Harper Lee never enjoyed being in the spotlight. It’s not because she shied away from telling a powerful story, but because it’s hard to be the focus of the spotlight while focusing the light itself. “To Kill a Mockingbird,” is more than the greatest American Novel; it is an unassuming vessel in which the Gospel walks around in our own skin. It’s one thing to hear the parable of the good Samaritan from the pulpit or bible study, and know that we should be a neighbor to all, but inviting my Deep South neighbor into a familiar Maycomb courtroom so that our holy imaginations can expand beyond our cultural assumptions, changes the very images we see when we close our eyes and think of the “other.”
Lee taught us how to tell our own story through Scout’s adventures, to meet violence with a lamp, rocking chair, and a newspaper, to question our assumptions that we just know are true, and to never fear reaching out to the graceful and mysterious Boo Radleys of the world. A book is a funny thing. The words on the page are bound together with spine and covers, but the idea within it is as timeless and unbound as Lee herself is as she now rests in the heart of God. Lee suggested that a mockingbird simply sings a song for all to enjoy, but the song she sang continues to disrupt our neat Maycomb lines in which we want everything to fit and know its place. Harper Lee will be missed, but her story will continue to focus an incarnational light shining toward justice.
Matt Rawle is the Lead Pastor at The Well United Methodist Church near New Orleans, Louisiana and a graduate from the LSU School of Music and Duke Divinity School. He is also the author of Faith of a Mockingbird.