I've actually spent a great deal of time today thinking about Martin Luther King Jr. I've thought about the civil rights movement - then and now. I've thought about his sermons, his life. I've thought about racism. I hate racism. I hate it more than I hate about anything else. And I never really know how to say that - as a white, middle-class woman. But it needs to be said, so whatever. I hate racism. I hate it.
I'm thinking so many things today, and there's a handful of them I want to share - so excuse the scatterbrained-ness of this post. It's going to be stream-of-consciousness about an enormous, emotional topic. I'll try to put it all in a big list, if that's any help at all.
1. This man was an incredible communicator. Firey and clear. Here are a handful of quotes from his sermons and writings that I found particularly true and piercing today.
"All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."
"All progress is precarious, and the solution of one problem brings us face to face with another problem."
"Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better."
"An individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for the law."
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
"History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people."
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."
"In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. "
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
"It is not enough to say we must not wage war. It is necessary to love peace and sacrifice for it. "
"It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me, but it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that's pretty important."
"Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him."
"Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity."
2. I am inspired by the activist in Martin Luther King Jr. I'm always inspired by activists - the conviction deep down in their bones, spending their lives drawing attention to an issue. All the tireless speaking and marching and networking, and the fire in their words and their lives. Reading some of MLK's sermons and writings reminded me of another sermon by another pastor, which I shared here a while back - about making war. I think that Martin Luther King Jr. would absolutely agree with John Piper on this issue.
"There is a mean, violent streak to the true Christian life. Now let us very carefully ask: "Violence against whom, or what?"
Not other people. Not other people. Not other people. Not Muslims, not Hindus, not Buddhists. Not Atheists. Not seculars. Not nominal Christians. Not wives or husbands or children or ornery bosses.
But on every impulse in our soul to be violent to other people.
Violence, a mean streak, against our own selves. And all in us that would make peace with sin...It is a violence against all racism in our souls, all sluggish indifference to injustice in our souls, a violence against all indifference to poverty and indifference to abortion in our souls..."
Now, regardless of what you believe about social issues, you can certainly see what Piper is getting at. I think it's the same thing King was getting at when he said, "Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him."
They are saying that you expel hate from your soul with whatever force necessary to ensure that it is gone. You make war on hate, on racism, on indifference. You make war on any part of you that has a desire to be violent with another person.
(You can watch the whole Piper clip HERE. I recommend it.)
3. And finally, I think, I want to share a little essay I wrote last year. It is about the things that diversity has taught me. It's fair to say that the combination of (a) exposure to diversity and (b) becoming a Christ-follower has served to shape one of my highest ambitions in life.
“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stifled. I want all the cultures of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.” – Gandhi
“Differences challenge assumptions.” –Anne Wilson Schaef
My family is important to me. Geographically, we are all over the world map, but we are better friends, and have more traditions and sweet memories than many families I know. The thing is we’re committed to each other, and do a LOT of traveling. In my lifetime I’ve been to Ireland, France and the Caribbean, visiting with family each place.
I currently have family in the following states: Pennsylvania, Washington DC, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Nebraska, Kansas, Arizona, California, Alaska, and Hawaii. I could drive cross-country and have a place to stay every night without ever having to move past first cousins.
And let me tell you something – when we all get together it is rip-roaring hilarious. In fact, this morning I got an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner with my Dad’s side of the family in Pennsylvania, and this is how it read:
“You are cordially invited to our Thanksgiving celebration! We're thankful for family like you and hope that you'll be able to join us. To add to the fun we'd like each of you to either dress as a pilgrim or an Indian for our celebration. This will provide for some great photos as well. :-) We'll plan to eat around 5:00 PM but please come early for some football (watching or playing) or maybe a quick round of ping pong.
God has blessed us all - with freedom, food and family. Let's give thanks!”
Don’t be fooled. “A quick game of ping pong” includes brackets posted on the wall, wagering, and quite a bit of trash talk; I rarely make it past the first round. And the football game? My 88 year old Grandpa Canfield will probably play left tackle, dressed as an Indian.
