Yesterday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I felt the need to do something. What? I am not sure. It is the same every year. I go through the hullabaloo of Thanksgiving-School break for my kids-Christmas-New Year-my anniversary. And by the time my wife and I have had our one night getaway; it is time to get back in the normal rhythms of life. At that point, I am not ready for another special event.
Then MLK day rolls around. Our school system makes the Tuesday afterward a teacher work day so the kids have a 4-day weekend. I don’t take either day off, the Monday or the Tuesday. I’ve been so out of the ordinary with the holidays, I just want to rediscover my work flow. My saint of a wife is left with the three kids as they climbing up the walls wanting to go outside.
However, a part of me experiences something else. There’s an itch in me to do something. Dr. King’s courageous, visionary leadership focused and drove the civil rights movement that saved our country. His posture was conciliator. He dreamed a world in which people are for one another and everyone is seen – seen as a human being of worth regardless of race or another factor.
What divides people? Black v. White; American v. Immigrant; Rich v. Middle Class v. Poor; Healthy v. Disabled; political parties; Old V. Young. All these divisions and more have polarizing potential. When the differences are overcome and people help people and join each other in true friendship, Dr. King’ vision becomes reality. It happens over and over.
I witnessed one example. I know of a woman who receives food stamps. As an act of her Christian discipleship, she tithes on what she receives. She buys groceries and donates some of them. Yesterday, on MLK Day, I got to deliver the groceries she bought. She doesn’t do it to bring attention to herself. She is serving Jesus. If she can find a pastor to actually deliver the food, it is good for both her and the recipient. No one wants to be on the receiving end of charity. A pastor is a good intermediary, someone to protect the anonymity of the giver and the dignity of the recipient.
That was my role on MLK Day. As a pastor, I got be the go-between as a woman, a black woman, helped a white woman, someone she had never met. She was giving food, and the gratitude was painted all over the face of the recipient. After my 11-year-old son and I dropped off the food, we went on with our day.
I believe Dr. King, walking with Jesus in Paradise, smiled. In this story, race was never an issue. It was a case of giving a cup of cold water in Jesus’ name (Mark 9:41). It is a story of people helping each other because that’s what followers of Jesus do.
Next month is African American history month. I usually observe that time by reading. One year I read A Testament of Hope (an anthology of Dr. King’s speeches). I started reading that book in February and spent the rest of the year finishing (it is over 600 pages). Last year, in February I began African American Religious Thought. It is almost 1100 pages and in 2013, I read about 975. I will finish it in February 2014.
All this reading and the MLK day service projects and observances only work as symbols of the need and ongoing work of combating our racist heritage. Society must move beyond ‘African American history’ to recognize all the stories and meaning in American history. More than MLK Day service projects, America needs to be a culture of service – people helping each other instead of advancing themselves at their neighbor’s expense. When that becomes the ethos of America, the ethos of service done in love, then we will find ourselves nearer to something more than Dr. King’s vision. We will taste the Kingdom Dr. King dreamed of, the one envisioned by Jesus, the Kingdom of God.
I think, when MLK Day comes, and I find myself not ready but feeling something, that is it. Dr. King was a prophet of the Kingdom of God. Even unaware, I yearn for it. I long for it. I pray for it. In that Kingdom, hungry people won’t need to help each other. None will go hungry. All will be blessed. Thank you, Dr. King, for your voice reminding me to seek that blessing.