One of my first activities since I joined Kairos Prison Ministry is to begin reading everything I can about Kairos and about prison ministry in general. For those interested, I recommend Rev. Earl Smith’s memoir Death Row Chaplain which recounts his 23 years as chaplain at San Quentin Prison (the book is not specifically about Kairos). Simply and unhesitatingly written, this is the story of a young thief, drug runner, gang member, and fighter who—after being shot six times in a drug deal—turned his life around and dedicated himself to bringing redemption as a possibility into the lives of incarcerated men jailed on the shore of beautiful San Francisco Bay.
San Quentin is “a dark and isolated place,” as Smith describes it, but there he found “many examples of redemption, kindness, love, patience, courage, compassion, generosity, joy, and yes, even humor.” However, he continues, “I think the primary thing I learned during my tenure was the value of forgiveness” (page 179, emphasis mine).
Friends of mine in Kairos, who enticed me to join with their excitement about their ministry, often said that the most vivid experience they had during years at Pocahontas was closely to encourage and to observe the redemption of men who were otherwise considered by the general population to be the “least of these” (See Matthew 25:34-40).
Forgiveness occurred; redemption happened.
Inmates have nothing that we of the free world prize. These men, though, come to a Kairos “walk” (a four-day weekend, intensive experience presenting them with the possibility of Jesus’ redemptive grace for them) because they hope to gain everything.
During my first walk, I saw men confess, give themselves to Jesus, become saved, and then turn around, bathed with relief, to try and save their fellow inmates. My friends would say words to me like, “I promise you, Dikkon, they have given me far more than I can ever have given them.”
We of the free world, figuratively, we have everything. Yet having everything already, we of the free world sometimes are secretive about what we need to give away—which is not our things but our emotions, that is, our hurts, our defenses, our fears, our selfishness.
As an imprisoned inmate might do, some of us choose to hold onto our hurt. Alas, we of the free world, sometimes we imprison ourselves.
If you are reading this post during the afternoon of December 1, 2018, I was back in prison that morning.
We Kairos volunteers were at Pocahontas State Prison in SW Virginia for a reunion with inmate members of our Kairos #15 walk, which occurred last October, and with other prisoners who desired to attend.
I’m writing this post earlier in the week, so I don’t yet know what Christian theme was explored during Saturday morning, but my personal theme for that reunion will be forgiveness. Not just their forgiveness, but mine, too.
In an earlier post about my new experience of Kairos (see 10/19/2018, under the GOD heading), I stated that there were four major high points for me as take-aways during my first 4-day “walk” inside. In that post, I reflected on one of them, on agape love—and I reproduced the agape letter that I wrote to each of our prisoner attendees.
Another experience of a Kairos walk is the forgiveness ceremony, which occurs late in the afternoon of the third day. By then—three-quarters through the whole walk—attendees have heard many talks delivered by Kairos volunteers. These talks are designed to build a rising tide of awareness among the inmates that they are personally responsible for their condition of incarceration. Their personal choices have incarcerated them. It was not those others whom they may have hated as their enemies. Each talk lasts about 20 minutes and involves confession by the man giving the talk regarding his own pathway through the theme of that talk.
Then the inmates gather in small groups at assigned tables and discuss the ideas of the talk with assigned Kairos volunteers. Their comprehension of the issues is also stimulated by graphics: the inmates draw and color a poster dramatizing what they’ve discussed. Often, throughout the three days, the word forgiveness occurs--choice and forgiveness are among many Kairos themes.
By the end of the third day, inmates have had three intense days of being prepped for an upcoming event. And we’ve all had plenty of singing, music, worship, prayer, and cookie eating (yay!).
So…what is this forgiveness ceremony?
Early on the third day, all inmates and volunteers are given a square of rice paper and a pencil and encouraged during the day to write down the name of a person or of several persons to whom, in their hearts, they now feel they should provide forgiveness. We are challenged to consider real forgiveness, not mere casual forgiveness—real forgiveness of the sort that for three days we volunteers have been attributing during our talks only to Jesus’ glory.
And these rice papers, with the names we write on them, are to be kept secret, until….the forgiveness ceremony.
Since I’d received my paper, I had thought a good deal, and I had prayed some, too. I had put one single name on my rice paper. Sometimes I thought to erase it. But then I thought, no.
I thought, “I’m a spectator here, a helper only. This ceremony isn’t for me. It’s for them, the ones who are in figurative chains and behind actual bars. The ones here on the inside. Not for me. Should I even participate in this ceremony, whatever it is? Well, I suppose so, yes. After all, I did write a name on my paper.”
An hour later, I stood in one of two long lines of volunteers and inmates. Each of us held a paper in hand. All of us were quiet. One by one, we stepped forward and eventually knelt on a mat. Before each of us was a bucket of water. On the other side of each bucket was one of us volunteers, a professional pastor, equipped to pray.
I bent over the bucket, paper in hand. My volunteer brother nodded, “Drop it in.” I did. The paper and the name dissolved. He asked me, “What?” I named the name that had now dissolved and our relationship, and I said only one sentence more. He reached across the bucket and laid his hands on my shoulders and began to pray.
Three minutes later I could barely stand, so shaking was I. My tears were so copious I could not see. One of my Kairos friends saw this and came over and helped me up. We embraced tightly.
“See?” he asked.
I sniffed, wiped my eyes. Soon, I believed, maybe my knees would begin to function again. I embraced my friend a second time.
I thought, “I should have put more names on.”
Then I thought, “I’ll have another chance…during our next walk.”
Rev. Smith speaks about the societal purpose of incarceration. He uses two words, rehabilitation and regeneration. Times change in society and ideas about how best to address public problems come and go. Yes, evil-doers must be kept separate from the general population, for its safety.
Rehabilitation means to change back to the person the inmate was before he began his life of crime—or, if he has been a criminal always, then back into the ideal person he could have been, as he was when he was an infant and in God’s palm. A rehabilitated criminal is able to enter the free world and to live a successful and productive life without recidivism.
But Rev. Smith speaks of regeneration as the ultimate goal. Regeneration comes from, among other things, forgiveness as well as salvation. It comes from forgiving the ones against whom the inmate has continued to stoke his rage, and forgiving himself with the realization that he is not his crime.
He does not need to continue to imprison himself. Yes, he did the crime(s), deserves the punishment(s), is doing the time. But also he is a fallen and a loved child of God.
As Rev. Smith concludes, “Regeneration sets the standard for kingdom choices” (page 201).
