Monday, January 21, 2013


Early morning, April 4
A shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
It is fitting and appropriate that this week sees the re-inauguration of President Barack Obama and the celebration of the birth of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King would have turned 84 last Tuesday. I have little doubt that, had he lived this long, he would have proudly stood next to the President yesterday and today as he spoke those words Dr. King so longed to hear spoken to a black man: "I do solemnly swear..."
I can imagine a tear or two would have formed at the corner of his eyes. I know it did when I watched it.
Dr. King could not have failed to notice a subtle shift in America. In 2008, electing Barack Obama was an act of insurrection, a vote to change Washington, to change America, to embrace progress. In 2012, it was an affirmation of that change.
And the 2012 vote was nearly as overwhelming as the 2008 insurrection. The guy's doing a good job.
We re-elected Barack Obama not on the colour of his skin, but on the content of his character. We have seen him at work, and judged him good. Had Dr. King spoken today at the celebration, I have little doubt he would remark on this point.
Too, he likely would have pointed out that, while we have not seen the mountaintop, where men live in peace with other men of all races, colours, creeds and, yes, genders (sorry ladies, the allegory just works better sui generis), we have taken one giant leap for mankind.
Perhaps, too, he would note, as he did in opposing the war in Vietnam, "When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered." How true these words have become in the past decades, as fear and terror replace courage and thinking.
No doubt, he would cast an askance eye at the NRA and gun owners across America, in the wake of the Sandy Hill shootings and the tragic deaths of black men, black women, and black children all across the nation, from Illinois to Alabama, from Massachussetts to California, and recalled that he, too, owned guns but was denied a permit in Alabama to carry them because he was black.
And would undoubtedly note the lopsidedness of gun violence falling on minorities disproportionately, and children doubly so, and note that more guns is not more safety: "Finally, I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be the son of the Living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood. And because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come today to speak for them."
There is a deeper theme to this day, the nexus of the second inauguration of Barack Obama and the celebration of the birth of Dr. King.
Men of peace have short lives on this planet. King acknowledged this during his life: "Now it isn’t easy to stand up for truth and for justice. Sometimes it means being frustrated. When you tell the truth and take a stand, sometimes it means that you will walk the streets with a burdened heart. Sometimes it means losing a job…means being abused and scorned. It may mean having a seven, eight year old child asking a daddy, “Why do you have to go to jail so much?” And I’ve long since learned that to be a follower to the Jesus Christ means taking up the cross. And my bible tells me that Good Friday comes before Easter. Before the crown we wear, there is the cross that we must bear."
As Bono so brilliantly put it in the lyrics I quoted above, "They asked of your life, but they could not take your pride."
It is that pride that endures. It is that unforgettable fire that burns inside you and I. Our nation has become concretized. Where once we were supple and adept, America has become brutish and musclebound. Where once we were tolerant and accepting, we have become fearful and ignorant. Where once we could all share a dream, we have awoken to find a bleak and icy landscape.
We have slipped into a morass of violence and hatred, strewn amidst a rubble of what could have been. But I tell you, that within that rubble, among the bullets and bodies and bloodstained snows, lay the seeds of change.
The Spring will come, and perhaps early morning, one April 4, shouts of joy, not shots of death, will ring out heralding a new nation, conceived in true liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that we all are created equal.