Nashville

Arrests and Re-member-ing: Maundy Thursday

Posted by Autumn Dennis 

I have been to several Maundy Thursday services over the years, but tonight’s service struck a very different chord for me than in the past. For the past few nights, homeless advocates in Nashville have gathered alongside homeless friends in camps around the city. Metro Police have threatened to raid the camps, and there have been recent instances where camps have been set ablaze by police. All day, I have waited to hear word or any sort of report on the state and condition of my friends in the camps. I have followed their posts and updates of staying awake in shifts to keep watch–to keep each other safe.

It is no coincidence that these night watches and raids fall on Holy Week. On this Maundy Thursday, these night watches are incredibly reminiscent of the disciples keeping watch with Jesus through the night as he waits for arrest–our homeless friend Jesus, who had no place to lay his head (Luke 9:58). Just as Jesus is unjustly arrested, our friends on the streets are unjustly arrested for the crime of existing.

Do this in remembrance of me.

Tonight, as I sat in a Maundy Thursday service at Edgehill United Methodist Church, I meditated heavily on what it means to remember and see Jesus. Maundy Thursday is not only when we recall Jesus’s arrest, but also the institution of the Holy Eucharist as the central liturgy for Jesus’s friends and followers. When Jesus broke the bread and blessed the cup, he said to “do this as often as you can in remembrance of me.” My Latin is a little bit rusty, but the word “remember” always stirs up images of body limbs being stitched back together. To re-member. In the United Methodist tradition, we understand communion elements to not be the literal body and blood of Christ, but that Christ is present in the elements and in the act of communion. In our liturgy before we partake of the sacrament, we declare the mystery of faith:

In remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ,
we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving
as a holy and living sacrifice,
in union with Christ’s offering for us,
as we proclaim the mystery of faith:

Christ has died;
Christ is risen;
Christ will come again.

Tonight, I got chills when we proclaimed the mystery of faith. In that very room, by the gathering of people of faith for the purpose of re-membering the body of Christ, Christ rose in that room. Every time we gather to partake of the holy meal, Christ comes again and again. The body of Christ is stitched back together as we share the bread and wine. The disciples saw Jesus in the breaking of the bread. As Dorothy Day wrote:

We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know [God] in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone any more. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship. We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community. (The Long Loneliness)

Whether people of faith are gathered around an altar or a fire in an “illegal” encampment, we re-member Jesus in each other. Even when the powers and principalities continue to arrest Jesus through our friends over and over again, Jesus is risen again and again through the most beautiful act of resistance– community. We are not alone anymore. We are all walking the road to the cross, to the tomb, to the road to Emmaus, together. Jesus needs our company on this long night, to keep watch and pray. Pray and care for your friends on the streets and in camps this night. Amen.

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Photo by Lauren Plummer

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Overthrowing the Empire: A Sermon on Exodus 1:15-2:10

by Lindsey Krinks

(In Exodus 1:15-2:10, the Israelites are enslaved in the land of Egypt and a new Pharaoh comes to the throne. He orders two Hebrew midwives to kill all the baby boys born to the Hebrew women because he feels threatened by their numbers and strength. The midwives disobey Pharaoh’s orders and then Moses is born and saved by his mother, sister, and Pharaoh’s daughter.) 

Resisting Empire: A Vessel for Liberation

If you have seen the news in the last week, you know that Pharaoh isn’t the only one passing unjust laws. The powers that be in Tennessee have just passed a law that makes sleeping, camping, and cooking on state property a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Homeless advocates argue that since there is not enough shelter space for everyone on the streets, this new law criminalizes homelessness. While Governor Haslam certainly isn’t Pharaoh, this new law is an example of the age-old practice of rulers taking away the rights of their people and passing laws that benefit the privileged at the expense of the poor. Let’s explore how the people of God responded to Pharaoh.