My theme regarding myself on December 1 is forgiveness. I’ll be at the prison where we outsiders and those insiders bond. We will have fellowship, some good rockin’ gospel music, some exciting theological talk, a few intense prayers, perhaps the moment of salvation for one or two more of those who are chained.
I can’t wait for Kairos #16 next year in April.
I’ll choose to put more names on my paper. I’ll choose to forgive them. I’ll drop some more of my own chains.
(This post was originally published the week before Thanksgiving last year. Maybe I’ll publish it each year at the height of leaf-raking season. As shown here, I’ve varied its details slightly to accord with 2018 instead of 2017, and shortened its original length, but its metaphor—I hope—remains good.)
During summer, our house swims in shade.
I love shade!
Otherwise our experience of summer in SW Virginia is hot, hot, hot. But our house is surrounded by large oaks and maples, and they keep us in shade, blessedly.
When we bought our house, the woman next door said, “You poor guy, you have no idea what trouble you’re in.”
I wasn’t in trouble—I was in shade!
We are grateful for our trees, which keep our house cooler and reduce our cooling cost all summer long. The trees cool us because they are covered with leaves. Come fall—which begins in November—the leaves turn yellow, and…they fall.
Billions of them.
Billions upon billions upon billions of them.
They inundate our yard, roof, gutters, porch, driveway, patio, and parking area in back.
Our neighbor was right. The raking job is an enormous task. It is an enormous, on-going task, and it lasts through most of two months.
There is a God point to this blather about leaves. The God point is metaphorically about the last leaf to fall.
Here in our valley we get wind storms. We got a big one five days ago. It was a strong, cool wind (thank the Lord!) roistering through the trees from the northwest, sending that day’s billion of leaves before it—like snow. We had a blizzard of leaves.
Have you noticed something about leaves?
They like moving in a gang. They all make up their minds at the same time, and then they do what the others do. When the wind comes along, they all let go and tumble, as though they were the crazy idea of some slap-dash painter, flinging yellow flakes of tinsel down the air.
But—no—not all of them.
Our blizzard died away. I went outside. The day was cooler than before, and the air was still now, with the sun bright and slantways from low down in the west. Everywhere that I could see, I saw inches—even a foot—of depth of yellow leaves.
I had intended to start by sweeping the porch, but I stopped.
High in one tree, way up, there was one single yellow leaf all by itself out on the end of a twig. It hung there, very still. It caught my eye because it was brightly lit against the blue of the sky by the shaft of the sun.
I watched it for a time, standing as I was in the quiet yellow of the aftermath of the blizzard. That leaf seemed almost to be making up its own mind. That leaf had hung on tight while the wind buffeted it, and while all its friends had let go and had flown. That leaf had hung on, waiting, maybe thinking something through.
What was the something that leaf was thinking through?
Perhaps its allegiance to the Lord.
Everyone else among its leaf friends had known what was right—what was manifest—to do. Everyone else had said, “We are a tide of Christian consciousness sweeping joyfully through the air and then covering the landscape of the Lord.” And they had done just that.
I thought to myself, that last leaf is like we were, my wife and I, eleven years ago.
Then I laughed to myself. Of course, that leaf has no soul—it’s a leaf.
But, I thought, I am a writer and a chaser after metaphor. I have a soul. I have a soul, and—like my one leaf—I had hung on tight to my anchoring point during my wife’s and my nine months of soul struggle, whether to press beyond Judaism toward our rebirth in Christ.
We had hung on, battling that stormy struggle through.
Yes or no?
To deny or to accept?
To let go and to go?
Or not to let go?
And—just as I reached this point in the framing of my thought—up there above me, after the end of the wind storm, that last yellow leaf let go.
As we had, too.
I watched that last yellow leaf flutter peacefully all the way down until it nestled comfortably with its yellow fellows.
Finally at one with the Lord.
I was back at Pocahontas Prison last Saturday, for a reunion.
Reunions occur monthly, on the first Saturday. Two church services occupy the first half of these Saturdays, with two different groups of inmates, and then the reunion is over, insofar as we volunteers are concerned. It’s an early-start day for those of us who come to the prison from our homes, many of which are, like mine, about 130 miles distant from the prison.
During reunions, the inmates arrive from the cell pods, are searched and then allowed through the door into the gym, and then they gather their cookies and seat themselves in groups of five or six—randomly: no assigned tables—each group with one Kairos volunteer. A reunion service commences with prayers and songs; then it moves to a homily, and ends with an open-ended study discussion.
While the walks are the work of Kairos, the reunions are the work of the church that has been planted inside the prison and are administratively overseen by the prison chaplain. The masters of ceremony are inside church elders. During reunions, we Kairos volunteers are the guests of the inside church.
Our role is (1) to distribute cookies, (2) to facilitate the study discussion, and (3) as always to listen; listen; love; love.
Upon my arrival Saturday morning at the front-search entrance to the prison, a volunteer friend asked me excitedly, “Wasn’t that a wonderful letter from David?”
“What letter from David?”
“You haven’t seen his letter?”
“No. How did it come? What did it say?”
“David is saved!”
“Oh, yes, I knew that. It’s wonderful! I got a text about it two days ago.” I named the volunteer who had texted me. “But a letter? I haven’t seen a letter.”
“I’ll make certain you get a copy.”
“I have so much wanted to see David, after this news, to give him the hug of a brother. I hope he comes to reunion today.”
“As a newly saved man, I think he will!”
David did attend Saturday’s first reunion service. I hugged him and blessed him on account of his salvation. He sat next to me in our small group, and we had friendly talk about this change in his life during the few minutes of cookie-eating and getting comfortable as a group. Then the service began.
After a prayer, the church band began to sing. They are an enthusiastic group, skilled, and dynamic—eight backup singers, two charismatic lead singers, three electric guitars, and a keyboard. Pretty soon we were all rocking along with them, captured by the southern Baptist-style beat, repeating the refrain over and over again--
I cleaned up
What I messed up,
I start my life
There we were—men of the free world, men of the inside world—some of us saved, I suppose some of us not—we were getting louder and our hands were stabbing upward as we acclaimed that we were cleaning up what we had messed up—as all of us had messed up something—and we vowed to start our life over again.
It was both empowering and FUN!
I glanced at David. He was not standing as most of the rest of us were, and he had a grimace on his face.
I sat down. “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”
This powerful man gestured to his thighs. “Can’t hardly move,” he said. “Hurts so much.”
Worried, I asked about the pain. While the music faded, he explained to me that something really huge had just happened to him just a few days before.
I agreed with him that something really huge had just happened to him just a few days before.
