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Monday, January 16, 2006

Could America ever produce another Martin Luther King Jr.?

Lisa and I spent most of the week after we got married honeymooning in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. We'd planned to stay at our rented cabin until Tuesday but we were having so much fun in the Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge area that we spent an extra day there. That still left us with half a week of honeymoon to use up somehow. It was sometime Wednesday that the idea struck to do something really spontaneous, that we hadn't intended to do at all when we started this ride: after we'd check out Thursday, we'd get onto I-40 and head west. We'd go all the way to Memphis and make a "religious pilgrimage" at Graceland.

Well, that's what we did, and it took about eight hours of driving across the length of the state to get there. We saw Graceland and got totally Elvis-ed out. Later on Friday night Lisa and I were on this trolley car that goes through a lot of the downtown area: it wasn't a "guided tour" thing at all, just something to ride for fun. We crossed Beale Street, saw the Memphis nightlife in full swing. And then off to our right I saw a building that looked very familiar somehow. And it took all of three seconds to realize what it was that I was looking at...

It was the Lorraine Motel.

It's the place where on April 4th, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was shot and killed as he exited a room onto the second floor balcony.

We had a good rest of the evening in Memphis, and the next morning drove back to Georgia through Mississippi and Alabama, stopping in Tupelo to visit Elvis Presley's birthplace (how did the King wind up in so much of our first week of married life?). In every way we had a terrific honeymoon. But seeing the Lorraine really had an impact on me after that. It's not everyday you see a place that tragic from American history.

So today is Martin Luther King Day here in the states. Which I've never liked the idea of at all, because if you've ever studied his speeches you'll know that this isn't how Martin Luther King Jr. would have wanted to be remembered. He wanted to be recalled as a man of humility, and I'm afraid that what's happened instead is that in the past few decades he's been transformed into an icon of power. Man of God that he was, he would not have desired to be turned into an object of veritable worship. King definitely would not have wanted his memory to be used for political gain either. The man was by no means perfect - yes, I'm aware of the apparent plagiarism that he committed - and I don't think he tried to project that he was in life. So why should we be disingenuous to his memory by making of him what he never was, and what none of us can even be?

Like David - another great leader with many flaws - King relied upon and was sustained by his faith in God. And God rewarded that faith by transforming Martin Luther King Jr. into one of the greatest orators in American history. When I think of great speakers of the past half-century in this country, only three names readily come to mind: John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, and King. Each of them has his style of why he is that memorable, but of the three King's was by far the one that most burned itself into the American conscience. Maybe it was because not since Jonathan Edwards had a preacher man been so eloquently powerful.

So this morning I caught myself thinking of something that's pretty darned sobering: could Martin Luther King Jr. have been so successful at conveying his message if he were doing so today, instead of the 1960s?

More to the point: is it even possible at all for another Martin Luther King Jr. to rise to the occassion in today'a America?

Do we still have it within us to produce a King? Or a Frederick Douglas, or a Gandhi, or a Lech Walesa, or any other person who has possessed both the vision and the desire to seek nothing more than the liberty of his fellow man?

All of these men and more possessed one striking characteristic, no matter the background of where they came from: they sought no glory for themselves, and everything for others. They didn't want to be great leaders. They probably would have tried anything but involving themselves in petty politics, and they still wound up not only becoming involved, but turning their worlds topsy-turvy in revolution... and peacefully at that.

Might someone of their caliber still be found in this country today? Or could someone of their stature even be allowed to rise to the fore?

Let me tell you a terrible secret, dear reader. There is a minority in this country - I would even dare say throughout this entire world - that is despised above all others. Throughout history it has been the most loathed and scorned faction of all. Every other group that comes to mind has had its champions, but in contrast to those, the heroes of that which I speak of have been sorely few and far between. On the lists of persecuted minority groups, this one is almost certain to be absent, and not even considered at that.

The minority I speak of is that of the individual.

And that is what this country's next "civil rights movement" must be about. There is every right given to the sundry factions of this land... but very few given to those who wish to be apart from the collective mindset. And what rights they do enjoy are threatened with each passing day: obviously by the bureaucrats. But those merely effect the will of they who hate the individual, because the individual possesses something that those in the faction do not: the simple strength of will to listen to a different drummer and step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.

If there is ever to be another leader that America produces who will be anything of the stature of Martin Luther King Jr., that leader is going to be one who speaks not of the rights of the many, but champions the rights of the one.

He (or she) will be someone who looks past the meaningless politics of today's America. That person will not be bound by the cruel illusion that is the "conservative versus liberal" mentality. This person will certainly be no subscriber to either the Democrat or Republican parties. If a Christian, this leader will eschew the corruptness and lust for temporal power that plagues too much of the modern church: the champion of the individual will seek to free the Bible from the flag, not bind it up even more. In every way, this person will fly in the face of everything that we accept as being the status quo... and that person is going to be endangered far moreso than Martin Luther King Jr. ever was.

Because such a person will stand not against one faction, but all of them at once. And whatever supposed "differences" that those groups clammoring for power may have with each other, they will not hesitate to make a concerted effort toward vanquishing the one who threatens the world they have established even as they have been at each other's throat. However much they speak of "tolerance", the voice of that one will be that which must be silenced at all costs. Because if one person dares to speak against The Way Things Are, then he or she would assuredly show others that they too could defy the masters of this world.

In the least, this person will be ignored by The Powers That Be and their lackies in the mainstream press. At most, such a person could very well be marked for assassination. But even that could not stop so determined an individual: far worse than the death of the body is the death of one's principles. "They" are led by a tiny group of madmen who would not hesitate to rob others of their earthly existence. But there is one part of each of us that can never be chained, and can always be denied them so long as we choose to deny them that victory: our own minds. And the person who teaches his fellow man that it is time for each of us to assert the mind given us will be a person marked for destruction indeed... because he or she, like King and Gandhi, threaten the very foundation of society.

Is there such a person to be found in America today? I like to believe there is. That's why I'm writing this right now. I don't know who may read this. Maybe that person is out there somewhere, and he or she will find this essay and ponder what I'm trying to convey here. That is how I have my victory over the things of this world, in my own small way. That is how Martin Luther King Jr. had his victory - by choosing a way other than those of which he was expected to take - and for his effort he was rewarded with greatness. If what I write can reach just one person who could be inspired by it to become the next Martin Luther King Jr., then I will be eternally thankful to God that He led me to write all of this out.

Somewhere out there is the next great orator of American history. And he or she is going to start a chain reaction that throws off the shackles from the minds of the American people. And for the first time ever, we are going to be a people truly of Dr. King's vision: considerate of each other, and not what group we boast of belonging to.

Whoever you are, you're out there somewhere. I pray you will be used by God in a mighty way, and sooner rather than later.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written and a very thought-provoking essay, as is usual for you. I guess several of us were moved to write about our experiences centered around Mr. King today. Not just because this is his day, but because of the situation Greensboro finds itself enmeshed in at present. My experience goes back several decades before yours however, and maybe for that reason I remember him today with more sadness, since his dream was mine too. Brenda Bowers