Two Medals of Freedom: The Freedom Rider and the Mouth

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John Lewis and Rush Limbaugh were miles apart, but they shared the distinction of having been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, a recognition as close to sacred as the American republic gets.

Today in America: Selma and Palm Beach

Six months after First Lady Melania Trump draped the medal around Mr. Limbaugh’s neck, the Freedom Rider beaten by the law-and-order enforcers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge (see photo below) made his last trip from Selma to Montgomery. The other Medal of Freedom honoree is holed up in a Palm Beach mansion, pontificating about “the Leftists” conspiring to take away your guns and strike your Second Amendment rights from the Constitution.

Whether John Lewis and Rush Limbaugh ever occupied the same space before or after the 2020 State of the Union Address, I imagine Mr. Lewis greeting Mr. Limbaugh with the courtesy and kindness that shows due regard toward a precious, wounded, soul hidden somewhere behind the blabbering vitriol. There is a part of us — a divine spark within — that cannot be erased, no matter how hidden from our eyes.

Tears are flowing among those who have lived long enough to see the terrifying difference between the two presidents, two awards, and two men who symbolize such different bridges: one from Selma to Montgomery, and the newer one that leads a democratic republic to fascism. From some of us a prayer is offered that when our time comes to cross over, our crossing may be worthy of renaming some bridge where we made our sacrifices for humankind.

Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, Monday, July 26, 2020, in honor of Congressman John Lewis (RIP) and the way of love.

Our Only House — John Lewis and Kosuke Koyama

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Introduction

John Lewis never knew and had no reason to care that we held some things in common. We shared a point of view that comes from reading the Psalms (“The earth is the LORDS’s and the fullness thereof…”[Ps. 24:1]), and the Book of Micah (“What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God?” [Micah 6:8]), singing the same hymns in our Baptist and Presbyterian hymnals, and finishing theological educations at Fisk and McCormick.

John Lewis knew what a cracked head was

Yesterday’s Views from the Edge’s post pointed to what might be considered the centerpiece of John Lewis’s life — the conviction that “we all live in the same house.” John Lewis lived that conviction before and after the batons cracked his skull at Edmund Pettus Bridge.

John Lewis knew what a cracked skull was, and he knew that the Crackers’ skulls were cracked worse than his.

John Lewis and Kosuke Koyama

There is no evidence that John Lewis met Japanese theologian Kosuke Koyama or read any of Koyama’s books on the anguished heart of God. But focusing on the Congressman’s witness in word and action brought the two of them together in my cracked head. I’m even more confident that John Lewis never knew of or read “The Economy: Only One House,” “Only One Sin: Exceptionalism” or “The World in an Oyster” in Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness, the collection of essays dedicated to Koyama. (Note: Click the above link to Amazon, click “Look Inside,” open the Table of Contents, and click the titles to glimpse the essays, or read “Just One Country” published May 2, 2012 by Views from the Edge.

A Poet’s bow to gentleness and strength — Peggy Shriver’s Haiku to Koyama

The haiku tribute to Koyama by his friend and faculty colleague at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York featured on Be Still!‘s dedication page, expressed how I felt after Ko’s death in 2009. Today the last stanza of Peggy’s haiku puts words to what I feel about John Lewis.

Gentle and strong, as trees
Bend gacefully in wind,
You stand — and I bow.

Peggy Shriver, 2009

Gordon C. Stewart, author Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock), Chaska, Minnesota, July 21, 2020.

John Lewis: “we all live in the same house”

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Giving thanks for Congressman John Lewis

So much can and should be said following the death of Congressman John Lewis, but every attempt to pay tribute to him here on Views from the Edge fails to reach the high bar of tribute and thanksgiving to which he is entitled. Into this wordless void came a message sharing Eric Whitacre’s virtual global choir singing “Sing Gently” – the sound of hope and gentleness that sings what words cannot say.

The Congressman’s words after watching video of George Floyd’s death reach are as deep and wide as Eric Whitacre’s musical testimony (scroll down).

“We’re one people,” he said, “we’re one family. We all live in the same house, not just the American house but the world house.”

