I begin (as I often do) with lines from a poem. Here is an excerpt of “The Weighing” by Jane Hirshfield:
So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.
The balanced scales suggest a cosmic reckoning like Martin Luther King Jr.’s claim that the arc of moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Still, it is hard to be sustained on a “few grains” … unless one is a chicken!
There’s a lovely children’s book about the life of the late John Lewis called “Preaching to the Chickens.”Lewis, the descendent of slaves, the son of sharecroppers, had a literal “flock” as his first audience. The civil rights hero and politician grew up to speak eloquently:
Anchor the eternity of love in your own soul… Lean toward the whispers of your own heart… Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge… when it is your time, don’t be afraid to stand up, speak up, and speak out against injustice.
Our nation mourns his loss. How do we live into the ideals he mentions, especially without his leadership?
John Lewis, who by most measures would be consider a “great” man, denied the idea often summarized as The Great Man in History. Rather than a few individuals, Lewis believed that history is shaped by the collective action of people — actions that might seem like a few grains but together prove to be transformative. I believe Lewis was in good company:
He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31–32)
Put poetically, to sow small seeds is to “lean toward the whispers of our hearts.” A few grains at a time, may the example of John Lewis inspire us not be afraid to stand up, speak up and speak out. May the teachings of Christ assure us that our faith in action is not futile. We are part of the unfolding of the great kingdom of heaven.
By the grace and guidance of God, chickens come home to roost and the scales balance.
ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN is the pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and the author of “Gently Between the Words: Essays and Poems.” He and his wife, who is also a pastor, are rattled and blessed by parenting three young children.