Tuesday, July 24, 2007


The Passing of an Abolitionist

When Tennessee was preparing to execute Sedley Alley, I called Harmon Wray to ask him to speak at the beginning of our vigil, to set the tone, and recommission us in our work to end executions. When the state carried out the execution, and people in the TCASK family were grieving, I called Harmon again to seek his guidance in preparing a service of remembrance. Harmon, in his usual gentle voice, mentioned that, as people of faith, including a confessional understanding would be important.

On Sunday night, a number of friends gathered to have dinner and celebrate the wonderful two years that I've had here with TCASK. Harmon, with his usual cool, strolled in about an hour late, and told me to keep the copy of his latest book as a gift. On Monday morning, Harmon suffered a stroke. He had a second massive stroke later in the day, and this afternoon he will be taken off life support and his organs will be donated to help others.

So, in Harmon's spirit, I have to make a confession again: at this time I am thinking of myself; I am grieving. If I could truly think of Harmon, the faith that he and I shared would propel me to rejoice, because if anyone is going to Heaven, then Harmon Wray is headed there now. Harmon, who was a part of the Memphis Sanitation Workers' strike in 1968, Harmon who has visited those in prison and sought to transform our criminal justice system into one focused on healing and restoration for victims and offenders, Harmon who was filled with a joy, love, passion for justice, and wry Southern wit that touched everything and everyone around him. But I am grieving, because, while I know that Harmon will soon be rabble rousing with Jesus, I also know that my world will be so much more empty without him. I know that I will no longer have a spiritual mentor in the restorative justice movement to turn to. I know that his long time partner Judy Parks, and his wonderful mother Celeste (one of the core members of the Memphis TCASK chapter) will be without their loved one. And so, as I prayed and held Harmon's inert hand in the hospital room this morning, I wept, feeling the loss to those of us still on earth even as Harmon ascends to meet his heavenly Father, whom he has followed with such passion, grace, and love for so many years.

On Sunday, Karan Simpson took this wonderful picture of Harmon, perhaps the last recorded image of him. Harmon, we will miss you. God bless.
Comments :
It is truly sad that your friend passed.

Why were you "grieving" when Sedley Alley was executed? Did you grieve when Christopher Newsom and Channon Christian were tortured and killed?
Harmon was a modern day hero of mine. He was a mentor and a fine, just Christian. His light ignited many, his spirit was an example for all of us to follow. He followed Christ's example in all I saw him do. The world has lost one of its heroes today.
I think that, for one thing, our anonymous friend has missed the major point of the post, to pay tribute to our dear friend Harmon. But I don't understand why there has to be an either or in some people's minds. Isn't it possible that I could grieve when Sedley Alley died and for the loss of Christopher Newsom and Ms. Christian? Suzanne Marie Collins' death was an absolute tragedy, and my heart goes out to her family, but Sedley Alley's execution left another family feeling the same pain and the same loss, and I grieve for them both. That's a lesson that Harmon Wray helped teach me.
Amen, traveling jesuit. That's what he taught me to, to show love and mercy and be patient and loving with those who aren't in a place to do that yet. He also showed me that one man can make a difference, that we should all challenge our ideas and beliefs and where they come from and that it is possible for a person to really completely lean on God, following his path, trusting that as long as he does so his next meal, and shelter and clothing and all needs will be provided by God.
When I was a small child my mom worked on TCASK with Harmon. My mother and the Harmon in her stories were heroes to me. I had the good fortune to grow up and get to know Harmon and work with him a little myself. I found him to be courageous, relentless, positive, energetic, and selfless in all his efforts. When I was at Lipscomb one chapel speaker spoke of the importance of having a goal that outlives you, because if all of your goals are accomplishable in your life time and you have no goal bigger than yourself and your own time then you have lived too small a life. Praise God that Harmon lived such a big big life. I hope we can all continue the goals that have outlived him. And for myself I hope that I can live a life as big.
Just wondering if you know of any Harmon Wray's out there who rally so hard for victim's families? Or anyone, for that matter, that goes so far out of their way for victims families?
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