Friday, April 04, 2008

Courage inspires courage

I'm taking a Voices of Non-Violence ethics class this semester and one of the voices we have studied is that of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is a reflection paper I wrote for the class a few weeks ago. I post it today, April 4, 2008, the 40th anniversary of the attempt to silence that voice, an attempt that assassinated the man but could not kill the dream.

Forty years ago this April, I was sitting in a 1960 Valiant with my father in the parking lot of Montgomery Ward in Fort Worth, Texas, waiting near a loading dock for my first ever bicycle to be assembled. As we waited, news came on the car radio that Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated. I was eight years old. I did not know who King was; I only knew that word of his death had shaken my father to tears.
It fell to my father, in his shock and grief, to try to explain to me who King was and why my father was so sad. With the perspective of 40 years, and my own experiences of parenthood, I can imagine that it saddened him, too, to need to explain to me what assassination meant. (And as I write this, I realize that as I was explaining this same thing to my six-year-old son this January as he tried to understand who this King was that allowed him to spend a Monday away from school with me, I told of King and his work and his dream and I left out the part about how he died.)
Forty years later, the words and work of King and the words and work and reflections of Vincent Harding in Martin Luther King: The Inconvenient Hero resonate with me in unexpected but welcome ways.
I particularly appreciated Harding’s ability to bring King’s work and message into more contemporary contexts. I appreciated the history and behind-the-scenes perspective Harding brought to King’s times, but the chapters that most captivated me were the one on King as “Blessed Astronaut of the Human Race” and the one comparing the Vietnam era with the violence today in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Harding writes that King was an explorer like many women and men who have been “explorers of the human capacity for union with the magnificent creativity of God.” He also writes that King, at his best, held fast to the truth regardless of where it led him. I take great inspiration from this conviction, and I hope that just as courage inspired courage for King in the early days of the Montgomery boycotts, his courage can inspire my own both in ministry and in staying true to who I am and what I believe in all my life. King held fast to the truth, Harding writes, “even when the denials were official government policy and even when the deniers were the leaders of the nation,” “even when the deniers were brothers and sisters in his church community.”
In writing of King’s strong and intentional opposition to the Vietnam War, Harding asks: “What do the children of God do when leaders say to us that all these people and all these other places are not really children of God but enemies?” So many of today’s human rights struggles, today’s economic struggles, and certainly today’s struggles for peace revolve around the same central truth. Since we are all children of God, how do we behave toward one another and how do we structure our communities in ways that affirm each child of God?
To have the convictions of King, Harding writes, we need to be “strong, convinced, integrated individuals, who have our own deep sense of who we are and therefore what we do and why we do it.” That is the truth I hope to live into. That is where I hope King’s courage can inspire my own.

Questions for further reflection:

1. There are still opportunities today for us to answer what Harding calls King’s calling to all children of God to be “pioneers in the realm of human community, in the realm of human compassion, in the realm of human justice.” Harding says King was doing all this as a part of “holding on to the truth of God’s unifying, all encompassing love” and while “holding on to the insane, impractical, magnificent truth of the call to ministry.” What are yours? What are those of your communities or congregations?

2. If King’s courage can inspire your courage, what courage do you want to strengthen or live into?


Jeri said...

I am inspired by King. I am inspired by his everyday courage. It is always a risk to be an outspoken prophet in a broken world, but where would we be without people like him.

Sally said...

From across the pond in the UK the impact of Kings death was still felt by many, his courage and prophetic voice still inspire and challenge us.

Thank you for this reminder.

mid-life rookie said...

Your memory is so close to mine. I was 7 and in the car with my mother when the news came over the radio. I didn't understand why she was crying. She explained to me who Martin Luther King was and why his death was a great loss. This scene was brought to mind on April 4th. I hadn't thought about it in a long time. We are both blessed to have had parents who saw the importance of Dr. King's message and grieved his loss. Many of our generation were not raised with these ideas.

the reverend mommy said...

I wrote about this as well this week. We can only hope that this world can be united; we can only go forth in faith.


Muthah+ said...

I too was in Ft. Worth that day. But I had been to Selma in '65. I was in my first year of teaching in Keller and it hit me like a kick in the stomach. Like JFK, RFK and now King--all my heros were being killed off. For some years I took his death personally--as if someone was gunning for me as well.

I saw from that moment that being someone who caried about others was truly an unsafe thing for a long while. It was only after I had an incredible experience of God was I able to open myself to continue the struggle for human rights.

I am glad that the younger generation is embracing King's non-violent struggle. We may be able to hope for a future if they do.