Make Me a Christian in my Heart:
A Meditation on the Life and Death of Bobby Lee, Child of God
By: Chad Hyatt
Every single human life matters, and no life should be treated as though a gift so precious is disposable. This is the truth of Christianity.
Alas, if we were only truly Christian.
We are not called to work a calculus that weighs some against others. We are not servants of the greater good. It is not our job to see the bigger picture but to look compassionately upon the human face in front of our own. Our systems are deeply broken—and perhaps worse than broken, if we tell the truth.
Who is more at risk in this pandemic but those in our community who are already the most vulnerable? And the risk isn’t random. This disease disproportionately affects the elderly, the poor, and people of color. Our national sins of racism and greed and indifference are deeply entrenched in all of our systems and institutions, largely abandoning those who have already been marginalized.
Some suggest that opening the economy is worth a few deaths. It isn’t. This is the same twisted logic that makes two white men presume that they can shoot a black man jogging down a neighborhood street with impunity. I suspect those men did not think that they would be held accountable—because our broken systems accord more value to the lives of some than others. Such diabolical logic is deeply anti-Christian.
I may be a preacher, but I am not holier-than-thou. Probably I’m less holy than most. If I was only truly Christian, I have to confess. But my prayer for us in these troubled times can be found in the words of an old song: Lord, make me a Christian in my heart.
Bobby Lee showed me how to be a Christian in my heart.
Bobby sat in the back, like a lot of us do in church. But he was always out front when it came to serving others. He would forever try to hide his face when we were taking photos in the community, preferring obscurity to the bright flash of the camera’s glare. But Bobby shone like a radiant light through his unassuming, steady presence with us and his quiet, humble work for God. Bobby Lee showed me how to be a Christian in my heart.
His sister called and asked what I thought his favorite church song was. I suggested the one that talks about waking up every morning with a mind ‘stayed on Jesus.’ Bobby lived his life that way. He was always the first to lift his hands in prayer. He would pray for us to keep the ‘doors of the church open’ so that those of us ‘outside’ would have a welcome and safe place to go. And even through this pandemic, we have kept those doors that Bobby prayed for open. Bobby Lee showed me how to be a Christian in my heart.
Bobby also knew that keeping your mind ‘stayed on Jesus’ meant not just ‘talking the talk’ but ‘walking the walk.’ And Bobby lived his life like that, too. Every day that we went down the street taking a meal to share with our sisters and brothers, Bobby would go with us, pushing a cart of hot soup or home-made sandwiches. He even went faithfully with our partners from Oak Grove UMC who serve the meal each Friday. Bobby had housing of his own. But on the coldest nights, he would still spend the night with his community in our emergency shelter. Bobby understood the integral connection between loving Jesus and loving human bodies, especially if they were sick or cold or hungry. He not only talked about Jesus. Bobby walked like Jesus walked, loving and giving himself for the well-being of his neighbors. Bobby Lee showed me how to be a Christian in my heart.
Bobby was also honest. ‘People can just be so aggravating, you know? I can’t stand all that aggravation,’ he said on more than one occasion. His favorite expression after sharing a prayer or a comment in a Bible study was ‘I just wanted to get that off my chest.’ This man who touched so many lives through his prayer and works of mercy nonetheless didn’t like to be physically touched. He could occasionally get his hackles up when someone was ‘getting on his nerves,’ and we might have to step in to calm things down. But human beings are wonderfully complex and unique. That is how God made us. And we are just as beloved on our bad days as we are on our good days. Those good days are the ones where the image of God within us shines through our humanity most clearly and grants us a gracious glimpse of the loving God whose likeness we bear. It wasn’t hard to see God in Bobby. Bobby Lee showed me how to be a Christian in my heart.
Bobby always reminded us of our own mortality and that our lives on this earth draw inevitably toward a close, breath by precious breath. It is ironic that we refuse to talk about death, even though we live in a culture full of violence and death—especially for the poorest among us. But Bobby wasn’t ashamed to talk about death. It is hard to write now, but he would often say, ‘One day, I’m going to be six-feet under. I want to be looking up, not down. I want to be with the Man Upstairs.’ And he is—of that I have no doubt. As fully as he lived it, Bobby knew this life wasn’t all that we could count on. He knew that the God who values every single human life valued his too and claimed him as a child of God beyond the grip of death. Even to the end, Bobby Lee showed me how to be a Christian in my heart.
So rest in peace, child of God, and breathe easy, Bobby Lee, in the glorious light of the Lord. Your work here is done, my brother, but the light of your love for Jesus and for each one of us continues to illumine our way in this world.