On Monday, January 19, 2015 I went to a service honoring Martin Luther King, Jr. I went for multiple reasons. I went to honor a great American and international leader. I went to honor him because his teachings have helped me tremendously. I went to honor him because he preached nonviolence. I went to honor him because I believe his teachings have the greatest potential of bringing the whites and the blacks of America together. I went to honor him because he trusted God for change in human hearts, while doing his part to create this change.
I came with some observations that seem contradictory and both sides need to take a careful look at what is happening.
I want to start by saying to my white brothers and sisters that they still do not get it. Over 500 people attended and I am gracious when I say that about 10% of the audience was white. Most of us whites do not have black friends and when we have celebrations like the Martin Luther King Jr., very few of us make an effort to go (even though it is a federal holiday and many of us have a day off). It is important for some people, but not important for us.
I want to say to my black brothers and sisters that a three hour program will not be a magnetic program for most people. There were so many things that could have been left out. One can listen only so many times to cutesy things or to people that were given three minutes and took thirteen, or endure late starts because some of the main participants are habitually late.
I know very few whites with a good sense of rhythm, and I am among the worst. After a while, it becomes comical to see how ridiculous we look when we attempt movements that have frozen somewhere in our blood.
In contrast with our absence of rhythm, it was glorious to see a black kid that was barely one year old sit on his mother’s shoulders and move his whole body in step with the drums and the organ. Many years ago, the black church introduced liturgical worship dance and it is a fantastic part of worship that I have not seen imitated anywhere else.
As a white person, I am aware of the part that I have played in the horrible history of this nation. I am aware of the historical horrors perpetuated by slavery, lynching, housing discrimination, and the benefits reaped simply by being white in this time. However, there comes a time when one has repented and asked forgiveness so many times that once again asking forgiveness from God and the neighborhood becomes simple theater.
The expression “we have gained a lot, but there is much more to be gained” that is used so often in the black communities does not tell me too much. I am familiar with Dr. King’s beloved community concept, but when I sit down at the table with people who want to accomplish it, the only thing that I hear is the redistribution of wealth. That economical system was tried in Russia, Eastern Europe, China, and Cuba, and the results were disastrous.
What I find often among the white Christians is that we do not believe that God can move in our current reality. Most of the whites trust their money to Wall Street, their politics to their senators, and their defense to the military which they hope will be number one for many centuries to come.
What I find among the black Christians is their firm belief that God is still moving in history. There is an undivided line between Moses and Martin Luther King, between Esther and Harriet Tubman that God is on the side of the oppressed and He will bring justice to those who cry out to Him.
It was fantastic to be at this celebration with one of my daughters and to see how much the teachings of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. have become a part of her understanding of who she is and how these teachings will shape her life as the next generations of blacks and whites will forge the American future.
As this American future is forged, I hope we will learn how to commemorate Martin Luther King and his work in a way that our entire nation will join in the celebration of his life and work, regardless of color or ethnicity. The greatest honor we can bestow would be to celebrate as one nation. To quote Coretta Scott King, “Whether you are African-American, Hispanic or Native American, whether you are Caucasian or Asian-American, you are part of the great dream Martin Luther King, Jr. had for America. This is not a black holiday; it is a peoples’ holiday.” I pray we can move in this direction in the future, celebrating the dream of a great visionary leader by living it, on MLK Day and every day.