For the past 13 years I lived in Memphis, TN I would usually be traveling from Panama City Beach, FL to Memphis, TN each and every Martin Luther King, Jr Day. We would pass through Montgomery and Birmingham, then turn left and go through the delta of Mississippi to arrive at the Bluff City. Today I wasn't on that trip, so I watched as social media remembered MLK and I listened to his voice in the quotes and messages I heard. The quotes are familiar, King is familiar to me after studying speech communication and homiletics and taking a seminar that covered MLK from a theological, social, and rhetorical perspective. As one of my students often said when he would ask me what King might think about a particular situation, "You know more about the works of King than anyone I know." And I think that is why King disturbs me. Now before this goes viral and I am labelled an MLK hater, I must tell you that King is one of my most deeply respected American figures and that the way he disturbs me is that his voice refuses to allow me comfort within most of the current happening in our world or the way in which we process them. You see, we might recall the dream and we might picture King at a mountaintop or see him in his "Pauline" prison cell writing the Letter to area ministers, but there is so much more to King than what we were taught in school. King's work is deep and his writings are thought provoking, he angers you and then asks you what you are going to do with that anger besides being violent. To those who want to sit in lecture halls, debates, and conferences on race - King asks us to walk with each other in an uncontrolled environment if we really want to overcome (Maybe even suffer together). To those who see war as an necessary evil, King would claim that evil is never necessary. He spoke out for the fair treatment of black soldiers coming home from Vietnam and would probably wonder why we treat our serving men and women of all colors so poorly right now. There was something for everyone to question and to be disturbed about. To the African Americans, he wanted them to include their white brothers and sisters in their lives. To the Whites, he implored them not to just speak support but to join hands with the Black community. To those who wanted peace, he was an irritant; and to those who wanted violence, he was seen as too restrained. For those of you who believe in marriage and family, King gives you a reason to be disturbed in the way his commitment to the Movement moved him away from his wife and children. For those of you who want to ignore the man because of his humanity, you may want to read and listen to how his family and friends respected and forgave him. Was he too much like a communist? Was he somewhat a socialist? Was he too progressive in his meshing of science and theology? Was he too challenging, too harsh, too loud... You see, if you study MLK then you will find that there's more than the dream, much more...and it might disturb you as it does me.
But none of those things disturb me. There is something that does. Martin Luther King, Jr. wholeheartedly believed and practiced the ideal that if we are to change this world in which we live, then it will always take more that "ME" to do it. MLK was not a movement, he was the voice of the Civil Rights Movement which had people from all over the South, all over the nation, and had voices from all over the world. MLK reminds me that change doesn't just happen because I decide to do it myself. (Listen to "Drum Major Instinct") And it is a time where we are all so focused on ME and so sold out on discovering who we are by ourselves, it's no wonder why we focus on King's dream and his success...
But King wouldn't have seen it that way. In fact, when he was looking over the mountain top on that gloomy Memphis night, he told the people to go to the promised land. King saw it, but he never stepped foot in it. You see, the disturbing thing to me is that despite all of the celebration we do today, we are celebrating a man who did the exact opposite than most of the people celebrating him--including me. He gave it all for his community, and we leave our communities to try to get it all. Don't believe me? then try out these lines and see if you hear yourself:
- I wish my family would just stay out of my business...
- Everyone's always giving me advice, don't they think I can do it myself...
- When I can be who I really am, without anyone influencing me... then...
- I got me, that's all I need...
- You do You and I will be me... that's good!
If we have no one speaking into our lives about big decisions and life changes and faith/belief issues and navigating this world...then we obviously haven't really listened to King - not enough anyway. (His dream wasn't even for him!)
The Civil Right's Movement would often sing "We Shall Overcome" and so often I hear the disturbing song "I Shall Overcome." I'm disturbed by King today because he reminds me that the impact I want to have on those around me requires my total engagement in the lives of those around me... and that is much harder that the secluded refuge I want to live in in which my needs are met and my comfort takes priority.
Thank you MLK for always being a voice of disturbance in my head!
I want to share thoughts, insights, and scriptures that lead us in the direction of Christ.