“No, Dikkon—writer man—not that.”
It turned out that the other really huge thing that had just happened was that he had just won a gold medal in the prison’s weight-lifting contest, doing squats with barbells across his shoulders. His thighs were toast.
We laughed--a lotta huge things had just happened for David!
The theme of Saturday’s prison services was FEAR. The homily for the first service was presented by a Kairos volunteer, the homily for the second by a prison church elder. Fear is a big deal in prison; good choice for our theme. Easy for me to get the discussions going after the homilies, using open-ended questions.
While I was leading prayer during the end of our discussions, the Lord made it clear to me that fear is a big deal outside of prison, too.
C, about whom I hinted during an earlier post, came and sat with David and our group and me during that first service. C provided a dramatic confession about fear—about his fear.
How could that be?
Does not compute.
No, come to think of it, it does compute. Even C.
As David and I were parting, I said, “I heard you wrote a letter.”
“I haven’t read it yet but I’m supposed to get it this afternoon.”
“It’s about being saved, right?”
“I wanted you all to know.”
“Well, God bless you. You know, I sometimes write about this Kairos experience. Would you mind if I use something from your letter sometime?”
“Use whatever you like! I want you all to know.”
Here is part of that wonderful letter from David. David is the man who, in my earlier post, I named S.
(I’ve regularized some spelling, but the sentences are otherwise verbatim.)
My life has changed so much since I took the Kairos 4-day walk. I had made it a habit to pray to God every chance I get. Also I prayed today at 4 pm asking God “What is my purpose in life?” I sat there quietly and sat there. Then something in my heart and soul said to me, “Stop putting all your energy and worries on when you are getting out of prison, and put all your energy and faith in me.” Listen everybody, my stomach got tight, tears came from my eyes, my heart was beating fast, and my mind was clear. And for a brief second I saw myself free. But not out of prison. I saw that I was free with God. I was smiling and helping people find God in prison.
David recounts that he went to supper and spoke to another prisoner about being saved and about his desire to be baptized. That other man said to David that he could be saved while they walked back to their pod.
So guess what? I am SAVED!! I feel more free than I ever felt in my whole life. I still have a long way to go but now I know that Jesus is walking with me all the way.
Thus saith writer man Dikkon.
I am praying generally for 35 men in a prison in the remote mountains of SW Virginia. I am praying specifically for four men among them—for P, W, F, and S, which are not their actual first initials.
I know these men, in my estimation quite well. I do not know them in the sense that I could accurately recount for you all the circumstances of their lives.
What we in the free world (outside the prison) consider the major circumstance of their lives is something I know nothing about, except in the case of S. S told me the detail of his crimes, so I have information—as he told it—about why he now lives in prison, and why he will continue to live in prison for many years.
Here is something else I do know quite well about S, and I know this because I observed it occur during the four days I spent recently with him and with the other three men.
I know that S was persuaded by a friend to choose to attend our recent Kairos walk because he was dissatisfied with what Islam offered him. Yes, Islam offered him the satisfying routine of daily prayer, five times each day, but that it lacked grace.
Islam is rules. If you miss a rule, S told me, you are effectively dead—dead to the world of Islam. So S was susceptible to attend our Kairos walk because he had heard that Christ, instead, was love, and forgiveness—part of what I would include under the word grace.
S’s curiosity about Christ was exciting to me, being a man of the free world, because every ounce of my fallen being knows for certain that Christ indeed is love and forgiveness. Chained as I am to my sin, despairingly sometimes, I need divine love and forgiveness—and I get it.
But my reaction to S’s information about Islam’s rigidity is not what causes me to report that I believe I know S quite well.
Among the other men at our Kairos table, W was a man in deep trouble. Part of his trouble was—to all appearances—mental illness, for the control of which he was prescribed a powerful drug, and our Kairos schedule of activities interfered with the proper timing of his taking of his drug. Consequently, his behavior became erratic as the days wore on. Once we understood this, we made what administrative adjustment we could, and the problem was partly relieved.
However, that was only one element of W’s trouble. W is a man who had received—apparently from his parents and from his family at large—as well as from his urgent reading of his Bible while in prison—a strong sense of Christian rectitude. W’s theological understanding of Christianity was all works.
W knew his Bible, but he got it wrong.
W was desperate to be assured of his eternal life.
W has a fluid and articulate vocabulary of Christian thought, and when he was not overpowered either by the drug or by his lack of it, he could deliver emphatic and absolutist statements like a new seminarian.
But he got it wrong.
Who assisted him during our four days? We three Kairos volunteers at our table assisted him—that was our role: listen; listen; love; love.
But it was S who was most persistent in his ministry to W, and—as I interpreted what I observed of this ministry—its extra power was the fact that S shared with W something we others did not share. Yes, it is true that we outsiders of the free world are enchained, but it is not true that we are enchained in the same many-layered and practical sense that S is enchained like W.
S loved and forgave W with a persistent and instinctual grace that was inspiring. S was usually the first to reach out and to engage W in whatever Kairos learning procedure we were assigned at the moment. S was the one who pressed W gently to respond when he was locked inside. “I know you know the answer, W. Please tell us.” Then he would speak to the rest at the table. “We all know that W knows the answer, don’t we? We want to hear what you know, W. Please tell us.”
Sometimes, pressed by S’s love, W would speak. Theologically, what he said usually was works, but at that moment it was—as it were--softer works.
By the last day of the walk, at least two of us from the outside were engaging S on the subject of his instinctive suitability for Christian ministry in the church which has been planted inside the prison. S was hesitant, shy, unconfident about his gift—but my instinctive assessment was that he yearned, also.
S will be in prison for a long time. I think he thinks he needs what I would call a mission. He and I talked quite fully about his crimes and about his perception of our criminal justice system. He seemed accepting of the fact that he deserves to be in prison, though he misses his daughter intensely. He believes his sentence is too long, although he understands how—legally speaking—it was justified. I sense that he is a man who has been gifted by a deep sense of helpfulness and a desire to lead his fellows away from emptiness and toward fullness.
Those qualities exist in prison just as much as they do in the free world. I pray that P, W, F, and S will find fullness, that W’s illness will be identified, treated, and monitored in the best way for him, and that S will give his soul to Jesus Christ, be saved, and with satisfaction—if so called—commence a ministry inside the walls.
He may, then, even become like C, an extraordinary man, to whom I may introduce you later.
I was in prison during four days last weekend, at Pocahontas Correctional Institution in Pocahontas, Virginia.
