John Lewis — “what did you do?”

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MARTIN LUTHER KING AND JOHN LEWIS

Photo of John Lewis (1964)

Behind every Moses is an Aaron. John Lewis was Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Aaron. If Dr. King was the face and voice of the civil rights movement, John Lewis was, and still is, its soul.

PANCREATIC CANCER AND A MEMORY OF SELMA

News of his Stage IV pancreatic cancer was a sad day that calls for national reflection, thanksgiving for his witness, and prayers of intercession that “his suffering be minor and his transition easy.”

Pancreatic cancer is no stranger to the seven old seminary friends who gather annually for friendship and study. Steve Shoemaker and Wayne Boulton pancreatic cancer diagnosis preceded John Lewis. We are down to four and counting, but the memories of walking from Selma to Montgomery in March,1965 did not pass with Steve and Wayne; they are alive and fresh among the busload of seminary students who rode the bus from Chicago to Selma, AL to walk with Moses (Martin Luther King Jr) and Aaron (John Lewis) across the Pettus Bridge to Montgomery.

CANCER, CALENDARS, AND CLOCKS

John Lewis knows that some cancers metastasize. America’s “original sin,” i.e., deep-rooted and omnipresent, never quite goes away. It may appear to be in remission. It may hide awhile, but it is always there.

“WHAT DID YOU DO?”

Day after day — hour by hour, now — the calendar and clock are turned back against the dream. But there is different calendar and clock beyond the control of white nationalism. Until his last breath, John Lewis will bear witness to a better life on the other side of America’s original sin. It falls to all of us afflicted to walk across the bridge Pettus Bridge with confession resistance, and joyful hymns of praise.

BE THOU OUR GUARD WHILE TROUBLES LAST

Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
Return, ye sons of men:
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

O God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

— Isaac Watts

What did you do?” – Congressman John Lewis. “Come on, now. We can do better than this!” – Congressman Elijah Cummings (RIP), Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.

Gordon C. Stewart, Feb. 22, 2020.

America’s Original Sin?

Jim Wallace’s new book America’s Original Sin: Race and White Privilege & the Bridge to New America takes a hard look at the origins of the Euro-transplant nation that supplanted America’s indigenous people. Jim Wallace argues that the United States was born of White Privilege. It is the nation’s original sin: it’s America’s first and enduring sin.

It seems no matter how much things progress, or seem to progress, the original sin is always crouching at our door, as the Genesis story of Cain and Abel puts it. “Sin is crouching at your door, and you must master it”.

But is the issue race? Or is it class? Or something else, a fatal flaw in the human psyche and the social psyche? Are racism and White Privilege what they seem, or are they manifestations of something more basic?

“There is only one sin, said Kosuke Koyama, and it is exceptionalism.” Born in Tokyo in 1929, Koyama saw in the Japanese Empire the myth of exceptionalism. To his great sorrow, he saw the same myth in the United States, the second home where he finished a distinguished career as John D. Rockefeller, Jr. Professor of World Christiankosuke-koyama-2ity at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York.

Beneath White Privilege lies the election doctrine that arrived on these shores with America’s European settlers. Their theology was wrapped around the belief that the true believers, the elect, were exceptional to the rest of humankind. The result was genocide against America’s indigenous peoples followed shortly by the institution of chattel slavery, both the racial sins of White Privilege of which Jim Wallis writes.

In the larger scheme of things in 2016, one can argue convincingly that exceptionalism has been a primary contributor to climate change. The sin of exceptionalism is the illusion that we, the human species, are superior to nature. In  honor of Koyama: Could it be that there is only one sin: exceptionalism?

I wish Jim and Ko could have spent time with each other. It would have been so enlightening to have sat in not their conversations.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 25, 2016.