Tag Archives: street chaplaincy

Radical Chaplaincy: Reflecting on the Northwest Solidarity Tour

Mural at Tierra Nueva by Troy Terpstraby Aaron Scott, Rev. Sarah Monroe, and Rev. Lindsey Krinks

This piece grew out of conversations with Aaron and Sarah from Chaplains on the Harbor in Aberdeen, WA. We were connected through the Poverty Initiative at Union Theological Seminary and wrote this after meeting with and working alongside groups across the Pacific Northwest in September. The primary voice is Aaron’s. 

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. called for a “nonviolent army of the poor” in the last campaign of his life, the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign. Willie Baptist, founder of the Kairos Center/Poverty Initiative, frequently takes this call to the next level by saying, “Every army needs generals.” Chaplains on the Harbor recently returned from a week on the road with a cohort of our fellow street pastors, grassroots organizers, and movement builders. Through our conversations and information gathering along the way, we reached a point of clarity regarding our own role in King’s and Baptist’s assessment: just as every army needs generals, every army also needs chaplains. We do not define “chaplain” here in the terms narrowly set by institutions invested in enforcing the status quo, but rather by those in our movement who are getting the job done. What is the role of chaplaincy in social movement building, in resurrecting a new Poor People’s Campaign for today? Five key responsibilities emerged over the course of our time together:

TN2 - Copy1) Pastoral care for the front lines of struggle: Radical chaplaincy first and foremost includes our accompaniment and endurance alongside grassroots freedom fighters—on the streets, at protests, in tent cities, in jail, at ground-zero sites of climate change and in other crisis zones. Our friend Neaners, a leader at Tierra Nueva in rural Skagit County WA, shared some powerful stories of his work in relation to this model of chaplaincy. Neaners spent five years in solitary confinement, building strong relationships with Tierra Nueva pastors during his incarceration through letters and phone calls from the jail where he was held. Upon his release, Neaners went to work with Tierra Nueva’s gang outreach project. A former gang leader himself, Neaners has true skill in connecting with gang-involved youth. His theological insights into the systemic injustice of poverty, in the midst of God’s abundant creation, are at once grounded and complex, and he communicates these in a way that speaks urgently and relevantly to others struggling for survival and dignity. Neaners is one of the million unsung saints out there on the ground, who has both the personal experience and the dedication to others’ liberation that makes this movement possible.

Chaplains2) Building the theological, spiritual, and moral framework of our struggle for human dignity: As chaplains of this burgeoning force, it is our duty to prioritize the moral authority of the poor in the movement to end poverty. We are not called to clean up, make respectable, or dilute the message of grassroots leaders. We are simply called to amplify the message in these leaders’ own words, on their own terms. We can amplify this message through a range of tactics. At Chaplains on the Harbor in rural Grays Harbor County, WA, we work to bring the urgent message of our tent city constituents to the forefront of the institutional church. This includes hitting the preaching circuit during our organizing campaigns, inviting church groups out to learn from our leaders on the ground, and supporting these leaders in directly engaging the highest levels of institutional church power. In mobilizing community support as they sought out a second host site for Rivercity, our tent city constituents asked that Bishop Greg Rickel of The Episcopal Diocese of Olympia pay them a visit to begin building a relationship with him as well as help boost their visibility. Bishop Rickel not only showed up, but also spent time interviewing camp leaders and helping out with our social media campaign. In strategically leveraging the bishop’s position of moral authority, camp residents were able to assert their own authority to a wider audience in their struggle for survival and dignity.

