Monday, January 18, 2016

We Shall Overcome

"People Without Vision Perish"
- Martin Luther King Day, 2016 -


In the course of my life I have enjoyed the great blessing of visiting many holy shrines and sacred places all over the world. I have stood in Buddhists temples in Asia, visited noble cathedrals and renowned mosques in Europe and the Middle East, and I have been to the place where Jesus preached and stood on the hill at the place where he was crucified.

There is one shrine, however that holds a special place in my heart - one of the holiest places I have ever visited was the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis Tennessee. It is located in a building that once was a dingy little traveler’s lodge known as the Lorraine Motel, and it was on the balcony of this motel that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on an April day in 1968.

I was in Memphis for a conference and a trip to The Civil Rights Museum was on our agenda. I actually thought we would be going to an ordinary museum, a place filled with artifacts and stories commemorating all the many events of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Little did I know I would actually be going to a sacred shrine, one of the holiest places I would ever visit.

A visit to the Civil Rights Museum follows along a very specific path. You are led though a variety of exhibit halls commemorating key events like the March on Selma. There are pictures and film clips of the “Freedom Riders” and artifacts from the Montgomery Prison where Dr. King wrote his renowned letters. The visit to the “museum” ends on a second floor balcony directly in front of what was once Room 306, the actual spot where Martin Luther King Jr. was so brutally assassinated on that fateful day in April.

I can still vividly remember standing there on that spot, it conjured up so many vivid memories of the time I once stood on the hill in Jerusalem at the place where Jesus was crucified.  That balcony of the “Lorraine Motel” was a holy shrine – everyone stood there in reverent silence, some people knelt, some sobbed, others wept openly.

Today, as the nation and the world celebrates “Martin Luther King Day,” I am reminded of that balcony shrine and I reflect on the message of that man who had a bold vision and a daring dream not only for a better America but for a better world - a man who ultimately laid down his life for it all.

I still keep a copy of a brochure from my visit to the Memphis “museum. The brochure contains a collection of some of the major quotes from various speeches and sermons Dr. King gave in his lifetime. Today, as I look at some of these famous quotes, it strikes me that, maybe what Dr. King had to say back then speaks even louder to all of us in our own time. In these chaotic days filled with so much political “hate speech,” in these times of renewed bigotry, violence and prejudice, his words ring truer and clearer than ever before.

So on this Martin Luther King “holiday” I once again turn to these important words of wisdom, and I pray that all people of goodwill wherever they may be might take these words to heart:

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 the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.

Those who accept evil without protesting against it are cooperating with it.

But even in the midst of all the chaos, I refuse to believe that humankind is
tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war.
I refuse to believe that the bright daybreak of peace can never become a reality
I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

Yes, I still have the audacity to believe that
we shall overcome!

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