You may or may not recall a post I wrote a couple of months ago about my January vacation in Nashville.
No worries, if you don’t.
I’m gonna jog you’re memory either way.
While I was in Nashville back in January, I ran around town interviewing a bunch of folks involved in various aspects of social justice work that I found really interesting, creative, and important.
As I said before, I got raw honesty and heartbreak, genuine hope and deep conviction, stories of love and loss from families caring for the children of the incarcerated, folks bringing food – and themselves – to urban deserts, and regular people of all sorts proving every day that even ordinary folks can do extraordinary things when love stops being just an emotion and starts becoming a way of life.
The more I sat down with these folks and listened to their stories, the more passionate I became about doing everything I can to support them. And when I left, I left convinced that there are countless more stories out there that have been ignored for too long that need to be told, not just because they’re interesting, but because there are very real needs being met and I believe in the power of good stories to inspire good folks to meet the needs of other people.
Well, it’s time to tell some of those stories.
Starting next Monday, April 13th I’m going to share the stories I collected in Nashville in a 5-part series I’m calling Saints of Darkness.
I know it may sound like the title to a graphic novel, but it actually comes from one of my favorite Mother Teresa quotes in which she said, “If I ever become a saint, it will surely be one of ‘darkness.’ I will continually be absent from heaven to light the light of those in darkness on the earth.” I think that image of a saint of darkness perfectly describes the folks I met. They operate mostly out of the spotlight to reach those the rest of the world has pushed out into the dark where their suffering can be ignored and their very existence forgotten.
Although we hear so much (often from the same people) about all the great things we can and should be doing as disciples of Jesus for those folks pushed out into the darkness, we rarely hear from the people actually doing those great things. That needs to change. It’s not that we don’t need to hear the call of Jesus to “go and do likewise.” We do. But it’s a lot easier to go and do when we know what that going and doing looks like in real life as well as what it takes to do the “going” and the sacrifices required to do the “doing.”
I want to help tell the stories of folks who have made going and doing their way of life in hopes that their stories might inspire the rest of us to either support them directly or follow in their footsteps. Which is why even though my platform isn’t huge, if I can use whatever platform I do have to shine a light and magnify the voices of those whose work too often goes overlooked and underfunded, then that is something I really want to do.
And that’s what this series is all about.
I had originally planned on a series of short video interviews, but as I started editing I quickly realized that I had way too much stuff for a short 4-5 minute video, stuff that really needs to be heard. So, after some thinking and tinkering, I’ve decided to release each interview in podcast form, that way you can listen to it whenever and wherever you are without having to worry about focusing on watching something or, worse, draining crazy amounts of data from your cell phone plan.
The first “episode” of Saints of Darkness will run next Monday and feature Ron Miller and Melissa Greene who (along with a handful of incredibly gifted folks) run a ministry called Timothy’s Gift. Though they experienced a bit of the spotlight recently when they were featured on NBC’s The Sing Off, the folks at Timothy’s Gift spend most of their time out of the spotlight, ministering to folks the rest of either thinks nothing about or wants nothing to do with – prisoners.
I’ll be out of town the following week, but on Monday, April 27th the series will return with a visit to my alma mater, Trevecca Nazarene University, where I had the chance to sit down with Jason Atkins. He’s a professor at Trevecca who runs a thriving urban farm on campus….when he’s not transforming an old, abandoned apartment complex in a neglected part of Nashville into a thriving community not just for his family, but also for some of the folks who have been left behind in the recent boom of prosperity that has come Nashville’s way. It’s a great story, but the thing I think you’re gonna love most about Jason is his raw honesty. They’re no sugar-coating it with Jason. You’re gonna hear what it’s really like to uproot your family and move into those corners of the world that no one else wants to go.
On Monday, May 4th, I’ll introduce you to Amanda Dunlap and the wonderful work being done by the folks at The Next Door. It’s an incredible ministry that works with women in crisis to help them put back together the broken pieces of their lives and lay the groundwork for a brighter future. (Awesome side note: Temporary housing is part of their ministry and I had the chance to see one of the rooms at The Next Door. They’re wonderful and have million dollar views of downtown Nashville, but what I loved most was the personalized, hand written notes on each pillow that were waiting for each new guest. The outside of the envelope simply read: “You are special.”)
On Monday, May 11th you’ll get to hear from the woman who used to babysit me when I was a young lad. Wait, what? No, seriously. Her name is Rachel Hester. She’s the executive director of Room In The Inn and she’s incredible. The work Room In The Inn does serving the homeless community in Nashville is really amazing, but what I love most about Rachel (other than the obvious fact that’s she’s dedicated her life to serving the least of these) is her candor. She doesn’t beat around the bush, especially when it comes to the needs of those in her community. You’re gonna love hearing from her.
Finally, the series will wrap up on Monday, May 18th with what may be some of the most powerful and inspiring stories of the entire series courtesy of LeAllison Whittinghill and the folks at Jonah’s Journey. When our time together was over back in January, all I could say on the drive home was “wow.” Jonah’s Journey provides care for the children of incarcerated moms while they’re in prison and the sacrifice, love, and dedication it takes to do that is just “wow.”
I can’t wait to introduce you to these saints of darkness and all the amazing things they’re doing.
So, even if you can’t listen first thing Monday morning, make sure to carve out some time next week to listen to the first episode of Saints of Darkness.
I promise, it will be time well spent.
A Special Word Of Thanks: I can’t thank my uncle, Steve Pennington, enough for his help putting this project together. Without him and his willingness to tag along and record these interviews, I wouldn’t be able to share them with you. So, thank you once again, Steve. I owe you big time. When I move back to Nashville next year, make space in your calendar. The Braves are on me.