I find that on this particular day my thoughts drift to social responsibility, justice, and dreams had by a man who changed the course of American history. I think this is pretty standard for folks who live in the USA, especially those of us who are blessed (and sometimes cursed) by the fact that we live in Seattle.
There is a great element of fervor that comes with this day. People are given the opportunity to march (as I did last year in lieu of going to work) from Garfield High School to downtown as a part of a social justice march, facebook statuses reflect pithy MLK statements, and a large percentage of the work force gets a three day weekend. It would seem to the eyes of most that we are really honoring the memory of Dr.King and his legacy in America…but then again, I submit that the eyes of most miss hugely important contexts for this day.
The days of the civil rights movement were days of a unifying sense of commitment to fighting a particular sort of injustice by non-violent means. The movement sought to change the very fabric of American societal thought and legislation and to really give meaning to the idea of “freedom” that we so flippantly bandy about. Moreover, this was not just some idle group of people unified under a random banner of justice without a foundational reason as to why they were doing so. Dare I remind you that Dr.King was a Baptist minister? He was.
In my thoughts about this day I cannot help but relive the incredibly boring (and quite frankly useless) time I spent walking towards downtown from Garfield High School. The rally that happened before hand was a mediocre sort of way of attempting to convey meaning about the day. Standing outside the gym where the rally occurred there was a group of internet communists–really, I’m completely serious–shouting about how the new revolution was happening online. The content of the rally was more or less a multicultural celebration without context and the march that followed was characterized by the police clearing the way for the marchers, signs of every sort of political and social ideological perspective all yammering for thought space, and a really long boring walk thinking of the overwhelming sense of “Why does any of our participation in this day’s events matter at all?”
When I think about this memory I feel a little sick to my stomach.
As I mentioned before, Dr.King was a Christian minister. While I discussed this with my friends Mike and Ben the idea was broached that the original civil rights movement took place within the context of the concept/theological perspective that man is sinful. The gospel under-girded what the civil rights marchers of yore were marching about.
Have you read the “I have a dream” speech? You should. If anything will break your perspective of a the legacy of MLK being a weak, half-hearted, groundless march pointlessly traveling to downtown this speech will. The man talks of things that we so conveniently forget. He quotes the bible, he speaks of God in obviously Christian ways, and he does so with boldness. His view of justice and the need for it in society comes from the One who is outraged at injustice all the way through history and the biblical metanarrative.
As much as many Americans would desire to remove Dr.King from his context, this cannot be done while claiming that we celebrate his legacy in any sort of useful, functional, or beneficial fashion. The marching of Dr.King was an outpouring of his participation in the work of the Lord in his community, his country, and his life. This is why it was huge. This is why he made any sort of difference.
This is a bit more antagonistic than my usual blog posts, but I just get so tired of seeing inspirational quotes from MLK peppering my facebook feed (dare I say I even get tired of most of the facebook feed altogether?). People just throw around his quotes like we’re in a parade and the word of Dr.King are confetti to be idly thrown into the hysterical masses as the float of social justice rolls by.
Maybe there’s something to be said for idly inspiring people, but I desire that such inspiration comes from a context of knowing what you’re claiming when you quote someone. The legacy of Dr.King is a really a continuation of the work of the Risen Lord Jesus in and through the church that manifests itself in a movement seeking justice.
I wanted to point that out.