, joy blossoms, peace spreads its fragrance, longsuffering strengthens our stalk, kindness gives leaf, goodness grows, faithfulness ripens, gentleness deepens its root and self control transforms us into saints, witnesses, and ministers of reconciliation.
In John 15:15 Jesus calls us friends. Let that sink in for a minute. We are friends of God. Friends do things together; they enjoy each other's company, they make plans, have adventures, they develop trust through experience, and they share the good, and the bad, together. Friends spend time together, and friend, as the Master of Eternity, time is one thing God has plenty of to share with you and I.