On Both Sides of the Fence

Following up his recent post about teaching Greek inside Nashville's maximum security prison, our social media editor ruminates on the theme of security. If the prison system must have one thing, it must have security—security, of course, defined on its own terms. Last week, as I read through the book our Saturday night contemplative group is using, I was struck by the notion of security.

Security manifests itself in many ways. As I sit here, I'm struck by the fact that the Sinai "Christ Pantocrator" icon (pictured here) could technically not be brought into a prison, because it pictures Jesus flashing a gang sign (a.k.a., giving a blessing). In fact, a group picture from one of our excursions to Gethsemani was blocked by the prison's administration because one my friends was offering a blessing in a like manner.

The fact that the prison system has a problem with the classic image of Christian blessing in the very name of Jesus Christ—the forefinger and middle finger making the letters "IC" and the thumb, ring finger, and pinky finger making the letters "XC"—should tell us something about the nature of the system. Moreover, it should give us pause to ask questions about Christianity. For example, is Christianity as scandalous as the violent gangs in prisons? Note that I say scandalous and not violent! If security is understandably threatened by violent gangs and if Christian symbols are treated with the same hesitancy as gang symbols, what might that imply—both about the prison system and for those who claim to be disciples of Christ?

For the prison system, it exposes the system's suspicion over any symbols of oneness—even our oneness in Christ—because embracing our oneness casts doubt on the very narrative of the prison system (i.e., the "us" versus "them" narrative upon which notions of security are built).

For those of us who claim Christ, it suggests that we must act differently than ersatz communities around us (here, read: prison gangs). How do Christians, for example, interact with Departments of Corrections differently if our Savior tells us that prisoner and prison guard are ontologically the same? That their "sameness" manifests itself through the saving, reconciling work of the Christ who blesses? And not only that prisoner and prison guard are the same, but that also prisoner and visitor, prison guard and visitor are the same? Moreover, what does it mean for security if—to paraphrase John McCutcheon's song "Christmas in the Trenches"—on both sides of the fence, we're all the same?

—Craig D. Katzenmiller Social Media Editor, TOKENS