Mourning John Lewis — Celebrating His Life

John Robert Lewis
Laid to Rest on July 30, 2020

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One might have been able to hear church bells ringing this morning, eighty times,
in cities and towns across America, to pay homage to his eighty years of life
.

Later, the headline read, “Three living presidents came together to honor Congressman John Lewis at his funeral today in Atlanta, Georgia.” Yes, three presidents spoke words of mourning, and celebration today — President George W. Bush, President William J Clinton, President Barak Obama. President Jimmy Carter sent his words to be read.
So four living United States Presidents honored John Lewis today. A fifth living United States President did not.

Eloquent words were spoken by so many today at Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, which has been known best because of its most famous pastor, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. We heard stories, memories, words marked with laughter and tears from friends and family members of John Lewis — Rev. Dr. Bernice King, an activist and Martin Luther King Jr.‘s daughter, civil rights pioneer Xernona Clayton, James Lawson,   an activist, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, our three living presidents and many others.

Years later, when I was elected a U.S. Senator, I told him that I stood on his shoulders. When I was elected President of the United States, I hugged him on the inauguration stand before I was sworn in and told him I was only there because of the sacrifices he made. And through all those years, he never stopped providing wisdom and encouragement to me and Michelle and our family. We will miss him dearly.
— President Barak Obama


Americans live in a country that is better today because of John Lewis. John always looked outward, not inward. He always thought of others. He always believed in preaching the gospel, in word and in deed, insisting that hate and fear had to be answered with love and hope. John Lewis believed in the Lord. He believed in humanity, and he believed in America.
— President George W. Bush


John always kept walking to reach the beloved community. He got into a lot of good trouble along the way, but let’s not forget, he developed an absolutely uncanny ability to heal troubled waters. When he could have been angry and determined to cancel his adversaries, he tried to get converts instead. He thought the open hand was better than the clenched fist. He lived by the faith and promise of St. Paul: “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for in due season we will reap if we do not lose heart.” He never lost heart. He fought the good fight, he kept the faith, but we got our last letter from him today on the pages of the New York Times. Keep moving. It is so fitting on the day of his service, he leaves us our marching orders: Keep moving.

John Lewis was many things, but he was a man, a friend and sunshine in the storm, a friend who would walk the stony road that he asked you to walk, that would brave the chastening rods he asked you to be whipped by, always keeping his eyes on the prize, always believing none of us would be free until all of us are equal. I just loved him. I always will. And I’m so grateful that he stayed true to form. He’s gone up yonder and left us with marching orders. I suggest since he’s close enough to God to keep his eye on the sparrow and on us, we salute, suit up and march on.
— President Bill Clinton


We come with a flag flown over the Capitol the night that John passed. When this flag flew there, it said goodbye. It waved goodbye to John. Our friend, our mentor, our colleague. This beautiful man that we all had the privilege of serving with.
— Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi

That’s when I cried, as I did many times during the four hours I watched this morning, bearing witness to his life, holding vigil at his glag-draped casket I had watched all week. There is no doubt that moving words were uttered today in that holy place where Beloved Community gathered to mourn John Lewis, but none were more full of heart that the words of Ebenezer’s senior pastor, the Rev. Dr. Raphael G. Warnock:

We have come to say goodbye to our friend in these difficult days. Come on, let the nation celebrate, let the angels rejoice … John Lewis, the boy from Troy, the conscience of the Congress. His deeds etched into eternity, he loved America until America learned to love him back.

From 1 Corinthians 15:51-55
Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? 

From Revelation 14: 12-13
Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and hold fast to the faith of Jesus. 
And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who from now on die in the Lord.” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “they will rest from their labors, for their deeds will follow them.”

From the works of William Shakespeare
When he shall die,
Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.

 

I cried today, but I laughed a lot, too. I sang a little and — though I did not rise to my feet to dance in celebration of his life well-lived — I still celebrated more than I mourned, because that’s what John Lewis would do. In the end I laughed out loud at the image of mourners dancing their way out of the sanctuary, following the casket, and being glad that John Lewis loved dancing to the music of “Happy Feet!”

Why don’t we all dance our way to Beloved Community!

May God make it so!

Rest in Peace, John Lewis. Rest in Celebration. We got this!

Together!

