The Local Voice

The View From The Balcony: “Preaching to Chickens”


In the comic strip, Kudzu, the late Doug Marlette’s preacher character, Rev. Will B. Dunn, was asked if he ever got feedback on his sermons. His reply went something like this: “Let me tell you about feedback. Every morning around six o’clock I go out and give corn to my chickens. Around nine o’clock I go back out and I get feed back.”

Well, chicken manure is potent stuff, but it’s not worth a crap if it stays in the coop. It stinks to high heaven, but the results can be magnificent! My father used chicken manure annually to help make our yard verdant and green. The feed that Congressman John Lewis gave us American chickens can do the same for our country.

Over the past week I have been privileged to watch several of the memorial services for John Lewis. Not one service failed to mention Lewis’ humble beginnings—a four-year-old boy in Troy, Alabama, who felt called to be a minister and began by preaching to chickens.

Image from Preaching to the Chickens: The Story of Young John Lewis by Jabari Asim, illustrated by EB Lewis (Penguin Random House).

In Lewis’ final memorial service, the Reverend Dr. Raphael Gamaliel Warsock, Senior Pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, noted that Lewis didn’t become a pastor or deliver sermons to a congregation to inspire and challenge them. He became a walking sermon—an incarnation of the essence of the teaching that the ultimate answer to the human condition lay in a four-letter word: love.

But the love that John Lewis lived was not a benign, syrupy, la-ti-da kind of love. The love he espoused was filled with power and strength that would stand in peaceful opposition to oppression, and would literally take a beating, yet prevail over hate. Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, referenced the Sanskrit word “satyagraha” regarding Lewis. It means two things: nonviolence and insistence on the truth.

Who among us would willingly take a beating and risk death without fighting back, all for a cause bigger than ourselves? How many of us would willingly go to jail for civil disobedience multiple times for a cause we believed in?

When we stand against injustice, when we march for equality, when we protest for peace we are putting something on the line for, as Superman would say, “Truth, justice, and the American way.” But just what is the “American Way”?

The American way evolves. Established upon what appeared to be the noble ideal of equality and justice for all, the liberty that America declared to the world wasn’t liberty for all, rather predominantly for white male landowners. The oppressed have had to fight their way to freedom in every generation, and each successive generation has revealed another layer of inequality that must be addressed. Now the very system of protection that allowed for safe, open, thoughtful discourse is at risk.

There are many Americans who want to shut down protesters, declaring that they are anarchists and should be silenced. If there is to be an America that is based on truth, justice, and equality, every generation must work to bring it about. It is not a one-time thing, rather a continuous action of sifting and refining.

I wish I could have heard one of the sermons John Lewis preached to his chickens in Troy, Alabama. But I have seen the sermon he lived before we American fowl. John Lewis gave us a lot of food meant to nourish our spirits and to strengthen the United States of America. He may be gone, but his words are not. The feedback we can give in his memory is to do justice, walk humbly, eschew retaliation, and love radically.

“If you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have a moral obligation to do something about it.” (John Lewis)

…and that’s the view from The Balcony.

Randy Weeks is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Life Coach. He can be reached at

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