DV38 - Copy3) Equipping and supporting grassroots leaders to love and protect one another:
As we labor for a new and radically transformed society where the rights and needs of all people are defended, we also share the responsibility of caring for one another in the harsh reality of the present. As poverty-abolitionist chaplains, we have the particular task of teaching and encouraging our communities how to lean toward care and respect for one another in the midst of repression and hardship. This includes restoring justice and righting wrongs where trust has been broken internally in our movement. We toured Dignity Village, Inc., a self-governing homeless settlement in Portland, OR where leaders demonstrated a powerful model for this on several levels. Village members share the task of staffing 24-hour internal security for the site. They also collectively sustain themselves by selling firewood and scrap metal, a level of self-sufficiency in which they take much pride. Village members take seriously their responsibility to defend one another: our tour guide Lisa explained the village’s process of ejecting residents who practice abuse or sexual harassment against other community members—as well as the opportunity residents find at Dignity Village to heal from personal trauma and the trauma of living on the streets. These small-scale projects of survival and dignity are icons of integrity to which our entire movement looks for hope and healing.

sisters-of-the-road-cafeSisters of the Road, a collective cafe in Portland, OR serving unhoused people, also offered a powerful example in this task of loving and protecting one another in the movement to end poverty. In addition to their model of radically dignified hospitality, Sisters also leads liberation-based education with their people on the streets. A white, unhoused Sisters’ worker explained to us that this education tackles systemic issues “like racism, which can be hard to swallow at first if you’ve lived on the street—you’re like, ‘What do you mean I have privilege?’ But they show you in a way that makes sense in your own life, because it’s about the whole system.” In order to truly love and protect one another, radical chaplaincy must include this kind of systemic analysis of forces like racism that have pitted the poor against one another and sabotaged our ability to stand together. We study history and we employ systemic analyses because we love each other and do not want to fall into the traps that have been laid for us for generations.

not a crime4) Nurturing our people to keep their eyes on the horizon: Radical chaplains must spiritually guide the multitude of leaders of this movement to find their individual purpose, strength, and hope in the long-term struggle for collective liberation. To do this, we have to stay in touch with leaders across many borders and lines of difference who are working toward our common goal. In meeting Lindsey, the street pastor at Open Table Nashville, Inc., we at Chaplains on the Harbor were struck by the resonance her story had with our own. Both of our organizations are working to support self-governing tent encampments in our local areas while navigating a web of police, legal battles, media relations, leadership conflicts and, most fundamentally, the large-scale economic and political forces driving policies of displacement. Despite being across the nation, in different states, and organizing in very different contexts (Nashville is a major city while Aberdeen has a population of 17,000 people), we shared a clear understanding that our people were suffering in the same ways as a result of the same systemic injustices—as well as a clear understanding that our best chances at victory were bound up with each other’s success.

In the same vein, we spent an evening meeting with Portland Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines. We were blessed by the radical analysis and depth of solidarity these young Filipin@ organizers extended to us as we took turns describing what our struggles had in common. PCHRP members shared stories of families torn apart by forced economic migration, of indigenous repression, and of the recent murder of a young Filipina trans woman at the hands of a U.S. Marine. We at Chaplains on the Harbor shared our stories of homeless parents separated from their children by CPS, police brutality against Native people, and our uphill effort to create safe spaces for women living on the streets. After a long period of listening, Agustín, a PCHRP member, said, “I think a lot of this comes down to the issue of human trafficking. CPS separating families and placing children into foster care at these rates is trafficking. The prison system is trafficking. Families torn apart because of poverty is trafficking.” We were deeply moved by the immediacy with which PCHRP moved to connect our issues—as a majority white, rural, stateside organization—to their own transnational struggle. It has inspired us to keep lifting our gaze to see the big picture and the many, many lives connected to our local resistance work.

