Its not easy, is it?
Recent history has turned Martin Luther King day into a day of service. Service certainly is a good thing, and it is part of Dr. King's legacy. He echoed the words of Jesus Christ clearly when he stated that "Anybody can be great, because everybody can serve." And we should serve, not only this coming weekend, but always.
Service, however, is the safe easy part of both Christ's teaching and King's. As the nation mourns Tuscon's tragedy, it may be time to remember the less popular, more challenging aspects of King's proclamation. Non-violence and enemy love.
King spoke clearly against injustice and resisted it, boldly and strategically. Yet even when his and his family's life was threatened, he did not respond with violence, nor did he call for it.
Though he is seen as a hero now, it is important to remember that King was made from the same substance as you and I. The temptations to hate and violence were no less in him. King, however, chose to react with love even to those who hated him, even when it risked not only his life, but the life of people he loved.
Because King believed in Christ's call to love enemies, because he saw that violence only destroyed things where justice needed to be built, King chose to love.
When we remember the civil rights movement this week, the marches and the beatings quickly come to mind, but we forget the preparation that went into them. It's as if we look at a marathon runner and assume that they were born that way. Just as most people can run a marathon if they train, so too can most people love an enemy. It takes training to first run a mile, then a 5k, then longer and longer distances. Likewise, with discipline, we can grow our capacity for love.
Before the marches came the trainings. Dr. King and his followers were not only strategically prepared to love their opponents, they were spiritually prepared. Long nights of study, prayer and song came before each action. Why? Because it is so easy to stop loving and attack. And in the irony of Christian theology, attack is the path to defeat.
I'm not sure if you have noticed, but sometimes people do and say obnoxious things--not only in Tuscon, but right here in our city and even on this very site. (It may even happen in the comments below!) Yet in three plus years of reading this site, I have yet to see a person change their mind or their behavior because of a clever dig. However, we have all seen words dehumanize a person--and this is the first step to violence.
Do we ignore the injustice in our city? The growing poverty? The discrimination? The violence? Of course not! But Dr. King, I believe, would remind us that the only way we can make a difference on an individual OR political level is to first love the one we oppose. Can you? I'll confess that there are people in my life that are still difficult to love. That fact is the reason that I still train. Because this is a site that is dedicated to positive change for Buffalo, I recommend to its readers training in the discipline that Dr. King practiced.
This Sunday, in place of our normal celebration, the congregation of Lafayette Church will be considering the question, "What would Dr. King preach today?" Two other panelists will consider the question with me, and there will also be a time for the public to respond. You are cordially invited. 10am, at the corner of Lafayette and Elmwood.
The image used is from the library of Congress, and in the public domain.