In March 1965, divinity student John Lewis and Hosea Williams, a lieutenant of Dr. Martin Luther King, led a group of African Americans on a voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama. At the Edmund Pettis Bridge, a phalanx of mounted state troopers wearing gas masks and carrying clubs ordered them to turn back. Lewis and Williams knelt down and asked to pray first.
Instantly the troopers charged, beating and tear-gassing the marchers. Lewis was clubbed and suffered a severe concussion. “ I thought I was going to die,” recalled Rep. John Lewis of Georgia with quiet intensity during a recent interview on “The Colbert Report.”
In searching for his usual snappy response, host Stephen Colbert spoke for most of us. “I don’t want to cross that bridge. Is there an easier bridge for the rest of us to cross?”
I thought about this surprisingly moving exchange as I meditated on today’s reading from Isaiah because I’ve always been fascinated by seemingly ordinary people like Lewis who find the courage to respond to God’s call to live their faith heroically. “Who will go for us?” “Here I am,” I said; “send me.” How do they do it?
I admire Dorothy Day for living a radically Christian life of service to the poor but I’ll never abandon my comfortable middle class lifestyle. However God’s call for someone to send can’t just be to a handful of heroes, saints and martyrs. It has to be for all of us or at least those of us searching for Colbert’s proverbial easier bridge to cross.
Closer to home and far more attainable, two men I know are caring for wives with major disabilities and friends teach in inner city schools instead of the suburbs. Volunteers for the St. Vincent de Paul Society help the poor in their communities and my students do countless hours of volunteer work.
Surely all of them are responding to God’s question, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Maybe some of their “bridges” aren’t any easier to cross, just different – and all of us can find such bridges everywhere.
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