Our text for today opens with a story of two midwives—Shiprah and Puah—who have been called into Pharaoh’s court. Despite the harsh and ruthless labor that Pharaoh placed on the Israelites, they continued to multiply and were becoming more and more of a threat to his kingdom. He feared that they would join his enemies if a war broke out, so he decided that he would convert the midwives into executioners who would kill all the baby boys on the delivery table. This would show the Israelites who was really in control. If he couldn’t break them with labor, perhaps he could break them with grief

Now Shiprah and Puah had to make a decision. Would they obey Pharaoh’s orders and get recognition and praise from the empire? After all, Pharaoh made the laws and held all of the power in the land. What would happen if they chose to go against him? Would they be imprisoned? Enslaved? Murdered? Exodus tells us, however, that these women feared God more than they feared Pharaoh, and finally, they decided to disobey Pharaoh’s orders in hopes that God would protect them.

When Pharaoh heard that the baby boys weren’t being executed, he was furious. He demanded that Shiprah and Puah be brought to his courts at once so that they could give an account for themselves. But ever so shrewdly, they gave an excuse to Pharaoh that incriminated no one. Pharaoh was livid and declared that all of the baby boys must be thrown into the Nile immediately after their birth. The Israelites cried out to God, hoping that God would hear their prayers and see their suffering.

The midwives were not the only ones to creatively resist Pharaoh’s harsh decrees, however. The quick thinking and resourcefulness of Moses’ mother and sister made it so the very waters that were meant to drown Moses carried him to life. The basket he was carried in across the Nile was called a tebah which is the same word that was used for Noah’s ark—the vessel that rescued God’s people from the waters of death and destruction in Genesis. When Pharaoh’s daughter discovered the infant in the small ark, she had pity on him, paid his mother to be his nurse, and later took him into her home to raise him.

Through the civil disobedience of the midwives, the strategic planning of Moses’ mother and sister, and the compassion of Pharaoh’s own daughter, God began preparing a way for the liberation of the Israelites. Perhaps Pharaoh should have been just as fearful of the Hebrew women as he was of the men.

The persecution of the Israelites, however, didn’t begin with this Pharaoh’s fear. To understand the roots of the Israelite’s oppression and enslavement, we need to look back to Joseph.

Reinforcing Empire: A Vessel for Enslavement

When we think of Joseph, most of us think of the young dreamer with a colorful coat who was sold into slavery by his own brothers. We remember him as the man with integrity who fled from Potiphar’s wife, was enslaved, interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams, received the promotion of a lifetime, and saved the land of Egypt from famine. So what does Joseph have to do with the enslavement of the Israelites?

When God helped Joseph interpret Pharaoh’s dream, Pharaoh learned that Egypt would have seven years of good harvest followed by seven years of famine. He appointed Joseph over the project of stockpiling food in storehouses across the empire. As professor Douglas Meeks explains in his book God the Economist, Joseph’s “economic power grew into massive political power… In the midst of extreme famine the people came to Joseph to buy food. When their money [ran] out, he required them to pay with their cattle and flocks… their means of livelihood and work. And when the money and stock were gone, he required their land and work in exchange for food… He used famine as a way of centralizing power, gaining control over the land, and creating a labor force.” [i] As Genesis 47:20-22 tells us, “Joseph bought all the land in Egypt for Pharaoh… The land became Pharaoh’s, and Joseph reduced the people to servitude, from one end of Egypt to the other. However, he did not buy the land of the priests, because they received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had enough food from that allotment.”

So why didn’t Joseph empower the people to collect their own stores of grain and sustenance? If Pharaoh hand-picked who he freely gave grain to (like the priests), why didn’t Joseph also give out free grain to those who needed it most? Why did he use the hunger of the Egyptians and Israelites to enslave them? Why did he exploit his own people to build up Pharaoh’s empire?

