by Linda Ryan
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. — Martin Luther King Jr.
We are approaching Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a day that has been commemorated for years but which always seems to bring forth something to ponder. As a person who lived through the time of Martin Luther King Jr., desegregation, and the years after, I look back and see how much my own personal beliefs and stances have changed, partly due to Martin Luther King, a man I never really respected until I grew up and began to see the world not through his eyes, but through his witness.
The quote above was one I ran into that made me stop and think how perfect it was for this particular anniversary of Martin Luther King day and also for the place where our country finds itself now And it is not just our country, but our church, our world, and all the people in it. With Martin Luther King Day on Monday and a presidential inauguration on Friday, it is something like watching the past 50+ years go by in retrospect. We look at how far we’ve come, how far we have yet to go delete , and how we are re going keep moving forward as we find ourselves facing a future that may be steps backward. The quote sums all of that up in a few succinct words.
For many of us, we have sat in comfort and convenience for decades and longer. We have seen the struggle others have undergone to try to attain a level of equality, and some of us have assisted in that struggle while others have made the struggle more difficult and more deadly. For every step forward there seemed to be one or two steps backward. MLK experienced this, and yet kept moving ever forward, being the voice crying in the wilderness until he was finally heard, however faintly. The movement grew, and with it the danger. He died a martyr, still proclaiming the vision of equality and justice for all. For that, if nothing else, we remember him.
Over the years since his death, his message and vision have inspired more and more groups to claim their own desire for freedom, equality and justice. The world of what is called “White privilege” is shrinking, and many do not like that one bit. They see their power and prestige threatened, and they strike back. White privilege is something I never considered having enjoyed most of my life until I went to a third-world country and became the “different” one who experienced a very small but very educational bit of what discrimination was like. Later I learned to see where I had experienced discrimination without knowing it, and it changed my way of thinking totally. I did not like the feeling of discrimination, so why should I insist on others being discriminated against, simply because they wanted a life like I had?
This week we will also see the inauguration of a new president, one that people either seem to idolize or hate. Privilege seems to be raising its head once again, and so many of our brothers and sisters, and possibly ourselves as well, are fearful that gains that have been made will be turned back. We will have to raise up new MLKs and others to encourage us and remind us of the vision we have had and need to hold on to. Jesus spoke of a kingdom of God on earth, and charged us to make it happen. It has not done so yet, and the imminent threat that what progress we have made so far will be drowned in a tidal wave of privilege. It is not comfortable to contemplate, but MLK has left us words of encouragement. He knew the price of struggle, challenge and controversy. He not only saw it, but lived with it, encouraging where he could, supporting when it was needed, leading when a light in the darkness was required.
We can use his words as a measuring stick for where we go from here. We still have to hang on to the vision of the kingdom where the playing field is even and the results are not stacked against one group or another. This is no time to sit weeping and wailing, it is rather a time to get busy, to show our mettle by fighting against those who would try to force all of us back to a time where THEY were comfortable and never mind anyone else.
We have the example of Jesus. We have the example of MLK, Jr. We have examples of people speaking prophetically, and we have examples of people who hear the prophecy and promise and who work to achieve them. Let us not sit in complacency and comfort, let us follow the examples of those who have gone before us as well as the new voices of modern-day prophets and followers of Jesus.
Where is my complacency and comfort? Where do I see challenge and controversy? What am I going to do about them? There is prayer, of course, but I need to become a walking, living, breathing prayer, a prayer with hands to help and heart to open. Anybody with me?
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