I’m writing this entry on the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech and as a white guy, I often felt I couldn’t or shouldn’t say much about the civil rights movement. Now that I’m in the second half of my first century of life, I am either less inhibited or more stupid, so I figure, what the heck . . .
The most amazing thing about MLK was his ability to cut to the heart of the issue, while wrapping it in the most profound prose, and doing so in a way that inspired folks to battle discrimination, but in a non-violent manner. He spoke forcefully against the injustices of his time, but kept his fist in his pocket. He approached his greatest foes peacefully, lovingly, and made their attacks look feeble by comparison. When given the chance to meet with those in positions of power, he made arguments for his cause that were sensible and practical. Though he, like us all, was not perfect, that he was at once bold, loving, and sensible is what I find most amazing about the man.
It is no coincidence that MLK was first a man of the cloth. He was a pastor before he was a civil rights icon. He was a student of the Bible before he was a speaker for justice. And I imagine that he, like I, spent time as a young minister, reading the Apostle Paul’s wisdom passed to a young man named Timothy who was also a rookie in ministry. I’d like to think that these words were to MLK, like they were to me, an encouragement and a battle strategy:
[T]he special gift of ministry you received when I laid hands on you and prayed—keep that ablaze! God doesn’t want us to be shy with His gifts, but bold and loving and sensible. So don’t be embarrassed to speak up for our Master or for me, his prisoner. Take your share of suffering for the Message along with the rest of us. We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work. We had nothing to do with it. It was all His idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus long before we knew anything about it. But we know it now. Since the appearance of our Savior, nothing could be plainer: death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus. 2 Timothy 1:6-10
We can’t all be great orators who change the course of history with powerful words like “I have a dream, that one day my four children will be judged, not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character . . .” We can’t all lead great movements of humanity. Most of us will simply bask in the words and the accomplishments of this great man.
But there is something that we can all do: Be bold and loving and sensible.
- We can act and speak boldly when we see folks hurting, helpless, hungry, cheated, missing out on the blessings that God intended for them: Grace, liberty, joy, peace.
- We can be loving in a world where too often hate rules the day, sharing the same love that God gave to us, however undeservedly.
- We can be a source of sensibility when the culture around us has lost it moral center, calling our children and our contemporaries to reject the decay that seems so prevalent.
In all these things, our signature message must plainly be that, “death [is] defeated, [and] life [is] vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus.”
I can’t think of anything on which I’d rather have the content of my character judged!
Pressing on toward the goal . . .