Monday, February 01, 2016

A Call to Higher Ground

Last evening I had the pleasure, privilege, and responsibility of offering the "Statement of Purpose" at Charlottesville's annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration.

It was an absolutely amazing event.  (I left saying that my soul had been nourished and my spirit strengthened.) One of the first speakers looked out at the assembled crowd -- a diverse group of people gathered in one place, as one people, for the purpose of furthering justice in our community and our country --and said, essentially, "this is what Dr. King had in mind."

For those who might be interested, here's what I said:

Statement of Purpose for the Martin Luther King, Jr. CelebrationJanuary 31, 2016 
I think it's wonderful that we're here tonight for this annual celebration of the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and that it is not the weekend of the Martin Luther King holiday.  Some people may, no doubt, think that that's a little odd.  After all, the Martin Luther King holiday weekend is the time that our nation collectively pauses to remember this prophet of peaceful, non-violent, resistance.  The holiday weekend is when the airwaves and the Internet are abuzz with powerful and pithy quotations -- especially from Dr. King's earlier writings (although they are, unfortunately, all too often taken out of their original context).  That holiday weekend is when we're awash in pictures from the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and from inside the Birmingham jail.   There are retrospectives, reenactments, re-dedications, and re-commitments to the work of justice for which Dr. King is justly famous. 
Yet we know -- the people gathered here tonight not on the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday weekend know -- that celebrating the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. King should not be segregated to a single weekend ... can not be so simplified and sanitized as to fit into a single weekend and then set aside as our nation rouses itself from its pausing and goes on about business as usual.

Within my faith tradition there is a Universalist preacher, the Rev. Clinton Lee Scott, who once said:
Always it is easier to pay homage to prophets than to heed the direction of their vision.  It is easier to blindly venerate the saints than to learn the human quality of their sainthood.  It is easier to glorify the heroes of the race than to give weight to their examples.  To worship the wise is much easier that to profit by their wisdom.  Great leaders are honored, not by adulation, but by sharing their insights and values. 
So tonight we gather to remember and honor the memory of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the legacy he left that provides an ongoing challenge to us and to our country to do more than simply pay homage. 
Dr, King calls on us to refuse to be bogged down in the swamp of systemic racism but to find, to create, to inhabit higher ground, together, and this call resounds not just on the third Monday of January but on each and every day of the year.  There is much work to be done.  So let us remember Dr. King, and remember that he did not stand alone, but always in community, just as we gather together in Beloved Community tonight.  This is our purpose.

Pax tecum,

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