The Radical Courage of Rev. Dr. MLK Jr.
“Why radical reconciliation?” This was the question posed to me by one of my readers. The notion of reconciliation is ambitious enough, however, when you add in the adjective “radical” it seems overly ambitious. To answer this, I went to the dictionary. Radical is defined as “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something (especially of change or action); far-reaching or thorough”. I believe this descriptor is necessary in today’s world. Reconciliation must be radical (far-reaching and thorough) in order to be an agent of change.
On Monday, the nation celebrated the 90th birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Over the last few years, I’ve developed the habit of listening to one of King’s sermons or reading something he wrote on this day. This year, I read Dr. King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail again. In it, he writes
“In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be… This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
I believe this statement is one of the fundamental keys to radical reconciliation. A recognition that humanity is connected. That we belong to one another. We stem from the same source. We are all created in the same image and that image is the IMAGO DEI.
If we believe that we are all fundamentally connected and what happens to one impacts us all, then we should have no problem reconciling our differences and pursuing Shalom, right? If our destinies are intertwined then seeking equity, fighting against exploitation, greed, corruption, and overall oppression should be easy right? WRONG.
Herein lies the problem my friends, there is a large segment of society that does not TRULY believe this. Some might say they do, just like some give lip service to the words and ideology of Dr. King. But, when it comes to aligning actions with their words, they fall short. There is no giving up of power, no acknowledgment of sin or culpability, no willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. How can we quote Dr. King and continue to support ideologies of hate, division, and economic disparity?
Courage is defined as the ability and willingness to confront fear, pain, danger, uncertainty, or intimidation. Physical courage is courage in the face of physical pain, hardship, death, or threat of death, while moral courage is the ability to act rightly in the face of popular opposition, shame, scandal, or discouragement.
Dr. King needed great physical and moral courage to challenge the powers that be. He marched, was spat on, arrested, and assaulted. He was hated and vilified by even his OWN people. He was considered an extremist. However, none of this stopped him.
It’s going to take courage for us to be radical reconcilers in the world we live in today. For most of us, physical courage is not the issue. It is the question of moral courage that we wrestle with. Will we have the moral courage to speak up, to refuse to be pacified with easy answers, to not turn a blind eye to oppression? Will we have the moral courage to boycott that store, write to that politician, or gently re-direct that poisonous conversation?
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s radical courage changed an entire nation. Will you have the radical courage to live and love like the destiny of EVERY human being is equally as valuable and inescapably connected to yours?