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A Legacy of Courage

As I reflect on 9/11, like others I will remember the senseless deaths and the horror. But courage—whether it is Beamer’s “Let’s roll” or the heroics of New York’s firefighters and police—is the legacy I’ll most remember.

Elvis’ death? I have no idea. Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon? I watched it, I assume. One exception was the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. My sixth-grade school trip to <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Washington, D.C., was cut short, and we were hurried onto a train to avoid possible riots in the city. I might remember an event, but usually I am at a loss to say where I was or what I was doing at the time.  <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
With the tragedy we now call 9/11, however, all of us remember. And much like Pearl Harbor for our senior friends, I doubt we will ever forget. 
 
What will we remember about 9/11? Tragedy, senseless death, grief, terrorism, the resulting patriotism and heroism are some of our thoughts at this first anniversary. Perhaps Lisa Beamer’s sharing of her husband’s heroic courage, embodied in his now familiar cry, ‘Let’s roll,” will be one of the most enduring legacies. I expect it will be for me.
 
Authentic courage is something I find increasingly important, especially in Baptist life. 
 
Baptists have a heritage with plenty of courageous heroes. John Smyth, Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams and William Whitsitt are prominent figures to people familiar with the Baptist story. I think of the courage in recent years of Cecil Sherman, James Dunn, Henlee Barnette and Jimmy Carter. You didn’t have to wonder about what they believed. They had the courage to state their views and then live them.
 
All of us have other heroes, people who taught us what it meant to be courageous in faith. Growing up, I didn’t learn a list of Baptist distinctives; the principles were simply but powerfully lived out in my parents’ daily life. It was the same way with courage, which I came to understand while experiencing my dad’s death 19 years ago.
 
As my dad lay dying from cancer in a hospital bed, I was informed that Horace had been chosen to be a pallbearer. Horace had attended the church where my dad was the pastor, but he was known as a ‘town drunk.” He wore out the patience of church members, yet my dad refused to abandon Horace as a ‘waste of time.” 
 
In selecting pallbearers, my dad said that some people probably would be upset, but that it was OK since this was his ‘wing ding.” He said he had picked Horace up out of the ditch many times, and now Horace could pick him up.
 
The courage to believe that God still loved the downtrodden, the courage to stand up to frustrated church members, the courage to be true to his convictions, the courage to be Christian in ways much more important than assenting to a creed: I understood the depths of courage in the selection of Horace. I also understood the influence of courage on those who benefited from it. I’ve never seen a prouder pallbearer in all my life.
 
I wasn’t finished learning about courage, however. As my dad’s condition deteriorated he hardly moved his body, and he did not speak for over two days. Visitors were not allowed, but my mother let Dallas, an African-American and also a hospital patient, come in the room. I watched, stunned and speechless, as my dad opened his eyes, lifted his arms for the first time in days and asked Dallas to come and hug him. 
 
My dad was born and raised in Mississippi. Dallas was an individual whom most people would quickly stereotype and ignore. He was black, poor and a janitor. The courage and strength to love others unlike yourself—I saw it defined that day.
 
The ‘odd trio” of Horace, Dallas and my dad defined courage in ways I’ll never forget.
 
As I reflect on 9/11, like others I will remember the senseless deaths and the horror. But courage—whether it is Beamer’s ‘Let’s roll” or the heroics of New York’s firefighters and police—is the legacy I’ll most remember. Maybe that’s because of the lenses of my own experiences, or my reading about Baptist heroes.  
 
We need courage to be faithful Christians, to be faithful Baptists more than ever. Courageous faith, freely exhibited, in whatever form is a legacy worth remembering. 
 
Doug Weaver is professor of Christianity and chair of the religion and philosophy division at Brewton-Parker College in Mt. Vernon, Ga.