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.
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.
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.