Martin Luther King Jr.
A Letter to Martin
A Monday Meditation from Pastor Kevin
January 21, 2008
Each year around January 15th, Bishop Woodie White writes an annual letter to Martin Luther King, Jr., to commemorate and reflect on the state of things today as the nation celebrates the life of this modern day prophet. This year, as many gather to pray, to remember, to celebrate, and to recommit ourselves to the cause of justice and peace, I thought I would use this same format as a way to reflect and share my own reflections, struggles, questions, and hopes for this generation.
Dear Martin,
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 self-interest." 

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,