Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A prison sermon; no words

Your actions are so loud I can’t hear your words! (Anon.)

Preach the gospel every day.  Use words if necessary. (St. Francis of Assisi)

You may be the only Bible some people will ever read.  (Anon)

I heard a beautiful Lenten sermon the other day.  It was a sermon without words, and it touched me.

I was in prison to witness and participate in a wedding (see previous blog).  The elderly black pastor and I were about to be processed before entering the visiting room.  This involves walking through a metal detector, getting frisked, and having the bottoms of your bare feet checked.  The Corrections Officer at the Earnest C. Brooks Correctional Facility was a no-nonsense prison worker, paid to be there and do his job.  No one was going to sneak behind bars carrying contraband under his watch.  I passed with flying colors.

Then it was time to process the minister, the clergyman who would be presiding over the wedding ceremony.

The Rev. Charles W. Poole is 88 years old, and doesn’t stand any taller than 5 feet.  While the bride and I purposely “dressed down,” so as not to exaggerate the contrast in apparel with the groom (who was ordered to wear his ‘prison blues’ for the ceremony), Pastor Poole dressed to the hilt.  Beautiful suit, white shirt with French cuffs, tie, and lace-up dress shoes.  If he was going to be marrying a couple behind bars, he planned to make it as special as he could.  He looked great!  That is, until it came time for the check-in.

As the elderly preacher walked through the metal detector, the buzzer sounded.

“Take off your belt,” ordered the officer.

The buzzer sounded again.

“Maybe it’s your cuff links!”  Feeble fingers removed them from the dress shirt.

The buzzer sounded again.

“Probably your shoes.”

By this time the old gent expressed some reservation, explaining that he had metal rods in his back as the result of surgery earlier in his life.  Officers routinely deal with metal replacement parts in knees, hips and backs, by using a portable metal detector wand.  But this guy wasn’t going to rush into that.

My question to the officer:  “Can’t you just wand him?”  A head shake.  A similar question from the prison chaplain, also in the room with us, who was obviously frustrated but knew better than to ruffle the feathers of a guy with whom he must continue to work.  No response.

Pastor Poole walked through the metal detector sans belt, cuff links and shoes, and the buzzer sounded.  A frustrated CO finally grabbed the wand, and sure enough, it sounded by the poor man’s back where surgeons had plied their trade years earlier.

Then the dear old man had to put himself together again, as time allowed for the wedding  ceremony continued to run out. 

You’ve got to keep in mind, here, that this is all happening in front of short-tempered Douger, who doesn’t really appreciate this kind of bull, but who decided that moments before a wedding was not the appropriate time to raise issues.  What was the matter with this officer?  Did he honestly believe this 88-year-old little wisp of a preacher, giving of his own time to brighten the dark room of an in-prison wedding, was up to no good?  Was there really a chance that he might smuggle in drugs, even though there was no one on the other end to receive them?  Gimme a break!

I learned later that Pastor Poole was a personal friend of Dr. Martin Luther King.  His grandfather and Dr. King’s father were friends.  He and King dated back to their teenage years, and I can report, first hand, that the King apple didn’t fall far from the Poole tree.  Perhaps he could still hear Dr. King’s words:  "At the center of non-violence stands the principle of love."

Perhaps that’s what he heard, but I know what I heard!

This kind little man with the precious smile didn’t have to utter one word.

Lord, grant that I may learn from that powerful sermon!

No comments: