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Resurrection and Rebellion on the Streets

radnor22.jpgIt is Easter morning and light filters through a gauzy layer of clouds. No spectacular sunrise. No basking in the warmth of spring. Just filtered light suspended above the cool, rain-soaked ground.

Perhaps this is how resurrection comes to us. Filtered. Subtle. With no bells and whistles. A gradual unfolding of light.

Last Thursday, Kim and I got out of our cars beneath a bridge south of downtown. Kim is one of our street chaplaincy interns and we were checking on some of the people we came to know and care for this winter. Clouds shifted overhead and a gentle drizzle fell across the city. 

“Knock, knock.” I said as we walked up the mulched footpath to Jim’s camp. “Is anyone home?” Ever since I met Jim, I’ve felt drawn to him. There is something in him that is so alive, so free, so lit.

The front door of Jim’s tent was propped open and Jim beckoned us in. He had been sick and took the food and water we offered.

Jim is a musician who looks like a 50-something gutter punk Mick Jagger. He is tall and thin with longish hair that he pushes back over his head with his hands. He ties a black bandana around his neck, dresses in all black, and paints his nails. As of Thursday, they were silver with glitter.

IMG_7550But Jim’s hardcore shell holds a lighter, gentler spirit. He decorates his camp with Halloween skeletons and reclaimed lawn ornaments. An old road-sign that reads “Sidewalk Closed” sits at the top of his footpath. He has always been kind and respectful to me and all the volunteers I’ve brought to the camp. And Jim’s campmates are all people he met on the streets who had nowhere to go. “I told them I had a place they could stay until they got back on their feet,” he said. And he welcomed them into his home.

Kim and I sat in Jim’s tent and started talking about Good Friday and theology (as street chaplains are prone to do). But this conversation was led by Jim.

Jim told us that he left the Church of Christ when he was 13 because they unjustly fired his youth minister. After that, he began to “get into some stuff” and “made some bad decisions.” Every now and then, he would get locked up for a couple days or a week, but as an adult, he “did something worse” and was locked up for three years.

“I was like, well, here I am,” said Jim. “I knew I had some time to think about things and I was damn sure I didn’t want to be the same person I was coming into jail when it was time to leave. So I sat down with my Bible and said, ‘Fuck you God. Fuck all the things I have been told about the Bible. Fuck all the things I’ve been told about you by the church.’ I said, ‘God, I want you to reveal yourself to me through this book.’”

It took Jim nine months to make it through the King James Version. Then he read the NIV in six months and then the Modern English translation. “The Modern English version was all cleaned up and didn’t have enough poetry or grit, so I threw that one out. But I’ll tell you this,” he continued. “I learned to live with myself while I was in prison reading that book.”

“What do you mean?” Kim and I asked.

“I learned that I couldn’t earn heaven. I was set free from the messages of bondage and shame and earning my way. God loved me exactly how I was. No ifs, ands, or buts. And that set me free.”

“Free from the chains the church had put on you?” I asked.

“Exactly,” he said. “I’m done with that kind of bullshit. And I’m free… I love life now.”

Jim, a man that most people would dismiss or judge, was resurrected in a prison cell and is now more at peace with himself and more free than almost anyone I know. How can this be?

IMG_6676Once, Jim was on the sidewalk outside a church service and a group of women in their Sunday best were walking by. He was playing music and asking for money and one of the ladies came over to him, clutching her Bible to her chest. “Are you saved? Do you even know God?” she asked.

“I am and I do,” he responded.

“You know,” the lady said loudly in front of her friends, “I know God better that you do.” Some of the other ladies laughed.

“If you do, then answer me this,” said Jim. “What do I have to do to be loved by God?”

The lady started rattling off things: “Go to church,” she said.

“Wrong!” Jim said.

“Get baptized.” she tried.

“Wrong!” Jim countered.

“Do the right things,” she said, now reddening in the face.

“Wrong,” Jim said, “I don’t have to do anything. God loves me just the way I am.” Without saying anything else, the church ladies brushed him off and held their noses up as they walked into church.

