MLK Day: Reflections from 40,000 feet

Taylor and I found ourselves in a little café called “Salt” this weekend on Pearl Street in Boulder, CO. Went to visit my friend I’ve known now for 25 years, as she and her husband just welcomed their first child—Asher—into the world. One of the things we noticed as we did a little people watching while we ate is that the area was highly populated with Caucasian people.

Sure, there were probably other kinds of diversity in other parts of the city—probably Latinos and Latinas that were working in the shadows, but the community certainly didn’t look like or feel like the ones in which we had been raised—Baton Rouge and Shreveport, LA. Communities with deep racial and economic tension—then and now. Communities that had at least part of their citizenry fight hard through the generations for the rights they enjoyed. Our lives had been greatly influenced by this narrative, so to be in a place that reflected very little of that struggle felt—well, odd. It didn’t feel quite right to not be singing praises to God on this MLK weekend at Mt. Zion First Baptist or participating in a community work day. Instead, for the first time ever, I was on a place watching many commemorate the day from 40,000 miles in the air.

When we peel back the layers of the struggle and victory of civil rights in America—it will reveal much anger, resentment, despair and contempt that fueled the movement. As I think of other movements I have witnessed during my short life time, the same has been true. And most in those movements would argue—myself included–that even scripture would bear wisdom that suggests despair and rage are an essential element in the struggle for justice.

I found myself reading on the plane this afternoon a book I’ve had on my shelf for too long—The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard. In it, he says, “those who teach this are sowing in the wind, and they will reap the whirlwind, the tornado.   Indeed, we are reaping it now in a nation increasingly sick with rage and resentment of citizen toward citizen…there is nothing that can be done with anger that cannot be done better without it. –Dallas Willard

I have to be completely transparent. At first I really resented this notion—casting it off as a naïve statement from a man that I assumed, because he was Caucasian and privileged, with multiple degrees of education. What in the world could he know about a struggle for justice? (on that same note, what in the world would I?)

I stopped on the page, and began to look out the window, thinking more deeply about it. I just let my mind wander around this idea for awhile—really, a long time. And then, the man in the seat next to me piped up and said, “You know, that book changed my life.” After talking for awhile, I found out he was a Lutheran pastor in Fort Collins, CO, and had shaped much of his formation of people in his church around Willard’s ideas.

I believe in signs from God—not overt ones, but often subtle ones…like this one…saying, “keep going…don’t stop digging…look harder.”

So, I began to ask myself the question, “what are the places in my own life that would be better off without being fueled by anger?” The times where I feel more motivated to do something at work or at home because of a chip on my shoulder? The times when I’m just trying to prove someone wrong when they say “I can’t.” The times when I feel slighted, or overlooked, passed over or even invisible? Even and especially in the times in life where things don’t end

How can we all begin (again, and again) to change our motivations from being focused on what is not right, not present, not being done, that which is fueling our contempt of an individual or system, to what God leads us to do, say, and speak for motivated solely from a “Kingdom Heart,” as Willard puts it? How might we right the wrongs in our lives through persistent love? I think of Dr. King’s sermon during one of the most excruciating moments a pastor has to face—the funeral of a child. In fact, this was one for three children (the fourth’s family decided to have a private funeral) after they lost their lives in the senseless bombing of the 16th street Baptist Church. King said to each person—bereaved, afraid, and rightfully angry, “so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour (Yeah Well), we must not despair. (Yeah, Well) We must not become bitter (Yeah, That’s right), nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. (Yeah, Yes) Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all humanity.

Today, I remember again that God reigns—and though the anger we feel in many situations of life may be natural and in some cases, justified, it can distract us from truly believing that our lives, and our collective future, is guided by God’s hand.

The sun is going down on a day where many people across the country have participated in community work days, have worshipped together to celebrate all of the progress we have made as a nation together by God’s presence and power. There is still much progress to make—the victory has not been won, but has only just begun.

How can we each be a part the change with a Kingdom heart?

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