Reflections on MLK Day:
I could not help but take the time to reflect on the meaning of today and the significance of what MLK represents for the nation, the Church, my church, and my community. Many of the speeches and statements he made have had and will hopefully continue to have lasting impact on our communal discourse in understanding the failures and continued dialogue around treatment of African-American and black communities in the country.
That being said, I think Dr. King’s work inadvertently (or maybe not) affected how we view ourselves as communal beings, as well. His theology as a Christian minister certainly included a real understanding of the power of what we call “the body of Christ.” We, together, as clergy and laity, act as one body, one congregation, one community of faith, for the purposes of making disciples of Christ in the world.
That lesson, although it may seem a little too obvious, is very counter to how we view ourselves today. I have noticed that church folk are just as guilty of thinking of our individual selves over who we are as a body. Even in how we interpret the idea of a body of people, we always start with our own individual opinions, values, and preferences.
When asked who we are, we note our allegiances to those who think like us, are related to us, and do and act like we do. So rarely do we take the time to reflect that such an understanding of who we are only promotes sameness and degrades the wonderful mixture of peoples that make up the body of Christ. We must note our need to grow and understand others.
How is it that we return to our primary function: love of God through selfless devotion? We claim ourselves as disciples of Christ yet we shirk away and make excuses for not attending worship, not participating in the ministries of the church, and generally see it as a place where we voice our opinions, push to have it our way, and then make little to no promises to stick around and make it work. Why is it so difficult to work for someone else’s benefit?
I once heard that the gospel is good news that hurts first. Dr. King understood that well. Equality for all people was going to hurt. It hurt him and the people he led. They were beat down, attacked, spit on, jailed, and all other sorts of harm. It is going to hurt those of us who have never experienced such hate through painful reflection, changing our behaviors, and learning how to not be so selfish in how we view others. Empathy often causes pain. Through empathy and reflection, we will learn to drop our selfish desires and serve others for the sake of their benefit. That is how a body works: all the pieces working together for the collective good.
I hope empathy will work its way through our church and our country this year. We must stop the temptation toward social media backbiting, gossiping, character bashing, and all other things I think God would consider unholy. We are better than that. We are better than all of that.
When I felt God calling us to have a vision for the year, I knew it would have to start from a place of hopefulness and humility. I’ll be honest – I need hope. I think many of you need hope too. I will continue to work and grow and be patient, but I also promise that I will hold to the same dogged perseverance that the church must always be working toward a better way.
Christ be with you. In the name of God and all those who have shown us a better way, Amen.