John Robert Lewis (1940-2020) just passed away.
So many words have been written about him that one more post won’t add much. So just one small thought from his memoir, Walking With the Wind.
Congressman John Lewis was a kid in college in Nashville when the sit-ins at segregated lunch counters began. And he went to jail.
A country boy from Troy, Alabama, the news of jail scandalized his parents. Jail was for crooks. Jail was where young Black men landed when they stepped out of line in a white-dominated community. Jail invoked memories of abuse, whippings, beatings, and lynchings through the years.
Young John’s parents had scrimped and saved for him to leave home and go to college, hoping he would rise above and escape the fate that had claimed so many of theirs. The last place they wanted their boy to land was in jail. When they got the news, they weren’t proud: they were scandalized.
But John was in jail by choice. By conviction. Arrest and incarceration wasn’t being done to him, it was being done by him. He waded straight into conflict with the authorities under a higher Authority. A scandal to his family, he wasn’t ashamed.
John Lewis was on a Mission. To risk something big for something good. In his words, it was “good trouble, necessary trouble.” “Good” and “trouble” are words that don’t easily fit together. “Good”, meaning pure, noble, and true. “Trouble”, meaning conflict with power. Juxtaposed together, Lewis’ “good trouble” is the risk we take confronting power with truth.
Not every Mission risks jail. But it may risk scandal, personal conflict, career choices, and community and church tension. If it’s of God, it’s worth it.