On Friday July 17, 2020 America lost a giant when Congressman John Lewis (D, GA-5) passed on after a battle with pancreatic cancer.
I’ve cried a lot. I didn’t know Congressman Lewis in person. He was elected to Congress in 1987, the year I began my studies at Columbia Theological Seminary, which is located in Georgia’s fifth district. He felt like a neighbor.
A neighbor with whom I sometimes disagreed. We agreed, though, on the big things. Peace. Justice. Racial equality. Fair elections. Human dignity.
Also the current occupant of the oval office and the importance of the 2020 elections.
I’ve remembered a lot, along with the crying… Dr. King. Bobby Kennedy. The Freedom Fighters. The March on Washington… the first one. Worshipping at Ebenezer Baptist. Peter Paul & Mary. Dr. William Barber, II. Hank Johnson.
Those who have walked on and those who march, still.
And of all the words I know from the “Preaching Politician,” the ones loudest in my head and my heart are these:
Sometimes you have to find a way to get in trouble, good trouble.
I’ve been practicing my good trouble more lately. Somehow the notion of fierce compassion has taken root in my heart. My grandmother heart.
I have lots of friends along the way. Preacher friends and grandparent friends. Writer friends and rescue friends. Plain old good people friends. And artist friends. Lots of them.
So it really wasn’t much of a surprise when my tears drew me to my canvas. You’ve probably seen this one before. I smeared tears on it and mixed a new color. The one my painting was asking for in this moment.
It was a riff on my Intentional Creativity grandmother, Sue Hoya Sellars’ recipe for “black” paint. I didn’t have the right colors on hand – though I’m ordering them tonight – so I read a few labels and listened deep and came up with Lewis Black.
A couple of ounces of Van Dyke Brown. About half as much Payne’s Grey. And 3 drops of a good, clear orange… no cadmium at my house.
I shook the magic, perhaps more ferociously than strictly required. And then I sprayed the canvas with water and a few more tears. I got out one of my favorite big sash brushes and I drummed the paint on the canvas.
Slowly, at first. Sadly. Gently.
And I watched the drips.
And I turned the canvas and sprayed, and drummed harder and louder, and watched drips some more, until I was flooded with an image that, while it is likely to say more things in the future, said for me, in this moment, black lives matter.
Just like the sign in our garden. And the other signs for current candidates, most of whom John Lewis endorsed.
Those signs may be my current pathway into good trouble, for I have been informed that I have exceeded the allowable square feet of yard signs in our particular piece of the planet.
I’m okay with that. Every one of them says something I believe needs to be said and so they stay. I imagine I’ll need at least one more when a new candidate declares for the GA-5. (Don’t even ask me about the opposition!)
Sometimes fierce compassion means swimming against the stream. And painting the truth of our hearts. Because we’ve all got more generations growing up in this world and that’s worth standing up for.
Later, dots for comfort and hope. Now, thanks for each one of you on the road.