Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.
One year ago today I stood mere feet from the site where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. died at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. I was participating in the annual White Privilege Conference and wrote about it here. Today, Easter Sunday 2010, is the 42nd anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination.
Today is also the 43rd anniversary of the day on which Dr. King offered one of his most powerful sermons at Riverside Church in New York City. Though his most famous speech is clearly “I Have A Dream,” if you want to understand more clearly what Dr. King stood for, “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” is an important place to begin.
I took the time today to read this powerful sermon and encourage you to take that time as well (both an audio and a written transcript are available at the American Rhetoric website). The parallels between 1967 and what is happening in our nation and around the world today are many.
A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor — both black and white — through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.
The wisdom of Dr. King’s warnings about America’s future if we did not change our ways continue to ring true. A successful revolution that ushers in truth, justice, mercy, and peace for all people will not involve weapons and war…
Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism. With this powerful commitment we shall boldly challenge the status quo and unjust mores, and thereby speed the day when “every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain.”
These words from a baptist preacher 43 years ago today echo the message of the man from Galilee 2,000 years ago whose resurrection Christians around the world celebrate today.
Isn’t it time we actually listened? Isn’t it time we did more than talk about our ideals and actually lived up to them? What would Jesus do? What would Martin do? What will you do?