*Disclaimer: opinions are my own and not necessarily reflective of my husband, nor the church he leads.
Can we talk about progress? I think progress is equated to gradual movement toward success.
And progress is not a bad word. Progress is progressive. Change in a positive direction for the whole of an organization, institution, or nation is progressive. Can we adopt a more literal definition of that word again, please? Can we agree to stop demonizing it and others who wear its badge?
And on that note, let us discuss one of our nation’s great progress-oriented heroes, whose birthday we honor today, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Last year, before the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breona Taylor, and George Floyd happened within a span of three months (Feb 23-May 25), MKL Jr. day came and went in January and I may have posted a quote graphic with a short quip. However, this year, that somehow seems insufficient. (No judging if that’s what you did this year. Let’s all celebrate in the way we see fit, and follow our convictions to their appropriate actions.) In the aftermath of those murders of black people by white police officers (a retired police detective, in the case of Ahmaud Arbery), and since that time, racial tension has grown, and many of us have seen the need for an inner reflection and reckoning of our own implicit biases.
This tension is a stretching, a making-of-room for the growth we need to accomplish. It hurts like hell, like all growing pains do, and yet we dare not try to stop it. Without the stretching, we would stay small. Small-minded, small-faithed, small-hearted.
To welcome the necessary stretching, and to honor MLK Jr., I hope you’ll join me in reflecting on a larger number of his words this year, with the purpose of real progress toward justice, equality, and ultimately, godly love.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: Many Americans take pride in an idea called “rugged individualism,” which in its best form looks like personal freedom and in its worst looks like selfish greed. If this individualism is a spectrum of concern, MLK Jr. was encouraging us all to lean away from the greedy end, for the sake of everyone. It’s a Christ-like ideal I believe most people embrace from copious faith or ideological backgrounds.
“Make America the America that it ought to be.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: America hasn’t yet reached her original ideal of “liberty and justice for all,” but that is no reason to stop trying. It will take our continued efforts, and may never be fully realized. Which reminds me of the process of sanctification, which is just a fancy church word that means progress toward holiness. America once set out a holy goal of equality for every person, and though we have not yet experienced that reality, it is no reason to quit now.
“Now there is a final reason I think that Jesus says, ‘Love your enemies.’ It is this: that love has within it a redemptive power. And there is a power there that eventually transforms individuals. Just keep being friendly to that person. Just keep loving them, and they can’t stand it too long. Oh, they react in many ways in the beginning. They react with guilt feelings, and sometimes they’ll hate you a little more at that transition period, but just keep loving them. And by the power of your love they will break down under the load. That’s love, you see. It is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love. There’s something about love that builds up and is creative. There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive. So love your enemies.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: Many of us have seen hatred at work recently, and our human inclination, like a jerk of the knee, is to react with hate. King urges the more noble, more difficult, more measured response of love instead, as Jesus once did. Hate can never transform or redeem or restore. But love can do all of those things. And so we continue to choose love. Not because it is deserved. A thousand times, no. But rather, because it is what progress toward success (read, peace and justice) requires.
“The God whom we worship is not a weak and incompetent God. He is able to beat back gigantic waves of opposition and to bring low prodigious mountains of evil. The ringing testimony of the Christian faith is that God is able.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: Unfortunately, a false christ was represented in the seat of our capitol on January 6. Of all the harrowing images and sounds I’ve seen come across my screen about that day, the ones depicting the representation and affiliation of Jesus Christ, my very own God, to the lies and acts of violence and desecration have broken me worst. I must declare to those who will listen that I do not serve the same Jesus that was represented there. My Jesus could have taken over the Roman government when He came the first time, but He chose not to, and I do not believe He would have marched in an insurrection against this American government either. I know He would not have condoned threats or violence or looting either, just as I do not believe he would have condoned violence or looting in the name of racial equality over the summer or in the 1960’s. For all of these reasons, MLK Jr. advocated for nonviolence throughout his lifetime, but he did explain the mentality of rioting at times. More on that in a bit. I have much more to say on Jesus Christ and his representatives, but suffice it to say here that I do not believe that followers of Christ ought to use violence or threats as means of progress. God is able to help us achieve it in methods otherwise, and He is able to help us curb all of our temptations toward violent means.
“The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But… the good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: MLK Jr., as Jesus did, encouraged us to consider the needs and desires and health and wellbeing of others, not only in addition to ourselves, but ABOVE ourselves. This concept runs in the face of selfishness, greed, and even that rugged individualism we covered before. The injured man’s welfare and fate took precedence over the good Samaritan’s, whereas personal welfare was of utmost importance in the case of the priest and the temple assistant who passed by on the other side without a second thought. How often do I resemble the temple assistant and how often do I resemble the good Samaritan? Too often the former, I’m afraid, yet Christlike progress would mean that the longer I live, the more often I ought to consider the needs of others MORE than I consider my own. And if we all who claim to follow Jesus (imagine that Love Army!) were to do that as well, this nation, even this world would be a very different place.
“Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: I believe King ascribed to free speech and free choice for the individual. It is not the part of religion or government to force people to be a certain way or enforce progress. Like it or not, humans are gonna be human. The empowerment lies in the hope that we might increasingly choose light instead of darkness. Another wise black man once spoke of the audacity of that hope.
“Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge, which is power; religion gives man wisdom, which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: God is not opposed to science, and faith is not opposed to facts. God created our universe with its laws of science. Science helps us find measurable, quantifiable, and qualifiable truth, and faith helps us know how to and muster the strength to respond morally to that truth.
“We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: Ripe to do right. Here, in America, many of us believe that right matters. And so we behave accordingly. We vote accordingly. We legislate accordingly, and sometimes we protest accordingly. Regardless of your cause of protest, King believed that righteous dissent meant nonviolence, and it behooves us all to follow his advice. Though many have felt that justice has been too long in its arrival, it’s never too late to do the right thing. It’s also never too early, and so we need not wait on others or for the law to catch up to us. We can behave and advocate for equality and justice and fairness and for one another’s welfare today. And while we’re on the topic of right, let me be clear that “right” does not equal radical-ized. If your mama raised you right, that unequivocally means that she did NOT raise you alt-right, racist, bigotted, or to be a bully.
“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: I can admit that this past year was a wake-up call to the unseen, implicit bias, and in some cases actual racism I’d held for my first 40 years. My intentions at color-blindness had become numb blindness to oppression and struggle I’d never chosen to learn or see, and in part I blame my education. I’ve learned history and undisputed facts in 2020 that I should have known. Things like massacres in Tulsa and red-lining that still affect black and brown folks today. And had I been taught these things, I do not believe it would have provided a fuel for racial fire, but water for racial unity, whether it had been in my 9th grade classroom or my college one. I truly wish I’d asked more questions, researched more history, and known more truth. It would have been the true development of a greater character within.
“If any earthly institution or custom conflicts with God’s will, it is your Christian duty to oppose it. You must never allow the transitory, evanescent demands of man-made institutions to take precedence over the eternal demands of the Almighty God.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: I’ve been thinking a lot about politics for the past two years. Something awoke in my brain to interest me, and now it’s become a lot of my thoughts. And while I’m glad for the fresh awareness, I’m also not glad about the state of politics in America right now. We are more divided than we’ve been since the Civil War, and maybe even more so. I wonder had one side had been geographically separated if a war would have broken out before this. But none of this usurps my priority of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ and living it out in my daily life. I am a citizen of heaven first, and live by the law of selflessness and love before I live by the freedoms the US Constitution grants me, be that free speech, the right to bear arms, or the right to dissent. Titus 3:1-2 says it this way: “Remind the believers to submit to the government and its officers. They should be obedient, always ready to do what is good. They must not slander anyone and must avoid quarreling. Instead, they should be gentle and show true humility to everyone.” In the past when certain leaders have lost elections that I would have preferred, I was admonished to submit to the government and honor God. I believe the same applies when those I prefer win. Those of us who call ourselves followers of Christ are warned in the Bible to honor our government and not to rebel against our leaders, no matter how harsh or how vehemently we disagree with their ideologies.
“A lie cannot live.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: Truth always prevails, even when those who fail to protect it are loudest in their falsehood declarations. God prevails. He reveals truth, and he is bigger than social media platforms or mainstream media. We can count on Him to speak truth to our spirits, even when He is only found in the whispers. [1 Kings 19:11-13]
A few quotes specifically about riots and wars …
“The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“There comes a time when people get tired of being pushed out of the glittering sunlight of life’s July and left standing amid the piercing chill of an alpine November.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The limitation of riots, moral questions aside, is that they cannot win and their participants know it. Hence, rioting is not revolutionary but reactionary because it invites defeat. It involves an emotional catharsis, but it must be followed by a sense of futility.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“A riot is the language of the unheard.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“The more there are riots, the more repressive action will take place, and the more we face the danger of a right-wing takeover and eventually a fascist society.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: These are haunting quotes, especially after what we have seen since the end of May, 2020. We’ve had riots where Dr. King would have called for protests, and we see how it crumbles us to turn to violence and destruction. It causes a reaction from the other side that ends up in revenge and one-upping. It’s not pretty and becomes anything but productive. And yet, I can’t help but see King’s nuanced approach. He knew that when people feel the frustration of being long ignored, it’s only a matter of time that frustration becomes physically manifest. It happened in 1968. It happened in 1992. And it’s happening as we speak. So what is the remedy for this? I can only imagine it’s listening to one another and bearing one another’s burdens. Looking into each other’s eyes past the rage and under the hate and seeing the validity of emotion buried so deep. Whether frustration over votes not counted or sons coldly murdered, our voices have been silenced, and unity will come with justice and listening. Can we truly hear one another’s plight and find a selfless way to unite? If King believed it was possible, then so do I.
“It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: The time of sacrifice is not over, but merely beginning. Do we love peace with our sisters and brothers who call America home, and are we willing to sacrifice our own comfort or privilege to see it come to pass? There is a dream that was once America. Make us believe it again. (A spin on a quote from the movie Gladiator)
“Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.”Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Robyn’s Take: King had many more quotes I’d love to honor today, but for now I’ll finish with this one. These past weeks and months have unearthed emotions I didn’t know I was capable of. It feels as close to hate as I remember ever feeling. Watching people get murdered will do that to a person, you know. And so will seeing an attack on truth and democracy. But there is something higher, when we’re pulled down toward hatred. There is the love of the Father, who reminds us that we are citizens of an eternal nation called Heaven, where the law is Love and brothers and sisters put each other above themselves. And because our final passport will hail from that place, we practice that law while we’re here.
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