Jim, Kim, and I talked for a while about our struggles to find God within the walls of church buildings, within the confines of Religion. As a self-proclaimed “contrarian,” Jim didn’t fit into the rigid structure of the Church of Christ where he grew up. Kim and I confessed that we were also both still “in recovery” from some of our own experiences with church. As a female member of the Church of Christ, I was told from an early age that God doesn’t speak through women like me. Kim was excommunicated from her evangelical church for being gay and struggled to find a church community that would welcome her and her partner with open arms.

“I want to show you something,” said Jim. He dug around in his tent and unfolded small, damp sheets of lined paper until he found the right one.

img_7731-2.jpeg“Not too long ago,” he said, “I was playing my new $300 guitar right in front of the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was crowded and their were people everywhere. All the sudden, someone came up and pushed me. I wiped out across the sidewalk and landed on the neck of my new guitar. It shattered. Everyone around me started laughing.” He paused holding the folded piece of paper. “The next week, I went to Downtown Presbyterian Church for their breakfast. One of the women came up to me and she said, ‘Jim, I have something for you so don’t you leave without seeing me.’ This lady didn’t know me, she didn’t know my story. You guys know more about me than she did. But she saw what happened to me with my guitar that day. So I went up to her after the lunch and she handed me this.” He unfolded the paper and read the letter aloud:

Dear Jim,

Jesus keeps talking to me about you and this is what he is saying:

You were born with a fire inside you, a flame imprinted on your heart. Even when you were a child, people would misinterpret that fire and say things like, “that boy is a hot mess.” They would say about you, “he is rebellious” because you refused to conform to control. But they didn’t see and you didn’t see that you were born to Rebel. Rebel not against God but against the enemy! Rebel against a religious system that looks nothing like God!

I keep hearing Him say to you, I’m not in a building called a church, I’m not in an organized system called religion. I am in humanity! I keep hearing Him say “we are so much alike, Jim. I was born to Rebel against religion, too! When I walked on the earth, my best friends were sinners and my biggest enemies were the religious leaders of my day. They called me a drunk and often times found me hanging out in bars. I called them snakes, vipers, and tombs because they had a reputation of being alive but they were in fact dead. I called them snakes because they were dishing out poison instead of bread.

I put on flesh and blood to dwell with humanity. I was homeless, I was rejected, I was spit on, and I was misunderstood… sound familiar? I love you Jim. I died for you, not so that you could go to church, but so you could ditch all your shame and all the lies that you believe about yourself and be my friend, be my Rebel.

Rebel against hatred with kindness,

Rebel against offense with forgiveness,

Rebel against chaos with peace,

Rebel against religion with True Love,

Rebel against lies with Truth!”

David was just a shepherd boy who played a harp and made the demons flee at the sound of his instrument. You are a skilled guitar player. Use that skill to drive away the demons. I know that you feel like I’m far away, but I’m closer than your very own breath. Turn your face to me, not to church, not to religion, but your Spirit to my Spirit. I’m not asking you to change, I’m asking you to trust. I’m not asking you to give, I’m asking you to receive.

How can this be?

Jim held the letter carefully, in awe. “After she gave me this letter, she handed me that guitar.” He pointed to the case sitting behind him. “I don’t even know her name, but God spoke to her about me and she listened.”

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Prints and patches by Lauren Plummer

Yes. Perhaps this is how resurrection comes to us. A gradual unfolding of light. Words fading on damp paper. Small acts of kindness. A gutter punk Mick Jagger in a campsite who is teaching us how to be free.

So let us pay attention to the suffering around us. Let us swap out our poison for bread. Let us rebel against everything that keeps us from being free. And let us practice resurrection. 

 

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Good Friday: City Wide Stations of the Cross

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Andre, Stations, cross and cranesEvery year in Nashville on Good Friday, a group of us embark on an urban pilgrimage to ask where Christ is being condemned and crucified in our society today. The Stations of the Cross originated as a way for Jesus’ followers to retrace his path to the cross. Rather than observing the stations in a church building, many of us feel the need to journey on foot through our city. We cannot be content to stay within the walls of our homes or churches on this night. We need to feel the energy of the city pulse around us. We need to see the faces of the people our society ignores. We need to stand in the shadows of the structures that too often dole out death for our people.

