I got up early on my day off to tackle an industrious list of things to do now that our hardwood floors are finished.
A Diet Coke and the morning newspaper are my companions before a time of quiet. Scanning the headlines I read of BP’s oil “spill” and the United Kingdom’s latest basketball politics. Then in the Metro section, the news that peace activist-minister George Edwards died on June 2.
And I am stopped in my tracks.
A local giant is gone.
I’ll take this giant of a man for my team over a Demarcus Cousins any day. Bent over with age, George was short in stature, even for someone vertically challenged like me. But George lived tall. From his elevated vantage point, George scanned the horizon and saw what mattered.
Here is a man whose life was invested in a bigger dream for the world: wholeness, peace, unity, compassion. George was a New Testament professor at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary and author of “Jesus and the Politics of Violence.” Along with wife, Jean – a force of nature and spirit in her own right – he was one of the “usual suspects” at rallies and meetings aimed at advancing peace and justice in the world.
How many nights, while others sat on couches watching the latest TV blather, did George stand on a cold street corner with a sign advocating peace in the world or right action in an unjust situation or attend one of the endless string of strategy meetings to get the couch-sitters to care as much about real survivors as they did about the TV version?
I lived in George’s neighborhood. I’d catch sight of him moving ever so slowly down the aisle at the grocery store, which confirmed to me that even giants shopped and lived regular lives. He and Jean were always gracious, acting as if my tiny actions were important when I knew they were at best paltry compared to their work.
I got bold a few years ago and asked to visit with them in their home because I wanted to detect their secret. We settled into their warm, modest living room and I tried to form my question. How did they come to be who they are? What cocktail of convictions allowed them to be liberated from lesser distractions? What steroids of certainty strengthened them to take stands of serious engagement against the forces of culture?
There was no magic answer, just as I suspected. No singular moment that turned them into superheroes. They simply did the next right thing as they saw it. George and Jean were a unique two-person community, a team of shared convictions that always welcomed others into the fold.
With no assumption that they’d see the final victory, they felt called to add their weight to a movement of mercy that began long before they came on the scene (they would say that this movement is built into the fabric of creation) and would continue long after their time is completed.
George used the time given to him, even the bonus years of his life, for things that mattered. He didn’t squander time on bitterness or trivialities. Like Nelson Mandela, George’s life had a frugality that focused his resources of intellect, voice and vision on things that made for peace.
We’re talking about God’s peace here. Not the Christian God alone, but the bigger, more beautiful God, known by those who experience Christianity deeply, or other faiths too for that matter; a God mostly hidden in superficial versions of religion that reduce their message to a competition that invariably ends in conflict.
George’s bigger God begets a generosity of spirit that erases lines of race and nationality. George’s God excludes no one. George’s God always leads to peace.
That’s a God I can believe in.
The departure of a giant leaves a big hole on the front line of faithful servants of mercy. Like the miracles of the Bible, may other individuals and couples rise from the paralysis of their couches in order to engage in the things that make for peace.
Joe Phelps is pastor of Highland Baptist Church and Ridgewood Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky.
A minister in Louisville, Kentucky, for 21 years as pastor of Highland Baptist Church, Phelps is now Justice Coordinator for Earth and Spirit Center. He leads, along with Kevin Cosby, EmpowerWest, a black-white clergy coalition calling for recognition, repentance, and repair of injustices to black Louisvillians.