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A blending of two photos: One is an image of protesters in Minneapolis. The second image is a portrayal of people raising their hands to celebrate Pentecost.

This morning I have no words. I have tears. I have sadness. I even have some anger that the people I love whose skin is not “white” are living in grief and frustration. I say only that injustice and oppression cling so close to my friends, today and in centuries past.

F0ABFCC6-C312-44E2-A39F-35F520174256I hear my dear friends cry out for justice. I hear them using words to make sense of it all, and I hear their voices fall silent. Silent, with just these words, “I’m tired.” A dear friend posted the words on the left this morning. I want to see her face to face. I want to be together. I want to comfort her, hoping beyond hope that it is not too late for comfort.

I read this horrific headline this morning.

Prosecutors in Hennepin County, Minnesota, say evidence shows Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for a total of 8 minutes and 46 seconds, including two minutes and 53 seconds of which Floyd was non-responsive.   — ABC News

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Artists honor George Floyd by painting a mural in Minneapolis on Thursday, May 28, 2020. Artists began work on the mural that morning. (Photo: Jacqueline Devine/Sun-News)

Today I find myself deeply in mourning for the violence that happens in our country. I find myself trying to share in the grief of my friend and knowing I cannot fully feel the depth of it. Today I find myself unable to emotionally move away from it all. Today I contemplate George Floyd’s cry, “I can’t breathe.”

If there is any comfort at all, it comes as a gift of the artists pictured here. In an act of caring, they offer this mural at a memorial for George Floyd.

The names of other victims of violence are painted in the background. The words, “I can’t breathe!” will remain in our memories. Today we are together in mourning.

But tomorrow, I will celebrate Pentecost. I wonder how to celebrate in a time when lamentation feels more appropriate. I wonder how to celebrate when brothers and sisters have died violent deaths and when thousands of protesters line the streets of many U.S. cities. I wonder how to celebrate when protesters are obviously exposing themselves to COVID19.

Still, tomorrow — even in such a time as this — I will celebrate the breath of the Spirit. Tomorrow I will join the celebration that has something to do with being together, being one. To juxtapose the joyous celebration of Pentecost with the horrible picture of what we saw in cities throughout our country for the past few nights seems an impossible undertaking. What does one have to do with the other?

Perhaps they do share a common message. From those who protest, this message:

“We bring our broken hearts and our anger for the killing of our people, for the murders across the ages of people who are not like you. You treat us differently than you treat the people who look like you. For as long as we can remember, you have visited upon us oppression, slavery, racist violence, injustice. And we are tired. We are spent. We are beside ourselves with collective mourning. We can’t breathe!“

From those who celebrate Pentecost, this message:

18bbdca6-8ece-4df4-aa13-fe110e3298cb“How we celebrate the day when the Holy Spirit breathed upon those gathered together, with gifts of wind and fire!

How we celebrate the story told in the 2nd chapter of Acts!”

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.

They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language? Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!” Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?”

Some, however, made fun of them and said, “They have had too much wine.”

Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.

Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, last days, God says,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.

Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy.’”   —
Acts 2:1-18 NIV

The people did not, in fact, have too much wine. Peter made it clear that wine did not empower the people who gathered in Jerusalem —  “every people under heaven” — to speak and understand as they heard every word spoken in their own language. That would be a start, would it not, if we could speak the same language and truly understand — people who have flesh-colored skin, and brown and bronze, and red and black . . . every skin color under the sun. If only we could understand each other.

And then, what if we could gather together, welcoming every person? What if we could truly gather together and wait for Spirit to fall upon us with empowerment like we have never known before? What if we allowed the Spirit to give us breath, together?

41F5FD83-6B7A-4393-BF9E-57F0E4D51023In the end, there is a tiny bit of joy in George Floyd’s tragic story. It is a joy much deeper than reality’s sorrow. The artists completed their mural, and in the very center near the bottom, they had painted words that express the greatest truth of all.

Can you see it behind the little girl? “I can breathe now!”

What if we welcome Spirit Breath that will change us? What if we embrace empowerment from the Holy Spirit to help us change our world? What if we end oppression and injustice, together? What if holy perseverance could inspire us to live and act in solidarity with our sisters and brothers, all of them?

What if we dare to give our soul’s very breath to help bring about Beloved Community, together?

Together! Together!

May my God — and the God of every other person — make it so. Amen.