You see, we believe that where we read Scripture affects how we read Scripture, and for far too long, our theology and spirituality has been “domesticated.” This domesticated theology is meant to perpetuate the status quo, keep us comfortable, and tell us Jesus’ message was one of personal salvation. What could happen if we look at these texts with new eyes? What could happen if we understood Jesus’ message as one that also points us toward the movement for collective liberation?

STATION 1: JESUS PRAYS IN THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE

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station-1-lindsey-by-calvin.jpgMatthew 26:36-46 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” 39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” 40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. 41 “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” 43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying thestation-1-by-amanda-e1522511194320.jpg same thing. 45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

Station 1 was held in the Church Street Park, directly across from the Downtown Public Library. This park is an important place of rest for people experiencing homelessness in Nashville. Jennifer Bailey spoke about the need to keep watch with Christ and stay awake to the ways so many people, especially people of color, are being oppressed, incarcerated, and murdered by police. Brian Jones, who moved into housing just over a year ago, ledstation-1-crosses-on-ground-by-diane.jpg the closing prayer. 

Participants picked up crosses with words like “Racism,” “Homelessness,” “Capitalism,” “Borders,” and “Mass Incarceration” to carry along the way.  Theologian Dorothee Söelle says, “To attain the image of Christ means to live in revolt against the great Pharaoh and to remain with the oppressed and the disadvantaged. It means to make their lot one’s own. It is easy to be on Pharaoh’s side if one just blinks an eye. It is easy to overlook the crosses by which we are surrounded.”

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STATIONS 2 & 3: JESUS IS BETRAYED BY JUDAS & JESUS IS DENIED BY PETER

Station 2, People in Pews edited, by Calvin

Station 2, art, by DianeLuke 22:1-6, 47-53 – Now the Festival of Unleavened Bread, called the Passover, was approaching, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some way to get rid of Jesus, for they were afraid of the people. Then Satan entered Judas, called Iscariot, one of the Twelve. And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus.They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.47 …Later, while Jesus was still speaking a crowd came up, and the man who was called Judas, one of the Twelve, was leading them. He approached Jesus to kiss him, 48 but Jesus asked him, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” 49 When Jesus’ followers sawStation 2, altar, by Molly what was going to happen, they said, “Lord, should we strike with our swords?” 50 And one of them struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. 51 But Jesus answered, “No more of this!” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him. 52 Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders, who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come with swords and clubs? 53 Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour—when darkness reigns.”

Station 2, Stop Separating Famlies, by MollyMatthew 26:69-75 – Now Peter was sitting out in the courtyard, and a servant girl came to him. “You also were with Jesus of Galilee,” she said. But he denied it before them all. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said. Then he went out to the gateway, where another servant girl saw him and said to the people there, “This fellow was with Jesus of Nazareth.” He denied it again, with an oath: “I don’t know the man!” After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them; your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses, and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed.  Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Station 2, BrendaStations 2 & 3 were held at Downtown Presbyterian Church, a historic church at the heart of our city that was once used as a hospital for the Northern side in the Civil War. Lauren Plummer curated a beautiful altar space with candles and photos throughout the sanctuary of people who are so often betrayed and denied by Christians and our mainstream society. Participants were invited to look at the pictures and light candles at the front altar space. Brenda Perez then lead us in a reflection calling us to embrace people who are different from us and resist injustice.

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STATIONS 4 & 5: JESUS IS JUDGED BY PILATE & JESUS IS CROWNED WITH THORNS AND CARRIES HIS CROSS

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Station 3, Chris with cross, by CalvinMatthew 27:11-26 – Now Jesus stood before the governor; and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he did not answer. Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed. Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent station-3-ingrid-by-diane.jpghim this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.

Station 3, Sarah with cross and Kim, by CalvinMatthew 27:27-31 –  Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30 They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. 31 After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.

Station 3, Justin, by CalvinStations 4 & 5 were held at War Memorial Plaza (also known as Legislative Plaza). Beneath this plaza, there is a network of offices and meeting rooms where TN state legislators meet to work on bills. The plaza rests in the shadow of the State Capitol that holds Governor Haslam’s office.

Justin Jones lead this station and talked about how our governor and elected officials in TN “wash their hands” of the blood of so many people who die without health care in our state. He also told the story of Matthew Charles and talked about how we, like the crowds who cry “crucify him,” stand by as our people are unjustly incarcerated. He prayed for forgiveness and transformation. Then he and Ingrid McIntyre led the song, “Guide My Feet.”

