Today the nation pauses to remember the life and teachings of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. With his prophetic ministry on my mind, I want to share with you five reasons why I believe Dr. King still matters and what we can do about it.
1. Dr. King dared to believe humanity could be better than we are. He understood our shared humanity as God created us. His ministry challenged an unwilling nation to rise to a new reality—one that embraced our greater side and affirmed the sacred nature of what it means to be created in God’s image. Today there many people who hold tightly to dehumanizing visions and actions toward other people. Race, class, language, education, the way we dress, the neighborhood in which we live, the job we choose, the car we drive, the church we attend, and the school we attend are often used as markers that others use to determine our value. We have a long way to go, but Dr. King’s legacy remains a vital and inspired challenge to rise above who we are to be who God has created us to be.
2. Positive change is impossible if we are not willing to get out and work for it. In today’s world it is increasingly hard to remember—let alone personally relate—to the level of racial segregation and discrimination that spurred the epic Civil Rights Movement. Yet, for many who casually believed in equal rights, the fear was that rocking the boat, making a stand, and marching for equality was too dangerous, too threatening to the status quo, and too volatile. It would have been better to just accept things as they were and hope time would change things on its own. Dr. King believed differently. While holding fast to the principles of Non-Violence, Dr. King confronted the evil of his day in God’s love and with a tenacious spirit of active determination. Today, we have a long way to go to realize the power of Dr. King’s Dream. Discrimination and prejudice remain prominent driving forces in our culture. For people who believe in the Dream, this is no time to sit back and hope things will change soon. We have to be the change!
3. No matter how desperate the circumstances, violence is an evil that must not be embraced. There were those who vehemently criticized Dr. King for not doing enough to accelerate the drive for Civil Rights—many who turned to violent and militant means of pushing the change they so urgently desired. Yet King was resolute! Violence begets violence and King knew this. Tragically, it was cowardly violence that claimed his life in Memphis, but as Dr. King refused to lift his hand in violence when he lived, his legacy continues this day without violence. In a world where weapons and military might frequently dominate national politics, we must remember that there is a higher calling in Non-Violence—one we must all faithfully embrace.
4. Prejudice is an expression of both fear and laziness. People tend to fear that which they do not understand. It is, to a great extent, part of human nature. This naturally leads to prejudice and that ultimately leads to hate. The challenge that Dr. King reminds us to consider is that hate is essentially the lazy approach. As long as I can hate another defined group of people or blame my problems on their existence, I neither have to take responsibility for my own life, nor invest the energy necessary to get to know them for who they truly are. Dr. King challenges us to get out of or lazy world-views and invest both the personal accountability for the world we have helped create, as well as truly getting to know the stranger in our midst. We are, after all, all human. It is time we started acting like it.
5. God is in the streets as much as, if not more than, the comfortable church sanctuaries where we worship. Dr. King was, first and foremost, a man of God, Christian, Pastor, and Spiritual Leader. Raised in the sacred teachings of the church, Dr. King’s faith was the source of his wisdom, energy, and vision. As such, he appreciated and faithfully honored the importance of the church, the sanctity of the Sunday worship, and the singularly vital significance of corporate Christian worship in the context of being the church. But for Dr. King, worship was empty without out also embracing the reality of the streets. His faith was expressed in Sunday Worship as well as Monday marches in the name of Jesus Christ. For faith to be truly vital and meaningful, the same holds true for us today. Spirituality lived in social activism, yet without a foundation in a worshiping faith community is fragmented and unanchored. Worship in church without activities in the streets is shallow and empty. We need both and it is a healthy balance of the two that will transform the world for God.
Dr. King’s Dream is alive today and still transforming the world. Our call is not simply to declare a holiday and remember the man that once was, but live the dream that still is. Our challenge is not to remember civil rights for a weekend and move on with life, but to make every day a day to honor the legacy left to us by Dr. King. Ours is a call to justice, peace, and mercy because that is what Dr. King stood for … and far more importantly, that’s what God stands for!