I was there as a volunteer for Kairos Prison Ministry. I sat at a table with two other Kairos volunteers and with four inmates. Our purpose was to assist these inmates to find—if they needed to find—and to come closer to—which they did need—Jesus Christ.
Our work at our table was Spiritual Listening. Kairos’ refrain in training is “Listen, listen; love, love.”
Each table participated in a succession of spiritual exercises, delivered to the group as a whole—to about 35 inmates seated at the tables with us volunteers. These exercises included listening to spiritually themed talks of about a half hour each during which the volunteer deliverer included intimate revelations from his own life.
These were the times when the prison’s gym—where our Kairos walk occurred—was absolutely silent. There were detailed revelations of missed opportunities, of bad choices, of abuse in various ways. Each talk was riveting to the inmates.
Following each talk, each table group was asked to speak among its members about how the talk had been received by each inmate, and then to do a second exercise. The inmates at each table were instructed to make an illustration with colored markers on poster board that represented the table’s conclusion about the talk.
By the end of Day Four, about fifty of these posters were pasted up on the walls around us—both moving and informative, and in some cases excellent in terms of graphic design.
The sequence of talk subjects is ordered by Kairos for increased Christian impact during the whole walk. The talks alternate with music interludes—we have a guitar player and singer whom we followed in song—and chapel services that included brief homilies, prayers, and also the reading of metaphorical stories.
There was also sufficient unstructured time between planned events for an increased amount of table chat and also of heartfelt intimate personal revelation. This unstructured time sometimes occurred when we were waiting for meals to be brought from the kitchen.
As the days passed, I could feel at our table and see when looking at other tables that inmates’ body language changed.
Day One—some tightness and stiffness, perhaps defensiveness. Day Two—more relaxation, some easy laughter. Day There—earnest two-way discussions for many minutes between an inmate and a volunteer. Day Four—long, full-body hugs.
There were four major high points of the weekend toward which Kairos’ sequence was leading us all. I mean all, not solely the inmates. I believe that we volunteers were affected, too. As a new man, I know I was powerfully affected by each of these high points.
Among my next few posts, I will illuminate these high points.
Spiritual Listening is a discipline of Agape.
Agape is a Greek term for the full, selfless, and self-sacrificing love modeled on the love Christians experience from God. The term has been used actively in Christian spirituality since the early church.
One of the high points of the walk was the delivery to each of the attendees what Kairos calls The Agape Letter.
Each volunteer writes a letter regarding his sense of agape to the inmates, the same letter goes to each of them. At a certain time on Day Three the letters are delivered to each inmate.
As I said in an earlier post, some of these men have scarcely ever received a piece of mail at all—even from family members outside. It can be an overwhelming experience.
I modeled my Agape Letter on one shown me by a volunteer who has attended many walks and who recruited me. I am grateful for his guidance.
Here’s what I wrote.
October 13, 2018
This weekend’s Kairos event will leave me with many memories, and I hope the same will be the case for you.
I don’t presume to understand the challenges you face or how you cope with them, but I do believe that you and I are each men who have made mistakes and at the same time who desire acceptance, forgiveness and reassurance that we are loved.
I hope you have given—or that you will give—your life to Jesus Christ. His is the life through which we receive the enduring love of God. During the weekend, I hope you have felt that enduring love of God. I have.
It is my experience that God provides His love all the time and without testing you or me.
There certainly have been times when I did not feel God’s love, or when I thought He had abandoned me. But that was on me, not Him.
His love was there (and it is there) all the time. I needed to allow my heart to soften. Once it softened, I could again experience the flow of God’s love, as demonstrated to me by the actions of His Son, Jesus Christ.
When I feel alone, sometimes I am sad or frightened (or sad and frightened). There are two things I do that help me recapture my assurance that God loves me. I hope you will do them, too. One is I read my Bible. The other is I pray.
I have two ways when I open my Bible. One is to have a particular passage in mind and turn to it. The other way is simply to open the Bible to whatever page falls open (I think of this as receiving the particular page God wants me to read right then). In either case, I read carefully, slowly, attentively.
Usually reading my Bible leads me into prayer. Often my prayers have a certain order, but sometimes they don’t. I judge that to be okay. God is our heavenly Father. He made us and loves us. He wants to hear back from us. In His wisdom, he answers our prayers—He may say yes, He may say no, He may say wait. Also, He may say nothing at all.
There have been times when I resented it that He didn’t say anything at all. You might have felt that same way. But then I thought about it again.
Imagine it this way. Maybe there was a time when you spoke urgently and importantly to a very close friend of yours. You told him about your most private failures and also about your need for forgiveness and to become a better man. But your friend didn’t answer you directly. Instead, he just nodded to reassure you he had heard you.
If you are like me in that situation, you were reassured and were comfortable that he was taking time to decide how to answer you. You were eager for his answer. And you were confident his answer would come at the right time.
Same with me.
Prayer, really, is a conversation between you and God. Always close your prayers by stating that you are sending your prayer to God through Jesus Christ, who is your savior—or I hope He will become your savior. It is Jesus who passes your prayers along to his Father, the Lord of the universe.
Bible reading and prayer are personal and often private activities. They are wonderful.
There is one more activity which I recommend for you. Find a community of friends who are followers of Jesus and spend time with them. Open yourself to these friends—we are all of us men who have made mistakes but who long to be accepted and loved. Be together with these men who you may grow to love, and who will show their own love back to you, since you are all lovers of Jesus Christ.
As for me, I will pray for you as a participant in our Kairos weekend. I will pray that you have experienced the love of God. I will pray that you will truly and deeply know you are loved, and that you will seek out ways to show that love to others around you at Pocahontas.
May you be blessed!
I have joined the Kairos Prison Ministry. As you read this, I am participating in my first “walk.”
A walk is a four-day weekend visit by about 25 brothers and me to Pocahontas Correctional Institution, which is located in Pocahontas, Virginia—for many of us about a two hour drive from home, close to the West Virginia border.
Pocahontas is a medium-security man’s prison housing just over 1,000 prisoners. A walk occurs twice annually, generally in October and in April. It is followed-up by members of our group who attend once-monthly “reunions,” when we return and meet with incarcerated men who have attended previous walks.
Members of our group have been visiting Pocahontas during fourteen previous walks; this weekend I am participating in number fifteen. That means our group has been working both with the inmates and with the prison administration and particularly with its chaplain for seven years now.
Kairos’ ministry has the purpose of “sharing the transforming love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ,” as Kairos’ Program Manual puts it, “to impact the hearts and lives of incarcerated men, women, and youth, as well as their families, to become loving and productive citizens of their communities.”
