January 20, 2020
As I reflect on this year’s installment of The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday, I am reminded of what Professor Michael Eric Dyson wrote in his book, “I May Not Get There With You,” a number of years ago. He said, “A private citizen who transformed the world around him, Martin Luther King, Jr. was arguably the greatest American who ever lived.” His life and work, we lift up annually now is living testament to be celebrated by all who’d claim to stand under the freedom fighting banner. And I, personally, am keenly aware I stand in the midst of a historic legacy of faith leaders who stake out a moral position for righteousness and morality that transcends the partisan nature of discourse so familiar in today’s polarizing rancor.
It is with this backdrop that I’m compelled to offer brief words of reflection on this observation of this man of faith who symbolizes so much of what many of us are attempting to live up to. This radical spiritual prophet and theorist of change, on the evening of Dec. 5, 1955, in the aftermath of Rosa Parks’ arrest, addressed 5,000 people gathered at Holt Street Baptist Church in Montgomery, AL. Folks filled the sanctuary, the basement auditorium and even spilled outside to hear the newly elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association, The. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. His stirring speech advocating action without violence gave rise to the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In his summation, King said, “If you will protest courageously, and yet with dignity and Christian love, when the history books are written in future generations, the historians will have to pause and say, ‘There lived a great people – a black people – who injected new meaning and dignity into the veins of civilization.’ This is our challenge and our overwhelming responsibility.”
I believe his words hold powerful meaning for us today. In light of the fierce battle that is raging today in our towns, cities and nation, the war of propaganda and words, of many both on the left and the right. It is clear to me that the position that lifts up the legacy that we’ve been gifted with is the position that points to what is right and what is wrong. And do we have the moral fortitude and courage, the internal core strength to square our shoulders, stand upright and seek what is right while facing down the pushback that comes from wrong? Are we willing to take hold of the baton passed to us to live faithful lives of reflection and action to this witness? The life of this fallen prophet demands our response.
On the night of Dr. King’s assassination, his mentor, Dr. Howard Thurman offered this expression so meaning-filled. Thurman spoke, “Martin Luther King, Jr. is dead. This is the simple and utter fact. A brief few hours ago his voice could be heard in the land. From the ends of the Earth, from the heart of our cities, from the firesides of the humble and the mighty. From the cells of a thousand prisons, from the deep central place in the soul of America, the cry of anguish can be heard. There are no words with which to eulogize this man. Martin Luther King was the living epitome of a way of life that rejected physical violence as the lifestyle of a morally responsible people. His assassination reveals the cleft deep in the psyche of the American people, the profound ambivalence and ambiguity of our way of life. Something deep within us rejects nonviolent direct action as a dependable procedure for effecting social change. Yet, against this rejection, something always struggles pushing, pushing, always pushing with another imperative, another demand. It was King’s fact that gave to this rejection flesh and blood, courage and vision, hope and enthusiasm. For indeed in him the informed conscience of the country became articulate. And tonight, what many of us are feeling is that we, all of us must be the conscience, wherever we are living, functioning and behaving. Racial prejudices, segregation and discrimination were not regarded by him as merely un-American and un-democratic, but as mortal sins against God. For those who are religious it awakens guilt. For those who are merely superstitious it inspires fear. And it was this fear that pulled the trigger of the assassin’s gun that took his life.”
I declare I’m committed to the life lived with deep abiding love. The kind of deep abiding love that continues to regard and respect while holding, supporting and centering the least, the margined and the disinherited. This is the center framework the upholds our work. May we lift and live up to this profound mission.
Thank you, Dr. King!
Bishop JS, Co-Founder, Moral Monday CT