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.

Barack Obama after the Presidency?

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Ever wondered what President Barack Obama will do after he leaves office? 

The President’s 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” speech in Selma, Alabama is a masterpiece in the tradition of the Church of the Bridge (see earlier post “The Church as Bridge” on Views from the Edge). Think of the President as pastor-preacher in the prophetic preaching tradition that speaks truth to power, celebrates hope, honors courage, and preaches a gospel that calls us all to cross the Pettus Bridge toward the world for which our hearts yearn.  The President’s speech was, in fact, a sermon rooted in Hebrew and Christian Scripture, freely quoted from memory.

Click HERE to hear the President on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.

The Church on the Bridge

Pettus Bridge, Selma to Montgomery

Pettus Bridge, Selma to Montgomery

If some churches are like opium dens, others are like Pettus Bridge, the bridge over the Alabama River you must cross to get from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama.

In the history of America’s civil rights movement, Pettus Bridge and the events of “Bloody Saturday” represent a crossing over from the society addicted to violence, hatred, and war to “the peaceable kingdom” of Isaiah. Think Jesus. Think Martin Luther King, Jr. Think Congressman John Lewis. Think all the anonymous souls who dared to cross the bridge from here to there.

“Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies — or else? The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars – must be broken, or else we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.” [The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.]

I suspect Karl Marx never knew a church like that. What he saw was religion as a tool of the powerful, an ideological overlay on reality to keep their subjects compliant with the existing social order.

The church of the bridge is no opium den. No one is doped up. No one is in a stupor. People don’t go there to hide. It is by nature a place that calls for commitment and action. The Church as Pettus Bridge is spiritually, economically, politically, and culturally revolutionary. It requires far-reaching transformation of people, structures, and systems. It’s a risky place. The church on the bridge requires you to put your whole body, mind, and soul on the line – on the  bridge – fully conscious that the troops the old social order will come after you. It is the church of Jesus and the prophets, and of Paul at his best:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. [Epistle to the Romans 12: 1-2, NRSV]

Every time the Church of the Bridge gathers for worship, the pews are filled with people wearing crash helmets. They expect something real to happen. They expect to make it happen. When they gather around the Lord’s Table for Eucharist, they know what they are celebrating: “the peaceable kingdom”, the City of God on the other side of violence, hatred, and war that puts them on the bridge.