Rep. John Lewis - credit Mobilus in Mobili, flickr
It’s no surprise when an 80-year old man with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer dies. But it's still a jolt when the end finally happens. Thus, it was jolting to hear the words, “Congressman John Lewis has passed away” last Friday.
There are so many things to say about Lewis’ courage, his radicalness, his willingness to lay his life on the line numerous times to save the soul of our nation. These are all the things we need to hear. Things we need to reflect upon.
On Monday night, Stephen Colbert honored Rep. Lewis. He replayed a 2016 piece that Lewis did with Jon Batiste in a segment called, “Barbershop Stories.” While both Rep. Lewis and Batiste got haircuts, Lewis told stories. And here’s the one that was told again on Monday:
In May of 1961, it was illegal for Blacks and Whites to ride as seatmates on a bus. Knowing this and – because they knew the law was unjust – Rep. Lewis and Albert Bigelow (who was White), sat together on a Greyhound bus ride from Washington, DC to Rock Hill, SC.
When they got off the bus, they were met and viciously beaten by the Klu Klux Klan.
Fast forward to February of 2009. A man in his 70s arrived with his son to Rep. Lewis’ congressional office. The man admitted to Rep. Lewis that he was one of the KKK members who beat him and his friend. The man asked for Lewis’ forgiveness, saying, “I want to apologize.” As the man spoke, he and his son started crying.
Rep. Lewis, in his quiet, understated voice said, “‘I accept your apology, I forgive you.’ They hugged me and I hugged them back and I started crying."
“That is the power of peace, and the way of love, and non-violence...”
“Love is the better way.”
For Rep. Lewis, love was not some soft emotion. Love had consequences. A consequence of standing up for love was that you could get yelled at and spat upon. Love could land you in jail. Love could get you killed.
But…love is the better way.
At the end of the memorial piece about Lewis, Colbert has a short conversation with Jean Batiste. They talk about how John Lewis’ life of choosing the way of love is now – at his death – an invitation to us to live out the greatness of love in our own lives. It is an invitation to holiness, to express the whole of our humanity. As Batiste says, “His life invites us to stand up.”
As you navigate these strange times, you still have to reach out and ask for the seemingly mundane – offerings of love, in the form of money, to keep vital ministries going. You still need those gifts to continue the particular way your church is living out the way of love in your community. No doubt, it’s hard to do. But it’s critical and necessary.
When you can’t see people face-to-face, it’s really hard to remember to love them (not necessarily like them, mind you – but to love them).
You may be the only person they hear who says, “Love is the better way.”
You say it because you mean it and believe it.
Your work is more vital and more important than it’s ever been. May God bless you as you stand up, live out your call, and honor the courageous, love-filled life of Rep. John Lewis.