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STATIONS 6 & 7: JESUS IS HELPED BY SIMON & JESUS CONSOLES THE WOMEN

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station-4-walking-up-by-diane.jpgLuke 23:26 – As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.

Luke 23:27-31 – A great number of the people followed him, and among them were women who were beating their breasts and wailing for him. But Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For the days are surely coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us’; and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ For if they do this when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?

Station 4, Capitol and Sunset, by DianeStations 6 & 7 were also held at War Memorial/Legislative Plaza in the shadows of the State Capitol. Liz Shadbolt and her son Isaac led this station and talked about the women who wail today from gun violence and the “green wood” – young people – who are leading the charge today and showing us how to carry the crosses of our collective sins. Isaac spoke about why he participated in the walk-out the other week and the struggles he and many of his classmates face with not feeling safe in school.

Station 4, Liz and IsaacLiz and Isaac read the names of 18 people who have died of gun violence so far in 2018 (15 of whom were people of color), and participants came forward to put cards with their names and photos on a prayer line. Lauren Plummer explained that prayer line held strips of fabric where students and family members wrote our their hopes and prayers at March for Our Lives that was held on March 24th. Liz and Lauren also named Stephon Clark, the 22 year old unarmed black father who was killed by police in California and Jocques Clemmons who was killed by police in Nashville just over a year ago and would have turned 32 today.

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STATIONS 8, 9, & 10: JESUS IS HUNG ON THE CROSS, JESUS PROMISES PARADISE TO THE THIEF, & JESUS DIES AND IS LAID IN THE TOMB

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Capitol with crossesMatthew 27:33-44 – And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots;[a] then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by derided[b]him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” In the same way the chief priests also, along with the scribes and elders, were mocking him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.[c] He is the King of Israel; let him come down from the cross now, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he wants to; for he said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” The bandits who were crucified with him also taunted him in the same way.

Station 5, banner by CalvinLuke 23:39-43 – One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Capitol, crosses at doorMatthew 27:45-54, 57-60 – From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46 About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink.49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” 50 And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and[c]went into the holy city and appeared to many people. 54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” 57 When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away.

station-5-molly-2.jpgStations 8, 9, & 10 were held at the TN State Capitol which is where execution orders are signed for people on TN’s death row. Molly Lasagna spoke about her work with the TN Higher Education Initiative which provides education to people who are incarcerated. She spoke about the failures of our criminal justice system and the humanity of the people she works with who are trying to rebuild their lives. She also spoke about the ways we continue to crucify the very people Christ asked us to visit, clothe, and feed. How will we stand up and un-crucify them? How will we resist the unjust policies of our state – our empire – and be “Easter people” even in the midst of such death?

CLOSING: CANDLE LIGHTING, LITANY OF RESISTANCE, EASTER ENVELOPES, & MAKE-SHIFT ALTAR

Litany of Resistance, group with candles, by Calvin

Candles lit 2, by DianeDuring the last station, the sun set across the city. In the gathering darkness, I invited the participants to gather in a circle and we passed out candles. I spoke about the darkness and uncertainty of the moment when Christ died. “When the light of the world goes out,” I said, “let us light one another.” I spoke about how on Pentecost, the Spirit descended on the disciplines in “tongues of flame” and that we, too, carry this spark in us and must let it shine, even in the midst of such present darkness. We lit one another’s candles and the circle was illuminated.

Litany of Resistance, Andrew, John, Peyton, Aaron, by CalvinIngrid McIntyre led us in the Litany of Resistance (see below) and then John Culbertson and Peyton Williams gave out envelopes they prepared with a message of resurrection and asked participants to wait until Easter morning to open them.

We then carried our crosses to the front steps of the Capitol and laid them there. We tied the prayer line to the columns and laid the banner out. Participants kept their candles as a reminder of that spark we all carry.

Capitol, final altar edited, by Molly

LITANY OF RESISTANCE

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(Please join us by reading aloud the words in bold.)

Lamb of God, you take away the sins of the world.
Have mercy on us and free us from the bondage of sin, oppression, and death.