No one is forced to attend, and an attendee may leave at any time during the four days. However, if he leaves, he can’t come back in.
Each half year, about forty men choose to attend. They need to apply to attend ahead of time. Therefore, some attendees we are with right now have waited between six months and a year to spend four intense days with us. Just so, we have waited and have prayed about being with them.
A prisoner may attend a walk only once. After that, former attendees can meet with us again at reunions.
The prison’s population changes over time, of course, but during our Kairos group’s seven years visiting Pocahontas, approximately 280 men have had the opportunity--
to learn about Jesus—of whom some of them have scarcely heard except as a curse word,
to hear brief salvation-oriented talks,
to discuss those talks in groups of six inmates and three volunteers,
to share meals with us volunteers,
to be bathed in prayer, by name, not only by us inside volunteers but also by outside prayer-partner volunteers in Virginia and sometimes in multiple states,
to have an opportunity to forgive those who they believe have harmed them,
to receive, addressed to each one of them personally, an agape letter of love and encouragement from each of us volunteers—each man gets a letter from each one of us (some men have rarely received mail at all during their incarceration, and today—Saturday—each man will get more than twenty personal letters).
This shower of written love is powerful. Another shower that is powerful is this. I mentioned being bathed in prayer.
During each four day walk, we divide the 24-hour periods into half hour segments, and we get commitments from our free-world brothers and sisters to pick a segment and to pray, by name, for each of the men attending the walk during that half hour—each half hour segment is covered, 24 hours per day.
A big chart is displayed on the wall—at Pocahontas we meet in the prison’s gym—and the detail of the prayer shower is clear and, for some of the men, almost overwhelming.
In addition, they get a lot of fresh-baked cookies!
We volunteers, and as many of our friends with ovens and freezers whom we could enlist, we have all been busily baking cookies for about the last 10 days
previous to our walk. We entered Pocahontas hauling large, transparent plastic, storage barrels of fresh-baked cookies.
We have six recipes we use—chocolate chip, peanut butter, sugar, oatmeal, molasses, etc. On and average walk, we bring in approximately 1300 dozen cookies!
By the inmates, these are called the Jesus Cookies. The Jesus cookies are a big draw!
Not only do the men attending the walk enjoy a lot of cookies, but during the walk our volunteers go through the pods of cells and bring a bag of Jesus Cookies to every single inmate, whether he has the slightest interest in Jesus or not. Irrespective of Jesus, virtually all of them have an interest in fresh-baked cookies!
To subscribers and others, I covet your prayers.
If you are reading this on Saturday or Sunday, October 13th and 14th, my first walk is moving toward its close. There is an open-mike event tomorrow—Sunday—during which attendees can speak about what has happened to them during the walk.
I am told that sometimes the testimonies are extraordinary!
I’m looking forward to that!
We Kairos volunteers are moved by compassion for the inmates. We are all of us—both the inmates and we men of the free world—we are all men who have made our mistakes, and all the Kairos volunteers and some of the inmates, we acknowledge our on-going sinfulness.
We are all of us “in chains.”
We are here at Pocahontas, moved by the Holy Spirit, to come to, and to visit with those whom the free world sometimes considers the least of us.
What is it that Jesus says of this?
In Matthew 25:40, he says, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me.”
We are here to glorify the Lord, to honor Jesus, and to experience the presence among us of The Holy Spirit. Jesus is the one who is both able and faithful to unshackle the imprisoned and to set all peoples FREE.
(Please note that the last sentence above is not mine. It came to me in a prayer written by one of my Kairos brothers, who has walked many walks at Pocahontas and who has been stirring by many salvation testimonies of the formerly chained.)
We are here to light a candle at Pocahontas. I covet your prayers that we may succeed.
When I was young, I once asked my Christian mother why Christians light candles in their windows at Christmas time. Here’s her answer. “Dikkon, we light candles in our windows so that if the Christ Child should need a place to lie down, He will know by our candles that He will be welcome here.”
Help us light a candle “in the window” of Pocahontas so Jesus will know that He is welcome here.
Pocahontas Correctional Institution
Don’t skim your eye down the words. Go back and say the words. Say them to yourself with measured solemnity, four syllables to each word. Sixteen syllables all together.
You are praising the Lord. This is the Gloria in excelsis Deo that you are pronouncing.
It was late morning on the eve of Christmas Eve.
I called my wife at the church. Since she and I came to Christ six years before, she had been our pastor’s secretary. I was checking in, concerned about errands I needed to finish while I was out on the road. We spoke briefly about the errands.
Then I asked her when she planned to come home from the church.
Uncharacteristically, she did not know. Usually, she knows. Usually, she knows because she knows what tasks she must finish. Usually, she responds with a time—an hour, two hours.
But this time, she was vague. It was odd of her—my wife is not a vague person, about time or about anything else.
“I don’t know,” is what she said, and she said it with a puzzled intonation, as though she wondered why she did not know and yet she said it anyway. I was puzzled, too, when I hung up.
I thought perhaps I should call her back, to ask if she were all right. I thought perhaps I should question her tone of puzzlement, which suggested she did not feel in charge of her time that afternoon. But I did not call her back. I had errands to do.
Here’s what I learned later.
After I hung up, an hour or two passed at the church. My wife was alone. She finished tasks. There is always a task to finish on a secretary’s desk. But, puzzlingly, she did not formulate a plan for the finishing of her tasks and for her getting home.
Then the church’s door opened and a man entered whom my wife had never seen. The man introduced himself and asked if the pastor were in. The pastor was not in.
The man seemed puzzled by the circumstance that the pastor was not in at the church. “But God told me I must come to see him now.”
“Well, would you like me to make an appointment for you, for later?”
“But God told me I must come to see him now.”
After all—this is how my wife reported the conversation to me later—after all, the man was puzzled himself. He had done what God had told him to do. Now, it was the pastor’s turn.
The pastor had left the church not long before, with several plans in his mind. He had not been certain about which of the plans he would undertake.
He would let my wife know which plan he would undertake, he said, when he knew himself.
My wife dialed the phone. The pastor answered.
“There’s a man here,” she said, and she gave his name. “He says he needs to see you.”
“I wasn’t certain about your plan.”
“Well, I haven’t selected my plan yet. I don’t know why. Right now, I’m eating lunch.” The pastor thought for a moment. “Can he wait ten minutes?”
My wife looked at the man. “Can you wait ten minutes?”
She turned back to the phone. “He can wait.”
