Long time no blog, but think I will get it up and running again. Limited though my knowledge and understanding of Prisonworld is, I'm in there and I'm listening and learning every day. Most people in the world are not prisoners/prison staff/families of prisoners, and the big high wall with the barbed wire inevitably means that it is hard for the public to know what it's like in jail, especially given the Total Pile of Crap the tabloids feel free to print on the subject!
What's been happening recently?
Lots that I can't mention, as usual. But some thought-provoking stuff including:
1) reflections with chaplaincy colleagues from other jails about just what a weird environment we work in as ministers and how vitally important it is for us to support each other in prayer. I am the first to admit I am a sinner, albeit I know that God is at work in me sorting out the mess, but I still recognise that working full time in prison is to be a lot of the time in a real old cesspit of sin and the metaphorical stench can get to you after a bit.
2) the challenge of working as clergy and civil servants at the same time - trying to serve two masters - which of course the Bible says is impossible! I am a minister and I am an employee of the Scottish Prison Service. It's a struggle I believe is well worth the effort, but it is an effort sometimes. There is the constant danger of failing one side or the other of our twofold purpose.
3) the difficulty of having to watch what one says. In the Olden Days, it was often said that prisoners would fake religious conversion in order to improve their chances of parole. This may seem a ridiculous thing to say, but I do believe that one of the results of the secularisation of our society is that things have almost gone the opposite direction. I sometimes think that if a prisoner mentions his religious experiences, some staff are more likely to send him for a mental health check up than they are to be in some way impressed. Therefore, I suspect that we as chaplains also have to be careful in case we say things that, whilst totally acceptable in our churches, will be misinterpreted in Prisonworld. Here is an example - and let me be clear that I didn't say the thing that I wanted to. I was speaking to a prisoner I have got to know well whose victim was his child who died as a result of the crime. He is sorry about it and I have tried to be a support to him. He is unsure whether he believes in God or not, as are lots of people of course. On one occasion he announced very firmly that were the Lord to appear in front of him, that far from worshipping him, he would kick him in the b***s. What I would like to ask him, but think I can't is this: "I believe your child is in heaven. Wouldn't you like the chance to go there one day to be with that child whom you loved and to be able to say sorry?" If it were to be reported that I'd said that, though, what would happen? I don't know. Would I be disciplined? Possibly. In Churchworld that would be a perfectly reasonable question to explore.
4) Some of you may have heard that Rev David Wilkerson died recently following a car accident. His amazing book "The Cross and the Switchblade" (the first edition of which came out two years before I was born) was a favourite of mine when I was young. So was "Run Baby Run" by Nicky Cruz who appears in the former book. The news of David Wilkerson's death caused me to re-read these two books. I have found myself as stirred by them as I ever was, and would very much recommend them to anyone who's not read them yet. When I read these books the first time round, as a teenager, it never crossed my mind that I would end up working with people whose lives sometimes have sad similarities to those whom David Wilkerson was called to minister to.
5) The political landscape in Scotland and the UK has changed with last week's election. Dramatically and radically changed. It's exciting to feel like a part of history. I really do feel for those who have unexpectedly lost their seat after years of faithful service to their constituents but I also feel excited for the new recruits, some of whom did not expect to win and have suddenly had to resign from their jobs and make new plans. Although the Scottish National Party landslide was in the Scottish election, the consequences will be felt at Westminster too. Labour's strength in the British government has always been supported by the large number of labour seats in Scotland. Not so now.
6) The Church of Scotland, the protestant and presbyterian denomination I happen to belong to (although I'm really not a denominationalist by nature, just as I'm not party-political) has its General Assembly later this month. I am a commissioner. For those who don't know what I'm on about, the General Assembly is the Church of Scotland's annual business meeting. It lasts for a whole week. There are too many of us all to attend at once, so each minister and for each minister, one elder, serve on average once every four years. This year myself and Him Indoors, who is also a minister, are on duty as commissioners. One of the big issues which the media will be particularly interested in is the debate on whether or not practising homosexual clergy should be allowed to be ordained as ministers in the Church of Scotland. I can't say any more about that because a previous Assembly agreed that there would be a moratorium on public comment on the issue. I believe that has been a great blessing, as otherwise those on each side of the debate would be liable to fall prey to the temptation to air their opinions on the subject via the media which would soon descend into an unedifying spectacle.
7) Above all, my recent reflections have led me to realise that what I most need to be having in my life is the power of the Holy Spirit, and what I most need to be doing is seeking the Lord more fervently in prayer.