The projector at First Church Heights illuminated the words for all 100 or so gathered congregants to see:
“Who brings our chaos back into order;
Who makes the orphan a son and daughter;
The King of Glory, the King of Glory.”
Those are the lyrics to a contemporary chorus called “This is Amazing Grace.” It’s not the song played on bagpipes around the world; it was written and released in 2013 by a songwriter named Phil Wickham. It was also the first song in the first service at First Church Heights after the death of their lead pastor.
If you haven’t seen our story in today’s edition, David Harrison, who led the transformation of First Baptist Church-Heights into a racially diverse and spiritually charged body of believers, passed away last Friday. I visited his church Sunday because I wanted to get a better understanding of the legacy he has left on our community.
A few years ago, I had the chance to tell David’s story in The Leader. He served in the Persian Gulf War in 1991. As a member of the U.S. Navy, he destroyed his knee in a jump from a helicopter. He came back to Houston and worked for the Post Office until his ragged body couldn’t handle the hours.
With disability checks in the mail, David began his calling to preach – any and everywhere folks would have him. One day, he gave a sermon from Psalm 51 – a plea from David for God to create in him a clean heart. The next day, David tried to take his own life with a shotgun to the heart.
I never quite understood what drove David to that point. Anyone who knew him had heard David’s story – one of purpose, poison and, ultimately, redemption. But David never spent much time talking about the “why.” What got him to that point? What led him to hold a shotgun to his chest. And why, did he think, his life was salvaged?
In the days since David’s passing last week, I’ve had the humble opportunity to talk with some of the people who knew him best. And earlier this week, I spent almost an hour on the phone with David’s brother, Lofton Harrison, who is an assistant chief for Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen.
Lofton is your typical law enforcement type of fellow. He’s tough, straight-forward and honest. I’ve met him a few times, and he’s the kind of man we want protecting our families. And to be honest, our conversation about David started much the same way – just the facts.
But something shifted during our talk, and it came when Lofton deeply considered the pride he had in his younger brother – the one who will be laid to rest this Saturday.
“I was so, so proud of…” Lofton stopped. He couldn’t finish the sentence.
He tried again. “So proud of him…” Again, the sentence couldn’t go on. And then it did, and it went on and on and on, as powerful a eulogy to a friend and brother as I’ve ever heard.
“I am so, so proud of my brother because his passion was to help people who couldn’t help themselves,” Lofton said. “He was just like, just like.”
Again, the sentence stopped, but for good reason this time. You see, Lofton wanted to compare his brother to Jesus, and he knew you can’t compare man to Jesus. His point, though, was powerful and vivid.
“You know what I mean? His mindset was just like God,” he said. “He loved everybody. At his church are people who have made mistakes, people who have used drugs, prostitutes, people who have been told they were stupid, people who never graduated, people who are mentally challenged. That was his ministry. He’d get one going and then start another.”
Lofton continued. He talked about David’s service at Old Yale Adult Day Care, where David led a Bible study for mentally ill participants. He talked about the prison ministry – “He never excused what they did, but he still accepted them.” He talked about David’s love for law enforcement – “He thought every great community needed three things: faith, community and law enforcement, and he asked me to be part [of his mission].”
And to understand David’s legacy is to finally understand why, so many years ago, he held a shotgun to his chest and pulled the trigger.
“David never told people why he tried to kill himself,” Lofton explained. “It’s because he preached our Dad’s funeral when David was 25 years old. Can you imagine that? David was the youngest, and Dad was his backbone.”
At the same time, David had a failed marriage, a frail body and an idea to help people without the means to do so.
That, Lofton explained, is why David pointed a gun at himself. It’s also helps explain why the older brother gets a weak voice talking about the kid brother he’ll never hug again.
To rise from that rubble, to have a life spared for a greater good, and then to see a man like David Harrison live out the good for the hundreds – maybe thousands – of other people is why a career law-enforcement fellow like Lofton Harrison struggled to piece together his quivering pride.
As I sat in the back of First Church Heights last week and saw those lyrics from “This is Amazing Grace,” I could see David’s infectious smile all over his congregation.
Talk about someone whose chaos was brought back into order. Talk about an orphan with shrapnel in his chest becoming a son of God.
David Harrison was a preacher; I am not. But the legacy David left on the people in our community must not be lost. He was a good man who fought back a lot of bad days. He didn’t care about race or creed; he cared about his neighbors and the least among these.
I hope his legacy extends far beyond the walls of the church he helped rebuild.