“See you in ten.”
In ten minutes, the pastor arrived at the church. He and the man went into the pastor’s office. Two hours later, the man accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord, and his name was written in Glory.
Late that same night, on the eve of Christmas Eve, my wife and I relaxed on our couch.
Our house was aromatic with baking gift breads. Our Christmas tree was lit with white bulbs, wax candles burned among our mantel display of spruce boughs and red balls, and twinkling candles were alight in our windows so that, as my mother told me when I was a child, if the Christ Child should need a place to lie down, He would know by our candles that He would be welcome here.
My wife had explained to me the odd events of that afternoon—the man puzzled why the pastor should not be at his office when God had indicated that he would be, my wife puzzled about her inability to manage a time to return to our house so that she was available just at the right moment to make that telephone call to our pastor, our pastor puzzled that he had not selected among his plans for the afternoon so that he was, at the necessary time for the man, just eating lunch.
My wife lay back on the couch and put her feet in my lap. In silence, I stroked her feet. The wine was red in my glass, and white in my wife’s. We listened to Susan Boyle sing Hallelujah. The words of poet and songwriter Leonard Cohen filled the room.
We are busy people, she and I, with several jobs between us—retirees who still work hard, and I had a new book coming out, a memoir recounting my life as the son of a poet father—a father whose poetry molded my relationship with our Father.
Relaxing on our couch, weary after days and days of heavy work for both of us, nearing the completion of our Advent anticipation of a miracle—humbly trying to experience our anticipation with patience—the beauty of the season and of the Christ lights overthrew me. I wept.
My wife looked her question, but gently: this was her emotional husband.
“It’s beautiful,” I said.
I wept for Cohen’s spare, elegiac poetry. I wept for Boyle’s easy voice. I wept for the still, calm beauty of our decorated home. I wept for giving gift bread to our friends, bread which my wife had created.
But mostly I wept that, on the eve of Christmas Eve, the Lord Himself had used my wife and our pastor for His own purpose, which was to bring another soul to salvation—that godly using, which had puzzled each of them, as their planning of their day was set aside.
[This piece was written and originally published in The Longer View in December 2014, which is the year its event occurred. I've re-posted it as closely as possible to the eve of Christmas Eve each year since.
May you as its reader enjoy a merry Christmas!]
This post grapples with a requirement that Christians should think—and speak—from within our worldview by alluding now and then to our worldview as though (as Focus on the Family’s Del Tackett would put it) we believe that what we believe is really real.
So, let’s start--
Are we humans able to prove the existence of God?
No, said Blaise Pascal, and he was correct; we can’t. Pascal was a seventeenth century philosopher and mathematician, the author of Pensees (“Thoughts,” published after his death in 1662).
Even Christians can’t prove that God exists, if the proof must be persuasive to a doubter, a doubter who will not be persuaded by evidence brought forward by Christians…since that evidence, this modern doubter would say, proves God’s existence only to those who already believe in God’s existence.
Therefore, God’s existence is a logical fallacy, a circularity—again this doubter would say—in the same way love or art or anything else which claims to be ultimate is a circularity.
There isn’t any such thing as ultimate truth, this doubter would say…and, even if there were, it wouldn’t be your ultimate truth.
Humans who are secularists only prove things they can record as data, study for pattern, repeat for completeness, explain logically, and place into an accepted cultural context—and not into a context that relies on the supernatural for its verification.
It is their senses that must prevail.
Yet every one of us has evidence we cannot trust our own senses!
“I saw my keys on the hall table, just yesterday. How can they possibly be in the refrigerator right now?”
Some of us believe in the religion of God, and some others of us believe in the religion of No-God. Still others keep their feet in each camp, and they resist making a choice.
Pascal kept his feet in each camp, until he logic-ed himself into selecting one of the two camps.
His choice is described in Section 233 of Pensees in the form of a wager. Here’s how his wager stacks up.
It is impossible to prove that God exists, that heaven exists, that Jesus is the Christ. Nevertheless, Pascal felt he must make a choice in order, purposefully, to live.
Choice One is to act as though nothing is ultimately true and to live accordingly, basing decisions only on personal desire and anticipating after death no mighty thing.
Choice Two is to act as though the Christian assertion is true and to live according to its injunctions, anticipating after death a very mighty thing.
If you select Choice One, and you’re right…no harm done, since nothing, really, was at stake after all. But if you are wrong…well, then, you have lost your soul.
Or the other consequences
If you select Choice Two, and you’re wrong…again, no harm done. And on the positive side, you may have been of some help to people around you while you played your role as a helpful person in a world in which neither help nor harm is of any great matter. But if you are right…ah!
Eternal life in Heaven!
Pascal concluded that the only rational choice is to proceed through life as though God does exist, as though morality has a basis more ultimate than our own desire for sensations, and that Jesus is the Christ.
This, he said, is the rationalist’s proper choice.
Doubters who struggle against Christianity usually do so because they feel most comfortable when distance is maintained between themselves and a powerful choice and its consequence, that is, any choice which resounds with absoluteness. God has His judgement-through-eternity thing going on, and they resist subjecting themselves to that.
They comfort themselves by taking the stance neatly articulated by Lawrence Durrell in Justine, Book One of his tetralogy The Alexandria Quartet (1957):
“For years one has to put up with the feeling that people do not care, really care, about one; then one day…one realizes it is God who does not care: and not merely that he does not care, he does not care one way or the other.” (emphasis in the original).
How world-weary and sophisticated a stance this is! If even God doesn’t care, then we are free men and women indeed.
All is permitted!
Durrell’s four interconnected novels are about Egyptian life from the late 1920s through the mid-1940s. He has said that, principally, the books are about religion and sex. Indeed, there is much written on both subjects in the books, particularly regarding the first.
What is revelatory, though, for my purpose here, is that despite the existence in the novel of a myriad of religions, all of them well articulated and forming the bases for the actions of a score of major characters, no character reacts to any of the novel’s lurid events on the basis of the moral code of any of the religions. They react, yes, but on secular bases alone.
The novel throbs with marital infidelity, drunkenness, chicanery, false prophesy, child prostitution, incest, financial skullduggery, political corruption, even outright murder.
The city of Alexandria, and its environs, as seen through the eyes of a supreme prose stylist--Durrell—and a world-weary, British, mid-century ex-pat--his protagonist, Darley—is an agnostic carnival.
Too, this same thing could be said of a world larger than just Egypt--of our entire western world.
