This year is the fiftieth anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin L. King’s death. January 15, 2018 our nation celebrates the birth of Reverend Dr. Martin L. King Jr. Dr. King’s life and legacy is one of the examined life in which he determined to use his faith, intellect, and compelling vision for human equality to improve the lives of Americans. He possessed a clear vision of where he wanted to go and his example called others to follow him towards a beloved community.
I use the terminology “human equality” because we tend to isolate Dr. King’s work to the pursuit of racial equality in voting rights, equal access to solicit businesses, and bus desegregation. Yet Dr. King’s work extends beyond the visionary speech of “I Have a Dream” on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Dr. King’s intense vision for the realization and affirmation of human personality among poor Americans, a difficult stand against the Vietnam War, and improved economic situations are critical to understanding his life and legacy. We will be well served to remember Dr. King was not simply an advocate for the uplift of Blacks during the 1950’s and 1960’ but a fervent and prophetic voice to call people to a glorious destination.
It is a difficult thing to be a voice for all persons. In the 21st Century we are drawn into so many directions. A comfortable influence is our desire to be a voice for those who resemble, think, and most recently vote like us. Homogeneity offers a level of protection, security, and identity. It is when the “other” enters our presence, our intellectual assent to advance freedom and dignity for “We the People” encounters profound challenge. When the “other” breaks into our life as a ray of light on our sleeping faces, we are startled from our slumber and have an opportunity to engage in a new morning.
We stand in a morning where we still hear voices of resistance regarding national leadership. We wake up to voices of mothers and brothers who are tired of violence perpetuated in their streets, whether by gang members or law enforcement. We are aware of the tired feet of people who partake a dangerous journey to our Southern border led as hopeful sojourners by manipulative coyotes. The morning light has made us aware of all types of persons who vacillate between hope and fear, comfort and anxiety, solidarity and isolation. As Dr. King asked in 1968, “Where do we go from here?”
This question asked fifty years ago, immediately evaluated the situation of the Civil Rights Movement. His leadership along with a diverse ethnic and religious following was influential in securing the desegregation of buses, passage of the Voting Rights Act, and challenging the validity of the Vietnam War. Dr. King realized people-particularly Blacks-continued to suffer economically within their own neighborhoods, despite significant victories. Where do we go from here? Dr. King proposed the movement needed to engage its government and citizens to embrace the reality of a “world house.” Embedded in the question though is the concept of solidarity.
We are a family. We have a variety of ethnicities, religious faiths, and other social distinctions. Just as a family possesses diversity, a loving and compassionate family manages such diversity for the larger goal of generational viability. Regardless of our social or economic position, we exist as a family within this vast house called Arkansas. This is our house and we have an individual and collective responsibility to steward this residence for ourselves and future generations.
Where do we go from here? Embedded in the question is one of action. Dr. King perceived the success of the Civil Rights Movement depended on Blacks serving in greater political, economic, and social influence. In the 21st Century we must ask ourselves, “How will we serve others?” I believe there are many of you who possess great ideas to transform Libertarian, Conservative, and Progressive ideologies. There are men, women, and children in our nation who need bold political ideas which will shape our house to function appropriately in this new morning. Poverty continues to be an unsightly hole in the roof of our house. This economic situation creates an opportunity in which more and more families are discovering their power to make meaningful choices is being severely hindered. Dr. King stated, “if democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity.” It is time we stand in the warmth of our new morning and create new opportunities to improve the economic situation of the disadvantaged. To do otherwise compromises the longevity of our state.
Finally, we can serve others in the 21st Century by compassionately engaging socially with others. Our state has some relational tensions to address. These tensions possess an ethnic character and in other cases a political character. While I cannot control how one is born ethnically or how one believes politically, I can control how I perceive the other person. You are my brother and sister. We are tied together by the same infinitely valuable character which offers us all dignity and worth. I have my faults as you have your own. Dr. King stated, “there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” Therefore, let us serve our “enemies.” We need to walk into this new morning with an intense desire to love the other with such a fervency that heaven itself will stand and applaud.
Service in the 21st Century depends on a compelling and prophetic vision which empowers each of us to love through political, economic, and social means. We love one another through each of these means for the greater purpose of maintaining our house and above all creating a situation in which all human beings can dance in the morning light of freedom and equality.
This is where we can be headed.
