Fred Shuttlesworth: #Occupying Heaven

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth with wife, Sephira in Selma, Alabama, at the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday at the Edmund Pettus Bridge. (Photo: Rose Berger)

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, who withstood fire hoses and dogs unleashed by Birmingham’s public safety conmmissioner, and survived bombings and beatings during the civil rights movement, died on Wednesday (Oct. 5) at age 89.

Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth (left), Ralph Abernathy (center), Dr. King (right) on Good Friday on April 12, 1963, in Birmingham.

I met Rev. Shuttlesworth last year in Birmingham with his lovely wife Sephira when I joined the 46th anniversary of Bloody Sunday on a civil rights tour of Alabama led by Congressman John Lewis.

Rev. Shuttlesworth’s body was a bit ravaged, but his eyes were fierce and he was tracking everything that was going on.

He made it across the Edmund Pettus bridge one more time. And now he’s crossed a bridge where there’s nothing but angels on the other side.

“I think God created Fred Shuttlesworth to take on people like Bull Connor. He was one of the most courageous men that I have ever known. I don’t know of anyone else that could have led the movement in Birmingham.”–Rev. Joseph Lowery

Read more about Rev. Shuttlesworth over at Sojourners.

Rev. King: Christian Radical

I loved reading Joseph Ross’s blog post Dr. King in 2009. It’s an excellent reminder for us all. Here’s an excerpt:

Dr. King saw America’s economic system creating a nearly permanent under-class. This, he saw, as a gross injustice, this willingness to allow whole segments of our population to remain poorly educated, badly treated in the social realm, and unfairly treated as consumers, all resulting in a horribly unequal economic state. Many of us forget that the reason he was in Memphis in April of 1968, when he was killed, was not to rally for racial equality, but to support the sanitation workers’ strike and their “I Am A Man” campaign.

If non-violence and poverty reduction were the twin centers of his social strategy, what would Dr. King say to America in 2009?

Read the whole post here.

And I’d add to Joe’s reflections the quote in The Washington Post from King colleague Rev. Joseph Lowery:

They have made Martin a glorified social worker, and they have almost made our young folks believe that all Martin did was go around dreaming. He was a nonviolent militant. He was a Christian radical.

And for a great video to lift your spirits, watch Lowery’s address at Coretta Scott King’s funeral. Prophetic, funny, brave, and eloquent. (I love when he “critiques” President Bush, who is sitting right behind him.)

A Nation That Prays Together

I was delighted that Rev. Joseph Lowery, Methodist pastor and co-founder with Rev. Martin Luther King of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was asked by Prez Obama to lead the benediction at the Inauguration. I was SO delighted in fact that I wrote to Rev. Lowery and asked him to tell Sojourners how he felt about the honor. He responded:

Like most Americans of a particular age, I never thought I’d live to see the day…. At an entirely different level, I’m engaged in a spiritual experience like nothing I have ever been exposed to—at any point in my life. And this comes from one who shared in the revjosephloweryDream my friend and colleague Martin Luther King Jr. taught the nation about one hot August afternoon 45 years ago. It comes from one who fought for the Voting Rights Act, for a Civil Rights Bill, and to free South Africa and liberate Nelson Mandela from 27 years of confinement as a political prisoner. But, there’s something much greater at work here. I first sensed it in the snows of Iowa and New Hampshire where I saw the ruddy, frozen cheeks of white college students standing in snowdrifts up to their knees in support of the candidacy of Barack Obama. I saw it as I watched a new generation text-messaging and using their iPods to spread the word about this extraordinary man. … Read the full response here.

I was less than delighted with Obama tapping Rev. Rick Warren to offer the opening prayer at the Inauguration. Warren is trying to represents the Hawaiian-shirt-wearing new face of conservative American evangelical Christianity. I’m disturbed (to say the least) by his public support of Prop. 8 in California. (Bad move, bro.) But I can verify that he has a very kick-butt wife and that always gives me a glimmer of hope.

Despite the Warren controversy, I’m glad to see that Prez Obama has liturgically fenced-out Warren by surrounding him with worship leaders with a more biblically-grounded understanding of God’s love, generosity, and liberation. Rev. Lowery for one.

Additionally, Rev. Sharon Watkins, head of the Disciples of Christ, is the first woman to take the prominent position of preacher at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Also, Episcopal bishop Gene V. Robinson will lead the prayer at the “National Inaugural Concert” on Sunday. When Robinson was confirmed as a bishop he had to wear body-armor under his pastoral robes at the liturgy because there’d been so many death threats against him, his children, and his partner Mark Andrew.

I was also very glad to see that Dr. Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America, is taking a prominent role at the National Prayer Breakfast. She’s director of the Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations and a professor of Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations at Hartford Seminary.

Despite our differences, I’ll fall back on the old adage–when it looks as diverse as this crowd, I think it’s true: A nation that prays together, stays together.