John Lewis never missed a chance to encourage us to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly. He spoke at the first Earth Day in Decatur, Georgia because a high school kid asked him to. And then at Lauren’s high school graduation for the same reason. Three years ago he keynoted the American Public Health Association annual convention by video because as you-know-who was beginning his war on public health and he needed to stay on the House floor. The APHA public advocacy leadership group was meeting just before Rev. Lewis spoke, trying to figure out how to speak across the angry partisan lines. I shared the following.
I’ve been thinking of John Lewis all day. You’ll hear him use the word love at some point, as he always does. If he doesn’t say it, you’ll feel it. When Reverend Lewis speaks of love, he is is speaking tactically not inspirationally about public engagement. He didn’t make this up. He got it from Jesus through King with an accent of Gandhi. He tells of hearing the voice of Dr. King on the radio as a high school student at home down an unpaved road in Alabama—the kind of place known to public health people well. Reverend Lewis also got it from the Apostle Paul who wrote a letter to a polarized contentious gaggle in a young social movement in a tough seaport town of Corinth. The opposite of religious abstraction, the 13th chapter explains what love means:
If I speak in the voice of powerful people or spirits but do not have loving kindness, I am only a distracting noise. 2If I have predictive data and interdisciplinary analytics that give me confidence to move mountains of poverty, but am not kind, I am nothing. 3If I proudly commit to radical levels of community benefit and take on huge obligations for the health of the public, but am not humbled by love, I do nothing.
4The love that life needs is patient and kind. It does not envy others’ projects, it does not boast of our own ministries, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of who ran up the debt and who got more. 6Loving kindness does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always finds a way.
8Love never quits. Where we have predictions and projections, they will cease; where there are speeches, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
9For we know in part and we predict in part, 10but when living complexity comes, what is partial disappears. 11When we were young in our work we talked like beginners, and thought like beginners, reasoned like novices. When we became grown-ups, we put the ways of childhood behind.
12For now we see only dimly as if looking at an eclipse toward the hidden sun, as through a smokey haze; then we shall see it all directly. Now we know a bit; then we may know fully, even as our own lives will be fully known.
13And now these three remain in life: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
We dearly miss you John. But we know what to do.