More Than a Dream

I didn’t attend a MLK Day event today. I feel ashamed of this. But my daughter was sick in the middle of the night and never went back to sleep. I just couldn’t be downtown at 8:30 for the big event.

I haven’t read as much of Dr King’s writings as I’d like. Each time the third Monday in January rolls around I’m reminded that I’ve neglected them again.

I can easily run through my list of regrets:

  • Not drinking enough coffee with people of other races and cultures;
  • Not using enough diversity in my sermon illustrations;
  • Not taking steps to make my church’s worship services more culturally inclusive;
  • Not praying as I should for God to break down racial barriers in our church and community;
  • Not getting involved in a reconciliation organization outside the church.

If I thought longer I could probably come up with more.

My intent in sharing this list is not a subtle attempt to have you un-friend me. (In fact, if you’re reading this you may be the only active reader I have!)  Rather, I share my regret list as a reminder that progress requires intentionality.

One might cite Alexander Fleming’s discovery of penicillin as an accidental discovery that had a positive impact upon the world, but even there Fleming was intentionally searching for such a substance. He was working in an advanced laboratory. He had advanced degrees in his field. He knew what he was looking at in the fungus covered dish.

Churches sometimes become multi-ethnic by accident. I’ve seen situations where a split in a church with predominantly one race, leads to a significant group from that church joining a sister congregation whose members predominantly represent another race. Suddenly, the second church is multiracial… by accident.

However, if the members of this new congregation think they only need to turn up on Sunday and everything will be okay, they will soon discover otherwise.

The civil rights movement in the United States did not happen by accident. Dr King’s speeches and the movement he spearheaded did not happen by accident. Although Dr King had a dream, he didn’t develop that dream sitting in a rocking chair on a porch watching fire flies dance in the moonlight. His dream evolved from his experience, his faith and his education. His dream only moved toward reality because he was prepared to pursue it and gifted to inspire others to pursue it with him. And as my friend Sean Palmer pointed out in a blog he wrote last week, these people were willing to bleed to change their world.

mlk dream speech 01Churches and church leaders who dream of racial harmony have found a great starting point. What they do next is vital.

Will they seek out other races and listen to their stories?

.     What books will they read?

.          Will they involve themselves in their communities?

.              Will they learn new languages?

.                  Are they willing to make adjustments in the feel of their worship services?

.                      Will they accept new leaders in the church and treat them as equals?

If no one asks questions like these, or if the answer to each question is negative, the dream will die as quickly as it was born.

Through the echoes of history Martin Luther King Day calls us to keep dreaming. It also calls us to action… not accidents.

Each year I read at least one book on the subject of race relations and/or multi-ethnic church leadership. Today I bought the books I’ll read this year. When the third Monday of January rolls around in 2016 I’ll know more about Martin Luther King Jr than I do today. Next year I’ll have one less regret.

Progress requires intentionality.

What intentions do you have for the coming year to turn MLK’s dream to reality?

Why Did Jesus Choose a Samaritan?

Luke 10 contains Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan. The basic message is that we are to love each person that crosses our path.

The parable Jesus told contains an additional message that we might easily rush by.

In the previous chapter (Luke 9) a Samaritan village refused to provide food and shelter for Jesus because he was traveling to Jerusalem. That sounds like prejudice at its finest. Jesus’ disciples then sought to return the favour as they asked if they could call down fire from heaven upon the village. Jesus rebuked them and walked on to another village.

good samaritan 01A little later when asked to answer the question “Who is my neighbour?” Jesus tells a story that contrasts the religious leaders of the day and a foreigner. If Jesus simply wanted to create a contrast for his story, he could have told the parable of the Good Undertaker, or the Good Tax Collector. He could have used any number of unclean or unwelcome characters from Jewish society. Instead, Jesus made his hero a Samaritan.

In choosing a Samaritan as his hero Jesus provided a subversive commentary on Jewish societal attitudes of the day. So if you think Jesus wouldn’t have anything to say about race relations in the US (or any other country) today, you’re wrong.

A significant message from this parable is that we are to love our neighbours that have black or white skin. We are to love those who speak English poorly, or not at all. Of course, none of us are racists. But there are some groups of people we don’t like very much.

  • The (white) suburbs don’t like when the (black) city starts spreading outward.
  • We complain aobut all the Indians in the call centers who we can’t understand.
  • We don’t like the (sometimes illegal) immigrants taking “our jobs”.
  • We don’t like the Asians we see driving around town in their nice cars. (Because they all drive Mercedes, right?)
  • We’re uncomfortable driving through neighbourhoods where the store signs are all in another language.

Maybe we don’t want to call down heavenly fire onto these people, but it would be a stretch to say that we love them.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr Day. As a figurehead within the civil rights movement he played a pivotal role in bringing great transformation to this country. In his “I Have A Dream” speech he made the statement,

I have a dream, that one day, my four little children will live in a country where they will not be judged by the colour of their skin, but by the content of their character.

That’s a dream Jesus had for the world. Jesus dreamed of a kingdom defined not by ethnicity, but by character. It’s certainly a sentiment found in this parable. In verse 37 we find that the true neighbour is not identified by race, but as “The one who had mercy upon him.

We need to respect the colour of skin, and the riches of languages and cultures of other people. We also need to look beyond these traits to their heart needs and their character.

In The Parable of The Good Samaritan Jesus makes a subversive statement about race relations. “Samaritans are God’s people too.” It’s a message that retains its relevance in 2014.

MLK: In His Own Words

No one can deny that Marin Luther King Jr was a powerful orator. He has influenced American society as much as anyone in history. I am not as familiar with his teaching as I would like to be. As Martin Luther King Day approaches on January 20 I find it meaningful to remind myself of the battles he (and others) fought and the non-violent philosophy he pursued.

So here is a Meet the Press interview from 1965 in which he discusses the activities of the civil rights movement, beginning with the March from Selma.

There are a lot of notable quotes in this interview. Early on this one caught my attention, “We believe that unmerited suffering is redemptive.”  There’s a lot to think about there.

Was there a quote from this interview that engaged you?