Diamonds in the rough

Two interesting weeks nationally in statements and speeches coming from the Prime Minister’s office concerning Prisons have managed to prompt me into writing my first blog for 6 months. For those who watch these things, there are many resonances with the work that we do as Chaplains, especially in terms of the language of redemption used and the desire to see justice that offers a hope for those who are seeking to change.
Firstly we have David Lamy’s review, announced at the end of January into the over-representation of black people in our prisons. This is a really welcome development, and one which many of you will know that Joe Aldred at CTE and myself have been calling for since our symposium interrogating this social blasphemy in Prisons Week 2014 (Full article here). I have written to Mr Lamy’s office offering our assistance into the review, which has significant impact on many from Free Church traditions, as well as our support in the initiative.
… and secondly, David Cameron’s visit to HMP Onley and his speech on Prison reform indicating the biggest shake-up of the prison service since the great reformers of the Victorian era. Whilst part of me shudders at this, knowing the huge changes we have all experienced in the last 4 years of cuts, a large part of me hopes that the desire to readjust the focus of the mission of the prison service from the first to the second statement (have a look at the back of your ID card all of you who are HMPS), from simply 'keeping in custody' to 'leading useful and law-abiding lives', does suggest a degree of hope.
I think that my favourite gospel section is in Jn 10 through to Jn 17. Jesus starts in Jn 10 with a mission statement ‘I have come that you may have life’, and leads us on to an action plan ‘that you all may be one … so that the world may know that we are one and that you have sent me’. In the middle of all this is Jn 14:1-6 where, aware that the disciples were anxious because He has repeatedly told them of his death, comforts them saying:  “Let not your hearts be troubled; believe in God, believe also in me.” He encourages them to have firm belief in Him because He is the way, the truth, and the life. In a time where we are facing great turmoil, our hearts may justifiably become troubled, making it even more important that these words ring around our life in practical ways. If Jesus is the way, and the truth and the life, then this must mean much more than a claim to exclusivity in religion, it must be a way in which we can understand his call to discipleship in a tumultuous world.

I Am The Way : Jesus offers unfettered access to life in His father’s house. To accept His person and His teachings means that one has accepted him as the way; our Google Maps, our OS route-finder, our Sat Nav to the father’s heart. And just as the GPS satellite knows our current location on earth and helps us to locate our intended destinations, so Jesus our physical and spiritual guide knows exactly our current physical, emotional and spiritual location. And with this knowledge, he will lead us in The Way home. I always find it interesting to see that archaeologically the earliest references to Christians are as ‘people of the way’. People who follow the one who is the way.

I Am the Truth : Jesus Christ stands as the living expression of God’s integrity. He cannot do other than keep his promises. He will never leave us, he will never forsake us … he remains the great Initiator and the great Amen. He does not tell the truth only - He is the truth personally.

I Am The Life : Through Jesus Christ we share in the life of the trinity as a fulfilment of his mission declared in Jn 10:10, and in his action plan in Jn 17. As Chaplains we have hope that life can and will change for the better for those in prison … that they will indeed have improved life chances. And we know that these life chances are found freely available to all those who follow the one who himself is The Life.
… and so we persevere …

So let us above all other things devote ourselves in these uncertain days to prayerfully reflect on the one who leads us through Lent to the sacrifice of the Passion, and joy of the resurrection. Maybe it is time to re-consider the ways in which we have come to know, and faithfully follow the one who is the way, the truth and the life.

David Cameron is suggesting that we need to work in order to seek the “diamonds amongst the rough”. We find these diamonds dailyy ... in the segregation unit, on ACCT reviews, in Bible studies, in tears on reception wings, in worship on Sundays. We see these diamonds shine ... and our hope is always that they will continue to do so. In the reforms that are surely to come let us not lose sight of the one who has the power, the grace and the will to lead us and them from the rough and into life in all its fullness.