Tuesday, July 24, 2007

For My Friend, Harmon

Today I'm thinking of Harmon.

He's a friend, who was first a teacher and guide - back almost 20 years ago.

Like those of you who know him and love him, and have been challenged by his prophetic, unyielding claim for God's justice in a broken world, you have been sucker-punched by the news of his massive stroke - and the dire outcome expected.

I had the hard task of being with his mother, whom it is my honor to serve as pastor, when the news of his stroke was told her.

In the past day, I've thought about my time with him, and I've recognized that mine is a story, with variations here and there, that is being repeated and remembered all over the country by people, like me, who were evangelized to the Gospel of prophetic justice by Harmon Wray. His network is extensive, and I'm surely among the smallest of points on it - and yet, still I feel the trauma of what has happened so deeply.

My 3rd year at Vandy I had to take on a non-parish field education component, and I chose death penalty resistance, or more honestly, it chose me.

Enter Harmon Wray on the stage of my life - this long haired, bearded guy, who could've won a Jerry Garcia look-alike contest hands down.

For that year, he took me under his wing - pushed me to question the way things were - pushed me to consider restorative justice as a model to counter the punitive joke that is our current prison system. We worked in the corner of a basement of a United Methodist Church in West Nashville.

He took me to Unit 2 of the Riverbend Maximum Security Prison in Nashville, to visit his friend, then on death row.

He introduced me to William Stringfellow's written work, and to Will Campbell's, particularly "The Glad River." You who know my story understand the impact that book had on my life. The copy of that novel that sits on my shelf is the one he gave me.

On my wall is a photocopy of a poster that used to hang in his office - I carefully peeled it off the wall one day while he had left me in the office to do some work. It's picture of a hand holding a rock with the words, "Jesus was once asked for his support of the death penalty - His reply, Let one who is without sin cast the first stone."

He introduced me to lemon icebox pie and coffee at Rotier's - truly a holy thing.

Last year he published his book on restorative justice. That book is the cumulative expression of the work of his professional life. I was so moved when it was released to have a package sent to me with a copy inside. He inscribed something to me that was more than kind - and I hardly feel that I merit it.

But when it comes from someone whose life you've held high, it cannot help but raise you up.

So tonight I pray for Harmon and Judy, Celeste - and the scores of sisters and brothers of the faith community, including and especially the incarcerated, whose understanding of the Gospel has been shaped by the life and ministry of Harmon Wray, and know only too well that he would have no interest in an admiration society, but would instead, prefer we get off our butts, get out in the world and get to work to make this Kingdom of God we talk about come to pass.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for your words about Harmon. Harmon and I both attend Edgehill United Methodist Church -- and he and Judy have been friends for many years.

Like you, I was rocked back by the news of his stroke and death. So this morning, I googled him, just wanting to "see" him again. Found your site, and was very glad I did.

Mike Hodge
Nashville, TN

Barbara Clark said...

Thank you for sharing your memories of Harmon. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from Harmon about justice and decency in our world. What a wonderful person he was, and we shall miss him terribly! May his legacy live on through all who were fortunate to know him.
Rev. Barbara Clark, Tennessee