Against sanctifying Martin Luther King, Jr.
H/T to Alison McQuade for leading me to ill doctrine's awesome video blog
Every year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I have to remind myself that Martin Luther King, Jr. was not a saint.
He was a complex, complicated man at the epicenter of one of American history's greatest arcs. He made difficult choices in a gray era. He couldn't and didn't please everyone all the time. He faced setbacks amid the steps forward. He was radical (adj. far-reaching) and a radical (n. an advocate for complete, thorough political and social reform).
Now 50-odd years removed from his work (with whole generations not even born at his time), much of our rhetoric and storytelling around the man has assumed mythical proportions. We're so drawn to the dramatic and moving moments that we push aside -- even ignore -- the heartache, struggle, and fear it took to reach them.
So when I say Martin Luther King, Jr. is not a saint, I mean to say he was human. And for me that is the more reverent thing to say, because it zeroes in on just how hard it must have been to do what he did. Amid his own turbulent humanity he led a movement that prompted us to rise above our baser instincts and fill our grace-filled potential. He and his compatriots didn't sugarcoat what they were about. They never said it was easy. They simply said it had to be so.
Of course, we're far from done, as Jay Smooth notes in this vlog (it's a few years old, but the truth is evergreen):
And yeah, it's tough as hell to live this out. But I can't be, won't be discouraged. Because if a fellow human being can put a statement like this into the world, the least I can do as an equally human being is help make it so.
“Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.
Prayer #196: A Vein of Iron
Lord, give my love a vein of iron
so that my choices form open gates instead of darkening bars,
so that I can hold justice on my shoulders to peer over the seething morass,
so that I am heavy enough to push through,
weighted enough to bear wisdom,
and substantial enough to wield the full power
of love's transforming potential.