When I was in the fifth grade we were given an assignment, paired with a partner we had to write and perform a skit at a school assembly. Each partner chose a historical figure that each viewed as a hero and the skit was to be a dialogue between the two heroes as if they were meeting for the first time. I knew who my hero would be before the teacher was done explaining the assignment; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Since first learning of Dr. King, his story has always fascinated me. I wanted to be a pastor from a very young age (surely a bit of a shock to my non-church going family.) When I found out that Dr. King was a pastor I was beyond thrilled. A man who I looked up to for his courage and love was also a pastor, just like I wanted to be! It was a great assignment, one of my favorites! “Your skit was the best one, it was actually the best I have seen in all of my years of teaching!” is what I imagined my teacher really wanting to say about our skit but of course couldn’t because it would have hurt the other kids’ feelings so she just said great job.
Fast forward a few years to now… Okay, so 24 is a lot more than a few…
Today I decided to take advantage of the record springtime temperatures in the Washington DC area and trekked over to see the cherry blossoms in downtown DC. I grabbed lunch and was listening to a young woman sing on the festival stage when something in the distance caught my eye; it was the Dr. King memorial! I had not been to see it yet so I immediately got up and made my way to the memorial.
As I stepped up to the memorial I began to read the quotes etched into the walls. I then made my way to the massive stone sculpture of Dr. King; the moment was humbling. I sat on a bench and wept. I wept for the beauty I found in his commitment, giving everything for his convictions that people are created equal by God and everyone deserves the decency of being respected as a member of the human family. Dr. King pulled back the societal vale draped over our country, revealing an ugly hatred and pure evil perpetuated against a people simply because of the color of their skin. For this conviction, he paid the greatest price one can pay in this life.
But Dr. King wasn’t just a man of deep conviction about racial division and segregation, he also spoke out against war and spoke up for the poor. He marched for workers’ rights as they faced oppressive conditions. Above all of this, he was a pastor. He loved the people he felt called to serve and was willing to stand up for them, as well as lay down his life for them, as their spiritual leader.
This should not only be the heart of every pastor but every person who professes to follow the beautiful Christ of the New Testament, that we will speak for those who have no voice. We shouldn’t be concerned with position in our churches or accolades from the religious. No, we should be people who believe that when any peoples are oppressed, we are all oppressed. When we see voices silenced, we should purposely decide to stand peacefully with them and speak words of wisdom with loving kindness on their behalf until the whole world hears! This is a part of what I call living the kingdom!
All of that stuff Jesus said in the sermon on the mount, they just weren’t cool sayings for paintings or religious bookmarks, they were words that we are all to live by. Dr. King believed they were words that were to be acted upon, not just used to “sermonize” with. Words like the call to be a light for people that are suffering in the dark, to find a blessing in being a peacemaker, to love our enemies and forget that eye-for-an-eye stuff and instead give love (and give it generously.)
As I was sitting there in tears, an older African American woman sat next to me. She looked at me, tears also in her eyes. Her words, “It’s not just my heritage, it’s our heritage, baby.” And with that she reached over and patted my hand, stood up and walked away. My first instinct was to say something back to her or ask her name, but then I realized that was not what this was supposed to be. We had exactly the communication we were supposed to have in that moment.
To think that at one time in our history that kind, older woman would have had to think twice before reaching over and patting my hand because my skin is a different color than hers is just unfathomable to me. But she can do that today, and I can be blessed by it, because Dr. King is our heritage. And beyond that, Dr. King and I have another similar heritage, he followed Christ, and now I do my best to do the same. He was a pastor that realized the call is not about screaming people into hell but its about loving people and bringing the kingdom into our reality, the kingdom of God to a hurting world. I just pray I will have the courage he did.
“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”