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The Work of Resurrection

Written by Lauren Plummer

O Death, where is thy sting? For folks who celebrate Easter resurrection, it’s a rallying cry on Sunday morning — at once gutsy and disconcerting. For anyone who has experienced the death of a beloved or anyone who has been paying attention in the world lately, these words feel like a slap in the face. The sting of death is everywhere. From our children dying at the hands of gunmen on any given school day, to people wasting away in prisons or without healthcare, from an unarmed man shot by police in his own backyard to those dying without housing in our streets, and each personal loss of a loved one — these deaths hurt like Hell. We ask, “How much longer?” and “How many more?” and it seems like the answer is always,  “Much longer; many more.” Some of us are weeping and exhausted. Some of us are hollowed out and numb. We may be grieving publicly at vigils and marches, with our faith communities and friends, and we may be grieving quietly in that long slow sadness that lingers and circles around us in currents after death upends our world. Wherever we find ourselves, the sorrow of death around us is deep and real. The idea of finding hope in some future bodily resurrection of the faithful offers me little consolation about the suffering and injustice in the world now. The good news for me is that Love has swallowed up death and continues to do so every day that we make it so — that we have the opportunity to practice resurrection in the here and now.

Where are you finding or giving new life? Flowers are blooming, our little corner of the world has turned green again, and it feels like a miracle. I mean, like a real miracle. I’ve finally become aware that I struggle with seasonal depression, so when the early signs of spring start breaking through the ground, I feel a shroud being lifted and know hope and resurrection deep down in my body. I’ve made it to the other side again! I saw with my own eyes how dead everything was (and how dead I felt inside on some of the coldest, darkest days of January), but the mint is sprouting back, soft green sage leaves are opening, and the peach trees are bursting with pink buds. As I tend my plants, I dream about the possibilities of June and July when my hard work will bear fruit. I commune with my grandma in this season, feel her love, and continue to learn from her earthy wisdom. In this way the love she and I shared in her life (and now) and our love for the earth saves me a little every year – keeps me green and growing in places of myself that often become calloused. In spring, I return to myself as the earth is being revived, and my garden becomes a tiny site of personal resurrection.

march-for-our-livesOr take last Saturday. I stood with thousands of Nashvillians in a march organized and carried by young people. They called us together to bear witness to the atrocity of gun violence ravaging our nation and to cry out for legislation that values human life over the gun lobby’s agenda. It was imperfect, and it was breathtaking. Kids were dancing on the lawn of the courthouse, young folks drummed and lead chants, and I could see that death did not have the final word. I don’t say this in a way that assigns a sentimental meaning to the deaths of all the students and people killed by police violence or domestic terrorism. Rather, I mean to say that death and its henchmen have not silenced us but steeled our resolve. It has given us an even greater shove forward — to love louder and push harder because we are fighting for our lives, for those who have been taken, and for the world we know is possible. In this way we practice resurrection, the way the fierce, divine love of Stephon Clark’s community is making a wave that will help turn the tide that will make it more possible for black and brown folks to flourish in this place.

Is it enough to say that death is overcome because in this part of the western hemisphere flowers bloom again every spring? Because children are leading and dancing, death can’t really hurt us? Does this negate the pain of loss? Surely not. But I’m reminded of something our friend and mentor, Rev. Bill Barnes, often said: “Look for signs and wonders.” So friends, I am out here looking hard for hope these days, and what I am learning is how to create it by loving and fighting more deeply for what is good. I’m learning to pay attention to kids, to cultivate beauty, build community, and take risks for my neighbors, and it’s giving me life. I am learning that Love keeps bringing me back in big and small ways, sometimes I get to help be part of the Love that brings other people back, and this goes on forever. What I’m saying is, with the help of God’s grace, we do the work of resurrection every day, if we’ll be awake to it. The call is clear: bring back those who have been pushed out and excluded. Bring back those who have been incarcerated and deported.  Restore life to the ghettos of poverty and life to the earth which is languishing under the weight of exploitation. Lift up healthy relationships and wellness in yourself and community. Love demands it. No need to wait for someday, Easter folks. The work is ours to do, and it is now.

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The Most Dangerous Prayer

By Sarah Partee, 2016 OTN Intern

 

“I wish I had your life,” he turned and said to me. He was laying in a hospital bed with the murmur of the  television in the background. It had been a long night. The small room smelled of untended wounds and unwashed clothes. It was early and I do not like getting up early but I had to see him: I needed to know he was okay.

“Why do you say that?” I asked. I had met Eli only two days ago at the “Outreach Wednesday” foot clinic in the park across from the downtown library. I had no idea how much of an impact he was going to have on me. I took him to the emergency room no more than one hour after taking a look at his feet. He had a nasty cut and infection on his left foot. It was so swollen I didn’t understand how he had been walking on it as much as he was. But he didn’t have a choice. He didn’t have a stable home.

Eli turned and looked at me sitting in the cushioned, guest chair beside his bed. “You have two parents who love you and who are still alive. My mom was murdered when I was a baby and my dad has been in prison my whole life.”

