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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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We Remember

Today we pause to remember friends who have died this year. There have been so many. Our hearts are heavy, but we are grateful to have been able to share a leg of the journey with them. They have each shaped us and changed us, and we carry them on in our hearts and in our work for dignity and justice. Rest in peace & rest in power, dear friends.

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Clyde joining us for a weekend trip to the farm in Normandy

Clyde moved to Nashville from the northeastern U.S. and lived on the streets of Nashville for years. He had a sharp analysis of issues of homelessness, housing, and mass incarceration and spoke on a panel with us at the Downtown Library about the criminalization of homelessness. Clyde was well-loved by many who took him into their hotel rooms and apartments. There are countless stories of Clyde standing up for others, helping them, and breaking up fights. He was an advocate and peacemaker at heart and we were thankful to share part of his journey with him. Shortly before the holidays in 2014, he went back home to Virginia where he was hit by a car. Clyde is missed and we will always remember the laughs and conversations we shared with him and the impact he had on so many. – Lindsey

 

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Tim and Bob on move-in day

Timothy Waggoner passed away on February 1, 2015 at the age of 50. He was a Nashville native from a large and loving family. He struggled with his health for many years and was faithfully cared for by his partner, Bob, until the time of his death. Tim loved mischief and cats. He was celebrated in the end when his whole family gathered to tell stories about him and release colorful ballons into the sky. He was wheelchair bound in life but finally set free. We give thanks for his friendship. –Lauren

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Sally relaxing at home

 

Sally Herz, “Babygirl,” dear and devoted partner to Woody Nell for 45 years, and friend to many, died on February 24th. Sally was independent and loving, with a sharp sense of humor, a love of fishing, simple pleasures, and a keen zest for life. At her time of death, she and Woody had been in housing together for about a year. He cared for her faithfully and tenderly until the end. She will be missed by us all. – Samuel

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Robert volunteering at the Resource Shelter

I met Robert McMurtry in the summer of 2012.  We weren’t fast friends because he was always trying to hide from me when I first started visiting his camp.  But there was something about his eyes.  So I pursued him.  Robert had a lot going on. We started where we were – in an abandoned, flooded out trailer park.  Over the next few months we worked on his health, addiction problems, and housing.  In June of 2013 he was one of the first two people housed in our “How’s Nashville: 200 people in 100 Days” campaign.  Later, he was featured on 60 Minutes when Anderson Cooper interviewed him about his experience of being unhoused.  His story helped share, on a national platform, a way of life that often goes unnoticed.  A little less than 2 years after getting housed, Robert passed away from liver failure.  It was fast.  I was glad he didn’t struggle long.  I’m also glad that he had built a community for himself that helped him get through every day – which included helping at our Resource Shelters.  I’m thankful for this kind and funny man in my life.  I learned a lot from Robert in our short 3 years together. –Ingrid

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Deb in her younger years

Debra Johnson passed away on April 6th, 2015, at the age of 49. She was born and raised in Michigan then moved to Nashville, where she spent about ten years without housing. In 2014, she moved into her own apartment in Madison, shortly after a diagnosis of cancer. She is survived by her father and stepmother, Ed and Shirley Krieg, her son, Justin, grandson, Evan, and her five siblings. Debra enjoyed singing karaoke at downtown honky tonks and doing jigsaw puzzles. She was fiercely independent and real, and underneath her guarded exterior was a tender heart and a friendship that meant the world to me. She was unlike anyone else I’ve ever known. Whether she realized it or not, she shined on us and will be deeply missed. – Lauren

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Alabama on the day he moved into housing