YouTube of virtual global choir singing Eric Whitacre’s composition “Sing Gently”

They cracked his skull at the Pettus Bridge; his character remained unbroken

John Lewis’s skull was cracked by officers enforcing the law-and-order of white supremacy and white nationalism, but his faith and Christ-like character could not be broken. He was as gentle as he was strong.

Sing boldly. Sing gently. If John Lewis found the strength and courage to sing his way through all the troubled waters his world was making, who am I to keep from singing?

Gordon C. Stewart, author of Be Still! Departure from Collective Madness (2017 Wipf and Stock) available on the publisher’s website and on Amazon, Chaska, MN, July 20, 2020.

A Memoir: Selma to Montgomery

Former seminary classmate Jim Haugh wrote this response to “John Lewis: ‘What did you do?'” published with his permission by Views from the Edge earlier this morning.

1965

I took the Illinois Central train from Chicago to Montgomery.

Photo of postage stamp honoring The National Guard of the U.S.

I remember the three Army National Guard Officers with bayonets fixed and their pointy ends against my sternum.

I remember Jerry’s admonition. “If you find yourself in trouble and go to a high steeple church expecting help, You Will Be Killed.”

I remember speaking at Lawndale Presbyterian (Clarence Lennon, Pastor) after returning to Chicago. I said something to the effect “the parable of the Good Samaritan to the Alabama Black is a myth. The victims got out of the ditch and picked each other up.” An ancient woman approached me after the service. “I hated you until this morning.”

2020

I have a friend in Norfolk who took her children to Selma in 2015 when Obama and John Lewis spoke. The KKK was leafleting the city.

We now live adjacent to the City of Baltimore. 500,000 people have fled from its peak. Segregation ordinance of 1910, redlining (still) Brown vs Board of Education 1954, White Flight.

Of the 150 public schools 12 have water students can drink. 138 schools have lead pipes.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan says a program supported by the Kirwan Commission will bankrupt the state. 35% of the students who graduate cannot read at the 4th grade level. One-third of that number are incarcerated in Maryland Prisons.

The struggle against Structural Racism continues. The struggle has just begun. Even though the Constitution of Maryland requires funding for every school district in accordance with the needs of the students.

Best,
Jim

Gordon C. Stewart, Views from the Edge, Chaska, MN, Feb. 22, 2020.

P. S. “When we pray, we move our feet.”

John Lewis — “what did you do?”

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.

“Legitimacy” on Martin Luther King Day – 2017

Honoring Martin Luther King, Jr days before the 2017 inauguration of a new president begs for serious national reflection.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the civil rights leader some people once hated was “legitimized” after he was no longer a threat—re-fashioned into a single issue  icon. The real Martin, the disturbing prophetic preacher calling for justice and peace, has been muted —reduced to an icon on postage stamps and in editorials of the same newspapers that scolded him for breaking the law in Birmingham, Montgomery, Selma, St. Augustine, and Memphis. The real Martin—the real human treasure worth preserving—and his legacy look on our time and ask how we chose to return to the law-and-order-society.

John Lewis and other survivors whose heads were bloodied on Pettus Bridge by the enforcers of an unjust law-and-order society scratch their heads and wonder. They know that Martin Luther King, Jr’s life and witness exceeded the passage of the Civil Rights Act. He was an early opponent of the War in Vietnam, the military-industrial complex, the White House, Congress, the Pentagon, and the propaganda machine that kept the public befuddled and confused about reality.

By the time Dr. King while was shot standing with the striking sanitation workers in Memphis, he had connected all the dots we have yet to connect: white privilege, excessive wealthy, poverty, capitalism, foreign military interventions, and assassinations.

No one can say whether Martin Dr. King would join his voice to his old friend John Lewis’s, the Civil Rights leader become Congressman who has declared the incoming Presidency “illegitimate”, but imagining King’s dismay at the results of the 2016 election requires no great skill. We know enough to say with certainty that the dream for which Dr. King lived and died is no less at stake today than it was the day a bullet silenced him on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis in 1968.

Martin Luther King Day 2017 just days before the inauguration asks all Americans what kind of nation we want to be — one that chooses to put out the lights of its real luminaries or a nation that, having seen a bright star on a dark night, walks forward with pink knit hats toward a compassionate Dream worth living and dying for.

– Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, January 15, 2017