The incarnation reveals a God willing to see and personally address the variety of sufferings which exist in the human experience. Therefore, as the resurrection influences the people of God to live in the reality of a new creation, we possess the ability to see and act compassionately among ourselves and the citizens of our world.
Worldwide, humanity with all of her variety is experiencing varying degrees of difficulty. Young teenage women in Africa are being kidnapped by military groups such as Boko Haram for marriage. In the Middle East, Christians in the Jordan, Egypt and Syria are kidnapped by ISIS and beheaded for their faith. This past weekend, ISIS chose to extend it's violent influence into the great city of Paris. Populations of persons are struggling under financial debt to create a stable economy for themselves and participate at some level in our global economy.
The tensions in America are great. We are familiar with a variety of shootings from Tennessee to Chicago. Consider in Chicago, on any given weekend some young African American male will lose his life in gun violence. Young children are being killed in the womb and their body parts sold. Families are struggling to find work. The homeless are looked as potential criminals and drug users. The recently incarcerated are released and struggle to find a place to live and secure adequate employment.
In the Church people suffer in silence. Maybe because of some domestic or sexual abuse, or an inability to forgive within the community of faith, men and women grieve on the inside. This past summer people who have communicated grief because they feel as if their voice is not being heard by other Christian brothers and sisters who prefer an earthly Southern heritage over the grief of their brothers and sisters.
The context in which we live is fraught with difficulties. I wonder if our eyes are open to recognize the difficulties people are living in at this present moment. Can we observe with our new eyes the strain people are under? Can I hear beyond the words of "I'm fine," the possibility a person right before me simply needs my presence? When we hear and see someone or some group in difficulty maybe the question we need to ask is, "What will happen to him or her if I do not do something?" instead of the usual question, "What will happen to me if I do something?"
Compassion represents a very human and deep activity which places an individual in the storm of another individual's experience. Compassion is made up of two words, "together" and "to suffer." In essence, I gain knowledge-hearing or seeing-about your situation and this emotion rises out of the depth of my being to propel me to embrace another person in his or her difficulty.
Why should we respond? We should respond on the basis of the recognition of our sameness. Our sameness is rooted in the truth we are image bearers of God. I have either experienced my own suffering or I know at some point a difficulty is on the horizon. Nevertheless, I understand to be alone or to be isolated as a human being when all hell is breaking loose is not how I am supposed to exist.
So, we acknowledge the humanity of another by entering into difficulty. I acknowledge you are there and I acknowledge by my actions you will not be alone. Can we grasp how transformative it becomes when in the middle of my pain, my grieve, my tiredness, someone says, "I see you" and "I am joining you in this moment?"
Compassion Close to Home
Who among us in our city and state are physically and/or emotionally weary? An easy situation involves the work each of are involved in on a daily basis. Husbands. Wives. Students. Lawyers. Childcare workers. Mothers. These are vocations the Lord has empowered us to accomplish to announce his kingdom, bring about healing, and silence darkness. At the same time, we must be able to recognize when those among us are in need to get to a desolate place, rest, and refresh. Our acts of compassion will require us to enter into another person's difficulty and say, "It is time for rest." A more difficult situation involves the use of physical force in order to enter into difficulty of family and friends. An often used statement are phrases such as "turn the other cheek" and " those who live by the sword will die by the sword." These two famous statements of an Ancient Near East Rabbi serve as instruction to gain the hearing of an enemy and an admonish of how a kingdom will be established. I argue what these statement\s do not infer is a pacifist approach in situations in which a family member's life is under severe threat. I enter into the apparent suffering of another individual when I perceive his or her life is threatened. While I may die by the sword the compassion involves me choosing to value life of an innocent individual. Ask any mother or father worth his or her salt as a parent and I believe we will hear words which convey compassion in order to protect his or her offspring.
Second, acts of compassion can not remain among our homogeneous groups or persons we have an affective relationships; compassion must extend to those like us. How much in need are these men and women?