For the victims of war,
Have mercy.
For refugees and immigrants,
Have mercy.
The abandoned and the unhoused,
Have mercy.
The imprisoned and the tortured,
Have mercy.
The widowed and the orphaned,
Have mercy.
The weary and the desperate,
Have mercy.
The detained, deported, and all who are living in fear,
Have mercy.

O God, have mercy on us all.
Forgive us, for we know not what we do.

For the scandal of billions wasted on war and desolation,
Forgive us.
For putting our hope in militarization and devaluing human life,
Forgive us.
For our acceptance of police violence,
Forgive us.
For the hatred that is rooted in our hearts,
Forgive us.
For the times we have turned others into enemies and scapegoats,
Forgive us.
For false borders between nations and the borders around our hearts,
Forgive us.

Deliver us, O God. Guide our feet into the way of hospitality. Grant us the peace that comes from justice.

From the arrogance of power,
Deliver us.
From the fear of those who look or love or worship differently,
Deliver us.
From the poison of white supremacy,
Deliver us.
From the idolatry of nationalism,
Deliver us.
From the violence of apathy,
Deliver us.
From the ghettos of poverty and human suffering,
Deliver us.

We will not conform to the patterns of this world. Let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds. With the help of God’s grace, let us resist evil wherever we find it.

With the waging of war,
We will not comply.
With the separation of families,
We will not comply.
With mass incarceration,
We will not comply.
With the destruction of community,
We will not comply.
With principalities and powers that oppress,
We will not comply.
With governments that profit from human misery,
We will not comply.
With the theology of empire,
We will not comply.
With the business of militarism,
We will not comply.
With the dissemination of fear and hatred,
We will not comply.

Today we pledge our allegiance to the Kin-dom of God.

To vision of community rooted in justice and peace,
We pledge allegiance.
To the Kin-dom of the poor and broken,
We pledge allegiance.
To the least of these, with whom Christ dwells,
We pledge allegiance.
To the transnational Church that transcends the artificial borders of nations,
We pledge allegiance.
To the refugee of Nazareth,
We pledge allegiance.
To the homeless rabbi who had no place to lay his head,
We pledge allegiance.
To the banner of love above any flag,
We pledge allegiance.
To the one who rules with humility and compassion rather than an iron fist,
We pledge allegiance.
To the revolution that sets both oppressed and oppressors free,
We pledge allegiance.

And together we proclaim the Way of Love, from the margins of the empire to the centers of wealth and power.

Praise and glory be to the lamb of God who welcomes the stranger, liberates the oppressed, restores life to the dead, and sets the captives free!

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This litany was adapted by Lindsey Krinks and Lauren Plummer from litanies by Christian Peacemaker Teams, Shane Claiborne, and others

Special thanks to Calvin Kimbrough, Amanda Cantrell Roche, Diane Smith, Molly Lasagna for your photos. And thanks to Ingrid McIntyre, Samuel Lester, and Lauren Plummer for making the crosses and banner this year. This event was hosted by Open Table Nashville, an interfaith, homeless outreach nonprofit. 

 


Lenten Reflection

This reflection was written for the Keep Watch With Me – a collaborative Lenten reader for peacemakers with daily reflections. To subscribe, click here

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 10.16.51 AMMany of us in the Northern Hemisphere come to the season of Lent in the midst of winter. This is a season of emptying, of fasting, of want. We search for God in the voids, the shadows. We feel the cold, the wilderness, deep in our bones.

One of the places I go to search for God is a cemetery called “Hills of Calvary.” As you drive northwest from the heart of Nashville, the city begins to drop away. Winter trees pulse with starlings, icicles cling to rock walls, and living hills arch their backs beneath you. Eight miles out, there is a quiet, hidden patch of land designated as the city’s indigent burial site. As a street chaplain, I visit this site often. It is home to so many of our unhoused friends who died in their 30s, 40s, and 50s, left out of Nashville’s rapid and prosperous growth.

