Monday, April 4, 2016

An American Martyr

"We Shall Overcome"
- springtime in the wilderness -

The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr. was shot and killed by James Earl Ray at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis Tennessee on this day 48 years ago: April 4, 1968.

Many people in America today were not even alive 48 years ago, but I certainly remember that day in April very well. And yet, whether you were alive or not back then, the events of April 4th and the life of the man who was murdered on this day have significantly affected our society. Dr. King was a martyr in the cause of justice, peace and compassion, and as I see it, he still remains a glowing example of what one life can do to make the world a better place.  

On this anniversary of Dr. King’s martyrdom, I vividly recall a time a few years back when I was in Memphis and paid a visit to The Civil Rights Museum located in what was once the infamous Lorraine Motel.

The visitor at the Civil Rights Museum follows along a very specific path. You are first led though a variety of exhibit halls commemorating key events like the March on Selma. Then you enter a hall of 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 clearly remember standing there on that spot because the balcony of the “Lorraine Motel” is a “martyr’s shrine.” When I stood there I was on holy ground, it seemed like I was in a church or a sacred temple. I and everyone around me kept a reverent silence, some people knelt, some sobbed, others wept openly.

There is another shrine devoted to the memory of Dr. King located on the National Mall in Washington DC.  An imposing granite statue of Dr. King towers above the grounds along with carved tablets that contain notable quotes from some of his most famous speeches and writings. I have visited this place several times, and whenever I go there I often spend my time just praying, reading and contemplating those powerful words of wisdom engraved into those stone tablets.

In our own day when so much vile speech and hateful rhetoric spews from our own political figures, those healing words of Dr. King still remain as balm for the soul. In fact, as I think about it, those words of Martin Luther King Jr. spoken more than half a century ago speak even louder to all of us in our own day and time.

So on this day when we remember this man who laid down his life for the welfare of the common good, I want to celebrate his powerful words of wisdom - words we need to hear now more than ever.

I want these words to burn in me and I offer them here for all persons of goodwill, wherever you may be, to read and ponder and take them 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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