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The Fearlessness and Messiness of Dr. King

martin luther king, jr.

I have to be honest.  Writing a few words about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. feels a little bit like practicing to play one-on-one with LeBron James.  I feel inadequate and unworthy to try and encapsulate such an iconic figure in just a few paragraphs.  But I will, because it’s my way of saying, “Thank you Dr. King for your legacy.”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is best known for his role in the advancement of civil rights in the United States and around the world.  But instead of listing all of his exploits and accomplishments, which are vast, incredible and readily accessible, I will choose instead to focus solely on his mission.

Maybe you’ve heard this.  Maybe you haven’t.  But here is what Dr. King wanted to be shared at his memorial: “If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long…. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards, that’s not important…. I’d like somebody to mention that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day, that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody…. I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”

No matter how detailed or extensive you would like Dr. King’s mission to be, it just doesn’t get any simpler than that, “I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.”  To love and serve humanity was Dr. King’s primary mission.  A mission that he fought valiantly for. A mission that requires much more from us than just reading his quotes in awe or watching his speeches in amazement.  His mission requires our response.  A response that isn’t easy.  A response that isn’t popular.  His mission calls for contribution over comfort.  And what’s so enlightening about his call is that there’s no imperative for perfection.

Considering all of his greatness, Dr. King’s mission was carried out by a mortal man filled with many flaws.  A man that was known more for his reach to the masses than he ever was for his messiness. Widely known from his own associates and biographers, Dr. King as a married man, had a “weakness for women.”  I mention this flaw, not to discredit Dr. King and surely not to condone his actions, but rather to shine a light on the fact that greatness can often still result from a broken vessel.

Dr. King devoted his life to his mission and subsequently lost it as a result.  Is that a price any of us are willing to pay for our mission?  Personally, I would like to believe my answer would be yes.  The problem is I know me.  I know how challenging it can be to want something and couple that want with action. At times, I know how weak and helpless I can be to look past myself and shift my focus to others. I know how greedy and unthankful I can be.  I know how unloving and judgemental I can be.  And I know how difficult it is to serve others.

However, the good news and beauty is that reparation is available.  Available for me, and available for you.  A repair that takes place when we acknowledge, forgive the cliche, that love is the answer.  Love is the only thing that can heal our hearts.  Let me repeat that one more time.  Love is the only thing that can heal our hearts.  The only thing that can heal us from our prejudices and our messiness.

May we realize that our legacies are not limited by our mistakes and our messiness can still become magnificence.  A magnificence that possesses the power to penetrate others at their core and begin the process of healing and change.

Thank you Dr. King for your messiness and imperfection. Thank you Dr. King for an unapologetic life that bridged societal gaps, healed humanity divides and closed cultural chasms.  Thank you Dr. King for a life that fought for love, compassion, reconciliation, harmony, integration, redemption, equity and justice.  Thank you Dr. King for being an activist, leader, visionary and pioneer.  Thank you Dr. King for being defiant, disobedient, stubborn, insurgent, radical and fearless. Thank you Dr. King for being the author of the oxymoron (e.g. civil disobedience and nonviolent wars against injustice). And thank you Dr. King for being a revolutionary.

From the Montgomery Bus Boycott and March on Washington to his opposition to the Vietnam War and his efforts to end poverty, Dr. King was a warrior of justness and impartiality.  What courage.  What a man.  What a life.  What an impact.

I leave us all with this challenge from Dr. King himself, “And it seems that I can hear the God of history saying, ‘That was not enough.  But I was hungry; and you fed me not.”  What a responsibility we all have.  The work, his work, is still a work in progress.  Incomplete. Unfinished.  Undone.  May we recognize that when we do nothing, we unintentionally contribute to injustice.

Happy birthday Dr. King!

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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