An open letter from The Rev. Dr. Jacqui Lewis to Brian McLaren
My dad and mom met at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska. They had both escaped Mississippi, Jim Crow, and what Billie Holiday called strange fruit hanging from the trees. They had walked past the “school,” to attend the “Colored School.” They had crossed the street at the request of white people, to get out of the way; they had sipped water from “colored only” water fountains. They knew about anti-lynching campaigns and lunch counter sit-ins. Mom sang in the choir with Fannie Lou Hamer.
They met, they fell in love, they got married and they had me. Dad was in Morocco when I was born, so my Uncle Gus greeted me and my cousin who was born six days before me.
My first field trip was to Ruleville, where Mom lived with her mother for the first six months of my life. Her Uncle George, a tall thin man with wiry hair, and skin the color of the delta clay, loved taking care of me! He rocked me to sleep, he played with me in the basinet, and bounced me on his knee. Mom, deeply impacted by Dr. Spock about all things children, would send Uncle George back to town to the grocery store to get more baby food—I was force fed peas, carrots, pears, and rice cereal every meal!
Uncle George was a share cropper, like his twelve other brothers and one sister. He eventually prospered and bought his own land. I loved his beautiful ranch house, which was painted red with white trim. He was gregarious man, who became active in the civil rights movement. He went from farm to farm, registering people to vote. The KKK or Citizens Counsel threatened him often, even shooting through the big glass picture window of his house.
He was one of my heroes, and died three years ago. As a young person, when I had the chance to vote, I felt like his spirit was hovering. I get to vote, I thought, unlike Uncle George’s parents, unlike him and his siblings when they were my age, because of the work he did. Because of the work that John Lewis and all of those people did in Selma, because of people who gave up their lives so I could.
Brian, I get to vote because women, and men worked so hard to make sure I could.
Uncle George understood the value of the vote, the way voting gave voice to the voiceless, and took huge risks to make it be so.
So, friend, I take voting very personally. It is my right, and not only that, I think of it as following the command to love. When the rabbi Jesus was teaching in ancient Palestine, he was asked about which commandment from God was the most important one. He said, “Love your God with all of your heart, soul mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. He was quoting Hebrew scripture, reminding those gathered that 36 times into the scripture it says to love the stranger. Love the stranger because you were once strangers. One of my favorite Rabbis-- Doniel Hartman-- says loving the stranger means when the neighbor’s cow wanders into your yard you feed the cow until you can return the cow. Love of neighbor-- no matter how strange the neighbor-- means stewarding the neighbor’s stuff. Their cow, their property, their family, their lives.
Voting is a way to use our voices to steward our neighbor’s self- interest. It does not matter who is running for office nor for what office they are running, what is on the ballot is clean air and water, food enough, clothing enough and shelter enough for folk to be safe. Schools in which to learn and grow and play—they are on the ballot. The city streets to which the prophet Zechariah refers—clean and hospitable so that old folk and young folk can hang out in them—they are on the ballot. Health care is on the ballot; humanity is on the ballot.
What does your neighbor need? What do you need? That is all on the ballot. So, it is our turn to love God with all we have and love our neighbor as ourselves. It is our turn to think of voting as a holy act, as a mitzvoth, as a right and as a calling.
I hope, Brian, our nation will vote, like our lives depend on it, like our love depends on it.
Because, it does. Voting is the loving thing to do.