This past year alone, we lost 118 people from Nashville’s homeless community, many of whom were laid to rest at Hills of Calvary. There was JR, a kind but stubborn man who lost both his legs to frostbite. There was Ray, a talented writer who beamed with creativity and wit. There was Johnny who once told me the worst thing about living on the streets was the loneliness. Many of our friends buried at Hills of Calvary lived—like Jesus—on the margins of empire, cast out by the political, economic, and even

Screen Shot 2018-02-28 at 10.16.30 AMI pick up a fistful of dirt and the cold clay clumps in my hands. I sprinkle it over fresh graves. From dust we have come, to dust we will return. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. religious powers of the day.

Father Greg Boyle who started Homeboy Industries in L.A. to give gang members a way out says that his work is about “returning people to themselves.” Perhaps this kind of “returning” is what Lent is all about. After all, the Greek word for repentance that marks this season is not so much about feeling sorry for something. It is about returning. Transforming.

A gravedigger at Hills of Calvary once told me they dug the graves so that everyone would face east. “Tradition has it that when Jesus comes again,” he explained, “he will come from the east.” So even in their deaths, JR, Ray, Johnny, and so many others are being poised for return.

Art by Vonda DressAs I hold the cold clay of Calvary in my hands, the question I have for this Lenten season is this: Will the memories of the people crucified in the shadows of empire return us to ourselves and to each other?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen?” asks God through the prophet Isaiah. “To loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

During this season of Lent, to what—to whom—will we return?


Standing in the Tragic Gap: Reclaiming Holy Week in Nashville

River.jpgThe 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.

Glencliff UMC, supportersI 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?


Justin Jones, sit inOver 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??)

Romero with bannerThis 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.*


We Watch the Flowers Drift Away

Reflections for the 2016 Annual Homeless Memorial
memorial-2016-flowers-in-riverAs a chaplain who has held too many funerals for our people this year, I am weary of coming here to mourn. I am weary of watching the death toll rise. Year after year as we gather here with the names of the dead on our lips, we toss roses and lilies into the swirling Cumberland and watch the flowers drift away. We listen to speeches that promise change and watch our city become a place where the poor and the stranger are cast out, where the un-housed are crushed beneath the wheels of progress and the cranes of luxury. And we watch the flowers drift away.

memorial-2016-namesAs I was reading over all the names, thinking about all the people I love on this list, several stood out to me. Jimbo, a musician who froze to death at his camp, was always doing everything he could to give back to others despite the demons he was battling. Tina, who was found in her apartment, was always cheering us on and raving about coming to protests with us. The last voicemail I got from Pontiac, who died of severe health issues, was about trying to get help for people who had just moved to town. And we watch the flowers drift away.

Sometimes, at night, the ghosts of my friends who have died on the streets visit me. They shake the slumber from my eyes and whisper of worlds past and worlds to come. Sometimes, I toss and turn, haunted by things they said or things I did or didn’t do. Sometimes, I can see their eyes looking into mine and I struggle to hold their gaze. 

horace-hortonA few weeks ago, I woke early before the sun. Horace, a man on this list who was murdered just weeks before he moved into his own apartment, came to me. Some of his last words to me were, “Lindsey, get me out of here. I want to go home.” I want to go home, he whispered. Help me find a home. Help me get home. Home. It’s a constant cry from the streets, a constant longing. Home. 

So I whispered back to Horace. I told him I would pray that he would find rest and home on the other side. I told him I carry him with me—that every day we labor for affordable housing and fight for a better world, a better Nashville, that his spirit and our memories of him would fuel our struggle. 

The dead are not gone. They are as present to us as our own breath. They surround us and guide us. What will we do with their memory? What will we do with what they’ve taught us? 

memorial-2016-housing-is-human-right-close-upThis year, as we watch the flowers drift away, as we let go of what we need to let go of, let us also hold tight, dig in, and find our breath. Let us breathe in our losses and breathe out hope. Let us breathe in our grief and breathe out a fierce commitment and love for one another. Let us breathe in the ashes of a broken system and breathe out a city that scatters the proud, lifts up the lowly, and fills the hungry with good things. The dead are not gone and death does not have the final say. Listen. Breathe. What will we do with their memory?

*87 people from Nashville’s homeless community died this year. 


Prayer for Standing Rock

standing-rock-defend-the-sacred2

Great Spirit who roams the North Dakota plains,
protector of the sacredness of all land and life,
we come to you asking that you would hear the cries
of the people of Standing Rock and come to their assistance.

