Sunday, January 15, 2006

Martin Luther King, Jr.'s Birthday!

It's good to pause and remember that today is Martin Luther King, Jr.'s birthday (and tomorrow is the designated holiday). Some of my earlier posts have mentioned him and the Civil Rights Movement, and so in this posting I will try not to repeat things I have already said.

I am glad that we honor the memory of King and the Civil Rights Movement. I am glad we, as a nation, designate a holiday -- a holy day -- to remember.* The reason I am glad is that I think that this movement was the greatest event that has happened in our country's history. This is a story of an oppressed people finding their dignity and asserting it through love and soul-force, not violence. It's an amazing story. I wish all Americans would study it closely -- not as some odd anomaly in an otherwise long and continuing story of violence, but as the first significant shining ray of hope in this country's history of a New Way: a way we must learn from and put into practice more often.

Of course I must add the disclaimers: the story is not over; racial equality has not been fully attained within the U.S.; there are other remarkable, inspiring, and undertold stories in U.S. history. Yes, these are all true as well. But even so, King and the Civil Rights Movement did change something fundamental in U.S. consciousness, and that part of our history is like a rich text worth reading closely again and again. We began to learn something then that we must continue trying to learn even now. This is urgent.

*As a different kind of disclaimer, I must note, for my Quaker readers especially, that I do realize that Quakers tend to de-emphasize holy days, and I do appreciate and understand why. I know that I, for example, don't limit my thinking about King and nonviolence to MLK Day, but think and pray about these issues every day. But I also recognize that most people are not like me or other Quakers, and so I do appreciate the value of having a specially designated day to remind people. Even so, many people will have their day off from work and not think much about what this holiday is supposed to mean. But still, it provides a good reminder and a good excuse for those of us who do care about these issues to go ahead and remind everyone we see.

Let us go ahead and use this day (King's real birthday) and tomorrow (the designated holiday) to at least mention it to everyone we see! Let us use this as an excuse to strike up conversations about nonviolent action and about racial -- and other -- inequalities in the world -- especially with those who might be unsympathetic! Let us use this as an opportunity to listen deeply -- to listen so deeply that we listen people into more honest engagement with truth, as Douglas Steere expressed in Where Words Come From. Deep listening accompanied by gentle, careful questioning can be very powerful in helping people talk through the contradictions of their own confusion and the pain of their own past experiences and into new possibilities for healing encounters with a larger truth.

If any of my readers actually do this, I would be very interested in hearing the stories of these conversations! Please feel free to use the "Comments" to share these stories!

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