Why Martin Luther King Day Matters Now More Than Ever

Martin Luther King Jr. in the Birmingham Jail

Today your Facebook, Instagram, Linked-in, Twitter, and Tik-Tok feeds will be full of powerful quotes and images of Martin Luther King Jr. as they should be. The impact he had moving the Civil Rights needle forward is to be celebrated, remembered, and affirmed.

The problem with one-day memorials is that the impact tends to last only for the day. The moment gives way to matters more personally urgent as the daily grind washes the brain, acting as both desensitizer and eraser of everything it deems non-essential.

In 2020 we were living through history in the making. From daily COVID updates, information, and misinformation to confronting our racism in real-time. The death/killing of George Floyd by police officers sparked anger, unrest, and demonstrations resulting in some of the most widespread civil unrest in years. And rightly so.

The unrest has revealed how far we have to go in racial reconciliation in the U.S. In 2020 Confederate flag wielders, alt-right-white-supremacist-Aryan-hate-groups, and Q-anon types, felt safe to show who they were and what they believed. The visible hate and the support for that hate created many “I don’t believe what I am seeing!” moments. Perhaps what saddened me most was to see how some of these groups were proclaiming Jesus.

So, yes, that’s why I believe that Martin Luther King Jr. Day matters now more than ever.

Over the weekend, I re-read MLK’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” Have you read it? If your answer is no, I will encourage you to put it at the top of your list. You can download it HERE:

On April 12, 1963, a group of eight white clergy from Alabama issued a statement titled “A Call For Unity.” In their statement, they condemned the demonstration in Birmingham led by Martin Luther King Jr. The “Letter From Birmingham Jail” was MLK’s response to the statement.

In the letter King writes:

“Several months ago our local affiliate here in Birmingham invited us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct-action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promises. So I am here, along with several members of my staff, because we were invited here. I am here because I have basic organizational ties here. 

Beyond this, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the eighth-century prophets left their little villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their hometowns; and just as the Apostle Paul left his little village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to practically every hamlet and city of the Greco-Roman world, I too am compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my particular hometown. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.”

The line “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here” sparks my inner prophet. I can imagine hearing Jesus say similar words, “I am in Jerusalem because injustice is here, and my mission is to right the wrongs of sin and death, bringing an end to injustice everywhere.” The theme of justice baptizes His Messianic Mission statement found in Luke 4:18-19. As Jesus reads the words of Isaiah, He connects them and attributes them as His personal mission statement:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.”

Help the poor; release the prisoners; heal the blind; free those oppressed; proclaim God’s favor. These words sing with justice images. These words echo the words of Micah 6:8, “What does YHWH require of you? To do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God…”

Doing justice is the call of every follower of Jesus. Doing justice happens when we work to create with God a world where every person has the access and opportunity to live and develop the life God designed them to live. To know Him and unleash the gifts He embedded in their soul. 

So, as Jesus did, we work to eliminate the outcast, the marginalized, the ostracized, the least of these. Further along in King’s letter, he notes:

Further along in King’s letter he notes:

“You deplore the demonstrations that are presently taking place in Birmingham. But I am sorry that your statement did not express a similar concern for the conditions that brought the demonstrations into being. I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. I would not hesitate to say that it is unfortunate that so-called demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham at this time, but I would say in more emphatic terms that it is even more unfortunate that the white power structure of this city left the Negro community with no other alternative.”

Did you catch what King gently states: “I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.” 

Pause.

Our culture is not grappling with underlying causes because we have chosen the superficial social analysts of Twitter, Facebook, News entertainment channels, and talk radio. When we do wrestle with the underlying causes, people tend to get antsy, squeamish, and often move toward shame rather than repentance. Shame calls upon her cousin Guilt and the two launch back at the truth with the vitriol of justifications and accusations. 

Dealing with systemic sin is painful. It hurts, but it is the only healing path for us all.

MLK’s Dream was freedom and equality because this is how God designed us. King riffs on that theme when he said: “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The urge for freedom will eventually come. This is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom; something without has reminded him that he can gain it.”

Paul cries out to the Galatians (5:1), “It is for freedom that Christ has set; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Four Things You Can Do To Celebrate MLK Day Everyday.

RESPOND: When someone asks me if I believe “Black Lives Matter,” my answer is an unqualified YES. I don’t need to remind them that all lives matter, or blue lives matter, or pastor’s lives matter. The question is singular; therefore, the best response is not another justification that diminishes the question’s intent. This is one way to celebrate MLK Day every day.

ACKNOWLEDGE: Many people believe that since anti-discrimination laws exist the problem of racism is in the past. This is blatantly untrue. I can celebrate MLK Day everyday by acknowledging that discrimination, racism, and systemic evil do indeed exist.

RECOGNIZE: Everyone has implicit bias, which are attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner. You can celebrate MLK Day everyday by reading books that will challenge you and educate you. I have previously written and given book recommendations in a post called, “Educating Monty, (on racism, injustice, and white supremacy) read it HERE.