This economy of enslavement is still going on today. Just as Joseph worked with Pharaoh to concentrate wealth, power, and land in the hands of fewer and fewer people, so we, too, are often complicit in allowing the powers to do the same thing today. In 2010, it was reported that the six biggest banks in the United States now possess assets equivalent to 60 percent of America’s gross national product. Back in the 1990’s that figure was less than 20 percent… Together with the Federal Reserve, these six banks represent the real financial power in America… [Like Joseph and Pharaoh,] they can make money if the markets are going up, and they can make money if the markets are going down. For example, in a newly released email from the height of the housing crash, the CEO of Goldman Sachs bragged that his firm ‘made more than we lost’ by betting against the housing market.”[ii]

While these banks are paying off politicians on the right and left, getting mammoth tax breaks, and making money from people’s losses, they are enslaving countless men and women—especially minorities—through debt and predatory lending. In December of 2011, one report stated that Bank of America alone was required to pay $335 million dollars for [their] role in discriminating against [minorities].” According to CNN, an investigation found that they had discriminated “against at least 200,000 African American and Latino borrowers from 2004-2008 during the height of the housing market boom…. [Those] who qualified for prime loans were steered into higher-interest-rate subprime loans.”[iii] A tidal wave of debt, failed mortgages, and foreclosures followed. And many of us, knowingly or unknowingly, participate in this injustice through our support of these banks. But why?

Perhaps Genesis 47:51 gives us insight into why Joseph did what he did—why he enmeshed himself in empire and exploited his own people for the sake of Pharaoh’s gain. This passage reads, “Joseph named his firstborn Manassehand said, ‘It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.’” You see, the name Manasseh means “causing to forget.” Joseph had forgotten who he was, whose he was, and all of the hardships he had been through. Whenever and wherever the people of God forget who they are, join forces with empire, and put profit over people, the poor are oppressed, criminalized, and enslaved.

Dangerous Memory and Overthrowing the Empire

Returning to our passage for today, we find another Israelite—Moses—who is also given the chance to join with empire. Moses was raised in Pharaoh’s own household, lived a life of luxury, and enjoyed an education fit for a king. But there was something different about Moses. Unlike Joseph, he didn’t forget who he was. He remembered his roots and was plagued by the way Pharaoh treated his kin. Perhaps Pharaoh’s daughter had told Moses of the way she rescued him from the Nile. After all, she was the one who gave him the name Moses, which means “to be drawn out.” Whether he remembered it or not, his story of being drawn out of the waters of slavery and destruction remained with him.

One day, when Moses saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, all of the tension, anger, and injustice that had been welling up inside him erupted in a fit of rage and he killed that Egyptian. Once word got out about the murder, Moses fled to Midian. It was while Moses was in Midian that God heard the groaning and cries of the Israelites and remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

You see, memory can be a beautiful and dangerous thing. We, like God and Moses, must never become so enmeshed in empire that we forget who we are.

Consider the 25 churches that recently withdrew over $16 million from megabanks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, and JP Morgan Chase for Lent this year and instead, put that money into local credit unions. As the Huffington post reports, “The demonstration, which started on Ash Wednesday, aims to protest ‘the injustice that still dominates the banking industry in this country, unmasking corporate greed and dishonesty that is destroying our families.’” When these churches took a stand against the oppressive forces of banks that amass power while exploiting the poor, they entered into the company of the Hebrew midwives who refused to be accomplices of oppression and enslavement. They entered into the company of Moses’ mother and sister who took initiative and became vessels for liberation. They entered into the company of Moses who remembered who he was and drew out the people of God from their slavery in Egypt.

You see, the truth that the midwives knew deep in their bones was that God does not enmesh God’s self with empire. God is found among the poor, the enslaved, the oppressed, and outcast.

In his book The Orthodox Heretic, Peter Rollins tells a parable[iv] that I have adapted for today. It goes like this:

There was once a mighty King who had known only victory and prosperity during his life. The King possessed vast riches, ruled with an iron fist, and established the largest army the world had ever known, yet his thirst for power was unquenchable. He longed for more wealth so he continued to exploit and enslave his people and conquer foreign lands.