R2D2445) Building power and taking power: King said, “Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.” The Coup said, “Preacher man wanna save my soul, don’t nobody wanna save my life.” We are not truly grounded in the love of God’s children if we fail to build the power necessary to defend the lives of God’s children. There are countless creative ways to build power for the sake of this movement. Right 2 Dream Too, Portland, OR’s self-governing urban rest station and encampment, showed us a few. First, unhoused community leaders took over an abandoned downtown lot (some of the city’s most expensive real estate) and held it for four years. Second, those leaders have used the land to organize a safe sleeping space for other unhoused people and run it with a level of efficiency and integrity that puts the city’s own efforts to shame. The power of R2DToo’s work has won support in all sectors of society, from elected officials to religious leaders—and even police, who have noted that R2DToo’s presence on the block has increased neighborhood safety more than anything that came before it. Their model is an incredible synthesis of power and love, leveraged with the long-term vision of how we might build a new society free from poverty and homelessness.

st. martin St. Martin and the Roots of Chaplaincy
The historical roots of chaplaincy date back to Tours, France in the 4th Century CE just after Constantine made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire. Late one night, a young soldier named Martin was riding to his base on horseback and came across a poor man who was freezing outside the city gates. With nothing in his purse to offer, Martin cut his military cloak in two and wrapped one half around the freezing man, keeping the other for himself. Martin returned to the military base and that night as he slept, he saw a vision of Jesus wrapped in the cloak. In his vision, Jesus said, “Here is Martin, a soldier who is not even baptized, and he has clad me.” Martin was so moved by this experience that he told everyone about it, was baptized, and later left the military. As decades passed, the remaining half of his cloak became a holy relic and was taken into battle as a symbol of God’s presence. The cloak, or cappa in Latin, was kept in a capella and the guardian who traveled with the cloak was called a capellanus. The English words “chapel” and “chaplain” originate herein and Martin is now known as St. Martin of Tours.

radicalchaplaincy4The history of chaplaincy and St. Martin’s cloak are contested narratives that shed light on the way that Empire uses the symbols of the church and the bodies of the poor to legitimize and carry out violence, oppression, and colonization. To take chaplaincy back to its roots, then, is to journey outside the city gates and to bear witness to St. Martin’s radical act of mercy and solidarity and Jesus’ identification with the poor. The kind of street chaplaincy we are interested in reclaims and resurrects this narrative. Rather than using it to bolster institutional power, we are interested in bolstering the growing movement of people on the margins who, like the freezing man, have been cast out and are struggling for dignity and basic human rights. Through our work of mercy and presence, we stand in the shadows of empire with those who too often shiver and suffer in silence. Through solidarity and accompaniment, we move forward together with amplified voices, burgeoning power, and the deep understanding that Christ is present and struggles alongside us. And we are transformed.

This post was originally published on Aaron’s blog and was republished on the blog for the Kairos Center/Poverty Initiative.


The Crippled Leading the Blind


unnamed (9)The fall has settled upon us like a dense fog. The fall has settled upon us, silently easing down and weaving its way around while we were lost in work and restless sleep, while we were caught in crisis after crisis relentless as September rain and deafening as the sound of thunder on steel. So far, it’s been a damp and foggy October and I’m just beginning to find my footing, to see through the breathless and dizzying haze of last month. And gradually, from here, my head begins to clear. Gradually, from here, I begin to sense the seasons shifting and know that something in me and around me is changing. “There is a turn in things that makes the heart catch,” writes Marge Piercy, and my heart catches in my chest as I breathe, as I look around at the trees catching flame, as I feel a kind of love strengthening my frame.

We have just lived through the “Ten Days of Awe” in the Jewish calendar between Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year—and Yom Kippur—the Day of Attonement. We have just lived through the ten days of wonder and repentance and now we sit with hollow bellies and “afflicted souls.” We sit and breathe, contemplating the past and future, tethered to the present by our grumbling stomachs and grinding hearts, by our hunger for mercy and for bread. Despite my best attempt at living into the depths of Ordinary Time, something in me longs for something sacred so I sink into the holy days of other traditions, humbly gleaning all I can from centuries of wisdom, centuries of wrestling, centuries of breathing meaning into madness, madness into meaning.

