A few years ago I was completely intrigued by something called “The Greatest Canadian” contest. For me, it was an easy way to learn a little bit about Canadian culture. (And I was surprised to see how well Don Cherry did. It gives all of us hope!
Last week would have been Martin Luther King’s 82nd birthday, and if there were a “Greatest American” contest, I’m confident that he would be at or very near the top of that list.
Many of you have seen King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and while it’s a wonderful piece of black and white footage, the impression it may give you is that King was always wildly popular. You need to know that giving a speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial before a quarter of a million passionately enthusiastic supporters was NOT a typical day at the office for Dr. King.
If you want to know what the other side of King’s life was like, I would encourage you to read his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” In it, King talks directly to all of those who, with the best of intentions, chose to sit on the sidelines of the civil justice question. He was writing to all of those said, “Slow down. Don’t rush this thing. We need to wait and see how this will turn out before we get involved.”
Theirs was and is a perfectly understandable response. They had seen the water canons, the police, and the dogs, and the thought of being arrested and spending time in jail, as a black or white man or woman in the American South in the 1960’s was more than sobering.
Their response is perfectly understandable because it is so much like our own today. Don’t most of us, when we see even minor issues of injustice, don’t we have a tendency to look the other way? Who among us relishes confrontation? Who wants to get involved in the ugly moments of life? Even in small things. Show me, for example, the driver, in a car full of friends, who wants to say, “No. I am not starting the car until everyone’s buckled up.” Who wants to be that guy? That takes courage, something that’s often in short supply.
So my two take aways for you this morning are:
- Remember that even Martin Luther King had his tough days. He wasn’t always performing on the Washington Mall like some civil rights rock star.
- Most people, despite being well intentioned, are reluctant to act. Most people includes me, and it may include you, too.
Despite the obstacles, don’t be overwhelmed. Fight through that natural reluctance to get involved by starting small. Dr. King pointed out that “Injustice anywhere threatens justice everywhere.” Rosa parks didn’t budge on a bus, so where will you and I make our stand?