The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial
A year or so ago I had the opportunity to pay my first visit to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington. When I walked onto the memorial site, I was immediately aware of why monuments like this are called "shrines." It was a holy place for me, sacred ground on which the life of a great American hero was being remembered - but more than that, a "shrine" where Dr. King's spirit still lives on.
Over the past decades there have been numerous people who have refused to honor the life and contributions of Dr. King - often discrediting him for his human faults and failures. As I see it, his humanity is what makes Dr. King such a great hero.
We carve hero figures into stone statues or place their images in stained glass windows and think of them as somehow more than human - long-ago and far-away super humans who led exemplary noble lives, people who changed the world, people to be honored and worshiped for their greatness.
I never think of heroes in this way. For me, a hero is a role-model, inspiring me and motivating me to be like them.
I look at a statue of the Christ or the Buddha, I stand before a great stone monument at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial or gaze upon a saint painted into the glass of a church window, and they are like magnets for me - pulling out my better angels, showing me all the possibilities and potential of every human life.
On this day when the nation pauses to remember the life and work of a great American hero, I am inspired by the humanity of the Revered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was, no doubt, a man with faults and failures, just like me, just like every other human being. He was also a man who had the courage of his convictions. He let his better angles have sway over his life- boldly suffering imprisonment and insult for the cause of justice, ultimately laying down his life in the cause of compassion.
He endured and he persevered in the midst of all the mess and muck of the human condition, and that's what makes him a great hero. In the end he changed the world- so can we all.
When I visited his memorial, I was particularly moved by walls surrounding the great stone statue of Martin Luther King Jr. On the imposing granite walls encircling the memorial are carved excerpts from the powerful words of Dr. King's many speeches and writings. I remember going from wall to wall and simply letting those words seep into me - thinking to myself, he continues to speak. Those words are just as powerful in our own day as they were back when they were first spoken.
As I sit in my desert garden at dawn on the morning of this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I recall some of his words. I let them seep into my soul and bathe my spirit:
Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate causes a person to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful.
Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.
In this generation we will have to repent not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.
He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps perpetrate it.
I have the audacity to believe that what self centered persons have torn down, other-centered persons can build up. Yes, I still believe that,
WE SHALL OVERCOME!