The day before Ash Wednesday Justin Flippen died as a result of a brain aneurism, he was 41.
Two days before two people died in New Orleans after being run over by a float. Two years ago 17 people were killed on Ash Wednesday, most of them under 18 years old. These tragic events reflect the traditional formula repeated as ashes are distributed on Ash Wednesday; “Remember O man that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” But while Mayor Flippen respected traditions, he was not traditional.
The other formula that is used as ashes are used to trace a cross on the forehead is “Turn away from sin and believe in the good news.” These words more accurately describe the faith and life of Justin Flippen. Where he saw evil, he worked to bring good. Where there was injustice, he worked for justice; in division he saw unity through diversity. When others would speak words of hate, Justin would speak words of healing and love. He was a man who lived not by goals, but by ideals.
The best way to honor a person and their legacy is to pick up the torch they carried. As we continue our Lenten journeys, we take up the challenge to turn away from sin and believe in the good news. We do that in our personal lives and our civic responsibilities. This is a season that calls us to examine our lives and actions; to see where we are not charitable, where we judge others, where we speak words of hate and hurt, where we hold onto anger and resentment. It is a time to change and grow spiritually. Lent challenges us to change thoughts and the actions that flow from those thoughts. To acknowledge the evil in our lives and world, but to believe that there is a more powerful good.
I believe that Justin was Wilton Manors’ own Don Quixote. He tried to right the unrightable wrongs he saw in society. Let us commit during Lent to make the world a better place. In the words of Saint Francis, “where there is hatred let me sow love, where there is injury – pardon, and where there is doubt – faith.” And like Justin Flippen, let us reach for that unreachable star.