April 4, 2016
48 years ago today, Martin Luther King was shot in Memphis, Tennessee. Sometime between then and now, all of the things that he was are gone from general society, with the possible exception of a Black leader in America.
Martin was a daring peacemaker. Martin’s “peace” looked like “rabble rousing” at the time, because he wanted the country he lived in to have the whole package of peace. He didn’t want peace that was achieved by silencing a large part of our population. Whether that was African-Americans, (his first challenge), Veterans and Pacifists (his second challenge — the Vietnam War) or the Poor (he died while working on his third challenge — economic inequality). In the America that Martin envisioned — “The Beloved Community” — no one was “rabble rousing” because no one was rabble. We were all going together. It was long, hard work, and it yielded love and actual peace by demanding respect for all sides of the equation, and only removing the hate. This work demanded giving up much on the part of the oppressed — their bodies, their churches, and often their lives — while demanding only sharing of those from the oppressor. It yielded the souls of both.
Violence was easy then, and it is now. Anyone can get angry and act it out. Before Martin died, people had figured that out. What they hadn’t figured out yet is that it works about as well now as it ever did. No one ever — in a moment of passionate emotion — suddenly acted out peacefully without thinking. Peace requires thought as well as emotion. Not only did Martin want everybody to make it to the Beloved Community, he wanted every part of every person to go. People wanted a shortcut, but there wasn’t one and there isn’t one. Regarding injustice, the only way around is through. Martin knew that. He dared to do the hard work of making peace, and he dared us to, as well. Many of us didn’t want to hear that.
Martin was a man who dared to be peaceful. Men have historically “dared”. I still believe in daring as part of being male. The problem is, we now tend to confuse ” being a man” with “being violent”. Donald Trump, that “man among men”, and so many other men, would have us believe that it would be “daring” to blow up people who disagree with us. Violence is the way we’re going in society today. To be “daring” would be to face into the prevailing wind and prevail against it. That version of “being a man” also requires work. It requires the hard work of listening, of caring, of forgiving, of reaching out, and yes, sometimes of dying. Daring to die for others is the opposite of daring to kill for others. Martin knew that, too. Martin was a man. Martin’s “manly”, though, wasn’t manly enough for some then, and it isn’t even close anymore. I don’t strive to be “manly” anymore because I don’t like what “manly” means anymore. I aspire to be a man like Martin — a man who dared to die for what he believed in.
Martin was a believer. Martin believed that death does not win. Martin believed that life overcame death. Today, people are afraid. They are afraid that death wins. They believe that evil is stronger than good. This makes sense if you understand the world that way. We all want to be on the winning side. If death wins, “winners” want to work for death. If this is all there is, if we have no belief, then it looks like death does indeed win.You can see it win on the nightly news.
But if we believe there’s something more — if life ultimately wins — then we want to be on the side of life, ultimately. Believing the evening news makes this hard. If death ultimately wins, then we want to get as much stuff out of life as we can — souvenirs of our trip that says we were here. If life ultimately wins, you can spend your life enjoying the ride rather than buying souvenirs . Even without a lot of evidence in the news that ISIS will ultimately fail, I like Martin’s faith in life better than other people’s belief in nothingness or death.
So how did we get here — to this place today? We took the easy way out when we only wanted to take some people to the future, and considered others “rabble”. We took the easy way out and we got violence. We took the easy way out again let our feelings over-ride our thoughts and decided that thinking was bad. We took the easy way out when we refused to listen to each other and tried to forgive. We took the easy way out again when we only believed in what we saw on TV and believed that death ultimately wins.
We have forgotten Martin Luther King’s ways because his ways were too hard. We have gotten what we wanted, but now that we see it, we don’t like it. Martin Luther King took the measure of a man more than twice before cutting them out of his world once. We don’t take the measure of anyone, and we just cut them out. Until we learn to do the hard work, our communities and our lives will look like poorly built shacks, while somewhere in heaven, Martin’s living in a mansion.