 

 

 

Celebrate!

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New Faces of Congress!  Top row (L>R) Deb Haaland, Rashida Tlaib, Judge Veronica Escobar, Jahanna Hayes;   Bottom row (L>R) Ayanna Pressley, Sharice Davids, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Some voters hoped for a Blue Wave, others a Red Wave. There wasn’t much of a wave on either side of the aisle, at least not the enormous wave they wanted to see. What we did see was a Women’s Wave, at least 117 women elected on Tuesday, 100 Democrats and 17 Republicans. Now that is something to celebrate! Here’s the scoop, by the numbers:

  • Of the 117 women elected, 42 are women of color, and at least three are L.G.B.T.Q.
  • With some ballots still being counted, women have so far claimed 96 of the House’s 435 seats (it is expected to rise to 100), up from the current 84.
  • At least 12 women won Senate seats, which will bring the total in that chamber to at least 22 (that number is expected to rise by two), of the 100 seats that exist. There are now 23 women.
  • Women won nine governorships, of 50 total. Six women currently serve.
  • Overall, at least 10 more Congressional seats will be occupied by women than before.

On a night to remember and celebrate, here is what some of the women who made history said in their victory speeches:

“When it comes to women of color candidates, folks don’t just talk about a glass ceiling; what they describe is a concrete one. But you know what breaks through concrete? Seismic shifts.” 

  • Ayanna Pressley, who will become the first African-American woman to represent Massachusetts in Congress. She beat a 10-term incumbent in the Democratic primary and vowed to pursue “activist leadership” to advance a progressive agenda.

“We have the opportunity to reset expectations about what people think when they think of Kansas. We know there are so many of us who welcome everyone, who see everyone and who know that everyone should have the opportunity to succeed.”

  • Sharice Davids, a former White House fellow, is a lesbian; she and fellow Democrat Debra Haaland of New Mexico are the first Native-American women elected to Congress.

“In my family, there were no girl chores or boy chores. There’s just things to get done. So that’s what we’re going to do. I’ve got some big plans for this state.”

  • Kristi Noem, a Republican, will be the first female governor of South Dakota. She’s a four-term congresswoman who campaigned on her conservative record and her experience working on her family’s farm.

“We launched this campaign, because in the absence of anyone giving a clear voice on the moral issues of our time, then it is up to us to voice them.” 

  • Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat from New York, became the youngest woman elected to Congress at age 29. She has never held elected office, and like Ms. Pressley, she defeated a white man who had served 10 terms in a Democratic primary.

So there you have it — a real occasion for celebration. No doubt, these women will re-shape America’s leadership. If you know women at all, you know that they often work harder, work longer, work with a passion that changes the world.

Congratulations and God speed to each of them. 

To the new faces of leadership: We applaud you. We celebrate you. We’re proud of you. We’re holding you in the light. We’re counting on you.

 

 

Statistics in this blog are from Maya Salam, published in a special post-election edition of The New York Times Gender Letter.

 

 

 

The Music of Family

068E7848-EFD1-44CD-94E5-EDB43AD57577I have come to believe that family is music, sometimes loud music, sometimes music almost inaudible. But it is music that I deeply cherish. So few things in life really matter. Family is one thing that does matter. It’s all about relationship and rootedness.

This week we lost First Lady Barbara Bush who lived a long and meaningful life for 92 years. During her lifetime, Barbara Bush — called “the enforcer” by her family —was famous for speaking her mind. One thing that was most dear to her was her love for family. This she reveals in her own words:

At the end of your life, you will never regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with a husband, a friend, a child or a parent. When all the dust is settled and all the crowds are gone, the things that matter are faith, family and friends.

In our retirement, my husband Fred and I somehow managed to move ten hours away from our son and grandchildren. I’m not sure exactly how we made such a decision, but we certainly live each day with the reality of it. We have missed the delight of watching our three-year-old grandson grow up. We deeply miss the sweet moments we used to spend with our granddaughter who is now almost nine. We hardly know our grandson by marriage. And we hold tightly to the memories we made spending childhood days with our oldest grandson who is now in college.

We can’t call those moments back. We can’t relive the days when our grandchildren were babies and toddlers. But we will have the memories always.

