Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Get Out of Jail Free

I'm generally opposed to Christian jargon. It's not just that I don't like cliches but also, unless I'm with other people of the same churchy background as myself, I do my level best to avoid the sort of Christian jargon that is clear as crystal to me but clear as mud to someone not familiar with the Bible or church. I know that some Christians love the Authorised Version (aka the King James Version) of the Bible, and whilst I uphold their right to enjoy it, I just don't get why churches use it for reading aloud from at public worship. People in various parts of the world at various times in history have died in the cause of having the Bible in everyone's own language. The old fashioned language of the Authorised/King James version, including thees and thous and dosts and cansts is NOT our own language! Christians may enjoy it for its quaint poetic sound as much as they like, in their own homes, but in public worship where Mr Random Punter and Miss Wandered In Off The Street are present, it's completely unhelpful, in my humble(!?) opinion. I could go on at great length but I'll jump down from one of my favourite hobby horses and proceed to contradict myself completely.

Notwithstanding all I've said, I do appreciate my Christian heritage and although I love lots of modern hymns there are plenty old ones that stir me still. In fact my complete favourite hymn is an old one - with thees and thous in it! It is the hymn, "And Can It Be.." and I've loved it for years and years. It needs enough people present that it can be sung in two parts. To lower the tone for a mo, I confess here that, for some bizarre reason, whenever we divide into men singing one part and women singing another part I am, irrationally and irreverently but only briefly, reminded of the cries of "girls chase the boys" or "boys chase the girls" in playground games of "kiss, cuddle or torture?" (a very innocent game of tag, btw) at primary school! This falls into the "boys chase the girls" category as in the last two lines when the split happens, the women lead and the men follow. Please say you won't think of that now when you sing it at your church...

I love that hymn and my top favourite verse is this one:

"Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee"

and yet in all the times I sang it, it NEVER for ONE minute entered my head that I would one day be a prison chaplain. I'm now truly passionate about getting Christians mobilised to pray for prisoners and in that way to fulfil Christ's calling to us to "visit" Him, through them, in prison. I wasn't always that way, I admit, but I think ignorance breeds lack of concern. That's partly why I keep this blog (it also keeps me from housework which is a bonus, obviously). I am not free to blog freely about the prisoners I come across - that would be unethical in the extreme. But, self-regulating this thing to the extent that it is probably a bit bland, one of my aims is still to encourage those readers who're professing Christians to "visit" the prisons through prayer on a regular basis.

That verse I like reminds us of the tenet of our faith which says that sin IMPRISONS us. We, too, are prisoners - prisoners of our sinful nature. I long for prisoners to Get Out of Jail Free, in the fullest sense of the word "free" so that when they are libbed (liberated, released) they are free of the bitternesses or other kinds of damage to their souls that has contributed to their criminal and/or addictive behaviour. I believe that same liberation is available to me, too.

The open prison system is a half way house where prisoners are prepared for their eventual release by being given a measure of freedom, compared to the normal closed prisons.

As Christians we too are in a half way house. When someone becomes a Christian, that just means they've responded to the very simple but very profound invitation that Jesus brought: "turn from your sins, believe in me, and you'll be forgiven". In so doing we are freed from the guilt, forgiven and in that sense free. And yet while we are in this world we're still in our human bodies and continue to fall into temptations on a daily basis. But we're training for freedom, in an open prison. And when we die we're fully, totally, finally, and utterly "libbed"; really and truly we Get Out of Jail Free.

Btw, if there's money available, and space for all the words, I'd like on my gravestone the words (from that hymn) "My chains fell off, my heart was free. I rose, went forth, and followed thee" because while that's half true now, it'll be fully true then.


Ruth Hull Chatlien said...

Great post. A. I agree about the KJV. B. I love that hymn too. C. I love how you connect it to your work.

Holy Famoley said...

That was indeed a great post. I am not a lover of jargon, either, but it is amazing how we can slip into it with such ease. The hymn you mention is a great rousing one, isn't it? Your passion for your faith and your work at the prison came flooding through in your writing here.

Doorman-Priest said...

Its a favourite hymn of mine too!