timDuring my month of breathlessness, I spent more time in hospitals than I did on the streets. I entered into the angst of emergency rooms accompanying people with addiction and mental health crises, seizures and infections, head wounds and liver failure. I went in with the broken and bloodied and uninsured, with the man who kept his headphones on to drown out the voices in his head, with the man who squeezed my hand as we talked about songs for his funeral, as we laughed and wept together before his death. I went in dazed from the revolving door that spins from the streets to the hospitals and back, lost in the long hours of waiting, in the maze of systems that cannot heal. Yes, I went in lost and reeling, but came out feeling found. I went in blind and heaving, but came out with shifted sight. And now, as I sit and breathe on this “Sabbath of Sabbaths,” I wonder what happened to me inside those sterile walls.

. . . 

On a sweltering summer day some months ago, I sat in the alley near 5th and Main and listened to Kentucky talk about life, friendship, and the struggles of being confined to a wheelchair on the streets. I listened as cop cars passed us by, as dust and trash danced in the hot breeze around us. Kentucky was wearing the lion-face shirt we picked out together at Thrift Smart, he had a half-empty 40 tucked between his leg and his chair, and his eyes flashed the most electric blue against his deeply sunburnt skin. He looked to his friend Jerry who is, without glasses, nearly blind, and then looked to me. Together, these men and others on the streets have taught me, even at their grittiest, more about sight, more about caring for one another, than the halls of any church or seminary. “Well, I’m crippled and Jerry’s blind,” Kentucky explained, “so when he pushes me across the street, I say, ‘Whoa! I’ll be your eyes and you be my legs.’ And so we go, the crippled leading the blind.”

And sometimes, on days like this when I’m remembering how to breathe, I wonder if I’m the one who is crippled, if I’m the one who is blind.

unnamed (4)Lately, several people on the streets have handed me their glasses. They hand me their glasses and say, “here, take a look,” so I take the frames and put them on—the amber-tinted sunglasses, the bent bifocals, the flimsy reading glasses. I put them on and look at the blurred, amber-tinted world for as long as I can stand it. I squint at their faces, at the sky, at the rush of cars speeding by, and for a moment, I realize how differently everything looks from here. The glasses are an invitation to see through their eyes, to step into their world where nothing is clear and everything smudged with grime, scratched with grit, and tinted in shades of amber, shades of gray.

Yes, if I’ve learned anything on the streets, it’s that nothing is clear-cut, nothing is black or white. Everything, everyone, is layered in endless complexities while “good and evil,” “sacred and profane,” “deserving and undeserving,” melt into each other like hot wax. As my dear friend Kate Savage recently said about our experiences with Occupy Nashville, “Do you want to know what happens to truth when you’re out there on the plaza? Truth drops out of itself. Truth evaporates into rumor. You crack open an egg of a fact and you discover it is hollow inside.” So I strain to see through the lenses as through lifting fog, mystified, wondering about the nature of sight, wondering about the nature of truth and justice and mercy, wondering if I’m even asking the right questions.

As I sat for the fourth time with Dave, the seizing man in the hospital, I asked him what he thought would change things for him, what he thought he was missing. He was finally wounded enough to cease his fighting, his swollen eyes the blood-red color of beets ripening beneath the ground. Someone had pounded in his face, his ribs, his will when he was too drunk to defend himself. This time, he was miserable enough to let the nurses poke him, to let them tether his beaten body to machines. This time, it would be harder to walk out against medical advice, and graciously, Samuel pulled the longer hours of waiting.

“So what do you think would changes things,” I asked while I gave Samuel a break. “What do you think is missing?” After scowling at me, after wincing at the pain, after thinking, Dave gave his reply. “It’s like the story of Rumplestilskin tearing himself in two,” he said, looking down at his sky-blue hospital socks. “He unraveled himself and one part of him lived in London and the other in Paris. And he went on living like that for years and years, but all along, he knew something was missing… It’s like sometimes what you’re missing is a piece of yourself that you may never be able to get back, you know?”

