Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in an interfaith, community-wide worship service to remember and to honor the work and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It was a wonderful and inspiring hour and a half. We prayed and preached and held hands and sang. And, we remembered and repeated some of Dr. King’s most inspiring words.
Let freedom ring.
Free at last. Free at last.
Not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
I have been to the mountaintop.
Those of us who are preachers can only wish that our words could be so poetic and so inspiring and spoken with such power.
But, for as wonderful as yesterday’s gathering was, I walked away with the feeling we were missing something. As I thought about it more I realized that we were and we are. What we were missing and are missing, in all of our well-intentioned remembrances, is the very real and very painful struggle that marked both the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. King’s life, and the very real courage it took for him to stand up and to say what he did when he did. Too easily we forget how sharply divided our country was at that time, not just about Civil Rights, but also about the Vietnam War. And, many in our country strongly, even violently, disagreed with Dr. King. And, not just those in the white community, but many in the African-American community as well. Some told him he was pushing for too much too fast and others claimed that he was doing too little and going too slow.
And, here is where it begins to get personal for me…
And, what I think we too easily miss in all our accolades.
I am one who works hard to build consensus;
And, to make sure that everyone is, if not happy, at least okay.
I wonder about the courage it would take to stand up, as Dr. King stood up, and to speak that part of the truth that I understand from deep within me knowing that it would bring more conflict than peace; more discomfort than comfort; more hatred than understanding. One of the political leaders who attended the service yesterday was invited to make a few remarks. In commenting on Dr. King’s legacy, he remarked that we don’t have leaders like that today. And we don’t. And, we probably don’t have many preachers like that today either. Few are willing, myself included, to be that honest and that courageous and to pay that price.
As we remember Dr. King and celebrate the witness of his life…
Maybe what we need is this: to find some way to move beyond just a eulogy.