Monday, January 17, 2011

Like Martin Luther King, Jr

"Everybody can be great... because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. you only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love."
                                   - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

In my last year in seminary, I took a religion and politics class that spent a class or two on the writings and teachings of Martin Luther King, Jr.  This was one of those moments in my life when I realized how little I had actually learned about certain parts of history.  It struck me how learning more about Dr. King's personal story changed my concept of what it means to follow his example.

We are taught about the Civil Rights Movement from an early age, but what we get often is a bullet-point list of dates, inspiration quotes (often out of context), and caricatures of a few important figures.  We see romanticized portraits of Rosa Parks and Dr. King, exceptional people who had what it took to stand up to oppression and injustice.  The stories take on a tone of myths in which the ordinary person is caught up in extraordinary events through fate.  

We don't as often hear that most of these people were already part of the non-violent resistance movement, or that leaders held trainings to teach people how to strategically use non-violent techniques.  We forget that before Dr. King was chosen to be the face of the movement, he studied hard, trained to be a pastor, and worked toward a Ph.D.  He traveled to learn from Ghandi.  His methods and rhetorical devices weren't handed down directly from God, but were gleaned from studying the long religious tradition full of writings about standing up for justice - and from the wisdom of people around him in the movement.  

There's no question that Martin Luther King, Jr was gifted in special ways in order to help our nation move closer to being a just society.  But who can say what any of us is capable of if we take a stand in difficult situations?  We let ourselves off the hook when we say, "I could never be like that."  In Wesleyan terms, we are invited to say, "The grace of God can perfect me in love, so my hope is to be like that."  Heroes and Saints grow into their roles in history.  For some that means Ph.Ds while for others it means learning as we go, but for all of us it means opening our eyes and engaging in struggles against injustice that are going on around us.  That is something we can all do.  


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