Water Man Spouts

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Communing With Martin

Communing With Martin

This morning, I read an interesting message from a friend called "Hamden Rice," regarding some of the great "what if's" of recent history. What if JFK, RFK, and MLK had lived? These are interesting questions that many of us who are of a certain age ponder, especially on days like April 4.
I have set today aside, to allow myself some time to enjoy Taylor Branch's book "At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years 1965-68." It is the third in his series, following "Parting the Waters," and "Pillar of Fire." The only short-coming that I can attribute to this volume is that it is only 1000 pages long. This morning, I am witnessing the end of the march from Selma to the state capital.
This reminds me of part of Dick Gregory's classic book, "Nigger." The last chapter (One Less Door) is the most powerful in the book. Dick starts by saying, "A scared Negro is one thing. A mad Negro is something else." Then he quotes from a speech he delivered to a group in Sema.
"It's amazing how we come to this church every Sunday and cry over the crucifixion of Christ, and we don't cry over these things that are going around and among us. If He was here now and saw these things, He would cry. And He would take those nails again. For us. For this problem. It just happened that in His day and time, religion was the big problem.Today, it is color.
"What do you think would happen to Christ tonight if He arrived in this town a black man and wanted to register to vote on Monday? What do you think would happen? Would you be there? You would? Then how come you're not out there with these kids, because He said that whatever happens to the least, happens to us al ..."
On page 769 of his book, Branch notes, "Shortly after the assassination, a grief-stricken Stanley Levison complained that most Americans already distorted the loss of 'their plaster saint who was going to protect them from angry Negroes.' Pride and fear subverted King's legacy from all sides." Today, it is important that we not allow Martin to be a plaster saint, just as it is imperative that we not allow Jesus to be reduced to a stained glass window. They must not be separated from the context of humanity.
"Men hate each other because they fear each other. They fear each other because they don't know each other. They don't know each other because they can't communicate with each other. They can't communicate with each other because they are separated from each other," King told an audience in 1957. Indeed, men such as Martin and Jesus lived in such a way as to unify people. They were not simplistic fools: they recognized that their sacrifices were not being demanded by "God," but rather were the result of human folly.
One of my favorite books about Martin was authored by his true friend, Ralph David Abernathy. The title of the 1990 book is "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down." I was happy that, towards the end of his life, when Ralph was remembering Martin, he knew that when the Berlin Wall was dismantled, the crowds were singing "We Shall Overcome." Ralph knew that Martin was there.
This morning, as I read Branch's wonderful book, I waited until in my mind, I saw King taking a short break from his labor. I imagined approaching him, and asking, "Martin Luther King, where are you today?" And I hear his beautiful voice, clearly in my mind, saying, "Martin is with Cindy Sheehan today, attempting to put an end to the American violence in Iraq; Luther is in New Orleans, nailing boards on a new home for a poor family; and King is to be found marching with those young people in the southwest, who are only asking that the Bill of Rights be a living, breathing document."
I know that Martin's spirit is also found today among those brave people we call the St. Patrick's Four, who were sentenced in federal court in Binghamton, NY to jail for an act of conscience in protesting the war in Iraq. To paraphrase Martin, we are faced with difficult problems today, and we cannot confront them without sacrifice. And as Dick said, we need to move beyond fear.
I will end with another quote from our friend Dick Gregory, from that speech in Selma: "So it's coming down to this. You have to commit. You're going through the same things today that the folks went through when the Lord was crucified. 'Who else is with Christ?' the Romans asked. And everybody just stood there. And prayed silently. And they went back and said, 'I prayed.'
"No, sister, I didn't even see your lips move. Were you there when they crucified the Lord? It's a nice song to sing. But this time, you hve an opportunity to be there. Sure would be a heck of a thing, twenty, thirty years from now when they're singing songs about these days, and your grand-kids and great-grand-kids can stand up and say, 'Yeah, baby, he was there, my grandfather was there.'
"And when they ask you, you can nod your head and say: "Yeah, I was there.' "


Post a Comment

<< Home