I got drenched by a June shower running from the parking lot to the first security gate at Pelican Bay State Prison. Walking into the chapel I wondered if wringing the wet pages of my Bible, without tearing them, would constitute a miracle. I’m usually pretty early but the meeting room was already packed. I began making my way through the assembly of inmates, shaking hands, exchanging smiles and God Bless you’s. Once at the podium I set down the Good Book, praying the pages would unstick, and began unpacking my saxophone. The guys gathered around with the usual comments and questions, “Is your horn gold plated? How long have you been playing?” No matter the question, the underlying request is to hear a little bit of music, up close and personal.
Rather than take out the old hymn book and try to jazz up a classic, which usually turns into me losing my place in the song and flopping my fingers around on the keys like a goldfish on the rug, I began to play a straight Gospel tune I had been listening to in the car. We Fall Down. My teachers had been encouraging me to play a song by ear and not get dependent on sheet music, so I hummed the melody and set about matching the key and finding the first note. I was just getting pretty pleased with myself when every man in the room stood up and walked out the door!
I wasn’t late for the 12:30 service, I had walked into the Muslim service just as they were dismissing. Turns out you can’t tell a believer by the color of their state issued denim.
I played the now prepared tune as the Christian group filed in, noticing, from the corner of my eye, that the breeze from the chapel door was lifting the pages of my Bible. All things were indeed working toward the good. Our study was about Peter being instructed to feed the Lord’s Lambs as a response to being asked if he loved the Lord. The foundation Jesus set His church on was not just the man Peter, but the principle of service. Feed my sheep, be tender to them, clothe the naked, take in strangers, visit the sick and incarcerated, comfort widows and the fatherless. At no point did the Christ admonish His followers to belittle, berate, or besiege the people around us. His message then, and His message now, is how we treat the least of these is the true demonstration of how well we understand the Gospel.
“Follow Me!’ were His last words to Peter and His first words to the following generations. We’re to go places together like light into darkness, like water into a parched land, like love into a fear riddled society. Faith is an action verb. The world doesn’t care about our church attendance record, about our collection of pithy bumper stickers, or bracelets. It’s not even our good deeds that will set us apart from the goats, as I was learning there are charitable and friendly persons in other belief systems. Representing Jesus means we recognize Jesus in everyone we meet, even if we’re running behind time, and in between the pennies from heaven.