Celebrating the Drum Major for Justice and Peace as We March Further into War
So, it's a longer blog post than normal. Sometimes you have to go long to catch the ball and make the goal.
Here I am, for the fourth consecutive year, inviting people to visit my Martin Luther King, Jr., tribute page at king.writingjunkie.net. Each year, before I post the invitation, I observe a sharp spike in visits to the page, which gets steady hits all year round, mostly from public schools around the country. In addition, I observe at my AuthorsDen site about ten times more hits to the MLK tribute poem I wrote in 2004 for my children, "Remembering a Life," as well as clicks to print the poem. I suppose those who print the poem are preparing for the King celebrations around the world. If they are reciting my poem, then I consider that an honor.
This year, reflecting on King, I have posted over at my AuthorsDen bio page the inscription from the plaque outside the Lorraine Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., the site of Dr. King's assassination: "They said to one another, 'Behold, here cometh the dreamer. Let us slay him, And we shall see what will become of his dreams'" ~~Genesis 37: 19-20, and with it this song, "Some Day We'll All Be Free" as performed by the late Raymond Myles:
Last year I focused on the message of Dr. King in light of Hurricane Katrina's aftermath. And this year, my thoughts are still on Katrina fall-out, but I add the war in Iraq to which more troops were sent yesterday despite the objections of many American citizens. Whether we send troops or not, Iraq remains a hell hole of violence and humanity's cruelty to humanity. Is there anything new about humanity's cruelty except that we find more techologically advanced methods to accomplish the same deadly deeds?
Even Raymond Myles, who sings beautifully "Some Day We'll All Be Free," a song that laments the fast pace and insanity of this world, was murdered, shot to death. And where and when was he shot to death? Raymond, a former classmate of mine, was shot dead on the streets of New Orleans, La., October 1998. Today, New Orleans and surrounding parishes continue to reel in violent crime seemingly intesified by Katrina. Some of this violence is due to career criminals' turf wars. Territorial lines blurred following the flood. And some violence may be attributed undoubtedly to regular people buckling under the burden of what could probably be called Katrina Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Can We Make Something New and Good
Under the Sun?
I'm sure we could give a name to the pathology following Hurricane Katrina, but must we? Is it really new? As assuredly as we read it in the book of Ecclesiastes, "There is nothing new under the sun." Suffering and how humans cause suffering and respond to suffering--some by harming themselves, some by harming others, and some by becoming apathetic, doing nothing--is not new.
But neither is it new that some humans respond to suffering by committing themselves to extraordinarily productive lives in the name of love, justice, and peace. We have within us enormous capacity to do good, yet the earth remains "filled with violence."
Reflecting on my hometown, New Orleans, and the war in Iraq, I think of Genesis 6:13 which says that God brought Noah's flood upon the earth to destroy man because the earth was filled with violence done by man. But unlike a doomsday preacher who would launch into a sermon about our coming destruction at the hand of God, I ask "Must any god destroy us?" Clearly, we will destroy ourselves if we don't change the pattern of our thoughts and deeds.
I remember the supporters of Sheriff Jack Strain last summer preaching at me that I seemed unconcerned about the poor child traumatized after the brutal slayings in Slidell and only concerned about the racist speech of the sheriff. As I said then, murder and mayhem in the New Orleans metropolitan area, while tragic, wasn't new. For that matter, white leaders being racist wasn't new either. But at some point shouldn't we learn from our mistakes? Jack Strain wanted to revert to segregationist rhetoric instead of doing his job and finding the criminals.
What was even more disheartening was that his supporters refused to acknowledge that the sheriff's rhetoric was not helpful and would probably lead to more violence if left unchallenged. They wanted to let him hide behind his racist rhetoric and claim that in demeaning black people and the poor as a group, he was talking about criminals and thus doing his job.
But the sheriff was not doing his job, one of which is to maintain peace. He was trying to place blame on the many of a particular group for the deeds of a few supposedly from that group (at the time of his statements he did not have proof the killers were from New Orleans). The sheriff garnered applause from his community for a dangerous practice that if left unchecked leads to injustice and possibly genocide, and this thought brings me back to the war on Iraq.
I concede that it's possible Saddam Hussein's regime needed to be toppled, but I abhor the present administration's ideology that the end justifies the means. The Bush administration led war supporters down a path to destruction with propaganda, basically blaming the many of one group for the deeds of a few. In the Iraq war case, we were inundated with propaganda about terrorists. Leaders triggered the emotional land mines of 911 and whenever possible equated terrorists with all Arabs. They tossed in talk of weapons of mass destruction, singled out a good villain, Sadam, and off the self-righteous, the nationalistic, the unhealed, and the easily-led went, whipped into terrified frenzy, a lynch mob, unwilling to question leaders and turning on fellow Americans who did question leaders.
It's easy to fall in with the mob. Like wolves, humans tend to follow the pack, but unlike wolves we follow the pack even to the destruction of our own species, and let's face it, democracy is about the voice of the pack. When the pack takes the high road, it's a beautiful thing, but when the pack sinks to man's baser instincts ...
It takes guts to look for solutions against our natural tendency to follow the pack down the path of violence. But how much would change for the better if more of us bucked the old pack and stood firm in nonviolence. If the pack had a mentality of nonviolence, would Bush have gotten the initial support he seemed to have? If we stood for nonviolence, would something good and new finally come under the sun?
With this thought I'm back to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., our celebration of his birth and life this January 15. Dr. King, as a Baptist minister and the son of a Baptist minister, drew many of his philosophies of love and peace from biblical teachings, specifically the teachings of Jesus Christ. While some critics of Christianity focus on atrocities committed in its name, the fair-minded person will not deny the good also done in its name. Nevertheless, King also drew empowerment for his nonviolence strategies from the teachings and practices of Mahatma Ghandi, another spiritual man, a Hindu, who dedicated his life to positive change. Key phrase here: positive change.
Those Who Detract and Distract
King was not perfect. I'm aware that when people want to detract from his life's work, they bring up his sex life, that he was not faithful to his wife and was a womanizer. True, but considering the craziness of his world and our world today, are do people honestly think his sex life should be our focus? I said people who want to detract from his life's work discuss his sex life, but what would be more accurate is that it's people who want to distract us from King's life's work who do this.
I pose one question to people who would rather detract and distract: Would the world be a better place if we each concentrated on nonviolence, peace and justice, of seeking solutions to getting along with our fellow humans rather than finding ways to blame "those other people" for all troubles and to find fault with people's personal lives when we don't want to face the truth of our own shortcomings? Peace and justice were the work of Dr. King's life. What if that were the work of our lives?
The Drum Major Instinct and Individual Responsibility
Following is an excerpt from the transcript of one of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s sermons, "The Drum Major Instinct," which is hosted at Stanford University. Dr. King delivered the sermon at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta, Ga., February 4, 1968. He ends this sermon speaking of what he wants people to remember about him and it's not his credentials. Quoting the old hymn "If I Can Help Somebody," King draws the focus away from changing the world globally to changing the world individually, the work any one person can do to make the world better: "If I can help somebody as I pass along ... then my living will not be in vain." If we would each adopt this thought in practice daily and would teach our children to do the same as we follow the golden rule of "Do unto others as we would have them do unto us," then would the world be better? If we would each be drum major for peace and justice in our own communities, seek the best for each other, would our communities self-destruct or renew?
Here are the words of Dr. King. The "amens" and "yesses" in parentheses are from the listening congregation:
|Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning. |
If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)
I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that's all I want to say.
If I can help somebody as I pass along,Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, (Yes) not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world. ... Click here for the full sermon at Stanford University