MIFA Interfaith Blog

After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in 1968, economic, social, and racial divisions threatened to tear Memphis apart. A diverse group of community and faith leaders came together and MIFA was created to confront the issues of poverty, hunger, and social division through service.

2020 brought another crisis to Memphis. In a series of blogs, some of our current-day faith leaders have taken time to express their visions and hopes on healing and coming out of the pandemic better and stronger as a community.

Because He First Loved Me

During MIFA’s Our City Our, Our Story conversation, Kiese Laymon talked about his grandmother from Forest, MS.  She raised 4 children; she couldn’t vote; she worked in white people’s homes; she worked in chicken plants; and she had the best garden in Mississippi.  Kiese said he was privileged to be loved by someone like that.  

In my tradition, there’s a song I grew up singing as a child…
“O how I love Jesus, 
O how I love Jesus, 
O how I love Jesus, 
Because he first loved me.” 

Because he first loved me. I heard echoes of that old song when Kiese talked about his grandmother…because she first loved me. 

Over the last several weeks, faith leaders have wrestled together through this blog about how to move forward.  

It’s a hard question without neatly packaged answers.  
But, it seems to me, a superficial show of unity just won’t do. 
Instead what we need, 
what we are yearning for, 
and challenged to is a hard, self-giving, whole-person kind of unity.  
A unity that requires at its core love.  

A love that is so deep that you’ve got to experience it before you can share it.  
You have to be loved first.  

Recently, a dear friend of mine died. Rev. Dudley Condron was 95.  He, with so many others, was there in the streets marching with sanitation workers in 1968, asking the same questions so many of us ask now…

How long O, Lord? 
How much more suffering? 
And, how, how do we move forward? 

Dudley was one of those people who loved me first. He loved me before I knew how to love him back.  
He could see the image of God in me and in every person he encountered, 
and he’d name it, 
and encourage it.   

“That song you sang, that sermon you preached, that card you sent...thank you! That was so good for me. So helpful! I needed that,” he’d say.

He did this with everyone, building them up, little by little, over and over pointing out what was good and true and life-giving in them so much so that it crowded out the fear, insecurities, and lies. 
And, goodness and grace took over.  

At some point with Dudley, my defenses also fell away, 
my heart opened up, 
and it wasn’t so hard then to “share my insides”, as Kiese called it, 
--the hopes, fears, pain, hurt, questions, and unknowns. 

Dudley’s encouragement made what was once impossible, possible… 
love between two very different people
of different ages, 
and races, 
and genders, 
and experiences.

It didn't take away the pain or make difficult realities disappear…
but it made way for honest and vulnerable relationship.
It made a way forward together. 

This past winter, when the cases and deaths were rising, I double-masked and went to visit Dudley and his wife on their front porch. In the middle of our visit, Dudley looked me in the eyes, and said, "we cannot lose hope."  He picked up a card with words of encouragement from a friend--a simple, small, insignificant object.  Holding the card high,  as though it was sacred, he said, "This is so important."

“Because he first loved me.”

How do we move forward? 

With deep, real and honest love, 
and maybe, 
just maybe, 
it begins small, 
with some words of encouragement 
that little by little break open our hearts 
and show our insides.  


Rev. Peggy Jean Craig
Senior Pastor at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Germantown

About Rev. Peggy Jean Craig

The Rev. Peggy Jean “PJ” Craig serves as Senior Pastor at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Germantown (CPCG) in Germantown, TN. Before coming to CPCG, Peggy Jean was the Assistant Director for K12 Partnerships at Rutgers University-Camden, New Jersey. She oversaw the university’s civic engagement strategic priority, while also leading Rutgers-Ignite, a STEM-based after-school program; Rutgers Future Scholars, a pre-college scholarship program for first-generation college students, the Hill Center for College Access, and the Camden College Access Network serving over 1,000 youth a year. Before Rutgers, Peggy Jean served as the Executive Director of the Advocate Center for Culture and Education at the historic Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Center provided programming deeply rooted in social justice, rigorous study, and community empowerment. Peggy Jean also worked at the international relief and development agency, Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and served as a missionary and youth director in Laos, Alabama, and Atlanta. In Washington, she worked for the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church in advocacy and awareness raising around the continuing effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam. She is a Ph.D. candidate in Community Development-Public Affairs at Rutgers-Camden. Peggy Jean received her M.S. from Rutgers-Camden in Public Affairs, her M.Div. from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, and her B.A. from Fordham University in communications. Peggy Jean currently serves on the boards of Volunteer Odyssey, Memphis’s one-stop shop for meaningful volunteer experiences, and Metropolitan Inter-faith Association (MIFA), an organization supporting the independence of vulnerable seniors and families. She is an ordained minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. Peggy Jean is passionate about justice, diversity, and equity, and all things food-related. She lives in Memphis with her husband, Matt.

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