From about 1850 through to the present—we in our world have had one hell of a time. The Christian church has been under the same management for 2,000 years—but recently it has been impeded by a strong headwind.
We Christians have struggled with whether, and how, we can prove the existence of God.
We Christians have struggled over what to do with, and how to evaluate, that proof—or lack of proof—about the existence of God.
We Christians have withstood about 160 years of culture crises that auger in one direction of the other regarding the existence of God.
What are we to do?
Here’s a potpourri of lurid headlines--
Human events in the West: the Franco-Prussian War irritated the perpetual antagonism between the French speakers and the German speakers and left them both, with their neighbors, bristling. Then the Great War slew ten million over possession of a few hundred yards of bombarded mud on either side of the line. Though the Great War stopped, no one truly won. The Great War dribbled out into the Spanish Influenza, which slaughtered many more millions who had survived the guns.
Germany suffered hyperinflation and glanced more favorably at that scoundrel Hitler. As the Great War wound down, Soviet Russia reared up Red, defeated the Whites, and, in 1929, Stalin instituted Collectivization, which slew another ten million in just its first three years alone. Then the Great Depression, worldwide. Following this, the Second World War, which slaughtered its own millions, and which introduced the world to genocide of such industrial magnitude and human depravity as to stagger the imaginations of all except Hitler and Stalin.
Intellectual events in the West: there are the God-debunking theories arising from Darwin’s survival of the fittest, and of Marx’s dialectical materialism. There is the challenge of Freud, of his assertion that God Himself--the very belief in God—is just the Id against which the Ego mightily struggles: that Christianity is all about sex and about the Ur family—that Oedipal one.
There are the aesthetic challenges against artistic standards—modernism in verse, cubism and Dadaism in painting, mere cacophony in music. There is Fraser also, who, in The Golden Bough, showed us that all peoples of whatsoever culture have the same structure of myths, indeed the same myths of dying and then rising gods, the same propitiations of the divine to secure a more favorable harvest…next time.
Jung is there, too, explaining the ubiquity of dying gods as archetypes of the collective unconscious, further lessening and humanizing what before had been numinous. Spengler is in the mix, who taught that history isn’t going anywhere, just around in circles. Too, there is Einstein, who showed us that even the security of a Newtonian universe is not to be counted upon, and that time itself is curved, light is susceptible to gravity, and nothing you thought you could point to is really quite there.
More recently, there is the worldwide challenge from slaughter-hungry Islam, the so-called “Religion of Love,” with its urgency to destroy all things western and to re-establish the seventh century.
Any sensible doubter might wonder how Christianity could survive under such a cacophony of attack, since it cannot prove the existence of God.
Yet it did survive—and it has survived—and not only did it survive, its orthodox, fundamentalist divisions have thriven. As compared to the dwindling fate of its accommodationist divisions with their hand-wringing self-doubt.
The doubters have every secularist reason not to believe. It would be so much easier, wouldn’t it, if their unbelief were right?
We Christians do not need to prove God exists.
Secularists need to prove things. We don’t need to prove things. We know things.
Does God exist?
When we Christians are confronted by a secularist who is amazed at the idea of a griffon, along with G. K. Chesterton, we may persuasively respond--
“I am even more amazed at the existence of a giraffe.”
[Expansion of a post originally published in 2014.]
During the past month-and-a-half, I have experienced a call. It is a powerful call of a spiritual nature. As I write this, I am responding to the call with due diligence.
I will describe the call first by taking you back to your most recent reading of the Gospel of Matthew, and to your understanding of The Final Judgment, which is pictured here, in sculpture, above the doorway of the Bern, Switzerland, Minster—or cathedral.
Note Christ, in gold, in the lower middle. Surrounding Christ in the archway is the Heavenly panoply of angels and apostles. The single apostle missing from the arch, appropriately enough, is Judas Iscariot.
I am taking you back to your most recent reading of Matthew, yes, but also I am taking you forward in time. I am taking you to The Final Judgment itself, whenever that moment of unwavering fatefulness should occur.
I selected the Bern Minster doorway as the illustration for this post because once I walked through that doorway, myself, underneath The Final Judgment.
I was deeply chastened by passing underneath The Final Judgment.
Inside the Minster, virtually alone in its enormous space, I experienced half a day of intense theophany. I had thought my time inside the Minster occupied about half an hour, no more. Instead, when I emerged later that day, I discovered I had been inside the Minster during five hours of timeless time.
God Himself had spoken to me in the Minster, and He welcomed me--He addressed me by name.
You’ll remember that Matthew the tax collector describes what will happen at some appropriate time in our future, a time about which “we know neither the day nor the hour.” MT 25:13 ESV. Last Sunday, in his sermon, our pastor helped us remember that Matthew passage, and what was said afterwards.
Matthew goes on--
“When the Son of Man comes in all his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” MT 25:31.
This will be The Final Judgement.
Sitting there, Jesus (the Son of Man), will divide all people, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be placed on Jesus’ right side, and the goats will be placed on Jesus’ left side. The sheep are the godly, who are described in Matthew Henry’s 1706 Commentary as innocent, mild, patient, useful.
The goats, on the other hand, are the wicked, a baser kind of animal, who are described as unsavory and unruly.
These animal typologies bespeak the character of the two different types of humankind, and they reveal humankind’s two differing and eternal fates.
The Final Judgement is the culmination of humankind’s supernatural destiny, as awarded by God.
If you are among the sheep and are destined for paradise, in the 18th century, you may have been deemed innocent, mild, patient, useful.
Christ will honor you by saying, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” MT 25:34
From the foundation of the world!
Just think about that!
Perhaps at that moment, you may wonder how it could be that you--you, as you know you!--that you should have been determined to be among the sheep and not among the goats. I suspect that I would wonder that very same thing, if I were included among the sheep.
Jesus would explain.
“I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” MT 25: 35-36
Puzzled, you might remark, “I don’t remember doing any of these things for you, Jesus.”
Then Jesus would say the sort of thing that Jesus—being the Son of Man—says regularly, the sort of thing that crystalizes theological truth.
Here’s what Jesus would say--
“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” MT 25:40
As Matthew Henry puts it, wisely as well as wittily, “At the height of his glory, [Jesus] will not disown his poor relations.”
You’ll notice that I have twice bolded the word useful where it appeared above.
Since coming to Christ a decade ago, my wife Channa and I have desired to be useful to the Lord, for His purpose. We have done what we could in the circumstances that we encountered.
The call I have experienced recently may open a new circumstance for me. I feel convicted with regard to prisoners and would like to visit them, in Christ.