. . .

body broken like breadWe are crippled and blind, torn in two, our bodies pummeled like dough and broken like bread. We’re offered up to the gods of wayward systems, the gods of addiction, the gods of greed and the status quo. Take and eat O gods, fill your bloated bellies with our want. Take our money, take our agency, take our dignity. We may never get them back.

A couple weeks after another man was released from detox, he received his hospital bill: over $14,000 for his seven day stay. Because of that hospitalization, he’s alive, in housing, and more sober. He has a shot at life and is looking for ways to heal. But now, he’s in even deeper debt. When the police arrested him for public intox on the streets, he was hit with meager court fees, but when he went to the hospital seeking help, seeking life, seeking treatment, his bill was more than he’s made in years. Yes, take and eat. This is our body, broken for your profit. This is our body, broken so the boat is never rocked.

So I hurl the same questions out into the universe: What would change things? What is missing? Why does this continue to happen? Why are our systems of “healing,” of “justice,” so disjointed? We blindly shovel the broken bodies like coal into the furnace, believing that the blood of the crushed will appease our Western gods, that it will keep us comfortable, secure, and, above all, free. “Human beings are so made that the ones who do the crushing feel nothing,” says Simone Weil. “It is the person crushed who feels what is happening. Unless one has placed oneself on the side of the oppressed, to feel with them, one cannot understand.”

These questions are always on my mind, and as I search for answers, I put on the lenses of the damned, wade through the dusty streets and sterile halls, and try, somehow, to place my body, my heart, on their side. And then, there is a turn in things. And then, another set of questions begin to haunt me: Why in this fog of brokenness do I feel more whole? Why in this maze of loss do I feel found?

IMAG0022[1] - Copy - Copy“James,” the dying carpenter with kind eyes and a thoughtful presence, James, the “gentle giant” of a man everyone loved, could still squeeze my hand even after he lost his ability to talk, to eat, to open his eyes. He could still squeeze my hand and hear everything we said until he passed from this jaded world to the mystery of the next. James was 45 and dying from liver failure, his jaundiced skin yellowing by the day. We got him to the hospital in time to find his family in Virginia, in time to say goodbye to the ones he loved, to escape the despair of dying alone on the streets, but not in time to curve his fate.

We brought his friends in to see him and they told story after story about the ways he helped them over the years. His friend who greeted him as “big cat daddy” said that whenever he was thrown in jail for a few days, James kept his buggy and all his worldly belongings safe until he was released. Jerry told us about a time when both he and Kentucky were in wheelchairs. When night came and it was time to find a safe place to rest, James pushed Kentucky up a block and then went back, got Jerry, and pushed him up that block. He alternated one block for Kentucky and one for Jerry until he got them to the porch of a church. He made sure they had what they needed and then came back in the morning to push them to a local service provider with food and laundry facilities and showers. He pushed them, rain or shine, across streets, through alleys, and up the hill on Shelby Avenue. And so they went, the dying leading the crippled leading the blind.

mike brown, fergusonYes, there is a turn in things that makes the heart catch. Perhaps it’s not James who is lost, it’s not Kentucky who is crippled, it’s not Jerry who is blind. Perhaps it’s me, perhaps it’s the collective “us.” What will it take to remove the scales from our eyes? What will it take for us to challenge the gods and drive a spoke into the wheel that crushes the poor, that crushes us all? When we hunger for mercy, for bread, let us be broken only for each other. Let us go, churning meaning into madness and madness into meaning. Let us go together turning and breathing and being found. The twisted lenses have been handed to us—“here, take a look”—and if we have the courage to put them on, to look at the world from this perspective, this side, what we see may just change our lives, and the lives we save may be our own.

