Prison Diary: One Room School House

The Bible study out at the prison is a one room school house. By that I mean the Men in White are all over the map educationally, intellectually and linguistically (English is the second language for many of the Hispanic men).

That makes teaching a challenge.

My classes in the chaplaincy program are unique in that I can challenge and push the men intellectually and theologically. These men have sat through countless chaplaincy programs over the years and decades, and they go to Bible classes multiple times a week just for something to do. So they have heard just about every take on the Bible. They've heard every Bible story a million times.

So they are rarely surprised. But I'm able to surprise them. I'm able to make the Bible strange and interesting again.

Plus, as a college professor my approach in more open-ended. I'm willing to entertain multiple perspectives and interpretations of a particular text. I'll often say, "Well, you can look at it this way...or this way...or this way." This openness contrasts the fundamentalist, dogmatic, literalistic and evangelistic tone that characterizes much of the teaching out at the prison. And again, for many of the men it's refreshing change of pace. Especially for the guys who are really sharp.

But I have to take care not to leave the other guys behind. If I use a big word I'll take care to define it. I'll say something like, "I'm going to use a big word here. Christological. You hear the word 'Christ' in there, right? It means seeing things through Jesus. So if we read this passage Christologically we're looking for Jesus in this passage. Where do we see Jesus in this text? That's reading the text Christologically." I work hard to bring everyone along with me.

Plus, I'm of the conviction that if you can't express an idea simply then that idea isn't worth all that much. I love deep theology, but I also value clarity and plain speaking. Say what you mean and mean what you say. That helps a lot out at the prison.

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