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The Greatest Truth Requires the Greatest Love

June 16, 2010

Mendenhall, Miss., late 1970's: Lem Tucker seated front row, fourth from right. John Perkins behind him.

“He who has the greatest truth, must also have the greatest love, which is the greatest proof” Lem Tucker

A significant day:  John Perkins turns 80 today.  It was a great joy to be in Jackson, Mississippi last weekend with my wife Donna for a big celebration to mark his birthday and the 50th anniversary of his and Mrs. Perkins’ move back to Mississippi in 1960 to begin ministry.

Yet today also marks the 21st anniversary of another great mentor’s passing into heaven.  Lem Tucker was remembered last weekend in Jackson during a mini-reunion of about 12 people who were among the 30 who first gathered 21 years ago at the Chicago O’Hare airport to form the Christian Community Development Association (hard to believe that over 3,000 people now attend CCDA annual conferences).

The photo here, a classic from the late 1970’s, captures the radical, youthful energy of Voice of Calvary’s early Mississippi years .  Later, in 1981, Afro-haired Lem became JP’s successor as president of Voice of Calvary Ministries in Jackson.  Lem was one of many young people who left trajectories of privilege to follow JP to Mississippi and put flesh on the vision.

Lem facilitated the 1989 Chicago meeting which led to the organization of CCDA, and was slated to be CCDA’s first president.  He was also slated to be the next chair of the board of Inter Varsity Christian Fellowship.  Lem was my boss and friend and a groomsman at my wedding.  We shared blood, sweat, and tears together.

But soon after the 1989 Chicago meeting Lem was diagnosed with cancer, went into the hospital, and died four months later.

I wrote recently about the sudden passing of Allan Tibbels in Baltimore.  For me Allan is now in the company of the “cloud of witnesses” I have known who inspire me in the journey:  Lem; Spencer Perkins, who died at 44; fellow Antioch community member Gloria Lotts, 46; and John Alexander, 60.

They all left us too early.  That is a profound mystery to me.  I have learned that people are irreplaceable.  The loss is real and deep.  I miss them, Gloria, and John and the unique ways each were present to me and to their commitments.  Lem and Spencer would have given profound 21st century leadership to challenges of race and justice as African-American Christians.  I have met no one who loved children the way Gloria did.  No one could connect intimately to both “the brothers” from West Jackson and the powerful from Orange County the way Spencer did.  No one I know “matured downward” as John did and spoke into my life by doing so.

And no one had integrity like Lem.  Not long before his cancer was discovered, Lem and I had a major conflict.  One night he showed up at my house unannounced.  I thought he was going to fire me.  Instead he told me how much he loved me, that he was committed to me and to working out our relationship.   The words of his proverb above were not rhetoric.

Yes, Lem left us far too early.  But because of the resurrection the reality and presence of his life and these other witnesses lives on.  For me faithfulness is never abstract.  Lem showed me what it looks like.

About the Author: Chris Rice is co-director of the Center for Reconciliation at Duke Divinity School.  He is author of Reconciling All Things, Grace Matters, and More Than Equals. He writes regularly at the blog Reconcilers.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Dan Sidey permalink
    June 21, 2010 1:09 am

    Thank you for this, Chris. This is really meaningful.

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