What Would He Say Today?

Dr Martin Luther King, Jr, Coretta, and the kids.

So many of the people who have a profound effect on us lived well before we did. People who lived through great challenge and turmoil, but somehow made it through. People who faced tremendous opposition, but somehow kept their cool and control of their words. People who walked a path with little company while calling others to follow or join them. The names of those women and men are too many to list, but today I am thinking about one of them – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

His words, his movement, his life has made a tremendous difference in the lives of Americans now for more than 50 years. While he did not see all that he dreamed of, much of his dream has been recognized with voting rights, improved working conditions, mainstream acceptance in leadership, and an improved equality of life for minorities across the country. This is not to say that has all been accomplished and finished. Nor is it to say that all of the progress has been easy or even willingly achieved. Much has been done, but much is left to be completed. Only God knows when all things will be put to right in our country. Dr. King and the leaders of his movement are details of the American story that we can not live without a high degree of thanksgiving for what their life’s work made possible. He (and they) made us better as a people. Thank you Martin. Thank you Medger Evers. Thank you Ralph Abernathy. Thank you John Lewis. Thank you Rosa Parks. Thank you Corretta Scott King. Thanks to so many others who led in the most difficult of days.

While my life started after his ended I am thankful that his spirited platform is being honored and revisited. Churches all over the country will be remembering Dr. King today with special services. Cities will be having parades in his memory and Universities will have seminars or symposiums. Many government offices and public schools will be closed in recognition of his leadership. All well intentioned efforts to connect a historical figure with a modern need and problem. I can’t help, but see the irony that in the same week that we honor someone for a peaceful movement and reconciliation we will inaugurate someone whose platform either ignored or denied any such vision. No doubt many will see one as a shyster and one as a hero. One will be thought of as a quick tempered, big mouth that divides and conquers while the other is seen as a deeply profound speaker of faith, hope, and love. Sadly that opinion will likely flip flop depending on the political agenda of the evaluator.

I am choosing to remember today what Dr King said to us all – not to some, not to those he liked or approved of, not to those who bought into his agenda. These words aren’t the gospel, but they are good words for how people interested in the gospel applies politics and personal choice to how they live their life, raise their kids, and run their business. They are words that could possibly help us in a week like this not lose hope because the words of the righteous are a fountain of life (Proverbs 10:11).

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.” 

*  From an address given in Montgomery, Ala., Dec. 31, 1955

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

* From “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

* Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Dec. 10, 1964

“Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.”

* The Measure of a Man, 1958

“Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”

*From Strength to Love, 1963

What would he say today? He would say the same things. He would not vary or wane with his words or agenda. He would bet big on love and on God’s sovereignty. He would deny the power of people or words that divide and destroy. He would ask the privileged to not consider themselves, but to cast a look at those in need and those without. He would warn us against the lies of men who tell us that others are lying to us or misleading us while they move the pawns behind the scene. He would not bully others, but he would befriend the alien and the stranger. He would not urge the public to trust him, but He would call us all to trust in God who is at work in all things.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – My Brother from Another Mother

dr king

I was 11 years old when President Reagan signed the law making this Monday in January a celebration of the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. However, three years would pass before the day was nationally observed for the first time – January 20, 1986. The idea had been discussed and debated since shortly after Dr. King’s death in 1968. It is still amazing that it only took 18 years to recognize the weight of his work on the shaping of American society, despite never having served in political office, military leadership, business and industry, or higher education. He was a preacher from Atlanta, and man… could he preach.

In my state during that time (and many other states), the MLK holiday was shared with another important (Southern) American hero, General Robert E. Lee. I think it is fair to say that the only Jesus and Elvis are loved more in the south than the Confederate General who had been dead for 113 years by the time President Reagan signed that bill. Yet, these two Southern gentlemen are tied together because of the proximity of their January birthdate.

Their birth month may be all they had in common.

– One of them was trying to change America through cultural renaissance. The other was trying to reject the American ideal in holding onto a cultural legacy.
– One staked his life and his career on state’s rights. The other died for his sermons on civil rights.
– One was the leader of a failed secession. The other was a champion for a movement that has overthrown legalized hate and discrimination.
– One could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives by not fighting. The other fought so millions of men/women like him could have lives with more rights, better freedoms, and equal justice.
– One marched with men carrying guns going into battle to kill other men. The other marched in peace appealing to men of power in his day and hoping for transformation.
– One was a brilliant and inspirational American icon that should be a hero to all people. The other was Robert E. Lee.

I am not awed by the idea of Martin Luther King. I am thankful that he was born and that in his life he was given the opportunity to be so effective. I am grateful that he brought the dialogue about race into American life so that my children were born believing it to be normal that people of all color are equal in word and in deeds. Dr. King’s 39 years were poured out for others so that minorities in this country could be free to pursue their dreams (not to mention basic rights) and so that majorities could benefit from the brilliance and beauty of what minorities represent as a people. Together, with all things and all people considered equal, we are better as a nation. Only the ignorant reject that. It is not “them” or “they.” It is “us” and “we.” We are “one nation” with “liberty and justice for all.”

This year has shown that things are not perfect. Race is still a very divisive issue in our country and that makes me sad. The granting of civil rights to people of color (red, yellow, black, brown) was only half of the necessary change in the vision of Dr. King. His real hope and dream was not for politics to produce new rights and freedoms, but for brotherly love to propel everyone to consider each other as brothers/sisters and act accordingly. That means that I would treat my neighbors like I would treat or want my little brother treated (with respect, dignity, equality). Brotherly love is a better way to live than the political preference or brute force of majority rule. We clearly have a long way to go for that part of the dream to be realized, but at least we know where to start.

If I see Dr. King as anything else besides my brother, I am wrong. He was truly a great preacher, leader, American, and many other qualifiers of greatness, but his being my brother makes his accomplishments my accomplishments. While not being “with him” in ethnicity or experience, I am forever “with him” in spirit and support. His dreams are my dreams. His hopes are my hopes. His frustrations are my frustrations. His loss is my loss. His day is my day.

And most importantly, I think, his Father is my Father.