“For the victory to be won some of us will have to get scarred a bit.” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
To admire is not to idealize, nor is it to be blinded to obvious flaws. So yes, I’ve read about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s alleged infidelities, and the evidence supporting the allegations is, alas, pretty solid. Also, his political views probably tilted further left than he publicly acknowledged so no, I don’t assume everything he said was right, much less inspired. (I am in fact in disagreement with him on some points, militarism and economic policies included.) I’m sipping no Kool-aid today, but I still celebrate the man with words like amazing and world-changing. The Civil Rights Movement is one of the most important of our nation’s history, and while it existed and continued before and after King, no one defined and galvanized it as he did. So differences aside, I’m awed by his vision, leadership skills, stunning oratory, and the sterling dignity he modeled for, and inspired in, all of us. Dignity, in fact, is the characteristic I see overarching the protests, speeches and gatherings we see repeated on the History Channel in celebration of King and his dream.
But just now I’m interested in his remark about scars, and they’re inevitability in any struggle for freedom, because he was right.
Freedom, whether from the tyranny of a dictator, unjust laws, or Self, isn’t given. It’s fought for. In this fallen world, the strong often dominate the less empowered, whether through racial prejudice, violence or both. If the disadvantaged sat waiting for the empowered to develop a just mindset, we’d still be drinking out of fountains marked White and Colored. So King didn’t wait for a conversion on the part of his opponents; he instigated one.
And as it is with society, so it is with the flesh. That fallen part of our nature isn’t going to get reformed any time soon, so waiting for an unhealthy pattern or a pet secret sin to simply drop off on its own accord is as foolish as waiting for a dictator to develop a conscience. Not gonna happen. When we’re serious about freedom from self – a liberation from the patterns, and rituals we’ve developed that feel good but keep us slaves – we don’t negotiate. We fight. Take fight out of the Christian walk and you have an anemic holiness, which is no holiness at all.
Fighting is stupid when unnecessary; noble when called for. But never clean. By its nature it’s messy and wounding, thus the scars. You’ve got yours, as I do, and, depending on where they’re located on our bodies, we can point to them with pride or hope to cover them up. They’re unattractive, to be sure, but they also have a trophy-like quality to them, as if they’re saying “A battle was waged here.”
My physical ones are no big deal, so I don’t point them out much. But my emotional ones still get my attention on occasion. I still wince when I think of some early abuses I came through. I still get depressed over losses I brought on myself through stupid decisions. And if I let myself, I can still get enraged over injustices I never should have had to endure. Like I said, I’ve got mine, you’ve got yours, and so goes the human race.
But in remembering a man unique by any standards, I’m struck by his resilience; his dogged determination to never back down; his acceptance of opposition as a hard fact of life he would never abandon his dream for.
And in the midst of my admiration for all that, I’m ashamed to see how easily I cave when things get dicey.
So today, honoring Dr. King and his legacy, I’m also honoring a principle I first read forty years ago and which, over the years, has only grown more relevant, encouraging and stark all at once:
“Wherefore lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees; And make straight paths for your feet, lest that which is lame be turned out of the way; but let it rather be healed. Follow peace with all [men], and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:12-14)
Happy Martin Luther King Jr. day. God bless.