One night, however, this great leader had a terrifying dream. In this dream, he witnessed his vast army laid waste before him and his great palace in ruins. Then he heard a divine voice saying, “There is a heavenly power at work in your empire that can bring your whole army to its knees, a power that transcends your earthly reign.”

The King awoke and said to himself, I must see this divine power for myself.

He turned to the great religious leaders of his land, offered sacrifices to all the gods, and promised untold treasures to any authority who could reveal this divine power to him.  No matter how hard he tried, however, he felt no divine presence and witnessed no miraculous acts.

Then one morning, he overheard two of his servants talking. As he listened, he heard them speak of a wise prophetess who lived in a neighboring city. This woman was believed to be so close to God that she could uproot trees and part seas with a mere gesture. As the King listened, he heard that this great woman of God had contracted a terminal illness during her work in the poorest parts of the city. She was approaching death with only days to live.

The King called together an entourage of his soldiers and servants, and they left the palace at once. After some searching, they found the humble dwelling of the old prophetess. The King entered the house and looked at the withered, dying woman and said, “I have been told that you walk close to God. I am here because I have heard of this God’s power and wish to bear witness to it.”

“Is that so?” she replied. “I must warn you that the power of my God is unlike anything you have encountered before. If you truly seek it out, it will break you into pieces and destroy your reign over this land.”

“So be it,” said the King, “if what you say is true, then fate has spoken.”

With the last of her strength, the prophetess beckoned the King to approach her bedside. As he leaned toward her, she whispered in his ear, “Here is the power of my God: it is to be found in my rotting flesh, in my weakness, in the dirt and disease of this world. You have not seen this power because it is in the people you exploit and enslave; it resides in those you have mocked and killed, those who have suffered under your hand. The power of my God is to be found in the face of the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner; in the outstretched hand of the starving beggar; in the slave whose back is bent from years of labor. This weakness and vulnerability is the power of God that rises up from the ashes—a power that can overturn the most powerful of empires.”

These were the last words of the prophetess, for then and there, she died. The King remained silent for some time, knelling beside her bed. He looked around at the poverty of the people who had stayed at her side throughout her suffering and he began to weep.

Blessed are the poor and diseased. Blessed are those who remember who they are. Blessed are those who disobey unjust laws. Blessed are those who stand up to pharaohs, governors, and megabanks.

Blessed are the criminalized, oppressed, and enslaved, for God hears their cries. Blessed are those who creatively resist oppression and join in God’s work for the liberation of all. Amen.


[i] Douglas Meeks, God the Economist: The Doctrine of God and the Political Economy (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 78-79.

[ii] “Megabanks: The Banking Oligarthy that Controls Assests Equivalent to 60% of America’s GNP, ” 4/26/10, http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/megabanks-the-banking-oligarchy-that-controls-assets-equivalent-to-60-percent-of-americas-gnp.

[iii] “Bank of America Settles Predatory Lending Claims,” 12/21/11, http://corporatejusticeblog.blogspot.com/2011/12/bank-of-america-settles-predatory.html.

[iv] Peter Rollins, “Overthrowing the Emperor,” The Orthodox Heretic and Other Impossible Tales (Boston: Paraclete Press, 2009), 137-141.

The Dark Side of Nashville’s Winter Wonderland

by Lindsey Krinks

Somewhere, not far from here, a child played in patches of snow and college students sledded down ice-encased hillsides. Somewhere, not far from here, a couple sat beside their fireplace, sipping hot chocolate and watching white crystal fluff drift to the ground. But somewhere, not far from here, a man commanded his numb feet to march to shelter to find food and warmth. And somewhere, not far from here, a couple shivered in their hidden tent, watching the last bit of their propane evaporate into thin, bitter air.

For over a week, the temperatures in Nashville lingered below freezing and the nights were dangerously cold—so cold that over 50 water mains across Davidson County froze and cracked; so cold that Public Works spread hundreds of tons of salt, brine, and even beet juice over Nashville’s roads to ward off ice. The cold spell even caught the attention of Mayor Karl Dean who asked the city’s Office of Emergency Management, Red Cross, Metro PD, churches, nonprofits, and outreach workers to work together to help the homeless community get indoors and out of the cold. Thanks to so many people working together in a coordinated effort, lives were saved and compassion and mercy became the tangible realities of warmth, sustenance, and comfort for the weary.  For many of us, however, that meant long days and late nights.