Here’s one reason why. It’s purely a worldly reason.
For years before I retired from my career as a salesman of legal information, I had a very minor (and a purely secular) “ministry” at prisons in Maine and New Hampshire, particularly at New Hampshire State Prison for Men in Concord, N.H., set aside for New Hampshire’s most heinous offenders.
By regulation, a prison must provide access to the law for its inmates, that is, to the published record of cases, statutes, regulations and other information that could assist inmates to research their cases.
I sold these materials to prisons as well as to any other customer in my territory, either public or private.
In later years of my career, legal publishers shifted from publishing this information in print form to electronic form, delivered—for prison libraries—via absolutely secure and strictly limited Internet access.
At that point, it became part of my responsibility to visit the prisons and to teach librarians and inmates how to use this new electronic tool.
I had a training session scheduled at the Concord prison during the afternoon of September 12, 2001.
That morning, I called the librarian. Everyone in America was in shock, including each of us.
“Well, I guess if you still want to come, okay then come. I don’t know what else to do anyway. Nobody does.”
I drove the two-and-a-half hours from our home on the Maine coast to Concord and was let into the prison. Each door clanged shut behind me with its accustomed finality, but that sound was all the more reverberative of finality on that morning.
In the library, I was with about twenty-five men, all of whom had been convicted of major felonies (not that I knew what the felonies were; that was not allowed). I expected there might be angry men among them whose reaction to yesterday’s attack would be something along the lines of, “Good for the Muslims! I hate the United States.”
Instead, among the twenty or so who spoke up, their anger was otherwise.
“YOU DO NOT BOMB US! WE WILL SLAUGHTER YOU!”
So, already liking the patriotic spirit of some inmates in New Hampshire, I am doing due diligence about prison ministry in southwest Virginia.
It is my hope that some inmates will respond with awe to the work of the Holy Spirit, if the Holy Spirit should find my effort at witness to be useful.
(Note: the illustration above is copied from the Wikipedia article on the Bern Minster.)
“Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” Mark 9:50 ESV.
I’ve been concerned about lying and about how it ruins public discourse in the western world that yearns toward secularism and progressivism today.
It used to be that the majority of public figures recognized their responsibility, as public figures, to communicate truthfully, in order to honor both the society of which they were representatives and leaders, and their own relationship with God—or at least with the fundamental rules that held society together, if they were skeptics.
Ralph Keyes, a writer of social commentary, published a book in 2004 titled The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life. Deplorably, according to Keyes’ title, our time of dishonesty is to be characterized as an era.
Note: we don’t breeze past times labeled an eras very quickly.
Think of the Mesozoic Era. It lasted 180 million years (if you are a fan of non-biblical history).
If you are not a fan of non-biblical history, think of The Roosevelt Era, which lasted during FDR’s twelve-year presidency, but understand that the cultural impact of that era has extended its progressive energy even into our present, eighty-four years after 1933, when FDR’s presidency began.
I hope all of us reading this post—like me—would like to get past this ruinous Post-Truth Era.
Currently, many of our politicians, public intellectuals, media savants, academics, “experts,” and other talking heads practice cagy partial truth, and when challenged about some lie, they say they merely “misspoke.”
What can we do to reverse the impact on our culture of the lying that has ruined and continues to ruin us?
Well, character matters.
Which leads me to salt.
Here are words that pertain to salt. These words appear in the Bible in paragraphs that place them in metaphorical relationship to salt.
The word salt is used by Jesus as a qualifier noun when speaking to the fishermen and farmers He taught during the Sermon on the Mount – “You are the salt of the earth” Matt 5:13 ESV.
By Jesus’ use of the word salt, we today get a sense about how He characterized his listeners. He is saying his listeners are plain, straight-forward people, truth-tellers probably—truth-listeners for sure.
The salt to which Jesus likens them was used in their era for many purposes, importantly for the purification of meat that was to be used as a sacrifice. Therefore, the salt was an element of the sacrifice, and it had sacrificial intensity and rightness.
Salt also was used for antisepsis when applied to wounds, which made it healthy and therefore right. Salt preserved raw food and also it heightened food’s tastiness. Again, salt had rightness.
When the salt was pure, it was not ruinous of anything—it was right—and it was beneficial to everything.
When the salt was impure—had lost its saltiness—it was good for nothing except to be cast out onto the road where nothing was to grow and where the salt was to be trodden upon.
I said character matters. Salt matters.
Salt is powerful. A “covenant of salt” is a covenant that absolutely may not be broken (for example, refer to the surroundings of 2 Chron 13:5 ESV).
Salt, in Latin, is salis. The importance of the Latin word is so great that it has appeared in English in unexpected ways. The Romans salted their greens, from which act we derive our word salad. The Romans sometimes paid their soldiers with salt, so valuable it was, from which act we derive the word salary.
The Jews recommended eating salt at the end of a meal, as a preventative of halitosis.
But then, in the typical Pharisaical manner of the rabbis, laws were added to that beneficial custom about which the rabbis could insist—or could chide when the laws were ignored. Jews must not eat their after-supper salt off their thumbs, for doing so causes the loss of children; nor off their little fingers, for doing so causes poverty; nor off their index finders, for doing so causes murder.
Only Jewish middle fingers and ring fingers would do for the eating of Jewish after–supper salt!
Much of the salt used in biblical times in Israel and Egypt came from the Dead Sea (also known as the Salt Sea). The purest of the salt—the kind that was most righteous—needed to be mined out of the land surrounding the Dead Sea. Easier to get, though, was the deposited salt that peppered the shore line.
Want some salt? Go pick it up along the shore.
This salt, however, was not as pure as the mined salt. The seashore salt was laden with other elements than sodium chloride, because it was the sun-dried distillation of sea water. Consequently, in practice, this dried seawater salt was “salt that had lost its saltiness”—and it was good for nothing much, in terms of righteousness, except to be scattered on the road to inhibit weed growth, for the same reason the Romans salted Carthage after they defeated that city—so it would stay dead.
You could say that salt that had lost its saltiness lied about its promise.
A salty man or woman does not lie. A salty man or woman is righteous. A salty man or woman is pure…and is durable, and loyal, and faithful, and permanent—and any of the other words biblically used as metaphorical with regard to salt.
Mark reports that Jesus said to His disciples, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
But notice this--
Yes, Jesus was speaking to His disciples, but Jesus is forever, and He is speaking to us ourselves today (Dikkon, this means you).
It’s not just the public liars who have ruined and are ruining our civilization today. Look into ourselves, readers, and pray for personal salt.