ACT: Micah calls us to “do justice.” You can celebrate MLK Day everyday when you call it out when you encounter ethnic slurs, intentional limited access, or blatant racism. King’s non-violent protests, and the reason for them, stand in stark contrast to the events of violence, outrage, and sedition we have recently experienced in our nation’s capital. Our calling is to act, God’s responsibility is to heal, deliver, and restore.

May we refuse to allow this MLK Day become a one quote wonder. Choose to do all you can to Respond, Acknowledge, Recognize and Act in such a way that the beauty of Revelation 7:9-12 would manifest on earth as it is in heaven.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11 And all the angels stood round the throne and round the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12 saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God for ever and ever! Amen.””

This year MLK Day matters more than ever.

Posture, Pivot, Plans & Prayer

For my Alliance NW friends in ministry: Attached is a personal video and key resources to help move people from fear to trust in and through the COVID19 reality. I also look at ministry pivots and plans about transitioning into what will be the new normal post COVID. I wrap with an update on my transition into the District Superintendent position.

Links and mentioned downloads:

9 Ways we’re trying to engage online
24 Questions your church should answer before people return
24 MORE questions your church should answer
Alliance NW COVID19 Resources

My Election Prayer

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If the current presidential election season has produced anything positive, it might be the increase in political conversations that have been happening at grocery stores, coffee houses and many other spaces where people gather.

I have read some amazing posts and articles whose aim was to soothe an irritated voter base, and perhaps swing them towards peace as they enter the voting booth. I facilitated two forums called “Politicked” where I too sought to bring  balance and levity to our current tension, as well as create a safe space for people with differing views to voice what was on their heart concerning the process, the candidates, and the current state of American political affairs. In my opinion, it was a positive encounter where we learned to hear each other and commit to love regardless of differences.

I have read the many prayers that have been issued forth by pastors who played a partisan card.

I have been discouraged by the way spiritual and theological leaders have sought to anoint one candidate or the other.

I have listened to everyone under the sun explain why they are right and everyone else is wrong.

I have often felt like Solomon when he said, All is vanity…

However, during a short conversation I had with Leonard Sweet this weekend, my prayer focus for this election has shifted. In one way, I feel like my eyes have been lifted from earth and been refocused on God’s sovereign spiritual realm which is grander, more beautiful, and the real kingdom I belong to.

If I were to be honest, most of the prayers I have heard recently have actually been focused upon what the pray-er wants, or what the pray-er thinks is the right divine response to our POTUS vote.

Have you ever noticed that very often even our “holiest” prayers are myopic, selfish and self-serving?

We long for the presidential pick that works in our favor…and if we believe in God then we assume that our favor becomes His favor which ultimately means my/our thoughts on the issues are the right thought and therefore God’s thoughts. Right?

So, back to my conversation with Len…

We were discussing my particular denominational tribe’s emphasis on healing prayer. We see healing as part of what has been provided for followers of Jesus through his substitutional sacrifice (This means that Jesus substitutes his life for our life on the cross. Our sins are paid for by the sinnless Jesus. The chasm of disconnection between us and God is bridged by His offering. Jesus died so that we could live and this results in God declaring us forgiven based on what Christ has done, not on how well we perform.)

Healing, however, is so much more than God fixing the broken arm while we live in a broken world. Healing is a beautiful holistic life of shalom which the ancient rabbis tell us means living in complete peace.

Shalom is how God intended we live, but sin disrupted that vision of life. Jesus removes the sin issue so that we can be fully human, fully alive, and living a transformed life. The healing provided by Jesus extends to my emotional health, physical health and of course my spiritual health.

When we experience healing like this, we then become healing agents in the world so that God’s vision of shalom for everyone is seen, felt and experienced.

As we discussed healing prayer and intercessory prayer, we wondered why our current election prayers were more about candidates winning and losing, and less about healing.

Are you following me?

Why are we not praying that the two primary candidates running for POTUS experience divine healing?

So then, my prayer tonight, on the eve of this unique election is for healing.

Healing for two people who have embarrassed a nation in their pursuit of the highest and most powerful office in the world.

When the ballots are all counted, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will hold the office of POTUS…that is a reality.

So why are we not praying for the healing of these two people?

Between the two candidates there are issues of:

  1. Moral failure
  2. Ethical failure
  3. Character deficiencies
  4. Betrayed marriage vows
  5. Broken marriage vows
  6. Slandering tongues
  7. Self-centeredness on steroids
  8. Inabilities to forgive
  9. Performance issues reaching into the past
  10. Narcissism
  11. Insecurities disguised as bravado
  12. Extreme control issues
  13. Lack of faith in God
  14. Self absorption
  15. The list goes on and on…

I am praying for two people to experience a deep healing of the broken spaces and places in their souls. Both candidates are in great need of healing because they will lead from their wounds and that is not good for any of us.

But remember that with God, bitter wounds can become sacred wounds.

Sacred wounds heal others…
Sacred wounds can mend the nations…
Sacred wounds can make right so many wrongs…
Sacred wounds can transform the broken into the hopeful…

I am praying for both candidates, because one of them will be POTUS.

Intercessory prayer is when we passionately bring someone before Jesus through prayer, seeking their restoration, salvation, healing and transformation. Praying for their over-all good as experienced in shalom (holistic peace).

Maybe tonight the better prayer would be for healing rather than winning.