Thoughts for the Day after MLK

Rustin-and-King-Jr

The words were offered from
pulpits and courthouse steps and jail cells
and countless other places,
words of eternal power and simplicity and truth.
If never else through the year
we listen to the words
of this man, this minister, this prophet again
when we celebrate his day,
and ponder his way
of nonviolence and justice.

The words stir me, too,
even though I know they were first meant
to give hope, and courage, and strength
to those with skin darker than mine,
which means nothing, of course,
but at the same time,
somehow, means everything.
The measure of a person, all too often,
even now, continues to be
the melanin content of skin
instead of the content of character.

The prophet’s words stir me to examine my own soul,
and to realize, as he said,
that when one of us suffers, we all do;
that when one of us is denied justice,
we all are;
and it causes me to take a stand
and do whatever I can
to walk your walk with you.

But the words stir me to something else, too,
because I need justice
just as much as you.
It’s a different kind of justice,
but really isn’t;
a difference that,
like our differing complexions,
means nothing,
but apparently still to some, everything.
The paths traveled by those like you
and those like me
have any number of differences,
but even more similarities,
and at many places,
more than is often admitted,
the paths converge into one.

It is true,
I am not you
and you are not me.
We cannot see
through each other’s eyes,
but I promise you
we at least wear the same prescription,
and if we actually did walk a mile in each other’s shoes
you’d see they’re the same size.

So I would do nothing
to take the prophet away from you;
nothing to distract from
your remembering and honoring.
I would do nothing
to minimize your struggle
or to co-opt his legacy
as somehow being only for me.
But I would ask you to see
that his words are at least for me
as well as for you.

I have a dream, too.

Will you walk my walk with me,
as I walk yours with you?

My gut wrenches,
my eyes well up in tears,
for those like you,
and those like me,
when throughout the years,
the beatings and killings continue –
white and brown and black and blue.
My disgust and horror
and anger and grief
are exactly the same
when I see pictures of the hatred
vomited out on both Emmett Till
and Matthew Shepard alike.
The blood that’s shed
is the same color red;
the loved ones’ tears just as salty.
The prayers offered by them both
in their last breaths,
and the ones offered
by those who cherished them
were offered to,
and painfully heard,
by the same God
who created and loves them both.
Both left families behind
with lives just as shattered
as the bottles that have been broken
over the heads
of those both like you and like me.

It’s true,
our paths aren’t totally the same.
You can’t hide your skin color
while so many of us
can, and do, and still have to
hide the rainbow color of our hearts.
But that hiding, that passing
in order to evade the hate
and rejection
and violence
only brings a different form of it.
The hatred and violence imposed by others
is just traded for self-hate and violence.
Like squeezing a balloon in one place,
it’s going to pop out in another.
It’s an enormity
that causes anxiety;
pain in denying one’s self
that brings daily soul-death,
and real death, too –
a physical surrender
to the world’s rejection and hatred
through overdose
and hanging
and shooting
and jumping into traffic
and any number of other
creative methods of self-termination;
added to the efforts of others
all too happy
to hunt us and beat us and burn us for sport,
as they’ve done to you, too,
or to smash our skulls
beyond recognition
while mouths spattered
with our dripping blood
damn us to perdition –
details, page B12,
in the morning edition.

All of those deaths
have been the result of hatred
and rejection
and oppression
every bit as much
as the ones not self-inflicted,
the ones meted out
by other hands
in the middle of the night
to those like you.

The prophet said to replace
the existing “I/It” relationship
with one of “I/Thou,”
and that’s what we need to do now.
I walk thy walk with thee;
will you stand and walk mine with me?

They never forced me
to drink from rusty fountains,
or to enter through back doors,
but I promise you,
we both know the sound and the sting
of slamming doors,
shut sometimes with a smile
and sometimes a curse;
and we both know
that neither is worse
than the other.

It doesn’t matter
whether it’s offered up
as “Leviticus states”
and “The Bible clearly says”;
or as something softer,
more subtle,
more wink/nudge and under the table,
something that will enable
more respectable conversation.
The pain, the anger, the rejection,
the refusal to validate my election
by our common God
to serve and proclaim resurrection;
whether the words used
are more appropriate to country club
or gutter,
however they’re uttered,
their meaning
and the pain
are exactly the same.

