An Interview with Lindsey Krinks
At the end of Praying with Our Feet, Lindsey Krinks writes, “Love is the most powerful force on earth when wielded by those who realize that our liberation is bound up together; who pray with our hands, tears, fury, and feet; who keep the candles and campfires of resistance burning through the darkest nights of oppression.” As an often confused and timid activist, I find this framework for liberation, well, liberating. The reminder that love is what and who we follow (through our hands, tears, fury, and feet), often to places we never thought we’d go, helps me when I wipe tears from my three-year-old’s eyes, when I call my representatives one more time to advocate for more kind, just legislation for all, and when I walk the cement sidewalks of my kids’ school to attend a meeting on what it might look like to teach gun safety to parents and kids alike. As Krinks plays with images of darkness and light, she seeks to reimagine and unearth new ways of thinking, being, and doing in the face of insurmountable oppression, degradation, and loss, and in so doing, she gives us the freedom to see the whole of our lives as breeding ground for love and justice, change and growth.
In this and so much more, Krinks is a prophet, poet, pastor, and priest. She speaks truth to power, finds beauty in the places our culture deems ugly, provides gentle care to the least of these, and performs ritual acts of mercy and love with water, bread, Spirit, and fire. Here in this interview, Krinks fans the flames of our longing for collective liberation as she shares from her experience as a street organizer with the unhoused people of Nashville, Tennessee.
The Other Journal (TOJ): What is your understanding of organizing from a theological perspective? Or to ask that another way, who is the God of unhoused and street organizing? What does this God look like? What does this God say? Who is this God concerned with?
Lindsey Krinks (LK):Dorothy Day, cofounder of the Catholic Worker Movement, once wrote, “Going to the people is the purest and best action in Christian tradition.” She knew that power imbalances existed in society and that far too often, people of faith sided with those in power. But Christianity is never at its best when it’s claiming positions of power or lording it over others. Christianity is at its best when it goes to the people, when it identifies and is rooted with all those who are disinherited, marginalized, and oppressed.
In one sense or another, all organizing is about power. When economic and political power are concentrated in the hands of the few, organizing is about redistributing that power more equitably. It’s about helping people wake up to the power within themselves—that sacred spark of dignity, agency, and worth that is at the core of every human being. It’s about helping them channel that spark, not just individually but collectively, to fan the flames of love, equity, and justice in the world.
I was introduced to community organizing in college through a group called the Nashville Homeless Power Project, a group of unhoused and formerly unhoused Nashvillians who were organizing for their rights. This introduction happened as I was undergoing a radical shift in my faith. I was moving from an individualistic belief system focused on personal salvation to a more public commitment focused on collective liberation.
For me, organizing and liberation theology have become two sides of the same coin. My work helping camp residents organize against unjust evictions informs my theology of a God who is present to suffering and struggle. And my theology informs my organizing.
The God I know is a God who is liberating and just, a God who chooses to work through outcasts and outlaws. This God hears the cries of the oppressed and acts on their behalf, liberating them from bondage. This God asks that our spiritual practices not just be self-serving but that they stop the exploitation of workers and “loose the chains of injustice” (Isa. 58:3–6 NIV). This God chooses to be incarnate in history as a working-class Jew in the shadows of the Roman Empire. My friend Jeannie Alexander who is an abolitionist organizer once said, “The incarnation is the most radical act of solidarity the world has ever seen.” So yes, my theology is intertwined in my understanding of organizing, and so is my Christology.
If we think about organizing as disrupting the existing power dynamics and the status quo, Jesus was, in some ways, one of the greatest organizers in history. Even before he was born, his mother Mary prophesied, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:51-53 NRSV). In his ministry, Jesus identified with people who were snubbed by religious leaders. He broke Sabbath laws, overturned tables of exploitation, and was seen as a political threat to Caesar. Jesus also saw leadership capacity in everyday people like fishermen. He was a teacher who taught people to think critically, and he led by serving. He awakened people to their sacred worth and inspired them to practice compassion and solidarity with others.
The God of unhoused street organizing is the God of Exodus, the God of manna, the God of crucifixion and resurrection. This God sleeps rough, smells bad, and troubles the waters. This God isn’t taken to the streets by missionaries or do-gooders because this God is already there, already at work, already disrupting our notions of who is last and who is first. It is our sacred calling to join God’s movement and to put our faith into action in tangible ways.
TOJ: Preach! It doesn’t surprise me in the least that you have such clarity regarding the God you follow and that this God is directly connected to the Christ you follow and that both show up embodied in the people living on the streets. Talk with us, then, about the ecclesiology of street organizing. What is church on the streets? What’s the liturgy of the unhoused?
