Harper Lee’s beloved novel To Kill A Mockingbird follows the life of Scout and her family, including her father Atticus, as they deal with 1930s racism and post-Great Depression life. There’s a great scene in the book that talks about, in allegorical ways, the Christian life in the face of fear.
Mrs. Dubose, a mean client of Atticus who would swear at the children from her porch, has just died. This is the woman whom Jem had to read to after he destroyed her azalea bushes. When Atticus tells Jem that she had died, he also tells Jem that Mrs. Dubose had been a morphine addict. Jem and Atticus then had this exchange:
“You mean that’s what her fits were,” Jem asks his father.
“Yes, that’s what they were. Most of the time you were reading to her I doubt if she heard a word you said.”
“Did she die free?”
“As the mountain air,” Atticus replies. “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do. Mrs. Dubose won, all ninety-eight pounds of her. According to her views, she died beholden to nothing and nobody. She was the bravest person I ever knew.”
To the racist and violence-prone culture around Mrs. Dubose, courage was often defined as who had the bravery to take what was others. But courage as defined by Mrs. Dubose was to take on what was hers and hers alone. To bear that burden, to name it, and to struggle even against all odds. And in the end, she won. She was hateful, she was mean to everyone around her, that is true. But in her private struggle, she died free of the burden of addiction.
When we look at our own lives, we may not feel the future is sunny as an August Portland day. We may feel the weight of addictions to things beyond our control. We may feel the scars of the past. We may suffer the guilt of our own shortcomings. And we are tempted to follow culture and take what is others so that when we die, we at least have more of other people’s belongings or dreams. But Atticus reminds us that courage is the naming and facing down of the source of our guilt, shame, or burden. To confront it in life-giving ways our burdens.
My prayer for you today is that you find a community at First Church that doesn’t distract you from your past but helps you face it in the following ways:
- Companions for the journey: You may find others who have gone through similar heartaches and can join together even just one-on-one for coffee and find ways to go through the journey together. Every person is different but an hour talking through with someone who has an inkling of what you are going through is better than an hour suffering alone.
- Worship that helps not hinders: One of the things I like most already about First Church is that we don’t offer energized jazzed-up worship that hits you on all the emotional touchtones and leave you needing to come back week after week for the spiritual “high.” We offer life-giving deep theology and hymns that reach into the backgrounds of your minds and experience.
- Turning needs outward instead of inward: Instead of distracting you from the pain of your world outside the church walls, we empower people to take their worship beyond the church walls in acts of service and care for others. In doing the grace of Christ, in offering it to others, we often find we receive it ourselves in ways that are helpful.
The future for each one can be free as the mountain air. Can you smell it?
Join us this Sunday at 10:30am for worship and you just might.