You are the stuff of legend, which can be both good and bad.
For years now, we have gathered each year around January 15th to
commemorate your life with plenty of pomp and circumstance.
Most of us pray that such occasions are also marked with substance and a "transformed nonconformity to the status
quo" embodied the other 364 days of the year. In my personal experience, the
majority of these events include good speakers (it is quite an honor for a
person to be selected as an MLK keynoter), inspired music, diverse gatherings
of civic and religious leaders, somewhat overcrowded and lengthy program
agendas, and a crowd of the "usual suspects" with maybe a smattering of people
new to the annual festivities. Over all, it is not a bad way to spend an annual
day off in January, but it is what happens at the close of the day that
concerns me most.
My fear is that we human beings too easily fall prey to the natural
tendency to love commemoration more than commotion; pursue personal
aggrandizement in the spotlight rather than serve humbly in the unrecognized
obscurity of shadow; engage in political posturing in pursuit of narrow persona
agendas instead of posturing politically for the good of all people,
particularly the least, the lost, and the forgotten.
There is a lot to celebrate today. There is a growing
optimism in the political process, especially among today's young people - many
who have been stirred out of a long-standing
political hibernation born of apathy, indifference, and me-ism. To put it
simply, more young people are beginning to recognize that their voices, their
opinions, and their insights do matter and that the world is getting smaller,
not bigger; that how they relate to the world and to each other DOES matter.
They are learning that there is more to life than just their thoughts related
to MTV, DVD, IPOD, and BET.
There is a lot to celebrate today. Two of the presidential
candidates leading this year's polls and, in some cases, the tone and pace of
our national conversation, include both a woman and an African American. These
events are also stirring up people in my generation and older - not so much out
of apathy and indifference - but out of our skepticism, cynicism, and
pessimism. Can we possibly be moving closer to a nation that can judge people
by the content of their character? Is it possible, at this executive level of
our national dialogue, that we might actually see your speech in action rather
than hear it in words? One can hope.
Though there is much to celebrate, there is much to mourn. I
remember the words of your sermon "Transformed Nonconformist" where you penned
the telling words: If America
permits thought control, business control, and freedom control to continue, we
shall surely move within the shadows of fascism. Unfortunately, Martin, we
are already there. We have legally sanctioned torture in the name of "national
security;" we have rationalized killing the unborn in the name of "individual
rights;" we have reordered the historic checks and balances of our government's
legislative bodies in the name of "fighting terrorism;" we have demonized a new
generation of immigrants in the name of "patriotism;" we have witnessed grossly
disproportionate application of the law against some of our citizens in the
name of "cracking down on crime;" we have gone to war to avenge national pain,
scape-goated a whole nation and religion to avoid introspection, and justified occupation and world-wide
"interventions" - all in the name of "freedom, justice, and national
I agree with Bishop Woodie White, who also wrote you this
year, echoing the words of Charles Dickens - "it is the best of times and the
worst of times." Maybe it has always been so. Maybe that is the perception of
every generation. I don't know. I do know that everyone is talking about
"change." But I am convinced it is more than a buzz word for would be
presidents. It is more than a concept to be dismissed with the cynical "the
more things change the more they remain the same." Change is the stuff of God's
doing - the stuff of God's Spirit renewing the face of the earth - starting
with me - starting with you - starting one person at a time.
I believe God is in the change business, which is why I am
also a preacher that has been grabbed by the Good News of the Gospel. I believe
that God is still looking for us to keep announcing news of the One who brings
good news to the poor, both in Iraq and in New Orleans; to keep proclaiming
release to the captives, both to those who "did it" and those who are accused
unjustly; to keep sharing, believing, loving, forgiving, and peace-making in
the name of the One of whom John the Baptist exclaimed: "Here is the Lamb of
God who takes away the sins of the world!"
And Martin, just one more thing. Please put in a good word
for us to your Master and to ours. Pray with us and for us that we will be true
to the Apostle Paul's exhortation to "be not conformed to this world but be ye
transformed by the renewing of your minds." (Romans 12:2) To use your words -
may God empower us to keep living as "transformed nonconformists."
In the Spirit of conformity, not to the status quo, but to God's radical, inbreaking kingdom of love and justice,