As I look back over my life I am amazed constantly at how, as human beings, we have created such a complicated mess when to live a good life should be a simple accomplishment.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was a martyr because he could not live his life ignoring the ills in the society which surrounded him. Most of us live our lives contributing to those ills and making them worse. Our needs are not simple. They grow more complicated as we age in a society which markets hourly with goals to enlarge already out of control egos which we are willing to pay very high prices to satisfy.
I remember Martin Luther King, Jr. from my days as a teen ager. He was not a big hero, he was a young man, studying at Divinity School and doing what he could, with others, to mitigate and change the apartheid which existed in these United States.
A particularly strong memory of Martin King was the time when the Jr. High Choir at my Church went on a trip, driving across the back roads of Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama. Rev. Nicholas Hood was the inspiration behind those trips and we met up at different places with Andrew Young and Martin King. We were about integration and attempting to break down barriers. Amazingly, as I look at my life, that is what I have been doing all of my years on this earth and I don’t see many results from the effort. To try to mitigate evil when it is so strongly entrenched takes more than my life has been able to deliver.
We spent many weekends visiting white churches and always stayed the night in the home of whites where there were young people our ages and on Sunday mornings we sang with them as a part of the Church Service where Martin King preached the sermon.
Our reception in the homes of these white families where we stayed was always warm and welcoming. We ate together, got to know one another and Sunday morning services gave meaning to what we were doing and why. It was truly God’s work. Doing that work, however, you come to know that good is always combined with evil and I saw for the first time what racism was all about.
Having been raised in a middle-class African American community, we were involved in a fairly closed community so our sense of self-worth and who we were was intact. I won’t try to explain that – if you don’t have any idea my sympathy goes out to you.
While I had white friends and white family and the city in which I was raised didn’t make a big deal out of that, but accepted much of that back and forth, it was not what the world in general accepted. Those weekends visiting white churches were about to open my eyes to the evils that existed in this world in ways I could not have imagined.
As we arrived, on a Saturday, in one town where we were to spend the weekend and sing in Church that Sunday morning, we were introduced to the young ‘white’ Jr. choir – our counterparts. At the end of dinner we were split up and sent to spend the night with families who volunteered to be our hosts for the weekend.
While we were getting ready for bed, frantic calls went out from one house to another and the next thing we knew, the ‘white’ families with whom we stayed had swiftly rounded us up and had practically thrown us into the station wagons which brought us and we were speeding down country lanes where we saw Martin King, Andrew Young and Nicholas Hood hanging in effigy from the trees as we passed. We began to realize what was happening when we saw a group of whites coming down the road trying to catch up to us. They were led by an older man with a shot gun. He was not the only one in that crowd with guns. What amazed me was the anger, bitterness, horribleness of their emotions against a group of 14 to 16 year olds – a church group visiting their neighborhood, come to sing in their church on a Sunday morning where Martin King was to preach.
That was the first time I saw racism in its raw form and saw the threat that my very existence posed to all of those people so furious that we dared to think we could sing in their church with their children. Since, as African Americans we didn’t self-segregate, their out of control emotions would force us to with guns and sticks and bricks and bats. Who was their god? It was clearly not God we worshipped on Sundays and met to talk about and study Scripture supporting the structures built to worship God – to learn about Jesus – to worship Christ. Their Churches had the same trappings as the one in which we worshipped – the same kind of cross, the stained glass windows, similar architecture with bibles in the pews, but clearly it was not about the worship of God. They had created a god with whom they could relate with values, a character, and all the trappings we build around religion which worked for them in their need to exist as ‘white supremacists’. The viciousness and ability and need to even murder if that is what it took to maintain themselves as “better than” – supreme over all others – oppressors of peoples not like them was so strong nothing else seemed to matter to them. If they could have caught up to Nicholas Hood, Martin King, Andrew Young they clearly would have hung them instead of the effigies they placed on the road we were driving down.
We were accused of being part of a sex ring. We were supposedly in town and staying with the boys and girls our ages to have sex with them, to morally corrupt them and on and on it went.
As I experienced all of that I experienced a group of ‘whites’ who were so corrupt themselves that they were projecting onto others their sins. I also experienced a group of ‘whites’ who were truly in their church to worship God. In the lives of this last group, they acted out of their belief system which is probably why they were the people who invited us to be a part of their communion. Seeing the evil amidst the good in which they lived and raised their children they were moved to act. At that same moment Nicholas Hood, Andrew Young and Martin Luther King, Jr. were there to help facilitate what they needed to do to bring love, goodness, justice, into the lives of their community.
Since that time I have seen ‘whites’ who live in many radically different ways. Some follow the call of God in their lives and understand they are one with us all. Some follow the call of the god they created and re-create as the need exists to help them live as unauthentic a life as possible, projecting an image onto the world which is very different from who they really are – always hiding the shame they feel -not trying to be perfect, but trying to project a perfect image of themselves – actually living out of their sin instead of living into the authenticity of their beautiful and flawed selves.
The next Sunday Nicholas Hood gathered us together and we studied Scripture while talking about that experience. He was determined to put what happened to us in the context of the Gospels.
Since that time, Martin King walked a long ways on that road and had many encounters with people who came after him the way that group came after all of us because they were so threatened by a Jr. High Choir singing in their Church on a Sunday and staying in the homes of their friends and parishioners some of whom they had known all of their lives, but were still able to accuse of exposing their children to ‘those sex fiends’.
I still see that group of people running down that back country road trying to stop, shoot and kill young teenagers who were such a threat to them and their way of life.
Martin King gave his life to save such people. Donald Trump gave his to make sure such people would live eternally on this earth and be able to wreck as many lives as they can reach and to destroy as much of life as he can reach – including his own.
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