This year, 2020, has dealt some major blows. The latest of them, the deaths of C.T. Vivian and Congressman John Lewis, have also brought to mind the death of Rev. Joseph Lowery from earlier in the year. These Civil Rights icons, leaders, and reformers were beacons of light. They made us better, because of their life’s work and commitment to revolutionary love.
Congressman John Lewis was the Commencement speaker at Oxford College in 2019. The day before at our Baccalaureate gathering, I shared one of my favorite stories of his at the close of my sermon.
About twenty years ago, he published his memoir about the Civil Rights Movement, called "Walking with the Wind." In the first pages, he tells a moving story about a Saturday at his aunt’s home in rural Alabama. He and about fifteen other children, some relatives and some friends, were outside playing when it began clouding over and lightning flashed across the sky. Lewis says that lightning and thunder had always terrified him. His mother used to tell him and his siblings that whenever they heard thunder they should be still and listen, because God was doing God’s work.
On this particular day, though, his mother was not around. His aunt herded all the children inside as the sky darkened and the wind grew stronger.
Her house was small, and it seemed even smaller with so many children squeezed inside that day. The shouting and laughing that had been going on earlier in the day was overwhelmed by the howling wind. The house started to shake. “We were scared,” he said. “Aunt Seneva was scared.”
It got even worse. The house started to sway and the wood plank flooring beneath them began to bend. Then, a corner of the room started lifting up. The storm was literally pulling the house toward the sky with all of them inside it.
Congressman Lewis says that it was at that moment Aunt Seneva told them to clasp hands. “Line up and hold hands,” and they all did as they were told. She had them walk toward the corner of the room that was rising. From the kitchen to the front of the house, we walked, he says. The wind was screaming and rain pelting the tin roof. Then we walked back in the other direction, as another end of the house began to lift.
“As so it went, back and forth fifteen children walking with the wind, holding that trembling house down with the weight of our small bodies,” Lewis writes.
Congressman Lewis has used that memory to talk about the many storms he’s lived through, especially during the movement, and how people of conscience never left the house or ran away, but stayed, came together doing the best they could with hands clasped and moving toward the corner of the house that was most vulnerable.
After that story, we gave everyone at Baccalaureate that day a copy of the first volume of the Congressman’s graphic novel series, "March," which creatively tells of his lifelong struggle for civil and human rights.
The next day, at our Commencement, I had the chance to spend a moment talking with him and, of course, to get a picture together. When he learned I was the Chaplain, just before our picture, he looked at me and said in a whisper, “Don’t forget that Jesus made necessary trouble. Good trouble.” “Indeed,” I said. He smiled, and we posed for our picture.
What are we doing to clasp the hands of those near and far, neighbor and stranger, loved and unloved so that we might move together toward the corner of the house that is most vulnerable? What is the necessary and good trouble calling us out of our complacency right now?
May light perpetual shine on these beacons of light, who made us better, and let us be and do better because of them.
The Rev. Dr. Lyn Pace is a United Methodist minister and college chaplain who lives in Oxford, Georgia with his spouse and 7-year-old.