Theology on the Streets: Incarnation, Liberation, and Realized Eschatology

(I’m currently participating in a chaplaincy residence through St. Thomas Hospital’s Clinical Pastoral Education program and was asked to write about the theology implicit in my work on the streets. This is what I wrote.)

dry bones, nashville street art - Copy

“If you’ve come here to help me, you’re wasting your time. But if you’ve come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” – Lilla Watson, aboriginal educator and activist

There is a sure and certain mystery in the idea of a God who chooses to put on flesh, to walk among us, to be beaten, bruised, and bloodied, to suffer with us and struggle alongside us. There is a sure and certain mystery in a world that is both dreadfully harsh and breathtakingly beautiful, where there is tremendous anguish intermingled with the most stunning hope. I live and breathe in this mystery every day and it feeds my soul. And sometimes, I’m not sure how it’s possible to feel so empty and full at the same time. I am surrounded by death and resurrection, by gravity and grace, by sorrow and joy. I am wholly poured out yet my cup overflows. And I think this is the beauty of yielding into who we were created to be, of grasping that sheer necessity, that purpose of being, and letting it seize us up wholly as Annie Dilllard says in “Living Like Weasels.”

I chose to spend my days on the underside of Nashville—on the streets, in the camps, beneath the overpasses, along the train tracks, in the jails and psych wards and emergency rooms. I’m drawn there not because I have something to offer, not because I have the answers or solutions or remedies. I’m drawn there because I have something to receive, something to learn, because this is where I find God moving most tangibly. I’m there because that is where I find myself being liberated from my worries, my concerns, from all the chains that hold me down and enslave me to my need for control, my self-reliance.

dry bones, james nesbittIn the 37th chapter of Ezekiel, God leads Ezekiel to a valley of dry bones. The bones cry out to the Lord, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone,” and the Lord asks Ezekiel, “Can these bones live?” In his poem “Ash Wednesday,” T.S. Eliot writes about the disjointed bones singing, “We are glad to be scattered, we did little good to each other.” And I hear the bones on the streets crying and singing, praying that we will be rejoined, that we will “do good” to each other while there is still time. And then, in the valley, while the verdict is still out, there is a stirring. A holy breath pours into the slain and they rise up in a kind of resurrection, a kind of insurrection against the powers of death and decay. I feel this stirring when I’m on the streets, I feel it and see the bones re-joining, and I have to claim, every day, that the bones that are still dry can live, that there is still hope for them, for all of us, that the breath of God longs to pour through our hollowness, our ashes, our lungs so that we might live a resurrected life.

When I see these glimpses of resurrection, of insurrection, the kin(g)dom of God—the beloved community—is being realized in this world. Like a horizon, it is always beyond us yet also beneath our very feet. So yes, in this work, we’re a part of this horizon, this in-breaking, this stirring. When we choose presence over detachment, vulnerability over domination, solidarity over self-reliance, love over fear, there is a stirring that sends ripples, however small or large, into the fabric of the universe. This is the kind of work that is meant to be shared by a community, the kind of work that Reverend James Lawson recently called “fiercely beautiful”—the work of turning the black and red ink of the Bible into living, breathing flesh.

So despite my flaws and failures, or perhaps through my flaws and failures, I seek to embody the gospel—the good news to the poor—by the way I live my life. I seek to embody resistance to the powers of death, injustice, and greed; to all the things that keep us apart, that keep us from realizing the beloved community in our midst. I seek to nurture the seeds of light and love and hope that I see in others and to have grace with myself in the meantime.