We know that throughout history,
you have resided with those
who have been colonized and crushed by empire,
who cultivate the land and long for freedom in their bones.
And we know that some of your harshest words
are reserved for those who are driven by greed,
who reap what they do not sow,
who fatten themselves on the labor and resources of others.
God, we pray that you would stop the private oil companies
from their rape of the land.
Their money greases the pockets of public officials
and we pray that this filthy money and the love of money
will rot like the terrible spoiled fruit that it is.

At the same time, we pray that your wisdom
will rest on the elders of Standing Rock
as the eagle rests on the cliff’s edge.
Protect all those under their wings—
all our brothers, sisters, and siblings
who are banding together against this injustice.
Give them vision when they are struggling to see beyond the day’s survival.
Give them hope when all seems lost.
Give them love when fear and sadness well up in their spirits.
As winter approaches, fortify their camps
with the supplies, sustenance, and warmth
that will see them through.

We know that you, too, O God, have roamed the deserts and plains.
We know you move through pillars of cloud, parted waters, burning bushes,
herds of buffalo, and the still small voice of a mountain breeze.
God of the wind and clouds,
God of the fire and water,
God of the land and landless,
hear our prayers for our siblings, our comrades, in North Dakota.

May the tear gas canisters dry up.
May the rubber bullets lose their way.
May the batons of police officers be beaten into plowshares,
and the plowshares returned to those who love and cultivate the land.
Light a fire in the spirit of your people, O God,
and restore the land, in all its sacredness,
to the elders, tribes, and people of Standing Rock.
May their current struggles bear the fruit of victory and peace.
Amen.

written by Rev. Lindsey Krinks with Open Table Nashville

standing-rock-camp

To learn more about Standing Rock, visit Stand With Standing Rock and Indigenous Environmental Network. The “Standing Rock Allies Resource Packet” can be found here.


Squinting into the Unknown: Courage and Survival on the Streets

Ray, Photo for Tenx9 Story

Tenx9 (ten by nine) is a Belfast-originated monthly storytelling night where 9 people have up to ten minutes each to tell a real story from their lives. This story was told at Nashville’s Tenx9 on June 27th, 2016.

I shuddered as I pulled out the letter from the Fulton County jail in Georgia. After another restless night, I was up again before the sun so I went to my drawer teeming with correspondences. I found one of Ray’s letters and unfolded the soft, lined paper. His handwriting was distressed and the letters scrawled across the page as if they were trying to escape. I remembered the last promise he made to me frantically over the phone before he was locked up again, before he wrote this letter. “They’re not gonna take me alive,” he said. “I’ve gotta get back to Nashville. If they try to take me, it’s over.” But they had taken him. The police found him sleeping in a dumpster in the rain and locked him up. As I re-read the words, the feeling of powerlessness flooded through my chest again like a kind of heaviness or grief.

I imagine the panic that must have coursed through Ray’s blood. His letter described what happened when they took him in. He wrote, “I ran my head, head first, into a solid steel door, and that didn’t work. Then they got the blanket around my neck I was going to use to hang myself. And after coming out of the padded cell,” he continued, “I tried to beat my head on solid brick.” I put the letter down, stared off into space. How many times had I wondered if he would ever make it back to Nashville alive?

As an outreach worker and street chaplain with Open Table Nashville, trauma and despair are part of the waters in which I swim. Death is always on the move, haunting me and licking the heels of my friends on the streets. And when Ray wrote this letter, death was clenching his ankles, dragging him into the familiar pit where he felt worthless and alone, angry and utterly defeated. “Ray,” I had told him on the phone, “I want you to know that you have friends who care about you. We want you to come back home in one piece. We love you.”

I folded up the letter and put it back in the envelope. I looked at the date—nearly two years ago. Most of the men and women I meet on the streets are in my life for a brief time—a few weeks or months until they get back on their feet, move on, or pass away. I’m part of a chapter in their lives and then the page turns. But then there are people like Ray—people I connect with deeply, who become my friend, part of the fabric of my life, and transform me.

