During the month of January, I have been reflecting on the writings of and listening to some of the recordings of sermons and speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In April of 1967, Dr. King delivered an address at Riverside Church in New York. A year before he was assassinated he expressed opposition to the Vietnam War, openly criticizing President Johnson's war policy. In this speech and many of his sermons he points to a more excellent way for America and all of humanity not to side with the wealthy and secure at the expense of "creating hell for the poor."
I encourage those who would want to find more meaning in celebrating the "King holiday" to resist the temptation to leave this 20th-century prophet frozen on the steps of the Lincoln memorial in Washington DC, framed in the words of the famous "I Have a Dream” speech. Though dead at the age of 39 he left a powerful legacy as a Christian preacher, American citizen, and global prophet. His legacy is a legacy of love, truth, and patriotism.
There must be evidence of our love if we are to leave love as part of our legacy. I don't know about anybody else, but for me, it is critical that my legacy must be marked by the love of God and people. In his sermon "On Being a Good Neighbour" he says this about the Good Samaritan, "his goodness was not found in a passive commitment to a particular creed, but in his active participation in a life-saving deed." If the cross is to be a symbol of sacrificial love conquering hate I must ask the question of myself; As a Christian what legacy of love am I leaving?
Reading Dr. King’s words reminds me how contemporary his words are for the adaptive challenges of today. I am convinced that one of our greatest problems is that we have become prisoners of our own "particularity."
I am African-American, unapologetic as a Christian and United Methodist. As a Black American with two African-American sons, I resonated with the call that “Black Lives Matter.” The history of racial profiling and police shootings of Black boys and men is not something Dr. King would have ignored today. However, we cannot address adaptive challenges that don't have easy solutions if we stay locked in our fortresses of fear, partisan politics, theological camps of triumphalism, and circles of racial and cultural particularity. All lives matter. Yes, this means poor people matter, rich people matter, police lives matter, Syrian lives matter, white lives matter. You can fill in the blank, but it only really matters if we let God bring us out of our tribal self-righteousness, and cultural, racial, sexual particularities and invest in our own legacies of love and justice and compassion for all people.
The rhetoric of today's politics in America is troubling. For me, it is troubling because it seems to be mean-spirited more than hope-filled. It seems to invite people to fear the "other." The other are those people who are outside of you circle of "particularity."
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. responded to those who questioned his involvement in the peace movement and his commenting on global injustice. "Aren't you a civil rights leader?" he asked in his speech at Riverside Church. In 1957 when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference was formed, we choose as our motto: "To save the soul of America." With a deep love for America and the constitution, Dr. King was committed to helping our country become great in compassion and equality so that we may be part of a worldwide revolution. It was to be a worldwide revolution characterized by an overriding "loyalty to mankind as a whole." This is Kings legacy that neighborly concern be elevated "beyond one's tribe, race, class or nation."
I am not fearful for the future. I am reminded time and time again of the goodness of The Lord our God. When I get frustrated or discouraged I think of the contributions of many people known and unknown to me. I think of the legacy of Dr. King and the meaning of this national holiday. I am bolstered by signs of God at work through people and the church I love.
Our God is able...
Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling. —Jude 24
Bishop Julius Trimble