“Alabama” was a main-stay on the streets of East Nashville for over a decade. Because he had trouble walking and refused to be confined to a wheelchair, he pushed a shopping cart all over town. He collected cans for spare change and drank alcohol to numb his physical and emotional pain. Everyone on the eastside loved and respected Alabama and has stories about how he helped them at one point or another. He was arrested over 360 times, mostly for petty things like trespassing, and he desperately wanted off the streets but was unsure how he would find a place. We began working with him and got him into an apartment, but his struggles continued. He ended up moving out of his apartment and to a hotel across the street where he died. In his last 6 months, Alabama wasn’t arrested once and his friends surrounded him. He had Irish in his blood and died from physical health complications on St. Patrick’s Day. We will always remember him as fiercely determined, relentlessly stubborn, surprisingly caring, and as a dear friend who always made us laugh. – Lindsey

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Danny in his new home

We knew Danny Costello was sick when we met him. He was living in a camp on the eastside of town where he was surrounded with drama and fighting. Danny was quiet and loved fishing and going to Shelby Park, but he struggled with addiction issues. He had a hard time claiming his own self-worth and forgiving himself for past circumstances and mistakes. We met him through our emergency winter shelters and we started working on his housing. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and given 6 months to live. He was beside himself with grief and so fearful that he would die alone under a bridge. He moved into his own apartment in February and had a stable place to rest and be with his friends during the last months of his life. Even though his last months were filled with hospital visits and more drama, Danny passed in the hospital surrounded by family. We are thankful that Danny is no longer in pain and pray that he is surrounded by the nature and wildlife that filled him with peace and awe.   – Lindsey

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Homeless Memorial Reflection 2014

We come together today with weary hearts. We have lost so many friends this year, so many loved ones. Today, death hangs heavy in the cold air… death and injustice. They hang like strange fruit from the trees. We carry in our bones the grief, the loss, the memories. We carry in our bodies, our lives, the ways we were changed by the people on this list. They taught us how to love, how to laugh, how to struggle, how to weep.

Poet Adrienne Rich writes, “My heart is moved by all I cannot save. So much has been destroyed.” And today, our hearts are moved. Many of the people on this list died before their time. Some were found in campsites, others on park benches. Some were surrounded by friends when they passed, others died alone. And while their names are on our lips, we look around our city here in the heart of downtown.

We look around and find that we’re surrounded by new development, we’re surrounded by public money pouring into new high-end condos and centers for entertainment while our friends die without homes. We’re surrounded by the sound of bulldozers leveling small homes to build larger, more expensive ones in their stead. We’re surrounded by a society that is defunding housing, mental health care, substance abuse programs, and food assistance and increasing funds to jails and prisons. And we watch as the body count rises. Yes, so much has been destroyed.

So we stand here in this cold and ask why. We stand here and wonder where is hope? We wait with open eyes looking for a sign, looking for something, someone, to break into all this suffering and violence and bring good news.

And as we wait, our mind fills with the memories, the stories, the lessons learned from our friends who have passed. What did Delores teach me? To love. What did Jamie teach me? To laugh. What did Diane teach me? To struggle. What did Robert teach me? To weep.

So we stand here in the shadow of coffins, in the shadow of progress and development, and realize something else. In our grief, we are not alone. In our anger, we are not alone. Look around at your brothers and sisters gathered here today. Some of us are friends, some of us are strangers, but we’re united in our love for the people we came to remember. We’re united by our hunger for justice, our hunger to create a better world where people aren’t found on benches and in campsites, alone.

So in this season of winter, Advent, Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa, where we await good news and liberation and warmth, let us rekindle the memories of those who have passed and let us rekindle the spark of hope in our own hearts. We are not alone.

Together, let us bear witness to the reality of the streets in a city that does so much to push it out of sight, out of mind. Let us wade through injustice and grief, through violence and death, and let our feet pound the pavement in protest, in prayer. Let us feel our collective lament, our collective love, and our collective power and wield it to bend handcuffs into house keys. And then together, with God’s grace, let our very breath, our very marrow, our very being, be the in-breaking of hope, equality, and justice in this world.

As we read the names of all the departed, let us recognize that they are, in many ways, present with us today, that their stories of struggle and loss and hope will continue on with us, and that our memories of them will fuel our work to create a better world.

Written by Rev. Lindsey Krinks