My face became warm and I tried my best to hide the tears that welled in my eyes. That was not the response I was expecting. I thought he was going to tease me about how spoiled and privileged I was—as he had done a few times the night before. He went on to tell me how he grew up with his sister in foster care, suffered abuse, and started doing drugs and drinking at too early an age.

The night before I had stayed for a few hours in the waiting room with him until his name was called and he was put in a hospital bed in the hallway. After receiving an ultrasound, they discovered he had a blood clot in his leg.

It was getting late and I decided to leave him that night, hoping that the doctors would keep him overnight. If he was released, where was he to go? He told me he’d sleep in the park that night if he had to. His aunt’s place was too far away.

I went home that night to my parents house in Brentwood feeling exhausted and overwhelmed. The heavy weight of guilt overtook me. I have everything. A big family whose love I have never questioned, a nice car I didn’t have to pay for, a private school education, a closet bursting with clothes for every event and season, a perfect childhood, an incredible church home and foundation. Eli has none of these things. And he is just one story, just one person broken from the world’s injustices.

I went for a walk to clear my head. I prayed for Eli and for everyone who does not feel loved, who does not have a supportive community. I physically felt my heart breaking in half. I began sobbing for the people I’ve met… my brothers and sisters. We don’t choose what we are born into. Why was I born into a loving and supportive family where I never had to worry about where my next meal was going to come from? Why are others born into situations like the one Eli described?

I thought back to a time when I had prayed, “Lord, break my heart for what breaks yours.” It hit me that night as I was walking: that is the most dangerous prayer I have ever prayed and it was happening right that very moment. My internship with Open Table had been one of the most eye-opening learning experiences I had ever had. I have been on a whole bunch of mission trips throughout my life—all over the country and world. But this poverty, brokenness, and injustice is in my backyard.

A part of me is thankful to God for breaking my heart for His children who are lonely, hurt, and discouraged. Another part of me is terrified to feel this way. I want to have this fire lit every second of every day so that I never forget. At the same time, I also want to gently put these feelings into a nice box so I can comfortably watch Friends tonight with a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream.

I will never be the same after this internship. I am thankful for a whole lot in my life but that is at the top of my list right now. I felt God planting a purpose in my heart, a calling to love His children from all different walks of life. I don’t know how that will look for the rest of my life but there is nothing I am more excited to do. I keep praying “Lord, continue to break my heart for what breaks yours. Disrupt my contentedness and make me uncomfortable.” I know now that those are dangerous words—and I repeat them over and over again so that progress will march on.

 

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Happy Birthday, Mr. Whiskey

By Lauren Plummer, Outreach and Program Coordinator

Friday night at the Barth Vernon UMC Resource Shelter we got to celebrate our dear friend’s 59th birthday.

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“Mr. Whiskey,” as we affectionately know him, was recently freed back into the care of his friends and community from the walls of a CCA prison. When I met him a little over three years ago, he was sleeping in a parking lot in Madison, had recently had a few heart attacks and triple bypass surgery. He was drinking a lot to console himself about hard times and all the loved ones he had lost, but he’s always had a tender heart and prides himself in looking out for his friends. We partnered with a SOAR outreach worker who helped him get approved for disability benefits. Somehow, despite his terrible health, he had been previously denied, so when his back payment came, he had enough money to purchase a small mobile home. He finally had his own place after eight years on the streets, and it seemed like a dream come true.

Less than two months later, it all came crashing down. A misdemeanor for public intoxication put him in violation of his probation, and he was sent to a private, for-profit prison for two years. In that time, his home was confiscated by the trailer park, and his health continued to disintegrate. He was released from prison to the streets late this summer, with a failing heart and without a penny to his name. While we are so glad to have him back in our arms, his mischievous storytelling back in our lives, and hilarious voicemails back in our inboxes, he has come back to us weaker and more vulnerable than before.

What kind of society locks a person in a cage and calls it treatment? Takes away someone’s home and community and calls it rehabilitation? Turns him out on the street with nothing and calls it justice served? Mr. Whiskey, and everyone suffering under the weight of systemic poverty, racism, and injustice—of predatory policing, substance abuse, mandatory minimums, for-profit prisons—we see you and will fight alongside you for as long as it takes. May we all surround you with love and the divine power of community. Let this be the year we manifest housing, healing, and hope together, with all of our neighbors.

Happy birthday, friend. There are better days ahead.

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Harvesting Hope Was a Smashing Success!

On Tuesday, October 11, Open Table hosted our annual fall fundraiser Harvesting Hope: A Night to Celebrate Open Table Nashville. The event was everything we dreamed it would be and so much more. Special thanks to our many sponsors, as well as our host location City Winery Nashville. In addition to delicious food and drink, we had a silent auction with items and services donated from local restaurants, artists, legal firms, fitness studios and many of our community partners. Barrett Klausman of Farmdog Productions also debuted the gorgeous film he has been creating for Open Table featuring several of our recently housed friends and their stories.

All in all, early figures show that 200 people attended the event and that Open Table raised $30,000 for the coming year of disrupting cycles of poverty, journeying with the marginalized and providing education about issues of homelessness. Thank you all for your unending support—we are looking forward to meeting our goal of housing 110 friends in 2016!

– The Open Table Nashville Team