Given Will's passing it was good to be with my friend Richard Goode last week in Nashville to hear him share some thoughts about Will and their work together. My favorite story Richard shared was how Will helped Thomas Merton climb the wall of the Gethsemani monastery so the two of them could get a drink in town.
Richard is responsible for introducing a new generation to the life and witness of Will Campbell through the books Crashing the Idols and Writings on Reconciliation and Resistance. I can't recommend these two books highly enough. Richard also edited the recently published volume of essays And The Criminals With Him, a work inspired by the 1972 issue of Katallagete, the journal Will published, devoted to shedding light on the US prison system.
I'm honored to have an essay in And The Criminals With Him because Will Campbell, though I never met him, is the reason I'm doing prison ministry.
When the book came out I asked Richard, when he next visited Will, if he could have Will autograph a copy. Richard tried, but Will was too ill. But Richard read my essay aloud to Will during the visit. For that, I'm so grateful.
And, incidentally, I did figure out another way to get Will's autograph. Online I found a first edition, signed copy of Brother to a Dragon Fly, the book many consider to be Will's finest.
If you don't know about Will Campbell many tributes appeared last week. For a good biographical overview see Robert McFadden's tribute in the New York Times. For some insight into Will's theology and his cutting prophetic commentary see Greg Garrison's tribute to the "bootleg preacher" at AL.com.
My post sharing and reflecting upon Will's famous summation of Christian theology--"We're all bastards but God loves us anyway"--can be found here.
Be reconciled. 2 Corinthians 5.20. καταλλάγητε. In a nutshell, that was Brother Will's message. Once, in a religion seminar, Will got into an argument with a university professor who was pushing Will to get specific about his doctrine and ministry. As recounted by Thomas Connelly:
[T]he theology professor repeated the same question, over and over: "What is your actual business, Reverend Campbell--I mean, what do you believe in?" Finally Campbell lost his patience and roared, "I have been trying to tell you! I believe in Jesus, goddammit, Jesus! Through the saving grace of His death on the cross, we have all been reconciled to each other. So if we accept this gift, we're free. There ain't no need to hate anyone! Getting the word around about that--that's my business, professor!"Be reconciled, my brothers and sisters, be reconciled.