We approach the time where we pause to recognize the works of a servant of God who has been referenced as a "Drum Major for Justice and for Peace."
The late Rev. Dr. Martin L. King, Jr., worked to dismantle the systems of injustices that fostered separatism and dehumanization, and preached against an unjust war at a time that it was unpopular to take that type of stance. Over the years we have applauded the gains that were won as a result of the civil and voting rights movements, and have enjoyed the fruits that have fallen from this tree of new-found freedoms. We, of course, accredit Dr. King's leadership for this effort. Moreover, the world is indebted to him for his prophetic discourse that transformed the times in which he lived.
As we appreciate the gains that were won because of the struggle, we should seek to understand the reasoning behind the man who led us in the journey. We understand that behind every worthwhile movement is a driving force called an idea. This idea is usually built on some foundational system of philosophy or theology. The philosophy or theology creates some type of ideology that people are willing to follow because of the principles that are advocated. The principles of the philosophies that are grounded in this world (cosmology) are diametrically opposite of those that are grounded in religion (theology). For the most part, philosophers such as Plato, Nietzsche, Socrates, Voltaire, etc., advocate a view that encourages a power seeking, self-serving and greed motivated model of life or at the very least conflict with the beliefs of the Christian faith. Dr. King was a great spirit because his head and heart were saturated with the conviction to abide by the principles of the Christian faith.
This is clearly seen throughout the movement which demonstrates his understanding of the love ethic of Jesus. Dr. King combined the love ethic of Jesus with the Gandhi methodology of nonviolence to create a movement that dismantled evil systems while at the same time converting hateful hearts. A person can only do this when he/she reaches a level of spirituality like the first disciples and Paul who were so convicted that they gave their lives for a righteous cause. Not every Christian has attained this level; as a matter of fact, most Christians spend the better part of their lives in a state of carnality. A carnal person is a Christian whose spiritual maturity is at a zero level and as a result they continue to live demonstrating behavior that is of the world. Dr. King, like Paul, understood the deeper truths of the teachings of Jesus and applied them in his living. Another problem for many in the Christian Faith who are trying to do the right thing is that they are exposed to shallow, superficial or erroneous teaching. Thus, their level of understanding does not afford them to become the conquerors in Christ that is desired of them. For example, many Christians have heard of the love ethic that Jesus espoused but they do not demonstrate it in actions or deeds. They more than likely have had the Greeks words for love - Eros, Philia, and Agape - explained to them, but they do not understand the true meaning, especially of Agape.
Dr. King in his book, Strength to Love, indicates that the philosopher Nietzsche, "contend that Jesus exhortation to love one's enemies is testimony to the fact the Christian ethic is designed for the weak and cowardly, and not for the strong and courageous. Jesus, they say, was an impractical idealist." Dr. King counters that with this understanding of Jesus' Love ethic, "Love, even for enemies, is the key for the solution of the problems of our world. Jesus is not an impractical idealist: He is the practical realist." Dr. King asserted that, "Agape is an understanding, creative, redemptive goodwill toward all men. It enables us to love every man, not because we like him or because his ways appeal to us, but because God loves him. It is the love of God operating in the human heart." This type of love is spontaneous and not motivated by any attractive quality in the object. King further describes Agape as a "love that does not distinguish between worthy and unworthy persons; it does not distinguish between friend and enemy, but attempts to regard every man as a neighbor."
One reason that we celebrate is because Dr. King demonstrated how we could apply the love ethic of Jesus individually and socially. "Agape, he said, was the life force of creative nonviolence." King also exposed the dynamic correlation between love, power and justice. He helped us to understand the theologian Tillich's perspective of the three as he maintained, "Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice. Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love." Dr. King's conviction to the Christian faith allowed him to lead a movement that dismantles a satanic system of exploitation, oppression, and injustice. If all of us who profess to be Christians would employ the love ethic of Jesus this world would truly be a better place in which we might live.
Dr. King faithfully worked on his birthday in order to enhance all of humanity. I would like to recommend that we follow these three R's as an appropriate way to celebrate his birthday:
(1) Read: Read a book on the life of Dr. King or one that he authored in order that you might understand his thought, reasoning and ideology. Please include the Bible (The gospel of John is a good starting point).
(2) Reflect: Ask yourself about your own purpose and how your life has made a difference to somebody else. Between the year of your birth and the year of your death, what will the dash mean?
(3) Ruminate: Think about people in your life that you consider as enemies. Ask yourself if there is love in your heart for everyone including your enemies. If your heart is a storehouse for old grudges, ask yourself, "is it worth it?" Seek to reconcile relationships or to understand people who are different!