brody-scott-story.jpgContextual Education played a huge role in my gravitation toward Candler as my seminary home. I’ve always been drawn to working with teenagers. The opportunity to do that in a setting that would thrust me out of my comfort zone, and into the vast unknown of the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice, seemed oddly refreshing. I would gain transformative experience in the field I’d felt called to, and Jesus did say “visit those in prison,” so in a whirlwind of naivety, I stepped off the boat and into the water.

I sunk, and did so quickly. In fact, I was poised to drown when we toured the facility for the first time. I will save the lengthy explanation of things that twisted my heart, not in an effort to conceal them, but rather because the whole point of this is to encourage you to step inside. You see, I thought Contextual Education was in place to give me tools to serve more people, and advance the Kingdom here and now in a diverse array of contexts. Those expectations aren’t false ones, but they hardly scratch the surface of the program’s potency when considering my experience thus far. Beyond imagination, I feel as if I’ve been launched into a real-time lived exegesis of Matthew 25. This piece was always in the back of my head, but the meaning was given faces and voices, breath and personality, a personification which is rearranging my world in the best of ways.

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

“…Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Prior experience tells me that this passage is about charity; the world is breaking down many of our brothers and sisters, and it is our job to go out and do something for “the least of these,” in an effort to serve Christ. Noble notion? Yes, but ever since being graced with the opportunity to step inside of Metro Regional Youth Detention Center, those sentiments seem to reinforce the same kind of power structures that keep the “least” of our fellow people down. Transaction exchange is easier than relational empowerment. But that is a longer conversation for a different class at Candler. There’s something more at work here, something I’m beginning to understand through the power of shared space.

Simply getting to be with the incredible children imprisoned at Metro has garnered a new understanding of the text. You see, there is something about the notions we put in place like hungry and thirsty, outsider, naked, sick, or convicted that serve as societal identifiers of “least.” And these identifiers come with a whole host of preconceived notions that drive us to either charity or alienation. But there’s something beyond a Christ-fueled exchange that Jesus is pulling us towards. I’m learning that when you cut through a barrier such as imprisonment, a barrier that builds the lens of least, you find yourself on level ground, in equal standing, with another beautiful human being. You share air, then stories, then laughter, and for a brief moment, you get to share your divinely ordained humanity. When you step inside shared space with those on the margins, both parties have the opportunity to shed the dividers that deem them strangers and take a stroll around Eden. Mercy is the world view, and Jesus calls us to share space in order to feel that which is gifted to us.

Contextual Education at Candler, and stepping on to common ground with people who the world tells you to differentiate from in general, is seldom going to feel like a leisurely walk around Paradise. Those glimpses are present, without a doubt, but each breath of fresh air is paired with a thousand that taste polluted. The power of shared space is that every time your lungs burn, every time you see personhood being beaten down, or your own sense of being starts to slip through your fingertips, you can remember how sweet the fresh air, shared between you and other, really was. The hope is that each of us, on whichever side of the separations we stand, can harness up the grace and beauty of flashes of time when those separations were rendered obsolete, and cast vision for how to make moments into lived normality. The Lord in the land of the living is not a romanticized utopia in shared space, but rather an achievable goal actualized by the steps of people and the grace of God.

It is a journey, reclaiming our common thread as God’s children. In tumultuous times, where the resounding rhetoric includes building barriers, setting apart, or desperately trying to convince the privileged that other walks of life do, in fact, matter, transformation starts with sharing space.  I’m thankful for grace, Candler, Chaplain Danny Horne, and my fellow ConEd wanderers for walking with me into that wilderness. The chance to wander is a treasure, and I’m excited for the space shared along the way.

Top photo: Renee Fisher,