This weekend, our entire family visited us, with the exception of the oldest grandson. We had a grand time celebrating our three-year-old’s birthday, complete with streamers, balloons and a Spiderman cake. The laughter was infectious. The excitement was palpable. Our small house was full and loud, very loud! The popping of balloons was a highlight for the boys, and quite NOISY for those of us who are older. But all of it was the big, boisterous music of family, a celebration to be remembered.

All too soon, the visit ended, and Fred and I watched the car crammed with grandchildren pull out of our driveway and head toward Arkansas. The house was quiet again, so very quiet. The music of our life got much softer when they left, and for a brief moment, I thought about crying a little. But I thought better of it. It was a beautiful, sunny day. The visit had been a very special time of celebration. Our family was happy and healthy. No call for tears.

My choices are: 1) to be terribly sad that my children are far away; or 2) to celebrate their lives and the bond we share, a bond that transcends the miles that separate us.

So my blog advice for this day is to hold on tightly to the music that is family. Listen intently when it’s soft and quiet. Join the celebration when it’s raucous and loud. But always know in the depths of your soul that the melody will dwell in your heart of hearts forever. That’s what the music of family does.

 

 

 

The “Laughter of the Redeemed”

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So when the grand and glorious celebration of Christ’s resurrection is over, what do we do with our leftover joy? There is an easy answer to that. Celebrate Bright Week with laughter and loud singing, and look forward with great anticipation to Bright Sunday! You might be wondering what in the world I’m talking about. What’s Bright Week and Bright Sunday?

Well, just in case you didn’t know, Bright Week and Bright Sunday are real. genuine. bonafide things. Many Christian churches celebrate the Sunday after Easter as Bright Sunday, a day for joyful celebration. In fact, the entire week following Easter, called Bright Week, was set aside for the celebration of the Resurrection according to the 66th canon of the Council in Trullo:

. . . from the holy day of the Resurrection of Christ our God until New Sunday (or Bright Sunday) for a whole week the faithful in the holy churches should continually be repeating psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, rejoicing and celebrating Christ, and attending to the reading of the Divine Scriptures and delighting in the Holy Mysteries. For in this way shall we be exalted with Christ; raised up together with Him.

The custom was rooted in the musings of early church theologians like Augustine, Gregory of Nyssa, and John Chrysostom, including the intriguing idea that God played a practical joke on the devil by raising Jesus from the dead. “Risus paschalis – the Easter laugh,” the early theologians called it.

For centuries in Eastern Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant countries, the week following Easter Sunday, including “Bright Sunday,” the Sunday after Easter, was observed by the faithful as “days of joy and laughter” with parties and picnics to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. Churchgoers and pastors played practical jokes on each other, drenched each other with water, told jokes, sang, and danced. Can you even imagine such hilarity in some of our most traditional churches?

Yet, theologians wrote about holy laughter. While languishing in a Nazi prison, Protestant theologian Jurgen Moltmann became fascinated by the ongoing celebrations of Jesus’ Resurrection by the early Christians that continued long after Easter Sunday. He called it “the laughter of the redeemed.”

And yet, we Christians are often viewed as offering a joyless and humorless Christianity.

Where is “the laughter of the redeemed?”

We have a Savior who, knowing that he was about to be betrayed, tortured, and crucified, told his disciples before his arrest:

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11)

So where is our joy? Where is our laughter?

With great fondness, I remember the youth ensemble at First Baptist Church of Arab, Alabama singing an amped-up version of “Sunshine in My Soul,” lively, syncopated, full of unbridled joy! With a big smile on every face, the group sang this spirited, exuberant song about their sheer joy in Christ. Always, their offering of “Sunshine in My Soul” was a joyous event. I can hear it in my memory right now.

There is sunshine in my soul today.
It’s a glow so warm and bright.
That shines in any earthly sky
For Jesus is my light.
Oh, there’s sunshine, beautiful sunshine,
When the peaceful, happy moments roll.
When I look with love into my brother’s face, there is sunshine in my soul.

What a bright and joy-filled song! A perfect song for Bright Sunday.

Laughter, joy, fun, rejoicing!

I hope that during this Bright Week you will find sunshine in your soul. I hope that you will laugh hard and long during Bright Week, that you will pass joy along to those you love, that you will sing a song of joy or two, using your biggest, strongest outdoor voice. After all, it is Christ’s resurrection that we celebrate!