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A Word About A Fridge

On April 12, I tuned in to Pink Robe Chronicles, a "digital hush harbor" curated by Rev. Dr. Melva Sampson, as I do every week. That particular Sunday morning, Dr. Sampson was tasked with bringing forth an Easter message. I wasn’t sure how anyone could pull off a word about resurrection in 2020, the year of daily, fresh hell. By the third month, we had already lost so much and so many, but I knew I could trust Dr. Sampson. I trusted her not to pacify a grieving community by whooping and howling “Eaaaarrrrlly” after an hour of hollow rhetoric. That Sunday, she reminded us that in the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, the empty tomb is a character who deserves much more of our attention.

While we may feel like we are surrounded by hopelessness and void, desperate for another moment with the bodies of things we have lost, the very last thing we want to do is stare into an empty tomb. The empty tomb reminds us explicitly that the one we have come to visit has been taken away and is no longer here. But the story of Jesus’ resurrection is for those with imagination. For the ones who dare to imagine, peeking into an empty thing is really beholding the fullness of possibility. To those who can see beyond, this is the holiest sight on earth. When imagination takes a peek into an empty vessel, it prophesies a limitless future.

Kendra Richardson has imagination. Gallons of it. She gets distracted by shiny objects that others scroll past and lets her mind to spin into free fall until it produces. Kendra was scrolling on Instagram one day and came across a decked out refrigerator. The community fridge in Bushwick, Brooklyn is a light shade of teal with colorful, painted on graphics and somehow appeared on Kendra’s timeline. A community fridge is a freestanding refrigerator that provides access to healthy nutrition in areas that may be experiencing food insecurity. I might have seen that same fridge and taken a quick moment to enlarge the photo as I would any image that features my favorite color, but Kendra said, “I want that. I want that for Fort Worth.”

That same day, Kendra started a “Funky Town Fridge” Instagram account for a refrigerator that didn’t exist. Yet. Kendra does most things out of order. That’s her way. The account for her imaginary fridge began to gain a very real following. She sent a text to her friend, Jessica, hoping that she might be able to partner in some way and help get things off the ground. Jessica happened to be moving soon and would have to get rid of some items in order to downsize. Jessica had a refrigerator and needed it out of storage immediately.

Kelsha, a stranger to Kendra, happened to be a follower of the now existing refrigerator and an art major. She offered to paint a mural on the fridge and shortly thereafter, Kendra and her new artist friend met up to adorn. Sometime between the paint drying and someone plugging up the refrigerator to see if it actually worked, Deryk Poynor, fridge follower and owner of The Greenhouse 817, reached out and offered her building as a host if Kendra would have her. The side of Deryk’s botanical design studio was in fact ideal. As soon as Kendra laid eyes on the vast, black brick wall that would house the fridge, she began to concoct a launch party. The entire city was invited to come donate fresh produce and fellowship at a social distance under the sounds of DJ 4.0. No food yet, but the flyers were out.

I knew I would have to work during the time of the party so I stopped by the evening before to catch a preview of the fridge. I drove up to find Deryk and Kendra sitting in a parking space putting together the hand-washing sink that would be installed next to the fridge. I stayed a while. When night came, we walked around to take a few final photos of the fridge for social media to promote the project and get people excited about coming out the following afternoon. There was no foreseeable traffic coming so I stepped back into the middle of the street so that I could enjoy the breadth of the wall and Kendra’s accomplishment. I was so proud of her. I told her to go stand by the fridge so that I could try to get a picture of her beside it even in the dark. And then Kendra opened the door.

I don't remember the rest of the details of that night or taking a photo because I was so paralyzed and arrested by the light of the refrigerator against the black wall and navy sky. I stared into it for what felt like hours. I’ve seen empty refrigerators in appliance stores and in my own kitchen between grocery trips, but not like this. Nothing this sanctified. It wasn’t really the contrasting light at all, but the emptiness that entranced me. In less than 12 hours on the ground I was standing on, the ribbon was to be cut off of Fort Worth’s very first community fridge. People were supposed to gather and bring food to share. A few had vowed their portion, but at that moment nobody could be sure that anyone would show up or that any of this would really work because what was in front of us was empty.

Dr. Sampson told us on Easter Sunday that those women who came to find the final resting place of their Lord empty made a choice. They could have gone home with a discouraging report. They could have returned to their home and let emptiness be the final word. And that would have been true. The tomb was empty. But the women stayed a while and listened. The women could have run away after the angel proclaimed, “He is not here...” but they stayed long enough for the angel to complete the sentence: “He has risen.” The women accepted what they heard then told that story and because they did so, they were able to produce a future and a Gospel for their people. The women told their community that although Jesus was not there, He had risen. Not the same, but very much alive. I know the specifics of that moment at the tomb vary between the Gospels and I know that those details are of eternal significance for many Christians. I know that for many, Jesus’ death and resurrection is salvation. I know. But for me and my city and all who will receive it with me, there is another word. Another Gospel.

When Kendra opened up the door of that refrigerator, it's light shone on the depth of hunger and the vastness of need in our city. That open refrigerator put a spotlight on food apartheid and the sickness in the land. And loss. So much loss. People dying, jobs eliminated, and faith fading fast. Church buildings (the responsible ones) have been closed for some time now and the pew lover in me is sad about it but the Body of Christ is about to flex. I can feel it. I see it. I heard it.

When I stared into the fridge that night, I had a few fleeting doubts. "My God, what if nobody comes or cares?" I could have gone home discouraged, but I stayed a while and I listened. I stayed long enough to hear the voice of our ancestor Isaiah say, “Ho, everyone that thirsteth, come on! You who have no money come buy and eat! Without money and without price!”

We went home and sent that story to every number in our phones. People did care and they showed up the next day with a rainbow of produce for neighbors whom they had never met. More than any of us expected. We looked abundance in the eye that day and have no intention of ever turning our heads. The future of Fort Worth is food justice and the Gospel for all of us is that you can look into an empty thing and talk about a tomorrow. We can imagine the survival and wholeness of the whole community and manifest it with the work of our hands.

Kendra has rolled the stone away for the residents of Fort Worth, Texas and we all have a choice to make. We can talk about what is empty or we can be sure that through us, the ministry of Jesus lives. We can say, like the women, that He is risen and prove it through the way that we feed each other. We can talk only about the lack that we see around us, or we can say that resurrection is here and that communal salvation has come to our city. See you at the fridge.



photo by @jazzellamckeel

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