I was avoiding reading yesterday by watching The Road to Freedom: The Vernon Johns Story on TV. I stumbled across it and stopped because I saw James Earl Jones, who portrayed the titular character. I had never heard of Vernon Johns, but I had heard of the church where he was preaching – Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama.
The movie, narrated by the character who portrays his daughter, tells the story of Johns who had gone from church to church until he was called to Dexter Avenue in 1948. Within two years of his time at the church he began to speak about and against the racial issues within Montgomery and chastised his congregants for ignoring the issues. Over the years, with Johns’ criticisms of their standing idly by, the congregation became increasingly discomforted and eventually forced him to resign. The church began to search for a more conservative and less-demanding pastor, and in 1954 they hired 25 year old Martin Luther King, Jr. (lol)
In the final moments of the movie, the narrator stated, “On my desk is a plaque that I inscribed with something that I must have heard my father say a million times: ‘If you see a good fight, get in it’.”
I found this to be a particularly striking quote because it echoed back to my January-term class and some feelings I was having then. While we discussed racism in that class, we also talked about when to speak up and stand against issues, both in the church and in the world. I’ve been contemplating over the past six-or-more months what my ‘thing’ will be – what will be my cause that I will fight for, who will the my people I will speak up for, what will be the issue that I will oppose. Truthfully, I’d want nothing more right now than to know what my ‘thing’ will be.
I’ve been wondering what it will be because things in my life are so wide-open – I have so many possibilities before me when I finish seminary. I can be called in any number of directions and do any number of things, but I wonder if my ‘thing’ will be there when I arrive. I suppose I’ve been thinking about this lately because I want to be prepared for it when I arrive – I want to hit the ground running and have all the information I could possibly have to combat that ‘thing’. I’m a planner at heart, so if I had this information now, I could really be ready for what’s to come.
But as lovely and wonderful as it would be to have that kind of foreknowledge before I arrive at a location, I seriously doubt that will be the case. If anything, I won’t know what my ‘thing’ will be until I’m in the thick of it, like Johns, King, Gandhi, Gregory Boyle, Fr. James Martin, or Walter Rauschenbusch.
Hearing the call on my life toward seminary has been a blessing, and I know I’m supposed to be here in this moment. I know that if I continue to follow this Voice in my life I’ll be where I’m supposed to be in the future and will recognize my ‘thing’ when it comes. And I know that I will be able to fight against it because my Creator has been with me and will be with me. The best preparation I can do now is fill myself with a complete understanding of love and who I am in the eyes of God. And be ready to join that fight when I see it.
much love. sheth.