LK: In addition to dabbling in community organizing, I’m also an interfaith street chaplain. This means that I don’t just care for people’s physical needs; I also tend to their emotional and spiritual health. While my spiritual roots are in the Christian tradition, I learn from and accompany people who are coming from wildly different backgrounds and beliefs. But because I live in Nashville, many of the people I work with either identify as Christians or have been harmed by Christian institutions. My role with them is to practice nonjudgmental compassion, presence, deep listening, accompaniment, and solidarity. Sometimes, this spiritual tending is individual in nature—one person at a time. Other times, it’s more collective.
When I think about what the church was intended to be, I think about a body of people who come together to experience God and to join the work God is doing in the world—the work of ushering in the kin-dom of God here and now. We could look back to the early church in Acts where believers broke bread and radically redistributed economic resources. The thing that happens to movements like the early Christian movement is that as time passes, gatherings become institutionalized and the wild and organic become domesticated. This doesn’t have to be a negative thing, but so many people have become disenchanted with religion as they watch Christian institutions become self-serving and amass economic and political power in the midst of extreme poverty and injustice.
The thing about church,however, is that it needs no walls to be experienced in the hearts of people who long for hope, justice, and change. The thing about the spirit of God is that it can never be domesticated or caged.
What I’ve come to realize is that I find my truest sense of church on the streets. The steeples in which I worship are fraying blue tarp canopies whipping in the wind and interstate underpasses humming with traffic. The bread of life is a shared pack of peanut butter crackers and day-old doughnuts, torn and distributed. Here is my body, broken. The cup of suffering, and sometimes salvation, is my friend Horace’s bottle of Hawaiian punch spiked with Skol vodka. Here is my blood poured out. Our holy procession is our feet pounding the pavement in protest and prayer. Our call-and-response is our chanting: “Nashville, stand up and fight! Housing is a human right!”
This is where I encounter the crucified and resurrected Christ and feel the spirit of God moving most profoundly. I’m drawn back again and again. This work, this church, and the relationships I’ve formed on the streets have utterly transformed me.
TOJ: It seems that one of the ways you’ve been transformed is through the language you use to describe your work on the streets. In particular, why does it matter that we refer to people living on the streets as “unhoused” as opposed to “homeless?” What place does language have in your work and why?
LK: The language we hear, adopt, and use constructs not only our perceptions and reality but also the perceptions and reality of others. Our language informs opinions and can also shape policies. It can dehumanize and degrade, or it can foster new possibilities for understanding and transformation.
What I’ve learned over the years is that there’s not one right way to refer to someone who is living without housing. There are, however, a lot of ways that are problematic and reinforce stereotypes. I’m a big advocate for using person-centered language. Instead of using labels like the homeless we say people experiencing homelessness. This centers the unique person in a humanizing way. We all know that none of us can truly be defined by one condition or identity, and as Dr. Beth Shinn, an internationally renowned researcher on homelessness, recently said to me, “Homelessness isn’t a species; it’s a process.”
I sometimes use the term unhoused because I have friends on the streets who have asked us to center the lack of affordable housing in any talk about homelessness. As one man told me years ago, “I have a home. It’s this tent. What I need is housing.”
Using person-centered language and terms like unhoused disrupts our society’s narrative about homelessness. It centers the person and also reminds us that the root cause of mass homelessness in the United States is the lack of affordable housing and a capitalistic system that prioritizes profit over the wellbeing of people.
TOJ: Right, and the God you describe above seems to stand in direct opposition to capitalism and the practice of profit over people. To this end, what’s your hope for your organizing work? What’s the strategy and the end goal? What’s the eschatology, to use a theological word? Is your work about completely dismantling systems, and if so, talk with us about the importance of having both short- and long-term strategies in place to achieve that goal.
LK: The end goal for me is collective liberation; it’s bringing about the kin-dom of God in the here and now. I’ve heard it said that this goal is like a horizon. It’s always beyond us but also beneath our very feet. It’s a longing, a hunger, a fire in our belly and bones.
In theological terms, I gravitate toward what some theologians have described as realized eschatology. The idea is that instead of focusing on the end times or eschaton as some world-ending event in the future, these theologians are focused on how the end times are unfolding now and our role therein. “The Kingdom of God is among you,” says Jesus (Luke 17:21). Things are incredibly difficult in the world right now, and yet every time we show compassion and love, every time our actions bring healing and justice, we are realizing heaven on earth.
I’m an abolitionist and have every interest not just in dismantling systems of oppression and violence but in transforming them. It’s so easy for us to accept the way things are as the way things will always be. It’s easy for us to lose what Walter Brueggemann calls “the prophetic imagination.” Can we imagine a society where everyone has dignified housing? Can we imagine a society where we fund mental and physical health care more than we fund policing, where we fund education and rehabilitative services instead of more cages? If we can imagine this society, we can cocreate it.