It is here we are having difficulty right now. Our inability to enter compassionately into the lives of "others." It is very disconcerting this past week to see Christians make arguments against compassion. We begin with arguments which implicitly value American citizenry above Christian principle reflective of eternal citizenship. Second, we apply Old Testament text which were given to a covenant people-Israel-expecting a non-covenant government-America-to honor those text. Our American government is not a theocracy and under no obligation to obey those texts. Christians must offer and apply these texts of compassion first and primarily to ourselves. How will Christians who live in America act compassionately within local churches in our individual vocations? More specifically, to those in political office, you have the difficult challenge of executing your duties as an duly elected servant and your Christian principles. Elected officials are part of an entity designed with the purpose of protecting its citizens and use of the sword on evil. Therefore, if you are pro-life in matters of birth, "How does compassion influence your pro-life principles to address the current refugee discussion?" "How does compassion influence your responsibility to execute the sword in order to bring about justice?" To the larger Christian community, we must ask ourselves "Why are we appealing to establish a criteria first to carry out compassion when this is antithetical to the Gospel?"
Christians, Jesus did not cast judgment first when he demonstrated compassion. Jesus extended compassion through instruction for the soul and nourishment for the body. How can we go about living compassionately in our context and live as a prophetic voice which powerfully encourages all to be compassionate abroad?
Finally, I have this fear in one weeks time we will return to business as usual. We will use the immediate situation of Paris and by extension Syrian refugees as ideological footballs to be kicked around for a moment. We will pontificate on Facebook, Twitter, radio programs, and television for a moment, returning to "normal" life when its time to cut turkey and watch football. So I ask myself, do we as Christians truly have a significant grasp of what it means to live compassionately in the Church, America, and World. I am glad you changed your Facebook profile picture to the French flag but then what? When the refugee situation fades into to background there still will exist people in our context-homeless, orphans, abused, and others-still in need of persons who will enter into their suffering.
The Church-the people of God-stand on the other side of the resurrection. We are men and women empowered to see and act with compassion. As God entered into the suffering of humanity and reconciled humanity back to God through the cross, we now enter into the suffering of humanity because Christ has triumphed. He has made us alive because he is alive. Therefore, to live means being active and aware. It means being able to move into situations which are powerfully difficult and situations in which we will not completely understand.
I don't want to suffer alone. I am hoping someone will see me in a storm of emotional, physical, or spiritual distress and say, "I am coming to suffer with you because God in Christ showed compassion and suffered with me."
Let's go people of God. Let us move into difficult human experiences and be present. Let us join with some person, group, or ethnic group who needs to discern the presence of God in us and be his hands, his voice, his ears to act in a way which will have people declare, "I have seen the Lord!"
What does it mean to be a Husband?
Being a husband means shouldering a God given responsibility, which is a challenge, as well as, a joy. It is a challenge from the standpoint of mirroring a perfect God and His love for the church. My awesome responsibility is to love my wife as Christ loves the church and this puts me in the position of being the priest of our home. This charges me to lead my wife spiritually, in addition, providing stability and security. As a husband this means I should care for her and guide her sacrificially. Being a husband is a joy because God has entrusted me with a precious gift and He helps me carry out this responsibility. I am nowhere near a perfect husband or very very very good husband, but I will continue to strive to follow God’s blueprint.
What does it mean to be a Father?
Being a father means being a provider, being a guide or one who instills structure/discipline, and I have learned it means being a friend as well. My experience as a father is one of humility and joy. My experience is humbling because I became a father at the age of 20, while attending school and I had no idea of what being a father entailed. Although I had a great model in my Dad, there are many things I wish I had done, as well as, many things I wish I had not done. Fatherhood has shown me my imperfections. However, it is a joy to see the beautiful, independent, and responsible person God is shaping our child to be.
What is the example you are seeking to set for your children?
The most important example I seek to set for our child is that of a personal relationship with Christ. If our child understands and pursues Christ, my purpose or responsibility has been complete.
What contributions are you making to your community or city?
My contribution to my community as well as my city has mainly been through the organization; NAACP. Through my service in this organization, I have sought to help the underprivileged and oftentimes the overlooked by taking action on their behalf when they have felt they were mistreated. But I have also set out to do what Dr. King and many others fought for, which is to bridge the gap between our ethnicities, our businesses, our schools, and the community at large. My hope is that our city will see there is “Unity in Diversity.”
What do you desire as a legacy?
My desire for a legacy is to have those to remember me as an individual who loves God, and though imperfect, strives to be conformed to the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. In addition, I hope to leave a legacy of being a person who cared about his family, church family, and community and one who challenged others to see situations through a lens other than their own.
What is your hope for African American Men?
My hope for African American men is that they will yield to their first love, who is Christ. And upon yielding, I pray we take our rightful place in the home, in the church, and in our community.
In closing, let me emphasize I am in no way a perfect model, but hope to do what I have been called to do without messing it up.