Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Reflections on the Dream and the Inauguration

The Dialogue is the newsletter of First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in St. Joseph, MO. Often, I'll post here on the blog my columns for the weekly newsletter. I mention it just so that folks who read the snail-mail version can skip this post if they've already read it.

As I marched in the MLK Day Peace March this past Sunday and then participated in a panel discussion about King’s dream at Missouri Western a day later, I heard a general consensus from the speakers and participants. The inauguration of the first African-American president is a major milestone in our nation’s history and a cause for celebration in terms of how far we have come as a nation, BUT King’s dream is not yet fulfilled. As long as prejudice and oppression exist, King’s dream remains alive but not yet realized. I share this view, and as I mentioned in my sermon on Sunday, I believe this dream of not only a nation but a world where a person is judged not on the color of their skin but their character is not just King’s dream; it is God’s dream. I feel sure King would agree.

The dream may not be fulfilled, but it sure felt closer than ever Tuesday as I watched the inauguration on TV. (By the way, The Dialogue is coming to you a day later this week, so that the church staff and volunteers could watch these historic events.) My father told me that tears were in his eyes many times while watching the day’s events, especially when the camera focused on the youngest members of the new First Family: Malia and Sasha Obama. I wonder how many in his generation stared in wonder at the Obama girls entering the White House as they remembered the angry racist crowds who hurled insults and threats at the Little Rock Nine and 6 year-old Ruby Bridges in New Orleans when they integrated public schools. We have come a long way from those days of hatred.

At the panel discussion on Monday at MWSU, there was excitement about the first African-American president, but there was also a frank appraisal of the needs of the African-American community as well as other minority groups. (Dave Tushaus was also on the panel and represented First Christian very well!) Some speakers shared statistics of the disproportionate number of African Americans in Missouri prisons and on Missouri’s death row. Others spoke about the need for individual responsibility and parental responsibility. Others mentioned discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered people. Others shared about King’s “Poor People’s Campaign” and the lack of progress helping the poorest in our nation. The challenges facing our nation are manifold and complex.

Finding a starting point for individuals and groups to face these challenges is a daunting task. At the panel discussion, however, we were reminded of a tool that can help people who care about the problems of our nation and world but wonder what, if anything, they can do. That tool is a sermon called “The Drum Major Instinct” given by Martin Luther King, Jr. These powerful words are applicable to all people and all groups, but they are especially true for the church. As I said on Sunday, we must not forget that the Civil Rights Movement involved many people of many faiths, but it began in the church. King was a minister after all. The church has an essential and vital role to play in realizing the dream King spoke of, a dream echoed at Obama’s inauguration—God’s dream. I know of no better place for us to start than with King’s words from “The Drum Major Instinct.”

“Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great--wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s your new definition of greatness…It means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.”

Grace and Peace,


No comments: