On April 13, 2004, the Institute for Law, Justice and Society lost a graduate and a dear friend. Many of you may have seen the news that Andrew Nash, a 30 year old Metro Nashville Police Officer, died two weeks ago of natural causes. Andrew was a December 2013 graduate of Lipscomb. He was a police officer and a former Marine, but for me, Andrew was first and foremost an LJS major.
I met Andrew on my first day on the job. The day I started at Lipscomb I walked into a Monday night, 4 hour a week class on the topic of Human Trafficking. I can tell you exactly where Andrew sat. He sat on the second row on my left. I could also tell you the names of the four students who sat behind him, but I won’t. I remember their names and where they were sitting because the image of eyes rolling back into the back of heads every time Andrew spoke is seared in my mind. Nobody liked Andrew in that class. We spent four hours every Monday night for eight weeks talking about Human Trafficking, its root causes in imperialism and poverty, and every class, sometimes more than once a night, Andrew would raise his hand, and the class would groan. In that class on Human Trafficking, all he wanted to talk about was abortion. He would quote Papal decrees and encyclicals and turn every conversation back to abortion. And the other students in the class hated that. They thought he was crazy. But what became clear to me that was never clear to those students was that the connection between human trafficking and abortion was inescapable for Andrew because they were both ultimately and intimately tied to how we as a society value human life, how we value others that are weaker than we are. To Andrew it was all the same conversation because he refused to allow his thoughts and his life to be divided into a thing so trivial as an issue. He had no patience for issues. All was one faith and one confession.
I traveled to D.C. and Europe with Andrew and his refusal to stop thinking, his refusal to stop learning, and his refusal to accept easy answers drove people crazy. And I loved that. His senior research project, which imagined a Fraternal Order of Police that served and invested in its community off the job because it would make the job easier and safer, will always be one of my favorites. I pray for officers to pick up that torch and carry it for Andrew within the department. I pray for officers who will see their role as Andrew did, as a natural extension of his faith and Jesus' call to serve the poor and the oppressed. I pray for officers who, like Andrew, will breakdown the barriers between spiritual life, professional life and personal life that we too often erect to make our lives easier.
I have a graduation speech that I give to my graduates. Last year when Andrew graduated we met for lunch at the Copper Kettle across the street. I had a conversation with him then that I will likely have with my graduating seniors in a couple of days. A conversation that is hollow and meaningless unless I have the courage and faith to have it with you now. I told him that at graduation a lot of people were going to give him a lot of advice and use a lot of flowery language. That he was going to be celebrated, congratulated, praised and admired for what he had accomplished here at Lipscomb. And I told him that it is good and right that we do that. But that there was one thing that I wanted him to remember as he left school and moved on. And so I told him this: Remember that you are going to die. Probably not tomorrow, probably not soon, but one day you are going to die, and you have very little control over when. And I told him I wanted him to hear that as freedom. I wanted him to hear that as a good thing, as a thing he had confessed most of his life.
Our world is a death-denying world. We spend so much of our time trying to convince ourselves that we will live forever, we hoard things and money, we obsess over health and fitness, we value youth over age and wisdom, and above all, we want to do big, huge things that will be remembered. We want to be memorialized and remembered. In a recent poll 84% of U.S. 4th Graders knew that Abraham Lincoln was famous, but did not know what he was famous for. There is very little you can do to be remembered.
I told Andrew all this, not to depress him, but so he could know exactly how free he was. Free from the burdens of things that he could not control. Free to do good, faithful work because of the value in the work, regardless of the results. Free to acknowledge death, unafraid, because we confess that resurrection will come.
I told him that my prayer for him was that would find a vocation and would have a life where he could not distinguish between his faith and his work. That he would find a vocation where he felt value in the work. And that he would do so fearlessly in pursuit of that vocation, ignoring what you cannot control.
Of course, Andrew had already found that work. In an email last week, Andrew’s mom referred to him as a force of nature. That is so true. I visited Andrew at the FOP Lodge about 3 weeks ago. The lodge was almost done with its renovation and he was full of plans and ideas, most that had come out of his senior project. He was doing good, faithful work. And he was full of joy from that work. Joy that comes from working in the middle of Kingdom that has come and is coming. Joy that comes by believing so much in the promise of resurrection that it directs your living through the weak and defeated arms of death.
I will miss Andrew a great deal. He was a friend. But his story, like mine and like yours, does not end with our grief here. We are promised and confess that resurrection is coming. May we live in that truth, together, and without fear, and may we, like Andrew, have voices that are annoying and honest enough to invite people to and challenge people with a better way.
May we follow Andrew’s example in being people whose lives and work are living confessions that death is conquered and powerless and resurrection will come.