The gentle waters of the Cumberland ripple against the fading light and I rest against river rocks and bone-like shells bleached in the sun. The hum of distant traffic soothes me. It’s an urban lullaby of white noise reminiscent of the rise and fall of ocean waves.
I don’t remember the last time I felt so worn—like I poured out everything I had and more and it still wasn’t enough. On these days, something calls me to places like this. Hidden. Still. Away. I need time to let everything sink in. The crisis calls, relapses, and evictions. The man on life support, the woman who handed me her blade, the friend we lost who I still haven’t mourned.
It is Holy Week—the week leading up to Easter in the Christian calendar, the week where Jesus enters into the conflict and suffering of the city. Sandra Griggs, the pastor of Glencliff United Methodist Church, says this is the week where we “stand in the tragic gap” between triumph and death, between the world as it is and the world as it could be. The tragic gap. Yes.
I started the week with Palm Sunday at Glencliff—the church that is partnering with Open Table Nashville to use their grounds for the first Micro Home Village in our city that will provide respite to our friends on the streets. The week before, fearful and angry neighbors launched vitriolic insults at Glencliff’s members and OTN and threatened to picket the church. While only a handful of picketers came out, nearly 100 supporters of Glencliff and the Village showed up in solidarity. What is a church if not a place for wounds to be tended? What is a church if not a refuge for those who have been cast out?
Over the next couple days, the whole city was buzzing with holy resistance. There was a public call for independent oversight for the Department of Corrections. There was a demonstration in South Nashville at an intersection where police have been targeting immigrants for traffic stops that can lead to deportations. Low-income renters whose apartment complex was bought by wealthy developers gathered to organize themselves and fight displacement. A coalition of activists, organizers, and council members strategized on how to create a democratic civilian review board that would provide oversight and accountability to Metro Police. And activists and clergy were arrested during a sit-in at Governor Haslam’s office while making a moral statement about the need to expand healthcare to uninsured Tennesseans. (Did I mention that all this happened by Tuesday??)
This is Holy Week, indeed. When I am feeling worn, when I’m haunted by the collective trauma of our people, when the opposition feels insurmountable, I think of Archbishop Oscar Romero—a man who was assassinated in 1980 for standing beside the poor in El Salvador. He knew what it was like to weep over a city. He knew what it was like to stand in the tragic gap. He says, “A church that does not provoke any crisis, preach a gospel that does not unsettle, proclaim a word of God that does not get under anyone’s skin or a word of God that does not touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed: what kind of gospel is that?”
So I sit by the river and watch as herons and mallards fly low. I think about my friends across the city who are deeply immersed in these struggles. Yes, “church” extends beyond the walls. Yes, “gospel” is good news for everyone facing poverty, injustice, and oppression. What would Holy Week be, after all, without overturned tables? What would Holy Week be without accusations and insults, without holy people allowing themselves to be arrested by the authorities? What would Holy Week be without the Garden of Gethsemane where we, like the disciples, are given a choice: will we stay awake to stand in the tragic gap with Christ as he suffers? Or will we drift back to sleep?
*If you’d like to join us for the Citywide Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, you can find details here.*