One of my proudest moments was when Congressman John Lewis preached for us at the Cathedral of Hope. John was the youngest member of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s team. He was only 18 when he was beaten into a coma by state troopers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama. In his sermon, John talked about how his mother told him as a boy to stay out of trouble and not get in the way.
Then he noted that, when it comes to injustice, we sometimes have a responsibility to get in the way of the oppressor. John was arrested 40 times and was the only congressperson to speak up on behalf of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people deserving the right to marry. Although now, as a United States congressman, he has all the rights in the world, John is still getting in the way of injustice wherever he sees it.
Those of you who are long-time activists will recall a man named Brian Willson. He served in Vietnam, but later came to regret the things he did while there. After much soul searching, he decided to do what he could to make sure his country never got involved in another war like that again.
One day, while traveling in Nicaragua, he realized that we were doing the same thing in someone else’s country. Instead of sending troops, we were sending money and weapons to make sure “our side” won. He resolved to do all he could to tell people how wrong it was for us to use our power and wealth to perpetuate war. Willson participated in a protest outside the Concord Naval Weapons Station from which munitions were being shipped to Central America.
The protesters spread across the train track that brought the weapons into the base. They fully expected to be arrested, but the engineer reportedly accelerated the train. Brian Willson awoke in an ICU without his legs.
No one would have blamed him if he became embittered; instead, he became one of the most effective peace activists in the country. Brian Willson said, “You know, although I miss my legs, I do not regret my choice. I think I did what I always thought the German people ought to have done as the trains took people off to extermination camps.”
I invite you to channel the spiritual activism of Jesus. Get in the way. Get in the way of injustice. Get in the way of poverty. Get in the way of war. Get in the way of the things for which Jesus laid down his life.
Rev. Michael Piazza