“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8: 34)
It was some 20 years after the march from Selma to Montgomery. And a grand celebration day in Montgomery as the marchers this year remembered, and re-committed themselves to the ongoing march for civil rights.
The speaker at the podium was just about to begin the festivities, when there was a rustling at the back of the hall. The speaker looked out. Paused. Nodded. Smiled and said, “Welcome, George Wallace.”
He was a shadow of the man he used to be. Confined to a wheelchair the past years after he had been shot five times in an assassination attempt. Gray. Tired.
As Wallace was wheeled to the front of the hall, the crowd gathered that day remembered. Remembered the words from his first inaugural address years ago. “Segregation now. Segregation tomorrow. Segregation forever.”
Remembered how he said that he would do everything in his power to prevent that first march from Selma to Montgomery. The march that ended almost as soon as it began on the Edmund Pettus Bridge when the crowd was driven back, bloodied and wounded. The day that came to be known as “Bloody Sunday.”
Wallace was wheeled out onto the stage. A microphone placed in his hand,
“A lot has changed in the past 20 years. Including me. Today, I say, ‘Welcome to Montgomery.'”
At the heart of this business of faith is a mysterious thing called “conversion”. A turning around. A seeing in a new way. What happens when we have been following, marching to the beat of a particular way and drummer, a way of seeing and being in the world, and something happens. Something changes.
We begin to see things differently. Another way. Maybe a way we never saw before.
George Wallace had such a conversion. He renounced his stance on segregation. Apologized for the harm he had caused.
I wonder today how I might wake up, to get to such a place of seeing differently – without having to be shot five times?
Maybe this really is what the heart of the journey of faith is all about – the invitation to turn around and have our eyes, hearts, lives open in new ways.
Maybe the death we all need to die to is the dying of our own small ego, grasping will, and self-rightness. To let something else – a broader seeing and knowing, a deeper awareness take over the driver’s seat of our lives.
A number of years ago a book came out about the 100 Most Influential People in History.
Muhammad was #1.
Sir Isaac Newton #2.
And #3, Jesus.
When asked why Jesus was third, the author said that in his mind, Jesus had the greatest teaching, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
But the author remarked that he couldn’t give Jesus #1 because in his experience, his followers didn’t seem to believe him.
So much stands in the way of my loving. My loving of myself, my neighbor, the stranger of the street, much less anyone I could name as my “enemy”.
My lack of faith.
Jesus calling and inviting me to die to what gets in the way and come and lose myself alongside him. To be in the world in a different way. To see and do things differently. To deny my small, grasping self, to liberate a greater one.
9 thoughts on “The Conversion”
I remember those Wallace days and remember watching an interview and you are so right that this once angry, hateful man was a shell of himself but more important he was broken and figuratively on his knees sharing his failures as a man and child of God. It was a real modern Saul of Tarsus conversion. God allows these things and we have opportunity to follow Christ. Not much to say other than an incredible life event and act of love. Corky
Dear Corky – thanks for writing. I wonder why it is that sometimes it seems life needs to hit hard – an assassination attempt, an accident, the end of a marriage, a crisis, a birth, a death – some great physical, visceral turning for us to turn around and wake up. It makes me all the more aware of how important these times are in our lives – truly times with the potential for great transformation. And I wonder how it might happen in more “ordinary” times, each day in fact, that we can begin again, see differently, turn around. Be converted. I hold in my heart and prayer, such an opening for us in the everyday of today,
Peter, You are so right. I knew knowing of God or Jesus and after my accident I was left physically a Quadriplegic only able to use a wheelchair. I have to say my conversion was a big part if not all of my accident. God sure could have gotten my attention another way but here I am. I have had a great life with my career, family and being able to live for him. I know that there are other ways that people meet Jesus but God allowed this the best I can tell. Take care and thanks for your essays. Blessings. Corky.
Thanks Corky for your response. What you have gone through and continue to, is the heart of what “transformation” or conversion is all about. What a testimony you have been living. And the question for all of us I hear is how might we use the tragedies, accidents, crises in our lives to move our lives forward in new ways. We all know what it is like to have such crises deplete and even destroy our lives. And it seems a miracle, an amazing grace, when such crises over time, and with the support and care that is required in them, become opportunities for our lives to bloom in new ways – ways we never expected. That’s not to say I believe that God “made” the crisis happen – no. I don’t believe in such a God. But God present – always present – in the joys and crises. Yes. God able to bring “new life” out of the “impossible” places of life and make new life possible – yes. Here, for me, is the heart of what Easter, and faith, is all about.
Thank you so much for your kind and encouraging words. Life truly has been a great adventure With God Present in our day to day opportunities. He will supply the light to get us through the dark nights. Take care. Corky
Thanks Amos for writing and sharing this. Isn’t that our lives – the constant call of the need to “return” – to God, to hope, to promise, possibility, love. Turning it around.
Thanks,Peter. Spot on! Shalom,Sara
Thanks Sara for writing. Conversion – the potential, possibility of it is something that I always need to be reminded of. Especially in the stuck places in life. I was reminded today in a conversation that “every place of imprisonment is the potential place of liberation.” That is the story of the Exodus. That is the story of conversion. That might be the story for us even today,