 The snow started here on Thursday, January 7th. On Wednesday, the Red Cross set up an emergency warming station and overflow shelter at Mt. Bethel Baptist Church for the homeless community, local churches opened their doors to take more people through Room in the Inn, the Nashville Rescue Mission extended its capacity, and homeless outreach teams coordinated a plan to go out every evening and find the stragglers—the dozens of homeless individuals who didn’t have the wherewithal to come indoors on their own, who would rather freeze than go to one of the city’s larger shelters or have been banned or barred from their quarters.

 Each night, our homeless outreach team met to divide the city into manageable quadrants and load our cars with warm socks, gloves, jackets, sleeping bags, and emergency blankets for those who refused to come in. Then we set out to weave our cars in and out of the city’s salt-drenched roads until midnight. With the help of McKendree Church, Woodland Presbyterian, and Otter Creek, we were able to open our own alternative shelters where we could bring the individuals who, for various reasons, were unable to stay in the larger shelters. Our friends who live in a community house also took in two homeless couples and a dog from Wednesday to Sunday night.

 From 6:00pm to 12:00am each evening, we picked up dozens of our friends on the streets—the handicapped, intoxicated, mentally troubled, kind hearted, quiet, rambling, dirty, broken, beautiful individuals who wouldn’t have otherwise come in. Despite a quote from the Mission in a Tennessean article on January 5th warning people not to pass sleeping bags and warm coats out to people on the streets, we gave dozens out, which may have very well saved the lives of some of our friends.

 Since December, two homeless individuals have frozen to death and our friend Kevin at Tent City fell into his fire and burned. My heart is heavy for our friends who do not welcome the snow, who do not get snow days off, who do not sit by their fireplace with hot chocolate. Their toes and fingertips go numb first, then their entire feet and hands. Their noses run, their faces blush with windburn, their lips crack and chap. They warm themselves in gas stations where they are not welcome and on street grates that blast warm air. These are our brothers and sisters who wander without a particular destination, without a place to call home.

 Gone are my romantic views of the snow; I have seen the suffering it brings. This is not a call, however, to feel guilty about enjoying the snow, but rather a call to be aware of the needs of those who can’t enjoy it. No longer can we shirk the responsibility of caring for our brothers and sisters on the streets to the government, nonprofits, or even our own congregations. Homelessness is a human issue, perpetuated by humans—you and me—who buy into a warped, idolatrous vision of society which bails out the wealthy and overlooks the poor; who fail to imagine what Jubilee economics would look like here and now; who domesticate the warnings of the prophets and the teachings of Jesus. So every day, make choices that bring life, “practice resurrection” as Wendell Berry would say, and for God’s sake, when emergencies happen, whether in Haiti or in our own back yards, respond with prayer and respond with concrete action.

 Lives were saved because countless people across Nashville took responsibility and acted during the cold weather spell. Let’s not simply wait for another emergency to act, but let’s work together today to alleviating human suffering while also working toward the vision of creating a more peaceful and just local (and global) community where everyone has their basic needs met and is able to recognize their dignity and worth.

 As for us, we are outreach workers and followers of Christ. We are tired, our work is never done, but we have hope. We long for a day of rest, but know that even when we get rest, our friends on the streets do not. They are too busy surviving, too busy commanding their numb feet to march to warmth, too busy building campfires and hunting propane tanks and food that will warm the flesh on their cold, tired bones.

 As the Latin American prayer reads, “Lord, to those who hunger, give bread. And to those who have bread, give the hunger for justice.”

