Lection Connection

August 9, 2020: Dreaming Big

From Sandra Rooney

With increased interest in genealogy in recent years, some people have been utilizing DNA testing in an effort to learn more about their family history, especially where they might have family roots. Unfortunately, the results of such testing are much more complicated that most of us would have thought. In a short YouTube presentation, Prosanta Chakrabarty explains and illustrates this. The first thing that stands out is that 99% of all human genomes are identical, only 1% carry differences. With that in mind, we can readily see how we are, in fact, all part of one human family. Can we perhaps also begin to understand how, in many ways, that human family is like a dysfunctional nuclear family, with parental favoritism, sibling rivalries, deep-seated anger, mistrust, generational hostilities, and more. 

Three weeks ago, John Robert Lewis died. His life might serve to demonstrate some of those family characteristics. Tributes to Lewis have appeared almost daily as have the details of his life. Born February 21, 1940, he was the son of sharecroppers and lived on a farm owned by a white man. He suffered all the humiliations that were common in segregated rural Alabama at the time. Third of ten children, Lewis had to work hard even as a boy, leaving school at harvest time to pick cotton, peanuts, and corn. The family lived in a house without indoor plumbing or electricity. In the outhouse, they lived the cliche of using pages from an old Sears catalog as toilet paper. 

At an early age, Lewis exhibited the gifts of a preacher, and he often recalled preaching to the chickens he cared for. Drawing inspiration from listening to the young Martin Luther King on the radio, Lewis himself seemed destined to become a minister. He worked his way through seminary (at American Baptist Theological Seminary in Nashville) as a janitor and dishwasher. In Nashville, he met and joined with many civil rights activists. Lewis’ first arrest came in February 1960, when he and other students participated in a sit-in at a white-only lunch counter in Nashville. His family, like many of their generation, were ashamed of their son’s arrest and they discouraged his participation in such activities. But that first experience proved to be just the beginning of Lewis’ life-long struggle, what he called “a holy crusade,” and he was to say later that getting arrested had been “a badge of honor.” 

Lewis’ firm commitment to nonviolence, combined with his unflinching determination to bring about change in the way people of colour were treated, demanding dignity and respect, would lead to more than just arrests. He shared King’s dream that all who lived in the United States have equal opportunities to live the American dream. This brought the full extent of the segregationists’ ire upon him and other activists. He was arrested 40 times from 1960 to 1966, and severely beaten by Southern policemen and white mobs. During the Freedom Rides in 1961, Lewis was left unconscious and bloody outside the Greyhound Bus Terminal in Montgomery, Alabama, where he and others were attacked by hundreds of angry white people carrying all kinds of makeshift weapons, shouting, screaming and striking the demonstrators with fury and intensity.

History has marked the events of March 1965, when hundreds of people, black and white, were protesting black killings and demonstrating for voting rights. Sunday, March 7, started as a peaceful march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capital. It became known as “Bloody Sunday,” to commemorate the vicious attack on marchers by Alabama state troopers at the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which left Lewis with a fractured skull and 57 others treated for injuries at the hospital. But that wasn’t the end of Lewis’ story.

Explore…Genesis 37:1–4, 12–28

  • How do you react to the notion that we truly are all part of one global family?
  • Where do you see what might be considered sibling rivalries and jealousy affecting the course of events?
  • Where do you see yourself or your community in the struggle for human rights today?

Prayer links…
Eternal Spirit, as we face the isolation of the corona virus, may we also see ourselves reflected in the protests around the world. May we each look deeply into our own history, understand the struggles it represents, and be encouraged to continue to dream and work for a better tomorrow. Amen. 

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