I’ve been thinking about what makes a saint. I know some of the process in determining whether a person is canonized as a saint in the Roman Catholic tradition. Two documented miracles, living a good life in service-or whatever qualifies one as saint-like. Or martyrdom. I’ve seen icons of Martin Luther King, Jr. and he exhibited many of the attributes of a saintly life-he was also fully human with his own foibles. As is the case with many of us. I believe the statesman, John Lewis, lived the life of a saint. And, there are many saints among us right now. King was martyred for his beliefs and his actions as was Medgar Evers.
I first learned of the saint/martyr, Medgar Evers, at a workshop years ago. I was learning how to use a computer system that was needed for my work as a domestic violence and sexual assault survivor’s advocate. Each of us was sitting in front of a laptop-they were quite large and heavy back then. My laptop had a name on it: Medgar. I thought, “That’s an unusual name.” Then, before starting the class, the trainer asked us to look at the names and say them out loud. He told us they were all civil rights leaders. Afterward, I looked for Medgar Evers and learned about him. I memorized his face so I would recognize pictures of him. When a film was released telling of his life, I watched it.
So, when I met his granddaughter the other day, I immediately recognized that I was looking into eyes identical to Medgar’s-it was an astonishing experience. After talking to her for several minutes about Seattle and about Chaplains’ work here in Grays Harbor and about my eagerness to meet her again when she comes to Washington state; I turned to her mom and said, “She has your dad’s eyes.” Reena Evers Everette nodded and looked over at Frank Figgers and said, “Yes, I’ve always thought that.”
The thing is, a man mowed down Reena’s father as he exited his car in front of his family home and that man was not successful in stopping the movement that Medgar was spearheading. His wife, Myrtle kept at it, his daughter keeps at it, and his granddaughter, Nicole, lives in Jackson, MS and she is also involved: looking through those eyes that reflect her grandfather and his passion to “Go back and try again.”
So, perhaps the saints are still with us-not just in spirit but in our DNA and in our passion to “Go back and try again.” Sometimes the call to do God’s will is confusing. How do we accomplish these great deeds? How do we make this place line up with God’s kingdom-with the way God would like us to treat one another? Sometimes we have to try things and fail then “Go back and try again”. Medgar was the third person murdered for leading the Jackson NAACP. New leaders just kept rising up to do the work. Bowing down to injustice wasn’t working for people-they just kept trying.
Down the street from the NAACP headquarters, there was a sewer smell and standing water on the sidewalk. When I washed my hands in the restroom, the water was brown with rust and who knows what. Mr. Figgers explained that the infrastructure in that part of town is 100 years old but no one will spend money on the neighborhood. The sewers back up and overflow, the water is undrinkable through most of Jackson due to lead contamination. Jackson is the Mississippi state capital but the mostly white lawmakers come to do their business and then go back home to leave the mostly black residents with substandard infrastructure. Jackson needs a lot of saints and it has them-fighting for the residents to receive the help they are due in a manner that is expedient and beneficial-a tall order. Our host, Danyelle, was notoriously late when she had plans with us and there was a reason for this. She gets constant phone calls from people who are incarcerated, from people who need rental assistance, from people who don’t have their basic needs met, and she takes those calls and sometimes she is late. She also is a regional coordinator (for 18 states) of the PPC. She is a dynamo and we have plans for her to visit, too.
My point in all of this, is that we can continue the work of the saints. We can recognize that they are still with us and we can use their energy to stand against the powers that be to improve the world we live in. And, sometimes, we can see through their eyes for a clearer vision. We can go back and try again.