Part of the overarching strategy for me is to help people I’m connected with understand that our liberation is bound up together. None of us is truly free until all of us are free. In 2010, I cofounded Open Table Nashville, an interfaith homeless outreach nonprofit. I’m currently our interim codirector of education, and I spend a lot of my time working with all kinds of groups: students, congregations, businesses, nonprofits, and others. One of my strategies in our education work is to help people deepen their analysis of systemic injustice and inspire them to join movements for change. In other words, we meet people where they are and try to move the needle.
Lastly, while our primary work at Open Table Nashville is focused on housing justice, we work closely with groups who are working on racial justice, mass incarceration, immigrant and refugee rights, LGBTQIA+ rights, workers’ rights, and so much more. We know these struggles are intertwined, so we show up for each other and build relationships and coalitions across issues. This is how we strategically work toward collective liberation. And I believe that many of us will find our own liberation in the process.
TOJ: You describe so much loss throughout Praying with Our Feet, and in your work as a street organizer with the unhoused, I know death is an ever-present companion. I was particularly struck by the story you tell in your book of Kevin, who died by falling into a fire one cold, December night. Kevin had never been baptized, and so he wanted to be buried at sea, his burial serving as his baptism. What’s the relationship between death and life on the streets? As an organizer, what does living with hearts that both “break and burn” look like?
LK: If I wasn’t a mystic, if I didn’t believe in something greater than myself at work in the world, I don’t think I would still be in this field of work. The highs are high. We help people move into housing and see their lives transform. We’ve won campaigns against displacement and have seen new units of affordable housing go up. But the lows are devastating. Amputated legs from frostbite, lost eyes due to medical negligence, brain damage from heat stroke, trauma upon trauma. Our friends are literally being dismembered in the shadows of Nashville’s ever-climbing luxury condos.
The question for all of us who are human and doing hard work is this: can we hold radiating joy in one hand while holding crushing grief in the other?
I remember hearing that a Carmelite nun once said, “It is the crushed heart which is the soft heart, the tender heart.” Before I knew what it felt like to have my heart set on fire, before it was lit aflame with love and a hunger for holy justice, my heart was broken apart. The flames needed room to dance. This is the relationship between death and life. Death cracks us open and hollows us out. And it makes space for life to germinate, to root, to flourish. Buddhist monk and activist Thích Nhất Hạnh refers to this processing as a kind of composting in his book You Are Here. “It is from garbage that we produce flowers,” he says, “and similarly, it is from suffering that we produce understanding and compassion.”
The forces of life will always be more powerful than the forces of death. So let us lean into the mysterious belief that death does not have the final say. And let us learn to hold both joy and grief with open hands.
TOJ: What place does ritual hold in street organizing? What is its import and function? In what ways does it help you and others heal?
LK: Rituals breathe meaning into our life. They infuse both the mundane and the unimaginable with sacredness, mystery, and sometimes hope.
Two of the most meaningful rituals we do on the streets are rituals for death. The first is lighting a candle when we lose people. The second is holding an annual memorial every December for the people who have died on the streets. Last year alone in Nashville, we lost 202 people from our unhoused community. The average age of those who died was fifty-three. The number of people who died has only climbed in recent years, and it means that we’re losing one person every one to two days. Death is everywhere. We know its pungent smell and sting. We know how grief ripples through those who were close to the lost ones. We know that there is no stopping it, as long as we lack adequate housing and health care for our people.
So what do we do in the face of such enormous loss?
Throughout the darkest nights of human history, there have always been people who keep the candles and campfires of liberation burning. We stand in this lineage and mark death by carrying light. Each candle we light reminds us of the sacredness of human life. It also reminds us that even the smallest flicker can cast out the gathering night.
The annual memorial is a way to remind our friends on the streets that their lives and the lives of those they love matter. So many of our friends fear being forgotten, and this is one way we can say their names and bear witness to their dignity and worth. We all commit to carrying their memories with us as we work toward a more just world.
In past years, the memorial has concluded with a ritual of tossing flowers into the Cumberland River as a way to say goodbye to people we love. Last year, however, felt different. It felt even more grave. Our death toll was the highest in recorded history, and many of us sense that things are just getting worse. So instead of tossing flowers in the water, we decided to close the memorial this year with a new ritual: a silent procession up to City Hall. We marched together carrying a couple hundred small flags that held the names of each person who died. We planted those flags in the lawn in front of City Hall where our mayor works and the city council meets. We wanted them to see the scope of our loss, the names. We wanted to remind them how many sacred lives are being cut short because of our actions and inactions, because of our policies and funding priorities.
