I work for a college ministry, so silly icebreaker questions are still a regular part of my life. One that regularly comes up is “If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?” And my answer is always the same. Aside from Jesus Christ, it would easily be Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Today, if I could have dinner with him, I would have but two things to say. First, thank you. Thank you for standing for the right thing, at a time when it was hard. Thank you for showing us a better way. And secondly, I’m sorry. We’re sorry. We seem to have lost the way.
I watched his speech on YouTube this morning.
Many of us know some of the more famous lines, but how many have watched it? I have to admit, it has been years since I’ve sat and watched it the whole way through. It brings me to tears each time.
The line that stood out to me this time was the line about young black and white children playing hand in hand. I was teary eyed realizing that we really have come a long way. That dream is a reality for my daughter. It was for me thirty years ago! I have been so blessed by the work of Dr. King. My life has been richer. My children’s lives are richer!
I try to teach my daughter about the work of Dr. King each year. She’s five now. Last year, she would help people at school, and come home and tell me that she was just like Dr. King. It was too precious. But as kids do, she forgot. So this year, she is learning it again like it is brand new. I have yet to be completely honest with her though. I have taught her that Dr. King stood up for people when others were not treating them fairly. I teach her that he did all of this without fighting. But I just can’t bring myself to tell her that the whole reason some people were being mean to others was the color of their skin. I just can’t say that out loud to her. She has no concept for that in her mind. She has friends of a variety of races, both in our church and in her school (and I’m so glad!). But she never really describes anyone by that. She doesn’t ask why people are different colors. It’s just a reality she accepts. By telling her the true story of King’s struggle, I will jade her world a little. And I’m not ready for that.
We really have come a long way. But I think the events of this past year prove, we have yet a ways to go. I wonder if we have forgotten the true goal: equality. Equality, not power. Will a day come when no questions will be raised as to motive concerning color? I sure hope it does. Before Jesus returns. Just the same as we have forgotten the dream, we have forgotten the way. The way of peace. And for this, I believe Dr. King would be especially sad.
There is another King, the Great Physician, who is also sad about these events. About the state of our souls. He is The King who offers us freedom and deep true healing from the inside out. This King also wept because His people didn’t understand His way of peace.
Perhaps today, we could heed some other words from Dr. King. In his Challenge to the Churches and Synagouges, given almost exactly 52 years ago, he gives a warning to the church. It is a prophecy I fear is coming true. In it he states:
“When the Church or Synagogue becomes a vocal or silent partner of the status quo, it loses both its power and its soul….If the Church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become little more than an irrelevant social club with a thin veneer of religiosity. It the Church does not participate actively in the struggle for economic and racial justice, it will forfeit the loyalty of millions and cause men everywhere to say it has atrophied its will. In short, the Church must decide whether it will assume the role of leadership, or the role of pious irrelevancy. The Church must decide whether it will aaggressively lead men along the path of brotherhood or whether it will remain more cautious than courageous and more prone to follow the expedient than the ethical way.”
Church, I fear we are becoming irrelevant. Not because we don’t have the answers to the world’s problems. Indeed, we do! But because we aren’t willing to do the hard work of standing up for what is right. For this reason, Dr. King is one of my heros. And for this reason I am afraid Our. King. weeps.