What an Attitude

It was in a Russian prison--of all places--that I learned one of the most powerful lessons of Christmas. I was there with my friend Jack Eckerd as part of an official delegation visiting Soviet prisons.   It was lunch time when we arrived in the women's prison outside Moscow. When officers escorted us into the mess hall, I was struck by the drab silence in the room. Hundreds of women sat at long tables, hunched over their tin plates, their heads down. They didn't even look up at us. As if they were thinking: What do these well-dressed foreigners have to do with us? Jack sized up the situation immediately. And in his irrepressible way, he walked over to the serving line and boomed out, "How's the food?" Oh no, I thought. Now they're sure to offer us some, and there's no polite way to refuse it. Doctors had warned us about catching dysentery on our trip. Sure enough, the next thing I heard was, "Would you like some?" Well, we took our tin plates, sloshing with gruel, and sat down at the nearest table. Almost instantly, the atmosphere in the room changed. Women began glancing over at us, whispering, pointing. A woman who spoke English came over and began to talk. Another smiled and pointed to a cross around her neck. Soon we were at the center of a whole group of women, chattering and laughing. Why such a dramatic change? By eating the prison food, we had entered into their world. In the women's eyes, we were no longer just privileged foreigners. In a small way, we had been willing to share the abject conditions of their lives. As I walked out of the prison that day, a verse from Philippians kept running through my mind: where Paul says Jesus "did not about regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant." What a theme for Christmas: that God--the Creator of the universe--left the power and privilege that was properly His and became a helpless baby lying in a pile of straw. And later submitted to a shameful execution on a Roman cross. This is the model Jesus gives His followers as well. Remember that passage in Philippians: It begins by saying, "Have this mind in you, which was also in Christ Jesus...." It's no easy calling. Our natural inclination is to thrive on power and attention. In my own life, I experienced it most sharply when I worked with Richard Nixon at the White House--the intoxicating sense of pride and self-importance. But the temptation is the same wherever we are. Christmas is a good time to confess our pride and commit ourselves anew to cultivating the attitude of Jesus. The same attitude Jack Eckerd displayed so disarmingly in the women's prison with his bowl of gruel: the willingness to forego personal privilege in order to meet people on their own ground. After all, it's at Christmas that we're reminded of a Savior Who left behind the glories of heaven, shared in the human condition, and gave Himself for us.


Chuck Colson



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