Last week at our Annual Conference our Bishop opened our first session by preaching on "Strange Things Happening Every Day," with reference to Sister Rosetta Tharp (an African-American musician who died in 1973) who popularized the gospel (some say first rock and roll) tune by that name. Bishop Sally asked us to consider how God is shaking things up in the world, in our annual conference (the geographical entity that comprises about 400 United Methodist churches in Minnesota), in our lives. Bishop Sally is a remarkable preacher, and her words have stayed with me for days now.
I've had some strange things happening over the past few days, some mundane, some more personal.
Two days ago my well-used laptop decided to freeze and refuse to start up again, so I am without my "portable office." While I do have an office computer (it is a Dell, and I am an inveterate Mac user, so you can imagine my angst) that I can use, I find it clunky and unhelpful, plus it is not exactly very portable. So I am a bit disoriented as my calendar, my address book, all my documents, planning materials and the rest are on my laptop. Fortunately I have a nearly complete backup, so that isn't an issue at this time. It is, though, a very disorienting time without my office companion.
One of the things I heard at annual conference this year spoke directly to me. I cannot remember whether it was the Bishop, a piece of legislation, or another speaker who asked the question. "When is the last time you visited someone in jail?" I am part of a spiritual tradition that has a long, rich history of reaching out to those at the margins of society. The early Methodist movement was known for its work with the poor, the "street children," the imprisoned, the "blue collar" worker, so the question was an appropriate to ask of 900 United Methodist clergy and lay people.
While a number of my clergy colleagues may have answered that they have never visited someone in prison, I cannot say that. Of course, my reason for visiting has been less about my pastoral role and more about my paternal one. It has been many months since I visited our son Michael in jail. He has been in and out of jail numerous times since turning eighteen (about fifteen months ago), so it is not always easy to know if and when he is "in," but I knew based on what I read from court administration that he was "in," although in a new county adjoining ours.
I have been hearing the question, "When is the last time you visited someone in jail?" many times in my mind over the past week, so I finally accepted the interrogative for what it is (the voice of God) an set out this morning to fulfill my responsibility, but also because I wanted to see my son once again.
It is only about a fifteen-minute drive to the law enforcement center in question. I walked into the doors to the window where visitors sign in and requested a visit. The officer said, "Let me check." Within seconds he was back. "We released him this morning to treatment. He's not here."
I sighed to myself but got the details as to where Mike's current stop will be. It is a treatment center a couple of hundred miles from us, so I doubt I will see him in person very frequently. I will, as I have been for the past few months, write to him and keep connection, but I will not be able at this point to visit him in jail.
Strange things are happening every day.