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.

NEXT

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Here we are again…

Another inciting incident.
Opinions flow like a river at flood stage.

“You don’t know the facts?” “You missed the point” “You’re ignorant”

As our nation labors under the weight of serious systemic issues  we choose to herald our cyber-bullhorns, which are more about shouting than listening and resolving.

Broad-brushed soundbites of polarized rhetoric.

And then…

NEXT

We saunter off to the next thing showing that we really don’t care at a deep level about the current thing, it’s just the popular outrage. Sure, it seems important enough to flame and shout out loudly what we think (as if we have perfect-objective reality firmly in our grasp), but not important enough to get off the couch and actually DO Something…DO justice.

It amazes me that so many of us think a perfectly worded tweet is the final word on an incident that results in lost lives, lost income, lost values and even lost humanity.

“Surely my Facebook rebuttal is enough to end generations of racism”

“Surely my #hashtag is enough to end corporate greed”

“Surely my instagram picture will be enough to prove a 911 conspiracy”

and then…NEXT…

Have we become the NEXT generation? Have we become a NEXT culture?

In other words, is our current outrage more about entertainment and consumerism than it is about the actual tragedy or incident?

I think they way we respond and then quickly disengage moving onto the NEXT thing reveals an apathy and a narcissism that perpetuates systemic issues.

We live at the surface, and the problems we face are much deeper than the “facts.” And I know someone will more than likely cry out against that last statement.

Courts have to deal with facts, we as a society must deal with truths that lead to justice acknowledging the facts.

Today, consider how fast you move onto the NEXT thing.

Today consider how fast you move on from the LAST thing.

Today consider whether or not an incident will incite you to use your bullhorn only, or actually get off the couch and enter into the pain and brokeness as a healer and helper.

A closing thought to ponder from Martin Luther King Jr.:

“The Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizens Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner but the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice.”

In light of the current #ferguson battlefield, consider the deeper conversation that is needed before you go NEXT.

 

 

Franciscan Benediction

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gray-quotation-marks-mdMay God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships, so that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that we may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless us with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, hunger, and war, so that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, so that we can do what others claim cannot be done, to bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.