I was asked this weekend why I write so much about the dead. The combination of an earlier article on the bodies of 9/11 victims left in the Fresh Kill Landfill on Staten Island (At the Hour of Our Death), my book Who Killed Donte Manning?, and my recent column for Sojourners Rachel’s Wail for a Murdered Teen appeared to set a pattern.
While the answer could be complicated, it’s actually very simple. In Catholic teaching there are the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. One of the corporal works is to “bury the dead.” One of the spiritual works is to “pray for the living and the dead.” Through my writing, I’m trying to practice my faith.
Attending to the works of mercy can lead one into some strange places. Over the past few months I’ve been talking with Laura Amico who runs a blog called Homicide Watch DC. Today’s Washington Post ran a feature article on her work and included a short quote from me. See an excerpt below:
On the morning of Nov. 15, Laura Norton Amico found herself penned inside a scrum of journalists who had packed a room at D.C. Superior Court for a glimpse of the lead suspect in one of Washington’s highest-profile murder cases: the 2001 killing of federal intern Chandra Levy.
But while everyone around her was jockeying for the best view of Ingmar Guandique, the man who would later be convicted of Levy’s murder, Amico waited patiently for the clerk to call the unheralded case of Vernon McRae, a 22-year-old Southeast man charged with fatally wounding Michael Washington, 63, during an argument in October.
Amico, 29, a former police reporter from Santa Rosa, Calif., has quietly carved out a role for herself as the District’s most comprehensive chronicler of the unlawful taking of human life. Since October, she has documented her efforts on a blog called Homicide Watch D.C. Her mission sounds simple: “Mark every death. Remember every victim. Follow every case.” …
Rose Berger, 47, turned to Homicide Watch D.C. to follow the case of Ebony Franklin, a teenager whose body was found just before Christmas stuffed in a garbage can in an alley near Berger’s Columbia Heights home. A slaying leaves “a hole the community,” Berger said. And to be able to follow the case “allows for healing to happen.” Blogger Aims to Chronicle Every D.C. Homicide
Benedictine monastics have understood since the Middle Ages that in times of great social upheaval, economic distress, and environmental disasters that tear apart families and communties, the church can offer a very particular gift: stability. As Gerald Schlabach writes, “Precisely because it contrasts so sharply with the fragility of most commitments in our hypermodern society, the Benedictine vow of stability may speak more directly to our age and churches than anything else in the Rule.”
When I came to the Columbia Heights neighborhood to join Sojourners intentional Christian community (as it existed then), I had no idea how long I would stay. Now, 25 years later, much of that original community has moved away. However, new communities grows up in the shell of the old, discipled by the witness of those who experimented with the gospel before them. And the Christian work of honoring the dead carries on in an new way.