Recently, I attended a coaching event in Atlanta where we visited Ebenezer baptist Church. It was at Ebenezer that Dr. King’s father pastored, and where Martin delivered his first sermons, and later co-pastored.
As I sat in the pews listening to "I have a dream" over the PA system, it was impossible to escape the feeling that I was standing on hallowed ground. In these sacred moments - Moments when we place ourselves in the shadow of great men and women - we become acutely aware that we are standing on their shoulders. We realize in these moments that the building of our world today, was built with the brick of their determination, and the mortar of their sacrifice.
Only as we study history and history’s greatest characters, do we feel the weight of the task. What task? The one they began, and that we have a responsibility to our children to finish. At the end of Hebrews 11, the author says that none of these heroes received what they were promised in their lifetime, so that "Only together with Us would they be made perfect.” In the first verse of Chapter 12, we are reminded that they now stand on the balcony of history cheering us on to complete the task, and to finish the race. It is in that spirit that I am reminded today of what the life and teachings of Dr. King have taught me...
Dr. King taught me to own my story…
On April 9, 1967, Dr. King preached a sermon at New Covenant Baptist Church. The excerpt below was taken from this speech entitled "The Three Dimensional Life”.
"...before you can love other selves adequately, you’ve got to love your own self properly. You know, a lot of people don’t love themselves. And they go through life with deep and haunting emotional conflicts. So the length of life means that you must love yourself.
And you know what loving yourself also means? It means that you’ve got to accept yourself. So many people are busy trying to be somebody else. God gave all of us something significant. And we must pray every day, asking God to help us to accept ourselves. That means everything. Too many Negroes are ashamed of themselves, ashamed of being black. A Negro got to rise up and say from the bottom of his soul, "I am somebody. I have a rich, noble, and proud heritage. However exploited and however painful my history has been, I’m black, but I’m black and beautiful." This is what we’ve got to say. We’ve got to accept ourselves. And we must pray, "Lord, Help me to accept myself every day; help me to accept my tools."
Racial or otherwise, each of us possess a history and a heritage that is both proud and painful. Each of our stories contain chapters of triumph and verses of defeat. Without each part, our world would find itself absent of a precious gift we know as redemption.
While ethnically, I am hispanic, I was raised in white culture. I find it difficult and perplexing to understand the rhetoric of some of my peers. Those who would be so bold and arrogant as to tell a black man or woman that their story is not their story. That their sense of being oppressed, their sense that the system has worked against them, is just a social construct, a product of propaganda.
I find the rhetoric of those of us who find ourselves closer to the other end of the ideological spectrum, equally divisive. It is just as divisive to project the darkest parts of our own story onto every person who does not think or look like us. Proverbs reminds us that "Each heart knows it's own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy." None of us have the right to re-write someone else’s story.
Whatever our narrative entails, we owe it to ourselves, and I think to those that share in our affliction, to tell our story, to love and accept ourselves and “our tools” to help a hurting world.
As Dr. King once wrote,
“As my sufferings mounted I soon realized that there were two ways in which I could respond to my situation -- either to react with bitterness or seek to transform the suffering into a creative force. I decided to follow the latter course.”
Dr. King taught me that cheap love is no love at all...
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, "Love your enemies." It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies. (from "Loving Your Enemies")”
-Dr. King, from "Loving Your Enemies"
One of my first roles in ministry right after Bible College was at Victory World Church in Atlanta. Over 100 nations worship at victory. This, as you can imagine, did not happen by accident in the deep south. It is the legacy of founding Pastor Dennis Rouse. It was there that I met my bride who is black and caucasian ethnically, and a Colombian immigrant.
These years were deeply formative for me, because it is only in environments of deep diversity that we are confronted by our lack of love for people who are not like us.
Jesus taught in Matthew 5 that, 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?
It is only when we love people that don’t look, think, or act like us that we are truly showing the love of Christ. Cheap love, that is only for those that we ideologically align with, takes no special grace from God, and is no love at all, only croneyism.
Dr. King taught me that my friends will remember my silence…
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
These words have haunted me in the recent months of national division. While I live in a largely caucasion world, both in ideology and color, I keep thinking that my son, had his grandfather’s genes won out, may have lived a life very different from my own. The temptation to speak out on behalf of those who are most precious to me, is tempered by my desire to remain neutral and continue to be a voice or reconciliation not division. But even as I write this, I am trying to find my voice for the voiceless.
On the subject of the voice of oppressed people groups, it’s important to note that Dr. King said that, "a riot is the language of the unheard.” (But Dr King didn’t condone this voice, knowing that violence was a tool of division not reconciliation.) Being heard without demonstration or civil disobedience is the luxury of only those who's thoughts are echoed by those in power. It is interesting to me to hear people that I care about, criticize peaceful protests that shut down roads. Have we forgotten that Dr. King led marches that shut down roads? And before he did this, the south was a place where none of us would want to raise our children, black, white or purple. I know this because at the center of who we are, I know that we all share the belief that hate is a cancer, and love its healing ointment. I believe that the actions of Colin Kaepernick would have been whole heartedly condoned by Dr. King. Why? Because Dr. King’s cause of love and equality, preceded and superseded any national value system by millennia. These values arrived when men and women were created in the image of God in the Garden.
In the end, I want to teach my son that standing on the right side of history is the most important thing. I want to teach my son that being misunderstood, or creating temporary division, for true unity are a meager price to pay for justice.
I want to teach my son that, because I think that if he were here, that is what Dr. King would teach him...