As the world remembers the life and legacy of Dr. King today, my simple prayer is that we would all deeply feel the “fierce urgency of now” in our spirits and souls, the divine urgency that calls us to serve in our local communities and to speak out against every imbalance of power and injustice of our day.
I wanted to take some time today and talk about “how to remember” Dr. King, not so much with emphasis on his accomplishments in life but more so upon his legacy in death.
With nearly every urban area in America naming streets, schools and community centers after him, some might suggest that King’s dream has become a reality. In my humble opinion, I believe Dr. King would want to be remembered not only for the right reasons but the in the right way.
I believe it is important to both reflect and refract on his legacy. When we have reflection without refraction we can potentially create a type of narcissistic nostalgia of the soul, the often undetected type of self-righteousness that comes through a vicarious association with someone like Dr. King, who we will admire for doing with his life what we all ought to do with ours.
However, if we have refraction without reflection, we run the risk of imitating those whom we admire, yet unaware of the need for the contextualization of their methods. It is the difference between hanging a poster of Michael Jordan on your wall and getting up at 5 a.m. to practice free throws.
Reflecting without refracting is how in a nation like America, we will claim Dr. King as one of the great products of American exceptionalism, yet be unwilling to admit that is wasn’t the promise or prosperity of America that produced the prophetic voice of King, but it was in reality, the moral bankruptcy and legalized injustices of America that did so.
On days like today the internet is filled with memes, quotes, and memories of the iconic Dr. King as we reflect, but I wonder about tomorrow, when the schools and banks re-open and the holiday has passed, what then?
We must absorb the divine energy of God at work in his life as a glass lens does in refraction and then through reflection, cherish the memory of his faith, his hope and his love. This type of divine fire, whether it comes from Dr. King, our parents, our pastors, or some other human figure, should always be skillfully remembered.
In skillful remembrance of Dr. King, we acknowledge that it is also God’s divine fire that gives us the power to resist the always present voice of doubt, which often whispers to those who are making a difference in this world. That voice that whispers lies and deception to your hearts, telling you to “quit, because you’re wasting your time”. If you’ve ever heard that voice like I have, then we need to not only reflect the heat but absorb it.
Dr. King is remembered mostly as a civil rights activist, a Nobel peace prize winner, but he rarely gets credit as a theologian. While many have sought to discredit his life and legacy, what I believe truly caused Dr. King to impact the world in such ways was his commitment to the teachings of Christ in scripture.
His impetus for a contending for world of peace was not blind optimism, but robust theology. His challenge to be non-violent resistors to oppression, was not weak-minded fear, it was Christ teachings, from the sermon on the mount.
All of King’s efforts stemmed from a deep personal relationship with God and a theological foundation. King was a Pastor before he was an activist. He did not study law, political science, or economics, he earned his PhD in theology. As we remember him today, never lose sight of the role that God’s word and God’s dream had on King’s words and King’s dreams.
In conclusion, on this day of remembrance for all who love justice and believe in a better world, let’s not only reflect on yesterday, but let’s also refract in the days to come. Let’s role up our sleeves and get our hands dirty, our hearts broken and put back together again, as we serve both God and our brothers and sisters.
America these days is stumbling in the darkness of an uncertain future, in a time where morality is subjective and politicized and all the while, we still grapple with what King called the three triplets of evil “racism, materialism, and militarism.” In times like these courageous men and women are needed on the front lines of conflict.
An effort to construct a monument to white supremacy at our southern border rages on, while black and brown people are still disproportionately affected by a criminal injustice system and a for-profit, privatized prison system, which brokers back door deals with judges and politicians, while wage, education, and gender gaps of opportunity still exist in virtually every sphere of our society and while a long list of other battles remain to be won, always remember these words from Dr. King himself … “Everybody can be great … because anybody can serve.”
Happy MKL JR. DAY