Is it enough?
The question popped briefly into my consciousness yesterday, as we spent some time ministering inside the prison.
It had been three months since we were last allowed inside Menard – my Kairos teammates and I. Persistent flooding on the mighty Mississippi has kept the facility on lockdown throughout that period. No visitors or volunteers permitted.
So in point of fact, it was a great blessing that we were able to meet with our “inside” brothers yesterday – to share some fellowship with them, sing a few songs, and watch the smiles spread across their faces as we “wasted a little time” together.
But if I’m being honest, that’s a little like how it felt while I was inside: that we were wasting time.
The reasons are complicated: Due to state-mandated changes across the DOC system, we’ve “lost” hundreds upon hundreds of the inmates we’ve been ministering to at Menard over the past 10 years. They’ve been sent to other prisons – and away from this 150-year-old facility (not inaccurately) referred to as “the Pit.”
Good for them, I suppose…but not for our ministry, which – at its heart – is designed to encourage ongoing Christian fellowship among the men who’ve participated in a Kairos Weekend retreat. That explains part of my disappointment yesterday: Inmate movement limits the potential impact of our efforts at community-building inside Menard.
Another factor is “big-picture” cultural: It breaks my heart to see, first-hand, how so very often America tends to fail the least among us. In this case, felons. True, many earned their sentences by committing unspeakable crimes. But is incarceration – inhumane warehousing – really our best idea as a nation for righting their wrongs? Couldn’t more be done to rehabilitate and restore?
Uncomfortable questions, rattling around inside me – questions, I noticed, that tended to harden my heart just a bit…even as I offered the men a spiritual reflection on the parable of the Good Samaritan.
‘Is it enough?’
Of course it isn’t.
It could never be.
You can never bring enough compassion…or mercy…or forgiveness…into a world as broken as ours.
But being there, inside the prison, helped me realize that I was actually wrestling with the wrong question. If I continued to focus on impact, I could easily have been led into inaction. I could have allowed ‘hopelessness’ to provide cover for a self-centered decision to pass by, on the other side of the street.
Here’s a better question, perhaps:
‘Is it something?’
‘Are you showing up, offering what you have to offer – no matter how inadequate it might (at first glance) seem to be?’
That’s a bit more like what Jesus asks us in today’s gospel passage:
Which of these, in your opinion, was neighbor to the man in need?”
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.