I get a lot of letters from inmates, mostly friends and acquaintances I’ve known from Church Under the Bridge, Mission Waco or my neighborhood. Most are incarcerated for small, non-violent crimes, though there are some exceptions that include even life sentences. While some letters are appeals for commissary money or other personal requests, many are filled with deep expressions of repentance, grief or loss. Some are a cry for meaningful dialogue about life, dreams, faith and family.
These are the letters that often move me to shared pain and prayer for them. These are the reflective thoughts I wish we all could write.
Besides the Apostle Paul, two other inmates who have deeply influenced my life and theology also wrote letters from prison. Both used pen and paper to express their deep lament over social injustice and a cry for change. Both were world changers and prophets in their times when some people of faith seemed to have compromised truth.
In the book, “Letters and Papers from Prison,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer shared deep insights during his incarceration in a Nazi prison in the early 1940s. As a young German pastor and theologian speaking out against Hitler’s dictatorship and horrific euthanasia of the Jews, he was hanged in 1945 along with others for their plot to assassinate the German Fuhrer.
Bonhoeffer’s views were driven by his theology in Christ in whom God and the world are reconciled. God is a suffering god whose works are found in this worldliness, not only in a future heaven. His teachings and writings, including his well-known book, “The Cost of Discipleship,” have had profound impact on Christians, challenging them to engage against systemic injustice in our own culture based on love of Christ.
From prison he wrote, “The Church is the Church only when it exists for others . . . not dominating…