tracks4There’s a song by Tom Waits called “Down There by the Train” and in the song, all the misfits, all the outcasts, and all those who live in shame and want can wander, as they are, down to where the train goes slow. There, regardless of who they are, where they’ve been, or what they’ve done, they can be washed, made whole, and liberated from the things that keep them captive. So I hold onto this image and claim it with everything I have. I can see all of my friends on the streets with all their scars, with their splintered hope, with their gifts and capabilities, with the tubes flowing in and out of their veins, with their bottles in their pockets, with the despair in their eyes, with their battered feet and their backs bent low. I can see them stumbling down to the tracks and finding, when they get there, that there is hope if they hop on, that even when they’ve lost everything, that especially when they’ve lost everything, they can be cared for in a deep sense… that they can be found, washed, and made whole. If I can’t claim this for them, if they can’t, one day, claim this for themselves and each other, then who else will? And I hope they will claim this for me, as well, for if there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that my liberation is bound up with the liberation of others, that we are meant to be a living, breathing body, not dismembered bones wasting away in the valley.  So my prayer is that the living breath of God will breathe into me, into my friends on the streets, and into all of us so that we might come together and embody resistance, hope, and resurrection even, especially, when we walk through the darkest valleys.

Dry Bones Rattling: Beginning a New Chapter of Life

ezekiel icon

posted by Lindsey

“The hand of the Lord was upon me and brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. The Lord led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. The Lord asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet—a vast multitude.” – Ezekiel 37:1-3, 7-8a, 10b

“Could you imagine living like this?” my friend “Antonio” asked me as we peered into the cramped, rancid, roach-infested 4×7 storage unit that is, for now, his home. The storage unit was filled with Antonio’s prized possessions—his mother’s obituary, pictures of his daughter’s family, boxes of his medical records and keepsakes, his medications, a Bible wrapped in a clear plastic bag, a teddy bear, and a tattered couch that doubled as a bed. The storage unit, like a prison cell, felt utterly suffocating, especially in the heat. Could I imagine living like this?

storage unit 2“No,” I said, “I really can’t.”

Some weeks, the sheer amount of suffering and injustice in our city, in our world, feels overwhelming. This week has been one of those weeks—a week where the bad news keeps on coming, where I hear the voices of people from the streets, homeless encampments, psych units, cheap hotels, and prison cells crying out, as the bones in Ezekiel 37 cried to the Lord, “Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off” (37:11b).

I hear the cries of Antonio. I hear the cries of the family of six living in a bed-bug infested hotel room on Trinity Lane because they can’t get into public housing. I hear the cries of the low-wage worker on Nolensville Pike who feels powerless and trapped, whose boss pays him less than $35 a day for eight hours of manual labor. I hear the cries of my friend who is in prison in Georgia with no friends or family close enough to visit and no address for his parole. I hear the cries of the man in the wheel chair with diabetes and respiratory problems who was just discharged from the hospital to the streets. Yes, our bones are dried up and our hope is gone. We are cut off.

The voices crying out weigh heavily on my heart because they are the voices of our brothers and sisters, of men and women with stories and hopes, of people I have come to know as friends. Too often, it is assumed that they are helpless or in need of being “fixed,” but they have enormous abilities and capabilities. Too often, it is assumed that people in these conditions did something terrible and are at fault for their own suffering, but even if that were the case, no one should have to live like that. God does not desire for people to suffer but to flourish. God does not desire for us to wallow in the valley of dry bones, but to feel the breath of life stretching through our weary limbs, empowering us, and transforming our broken bodies, our broken spirits, and even our broken society.

Open Table As I begin my new role as the Director of Street Chaplaincy and Education at Open Table Nashville, I am hopeful despite the deep sorrow I sometimes feel in my bones. My hope for those of us at OTN and in the broader community is that we, like Ezekiel, will have the courage to follow the Spirit of God into the valley of dry bones and have eyes to see and ears to hear the dry bones rattling, coming together with tendons and flesh, filled with the breath of life. I have seen this kind of resurrection happening, in glimpses, in the margins of our city, but I pray that the breath of life will raise a vast multitude of people up from their sorrows, their pain, their complacency, and their despair. And I pray that I—we—will have the courage and humility to bear witness to such resurrection and to believe, as Craig Rennebohm, a street chaplain in Seattle, says, that “the power of healing is greater than disease, the gift of life is greater than the forces of death, and love is ultimate.”