“We’ve reviewed your application,”
they say,
“and many others
from across the nation,
and while your gifts for ministry are clear,
they really aren’t near
what we want for our own congregation.
Surely, we don’t really mind,
none of us have a problem with your kind.
We aren’t frightened;
we’re actually enlightened –
why some of our family and friends
are that way, too.
But if we chose you,
some in the pews
would be upset
over the idea of someone, well, you know,
like you.
Plus, many of our oldest, dearest members
who also have the most to give,
won’t approve of the way you live
and will cut us off,
and then where will our church,
our ministry,
our witness to God be?”

Where, indeed.

“Surely you understand,”
they say.
Surely I’ll still shake their hand
and say it’s OK,
it’s just part of God’s mysterious way;
don’t worry, your consciences are clear.

But that’s not at all what I want to say.
I won’t even say
what I really want to say
about their consciences,
and the way they choose to hear,
and not hear,
The Word of the Lord.

Maybe rather than words,
I want to simply hold up a mirror for them,
and fighting the urge to hit them with it,
let them see their hypocrisy for themselves.

What I really want to say,
at its most polite,
is that this is not at all accepting God’s way
but rather, it’s spitting on it.

In the end, of course,
What I really do
is grit my teeth and clench my stomach
and shake their hand
or offer the email equivalent.
Blessings to you,
and grace and peace,
et cetera, et cetera, ad nauseum.
Giving in to those negative emotions
is really not what the God that I follow
would want, so I swallow
one more helping
of self-negation
of me, God’s creation;
feeling less human,
less of value on that day
than I’d felt the day before,
which some days isn’t much to begin with.
How many times can I accept
this diminishing of self
this ongoing,
soul-crushing
repudiation of me
before there’s nothing left of “me” at all?

My brothers and sisters,
do you know this psalm of lament?
Does it ring true
to your darker-than-my ears?
Hear its cries
for strength,
for endurance,
for recognition of my human dignity,
created, in all of my being
in the image of our common God,
just like you,
no more, no less,
differing only in who we love,
and the color of our skin,
and frankly, not even always that.
Even with some differences in the melody line,
I’ll bet the tune sounds hauntingly familiar.

We’ve walked many miles together,
those like you and like me.
Many of us were with you,
and many of us were you,
in that long walk from Selma to Montgomery.
Our blood stained the Pettus Bridge for all eternity,
mingled together with yours.
We stood there,
and knelt there,
and prayed there;
there, and in your church pews, too,
because we knew
that your walk was our walk, too.

You know that we were there,
and not just as outsiders,
hangers-on,
wannabes coming in from somewhere else
that we would all ultimately,
comfortably retreat to.
You know the lie of that myth.
You know that before the first bus of supporters,
like me or otherwise,
rolled in from the north,
we were already there.
We sang in your choirs,
played your pianos and organs,
and yes,
you know we preached from your pulpits, too,
and we did it all well,
an anointed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
Yes, you know that in your walk,
we weren’t just quiet followers.
You know that Bayard was there
at the very top of the pile,
in the inner circle,
both one of us, and one of you,
planning, leading, organizing;
and you know he wasn’t the only one.

So if not on the actual day
set aside to the Reverend,
the Doctor,
the prophet,
in an attempt to not distort his importance
to your specific walk,
I ask you to at least ponder these words
meant for consideration
on the day, and days, that follow:

Will you see through my glasses,
will you walk in my shoes,
will you join in my walk
as I join in yours?

I have a dream, too.

Will you join with the many,
like brothers Lewis,
and Young,
and Bond,
and Jackson,
and even sister Coretta, the prophet’s own wife,
who knew his mind
better than anyone;
in saying that the prophet’s words
are meant for me, too;
and in proclaiming that equality
and justice really are for all;
as both the promise of this nation
and the assurance of God?

On the day after the prophet’s day,
my question, my request, my plea
to you again, my brothers and sisters
will continue to be:
just as I walk with you,
will you walk with me?

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