Thursday I made a quick trip in to Seattle to pick up some mail and to deliver worship sheets to my office so the volunteers would have the readings for this weekend. I ended up staying a couple of hours, spending most of that time with a couple of offenders on different floors of the jail.
One man was struggling with loving everyone. "Everyone in general?" I asked. "Or someone in particular?" We began with the general but quickly moved to the particular. How do you love someone who keeps stabbing you in the back? Who continues to be mean to you? How do you love them if nothing you say, and nothing you pray, changes them?
The conversation wandered down several alleys and we kept circling back to the examples that are given to us. We weren't talking about the kind of love that makes us lay down like a doormat. And we weren't talking about making some declaration and drawing a line in the sand. It was just the hard stuff of loving.
When he spoke, I heard hints of a tough relationship, someone he loved but couldn't quite understand. I tried to imagine her and then the conversation shifted and it wasn't the woman in his past he was concerned about. Instead, we talked about his father.
"Every time I talk to my father, I tell him I'm sorry. I ask him to forgive me. I've come to learn how much I've hurt him. Know what he says to me? 'I forgive you, but for what?'" The tears broke the dam of his fingers.
We talked about the time he's had here in jail, time to think about who has been affected by his decisions and actions. He's been here for months, and faces years of prison time. He's had time to think. His father has been living his life, working his job, caring for friends, maintaining what is important to him. He hasn't had the luxury of time to sit around and get resentful about the hurt his son has caused him.
"He's your dad. He loves you. He forgives you the best way he knows how. Do you believe him?"
"I believe him."
"Then why don't you tell him that? Tell him 'Thank you for loving me and for forgiving me.' Maybe he doesn't think you believe him."
We talked for a long time about people who want to pick a fight and the us-vs-them mentality that is rife in the jail--and outside too, I told him. He'd refused to chime in when one of his cellmates called the officers "pigs" and had chided him with, "Hey, they're human too." I was aware that I was listening to a man whose heart had stretched, who was gathering more people into his circle and not drawing lines to keep them out.
Where is Jesus in this place? Oh right here. Really.
All this serious talk was interrupted by an announcement to the men in that jail section. An officer stood at his station to reprimand them about the rising noise level.
"Now I know you were told about keeping it quiet in here. I was standing right here when I told you."
Jaycey and I looked at each other and giggled. "He said that? Really?" Jaycey guffawed and because I was sitting where my face was visible to the other offenders in their dorms, I stifled a laugh.
"I have a blog," I told him, "and I write about stuff that happens in jail. That's going in the blog." He just laughed again.