This wild family is among the greatest gifts God, and life, have ever given me. It is strong and quirky and calloused over in a lot of places from being broken and healed again and again. We are the antithesis of The Cleavers, but the gap between us and The Cleavers is a treasure. The Gap is called diversity - and in my family it runs deep and wide. Ethnically, physically, socio-economically, religiously, and culturally: The only thing that unites this vast array of human beings is the word “family.”
My grandparents are Irish, and spent a great deal of their lives living and working in Ireland. I can hear it in my grandfathers’ voice, which is like a lullaby to me. His “th’s” sound like “d’s,” and there’s something about his vocabulary, his cadence, his wit and dry, dry humor. My mom and her brothers and sisters grew up there, too. My two Irish uncles married Asian women. My Aunt Jennifer is Chinese, and my Aunt Sue is Korean. Their children are unreasonably beautiful. Two other uncles married Brazilian women; at one point I knew how to sing “Happy Birthday” in Portuguese (not that it got me very far in life, but I was still proud of it). I have a handsome little biracial cousin whose mother is white and father is black, and I would give my LEFT ARM to have eyes like his. My father-in-law is a large part Cherokee Indian - you can see it in his nose and jaw line, and that of my sister-in-law. My Aunt Mary lives with her husband and five children in France.
My dad had polio before he turned one and lost the use of his legs. He’s walked on crutches for more than 50 years, without his feet so much as brushing the ground. (His upper body is ripped – I used to hang and flip from his biceps as a child.) He still walks on them now, after multiple shoulder and wrist operations – because of the stress on his arms. My cousin, Kenny, was in a car accident in his early twenties that rocked our family to the core. He was paralyzed. He married a beautiful, strong woman named Kelly, and while I don’t see them as often as I’d like, I can say with sincerity that they are one of my favorite couples ever. They are bright and silly and inspiring. The best conversationalists and downright hilarious.
My only daughter was born with Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, rendering her blind and catapulting my husband and me into the world of special needs.
My family in DC wears Prada and built their own sailboat called “Le Petit Bijoux” to go sailing on the Chesapeake. My family in Alabama wears Harley Davidson apparel almost exclusively and decorated their child’s nursery in some particular brand of camouflage, the name of which I can’t remember for the life of me. Both families are exceedingly hospitable and gracious.
We have families with 9 children and families with none. We have single parents, married parents, divorced parents, and widowed parents. We have marathon runners, and others that are obese. Cops, and those in trouble with the law. Pastors and atheists. Yankees and confederates. We have missionaries, lawyers, technology gurus, musicians, artists, photographers, architects, professors, stay-at-home moms, bankers, and nannies.
And do you know what I’ve learned from this assorted, eclectic group of people that I ‘do life’ with?
In a word, compassion.
They taught me to love people. And I don’t mean that in a “Miss-America- world- peace” kind of way. And I don’t mean it in an obnoxiously cheery “strangers-are-just-friends-you-haven’t-met-yet” way either. I mean I really love people. I love black people, white people, Hispanic people, Asian people, Middle-Eastern people. I love people with learning disabilities, physical handicaps, behavioral disabilities, mental disabilities. I’m not intimidated or made uncomfortable by wheelchairs, or autism, or foreign language. I’m okay with wealth; I’m equally okay with poverty. My family continues to teach me to see value in people that are wildly different from me. They taught me to sympathize, to empathize, to try to relate, and to care. They taught me compassion.
The Lord used my family to begin to change my heart into HIS heart. A heart that loves indiscriminately.
If I could spend of the rest of my life doing only one thing, it would be this:
To travel to far away places and humble myself, without reservation, before people considered of little value to everyone around them. A woman in Oman, a little twin girl in tribal Africa, a special needs child in China, a homeless man in New York City. I want to wash their feet, literally. I want to brush their hair, give them my clothes, hold their hands, look into their eyes and say, “I see value in you. You are worth something to me. I know a Creator-God who is dying to know you, dying to bury you in His love. That makes you important. That makes you matter, to me.”