"I refuse to believe the "isness" of humanity can not reach up to the "oughtness" that forever confronts him"
Martin Luther King, Jr, 1964 in his Nobel Prize reception
He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!
Today, the United States celebrates the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There are so many things that could be said about him, that a blog entry can not even begin to skim the surface in describing his impact. So, I want to share five ways that his life, his legacy, and his death have impacted me:
1. King demonstrated that faith was at the core of changing a society. Rev. King never backed away from the moral outrage prompted by his faith while advocating for changes in a secular society. In his writings from "A time for Freedom" in 1961, he quotes an elderly woman who walked several hours to work in sweltering heat instead of taking the bus during the bus boycotts. She says "My feet is real tired, but my soul is rested". The spirituality of understanding that the move towards equal rights was a soul-issue over and above an economic or political issue is important. Every movement centers on a pragmatic truth with its foundation in an "oughtness". That "oughtness" is God-given for King, and constitutionally affirmed.
2. King demonstrated that a movement is never in isolation but a collection of movements, ideologies, and approaches from the past that are crystallized by a particular set of socio-historical realities. King was not the first to protest, lead boycotts, give soul inspiring speeches or to promote non-violent methods for systematic change. However, He brilliantly and intentionally studied the past and built upon them without being limited by them. His use of Ghandian non-violence with a African-American Christian Evangelical cosmological framework, along with rapid advances of mass communications (rise of TV at the time) was akin to the spread of the early church movement by Pax Romana. His brilliance was not any single approach or technique, but the collaboration of multiple of streams at just the right time.
3. King lost his life trying to improve the lives of other. In essence, his dream, that is beautifully articulated in his "I have a dream speech" also cost him his life (although some scholars would argue it was his later specific anti-war advocacy that sealed his fate). Jesus died to give life and nearly all prophets do the same.
4. King represented the best in the church and what could be done through the church. Recall that through much of his advocacy, Rev. King was a pastor of a congregation. This required regular messages, visitations, praying for the congregation, attending meetings, etc. Yet despite those duties, he revealed that the church was to be the leader in reformation. He echoed the tradition of John Wesley, Charles Finney, BT Roberts, and Howard Thurman. That tradition connected personal piety with personal and social reform.
5. King would be ashamed to know that most Americans, particularly African-Americans (of which I am part), do not have an appreciation of the blood, sweat, and tears that was spilled to advocate for our simple right to have basic rights and responsibilities. I literally tear-up when I think of the sacrifices, he and countless others, Black, White, Native, Asian, Latino, etc, for justice that people take for granted. King foresaw this when he said in 1960 "No greater tragedy can befall us at this hour but that of allowing new opportunities to emerge without the concomitant preparedness to meet them".
I love the fact that King breathed hope into a nihilistic culture. He mobilized the un-mobilizable and cast a vision that did not simply warm and inspire, but provoked and transformed.
Let us celebrate today by listening to his dream, and making it our own today:
May God bless you,