Again, rituals help us make meaning. If we are continually exposed to grief and trauma with no way to understand, process, and work through such loss, our grief and trauma can eat us up. Rituals hold space for us and help us channel our emotions and turmoil into action, meaning, and maybe even change.
TOJ: Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Many of us who attend communities of faith each week say these words as part of the prayers of the people. Coming back to your understanding of the church of the streets, I’m curious what your hope is for those of us who still hang out in the church houses of brick and mortar every Sunday morning in relation to street organizing and dismantling oppressive systems? For those who read your beautiful, honest account of organizing with unhoused people on the streets of Nashville in Praying with Our Feet,what is it you want them to take away from it?
LK: Oh, I have so many hopes! I hope that we’ll learn to see our friends on the streets as human beings who have unique stories and strengths and who are deserving of housing, compassion, and care. I hope that we’ll learn to see society, history, and even Scripture from the underside—that we will seek out voices that have been silenced and learn from them.
Perhaps my greatest hope, however, is for personal and systemic transformation. At the end of the day, we all know we have this one life. Perhaps there is a world to come or reincarnation, but what we know for sure is that we have the present. How will we use what we are given? The poet Mary Oliver asks, “What is it you plan to do / with your one wild and precious life?” And this is the question that I hope we will all be inspired to reckon with as we work for the transformation of the world. We all have a role to play.
All of this can sometimes feel overwhelming, and it can be difficult to figure out where to start. The first step toward solidarity (and organizing!) is often closer proximity to people who are struggling. Beginning can be as simple as really seeing someone, learning their name, and listening. When I’m out in the city, I try to carry extra water, snacks, and survival kits—gallon-sized plastic bags that have items like socks, food, seasonal items, toiletries, resource guides, and sometimes gift cards. Simply being prepared to respond to someone’s need with compassion is such a big step. This response can be the seed of trust and even solidarity.
TOJ: When we spoke previously, you mentioned that the idea of change theory was both formative and essential to your work on the streets. How do you understand theory of change, and where is God’s place within this theory and within the concept of change?
LK: Some community organizers hold that the two greatest forces for social change are organized money and organized people. When we don’t have organized money, we organize ourselves. Organizing sometimes begins with one-on-one meetings in which organizers go person to person and have intentional conversations in order to build trust and see where interests are shared and action is desired. This work is deeply relational, and it requires understanding that change is relational. It builds until there are groups of people who are willing to band together to address their collective needs and wants, and to build power for social, economic, and political change.
One theory of change at work here is that some of the truest and most lasting forms of change come from the bottom up rather than the top down. It’s one thing for an organizer to climb up the ladder and ask a decision-maker for a change. It’s another thing to awaken the consciousness of a people. “Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed,” says Cesar Chavez. “You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”
So where is God in this? There’s a beautifully simple yet profound passage at the opening of Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower where she writes,
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
God Is Change.
There’s so much I love about this passage. In it, I hear a rejection of the idea of God as a stagnant, impersonal, distant force throughout history—a God that is never moved. This is not the dynamic, compassionate, relational, responsive God I’ve come to know through Scripture and the streets—the God of organizing farmworkers, low-income tenants, and tent city residents. The God I know is moved when God’s children suffer and rejoice. The God I know is constantly at work wherever people are seeking to bring about the kin-dom of God, the beloved community, and collective liberation. Yes, “God is Change.” And when we get involved with this God, we, too, are changed.
 Krinks, Praying with Our Feet: Pursuing Justice and Healing on the Streets (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2021), 191.
 Day, The Long Loneliness (New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1952), 216.
 My use of kin-dom in place of kingdom is twofold: First, kin-dom avoids gendered language and is therefore more inclusive of all, and second, kin-dom moves away from age-old institutions of power and wealth, hierarchy, and colonialism that have perpetuated harm and inequity throughout time.
 See Brueggemann, The Prophetic Imagination (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2018).
 Krinks, Praying with Our Feet, 81.
 Carmelite nun quoted in Day, “The Scandal of the Works of Mercy,” Commonweal, November 4, 1949, https://www.commonwealmagazine.org/scandal-works-mercy; and [see 2 diacriticals] Nhất Hạnh, You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment, [see diacitical] trans. Sherab Chödzin Kohn, ed. Melvin McLeod (Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2010), 10.
 Oliver, “The Summer Day,” in New and Selected Poems, vol. 1 (Boston, MA: Beacon, 1992), 94.
 Address to the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, Nov. 9, 1984, https://libraries.ucsd.edu/farmworkermovement/essays/essays/CESAR%20CHAVEZ%20COMMONWEALTH%20SPEECH.pdf.
 Butler, Parable of the Sower (New York, NY: Grand Central, 2019), 3.