My phone buzzed from the side table and my heart lifted. It was Ray who was also up early, letting me know that we were still on for morning coffee. After being extradited to Georgia on an old warrant in 2012 and then trapped in the revolving door of their prisons and dumpsters, he was finally free. He and his friend Steve had just hitch-hiked back to Nashville and the first thing Ray wanted to do was get coffee together… a ritual we shared often before he was dragged back to Georgia.

I pulled up to meet Ray as sunlight was shifting through the clouds and almost didn’t recognize him. He was tanner and leaner than before, and in the place of his familiar handlebar mustache was a dark, scruffy beard. He wore a faded cap low on his head, his myriad of tattoos hidden by long sleeves. And when his eyes caught mine, he sat down his backpack and shouted, “There’s my friend!”

Ray, coffeeRay treated me and Steve to coffee and we reminisced about old times. We laughed as we tried to count how many times we had nearly been arrested together. There was the time we were doing tenants rights organizing at a slum in Madison and were almost caught by the slumlord. In order to escape, some of us had to jump out the back of the building from a second story window and I had a bruise on my arm for months. Then there was the time that we occupied Legislative Plaza for five months during Occupy Nashville. During those long months on the plaza, where we saw both the best and worst of humanity, I learned more from Ray than nearly anyone else. I can’t count the times I saw him take in stray, abused dogs and care for them with a kind of love that left me in awe. I can’t count the times I saw him give his last blanket or the coat off his back to someone else as the cold pushed its way across the icy granite.

Ray chimed in. “And I remember when I first met y’all. Down by the river at our old camp,” he said. “I knew y’all were for real when I saw the bags under y’alls eyes.” “Were they that obvious?” I asked. “Oh yeah!” he continued. “And I knew y’all really cared when you said you’d get arrested with us.” I smiled. In the spring of 2010, my homeless outreach team received a call that the police were going to close the camp. When we went to see what was going on, we found the most beautifully landscaped camp, complete with a communal kitchen area and a beach. We told the police that if they closed the camp before the residents found housing, they would have to arrest us, too. We held the camp for months, and in the end, it was the hungry waters of the Cumberland that took the camp during the flood. “Ray,” I said, “I’m so glad you’re back.” His eyes, the color of the muddy Cumberland, gleamed.

I imagine Ray as a young boy, scrawny and determined like an alley cat who knows what it takes to survive. I imagine the weight of the world crashing into him at the tender age of 9, his childhood ripped from his hands like a playground toy. I imagine him hitting the streets at the age of 14, building a wall around his heart to protect him from all the hurt, the broken promises, the shattered dreams. He told me in a letter that he first began lowering his walls and defenses, when he met us at the camp. Something in him had shifted. Something in him had opened up like morning light pushing through the heaviness of clouds. “I wanted to join y’all,” he said. “I  wanted to be a part of what y’all were doing.” And he did. He not only joined us but became one of our friends, our teachers.

“So how are things now?” I asked Ray. His eyes squinted and his brow furrowed beneath his cap. He listed the things he wanted to work on: getting health insurance, getting medical care for his Parkinson’s and the torn ligament in his knee, establishing a new campsite, and eventually finding housing. “And my vision’s getting worse,” he said. “I get so frustrated cause sometimes I can’t see. I can’t see what’s off in the distance and everything is real blurry.” I sat back in my chair, the last of my coffee growing cold against the porcelain. Ray’s health was wavering and he couldn’t see what was ahead. His horizon was smudged, uncertain, unclear. Yes, he needed glasses. But even more than that, he needed to see that there was still hope for a better future—a future that wasn’t as unreachable as it seemed.

We made plans, sipping the rest of our coffee. I told Ray that he and Steve were back just in time—that the city was threatening to close another encampment, this time in the woods surrounding Fort Negley. “Whatever we can do to help,” they both said, “count us in.” In the next weeks, we would nearly be arrested together again.

Recently, a friend asked me about where I see courage in my work. The first person I thought about was Ray. What is courage? Courage is taking the blanket from around your neck and wrapping it around the shoulders of someone else. It’s taking in stray dogs when you can barely feed yourself. It’s risking arrest when getting arrested means more than a night in jail because of your background. It’s taking down the wall you’ve built around your heart brick by brick until you can feel again; until you are able to love and to let yourself be loved. What is courage? Courage is peering, squinting, into the unknown and mustering the strength to hobble into it anyway.