returning thanks and thinking deeper about mlk...

Marking MLK Day is a sacred ritual in my life of faith. Too often, however, the Dr. King I hear about in public ceremonies and newspaper testimonials bears little resemblance to the man who was martyred. Equally troubling is how MLK's birthday has been transformed into yet another three-day weekend. Small wonder King's colleague, Vincent Harding, called him "an inconvenient hero." For most Americans we have frozen MLK in time, sanitized his history, stripped away all revolutionary temperament, and recast him as a humble Black preacher singing "Kum Ba Ya."  Such a caricature emasculates King's complex challenge and call to justice for too many among us who thrive on social amnesia.  Quoting poet Carl Wendell Hines, Dr. Harding cuts to the chase saying now that King is safely dead:

Let us praise him
build monuments to his glory
sing hosannas to his name.
Dead men make
such convenient heroes: They
cannot rise
to challenge the images
we would fashion from their lives.
And besides,
it is easier to build monuments
than to make a better world.


It is clear that America's quest to overcome our racist history and habits has entered a new phase. Neo-Nazi and and white supremacist allies of  Mr. Trump and his ilk have awakened a new struggle against white privilege in 2017. We
 would be remiss in our quest for a more perfect union if we ignored the wisdom Dr. King has to offer about race relations, equality and the pursuit of the American dream for all people. Nearly 50 years after his assassination, however, MLK's more radical agenda demands a hearing, too. You see, he was not gunned down in Memphis like an animal because of his dreams, but rather because of his deeds. 

After starting to dismantle American apartheid in the South, he moved North to take on the issue of housing and job discrimination. He called out the connection between our military-industrial-technological wars in developing nations and the fact that most of our cannon fodder came from communities of color.  And, he was organizing the Poor People's March on Washington to help us all dismantle the greed and fear that poisoned our whole nation not just the wounds of the most oppressed. "Whatever affects one directly," he told us, "affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality."  

Let us not sentimentalize this all too human hero nor put him on a shelf to be dusted off once a year and then ignored. Rather, let us choose to let MLK make us uncomfortable so that we that his dream becomes our deeds.


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