Convention Sinners or Housing Saints?: Broadening the Discussion on a New Convention Center

Music City CenterIf you live in Nashville, you’ve likely heard discussion on the construction of a brand new convention center downtown. The land was recently purchased by the city on borrowed money–before deciding whether or not they’ll definitely build it.

There has been both support and opposition for a new convention center, but few, if any, of the considerations coming from either side have taken into account the livelihood of our sisters and brothers living on the street.

Street News Service recently posted an article Amos House wrote for Nashville’s homeless street paper, The Contributor. In it, we try to broaden the discussion on a new convention center so that its impact on the homeless population is brought, for once, into focus. You can read it here: “Convention Sinners or Housing Saints?”

Tent City: Updates and Reflections

Tent City, winterSince last summer, members of Amos House have come to know and love the colorful, endearing residents of Tent City, a local homeless encampment here in Nashville. When the city planned to close the camp on November 1st of last year, we organized a letter writing campaign and non-violent demonstration to pressure city officials and draw attention to the injustice of bull-dozing the makeshift homes of our brothers and sisters. With the combined efforts of college students, advocates, local church goers, and other concerned citizens, a public outcry was launched and to our surprise, Mayor Karl Dean was sympathetic to our concerns and granted the doomed camp a reprieve. He charged the Homelessness Commission with deciding what to do about the camp and, in turn, the Commission charged local outreach workers with the task of moving Tent City’s residents out of the camp and into housing. The lack of low-income housing in Nashville and the overwhelming barriers that people living on the streets face made this task challenging, to say the least.

Such barriers to housing include having a pet or pets, having a felony or other charges, substance abuse, the lack of documentation (social security card, ID, birth certificate, etc.), income, medication, transportation, technology, etc. Also, for chronically homeless individuals, the transition into housing and a structured environment can be ridden with anxiety and difficulty.

Over the last six months, however, we have walked with about a dozen of our brothers and sisters from Tent City into housing. We are hoping to help over a dozen more residents move into housing over the next couple of weeks. Here at Amos House, we believe that housing is a human right, because without housing, people are forced to live a subhuman existence.

City officials have set at least three different closing dates for Tent City that have been pushed back (late September, November 1st, and most recently, June 1st) but continue to insist that Tent City will have to close eventually because of its location. Never mind that the camp has existed in its current spot for over 20 years, never mind that the waiting list for Section 8 Housing in Nashville is currently between two and three years long, never mind that it offers a centralized location outside of the main downtown area for people to live and have consistent contact with outreach workers and other resources: the camp is in the projected path of the proposed riverfront redevelopment, half a mile from a burgeoning luxury condominium (Rolling Mill Hills), and sitting on state and private property.

So the Commission recommended that the camp be closed June 1st, but the week before, they rescinded, saying that they would work with outreach workers, service providers, and other advocates to come up with a feasible relocation plan for the remaining 40+ residents without housing prospects. They are hoping to move the residents out and close the camp in the next 2-3 months.

The “Tent City saga” has been extremely interesting to watch and participate in, and while it has been frustrating and unnerving, certain aspects of it have also been redeeming. We have seen the “powers that be” pressured and persuaded by a concerned, justice seeking community. We have seen the power of the media at its best and worst. We have seen our homeless friends discover the stability and dignity they had once lost. And we have seen that while our city is capable of compassion for its most vulnerable citizens, it often opts for the “out of sight, out of mind” approach. Our good friend Steve Samra said on his blog that this saga “should be an indictment of the housing situation here.” While we build luxury condos, gentrify downtown, and propose the building of a new convention center, our brothers and sisters die on our streets for want of shelter. Yes, this is an indictment to our city and also to us as professed followers of Christ. Let us all continue to work to be a people that embodies the justice, peace, mercy, and compassion of the Kingdom of God here on earth and a people that calls our society to do the same.

If you are interested in ways to get involved in the lives of the residents at Tent City and other individuals who live on our streets, please e-mail us.

To read about the history of the camp and receive news updates, visit the Tent City News Facebook page. To see last night’s News Channel 5 story on the camp, click here.

-Lindsey