Where have you gone, Atticus

Harper Lee, the author of the classic novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird” died a few weeks ago.  Many considered her a one hit wonder, writing a great novel and never writing anything, at least for publication, ever again.  Recently a second novel “Go Set a Watchman” a prequel of sorts was published.  But many close to Harper Lee said she never intended it to be made available to the public. It was an early work about the characters we would come to see in “To Kill a Mockingbird”

In some ways, to lable Lee a one hit wonder may be a bit unfair.  Rather than labeling her the literary version of The Knack and “My Sharonna”, it might be more accurate  to say she hit her masterpiece ealry. It’s easy to write, and write again when you keep getting better. But when you reach the summit with your first work, where do you go from there?

When I think about “Mockingbird” I am instantly transported back to the front porch of my Grandparents house when I first read the book sitting on their green porch swing one hot summer when I was 9.   I can still remember simultaneously being caught up in the story and fighting off the vertigo that comes from laying on a porch swing and reading for hours.

Of course, at nine I was too young to get all the nuances of the book. As an adult, though I’m amazed at the insight Lee pours into Atticus Finch, who I will always see as Gregory Peck. Am I the only who hears Peck when you read the book?

I’ve no idea where Lee’s faith was, although it is notable her funeral was in the local United Methodist church. But even if her personal faith isn’t strong (I’ve no idea) there is a firm Christian witness in the book in Finch and in how he deals with the issues at hand.

Finch teaches us that winning isn’t the reason we do something. We do things because they are right.  Finch has no hope of winning the case in the story. Even though the evidence is strong in the favor of his client, the racism and the salacious nature of the case of rape of a white girl are stronger still. Yet even though he knows he can’t win. He still defends the innocent.  How often do we hold ourselves back from doing the right thing, even in our own spiritual lives or in the world because we assume we won’t be successful? Rightness more than success ought to be the measuring stick of our endeavors.

Change comes in small moments, bit by bit.  Finch does lose the trial.  But notice what happens here:

Perhaps one of the most powerful moments in a film. The people know even if Finch didn’t win the case, the fact he took it fought for the accused was a small change. Enough small changes and the world itself becomes different. Change in the world doesn’t always come from big catastrophic moments. Sometimes it comes in small moments, even in moments of defeat.

We are called to be world changers. But we often fall into the trap that all change comes at once, and that it must come in big ways. We forget its when the people of faith are willing to make even small changes, even in defeat that God can use those moments to change the world.

Its true for our discipleship as well. We want, rightly , to become Christlike. And we’d love for it to happen all at once. But it often doesn’t. It sometimes comes in small ways. God often works to change our hearts in small ways. But in time, if we are faithful, we slowly, surely become more like Christ.  Even our defeats can bring us closer to Jesus, if we are willing to give them to us.

Where have the Atticus Finch’s of the world gone? They haven’t.  They are, in Pogo’s world, us. Let us begin to do what’s right when the world tells us it’s wrong . Let us measure our success not by our wins, but by the rightness of our cause. Let us in small ways every day become more like Jesus and change the world.  Then, just maybe we’ll see Atticus isn’t so far from us after all.

 

In Christ,

Rev. Dr. Brian Jones <><

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