When my grandmother died when I was 15, I wanted the world to stop. I remember looking at traffic on the road near my home and just wanting everyone to be still — to stop and ponder what we all had lost in losing my grandmother and her love.
That adolescent desire is exponentially greater this week juxtaposed with the 44th anniversary of the martyrdom of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and the continuing lack of criminal charges against the man who shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Florida last month.
So I grieve — and I’m not sure what to do with the grief.
Maundy Thursday refers to Christ giving the mandatumor commandment: “A new commandment I give to you — that you love one another even as I have loved you.” But love is in short supply these days.
Scripture tells us, “Perfect Love casts out fear." The challenge in our nation is that when Love approaches we so often choose fear. So when King challenged the nation 45 years ago, people could not hear his words as Love—but rather, as judgment. He preached in his sermon A Time to Break the Silence (Beyond Vietnam):
"This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one's tribe, race, class and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all men. This oft misunderstood and misinterpreted concept -- so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force -- has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Moslem-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John:
Let us love one another; for love is God and everyone that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love. If we love one another God dwelleth in us, and his love is perfected in us.
Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says : "Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word."
Dr. King called for love. And the response of the media following this sermon was that he had "diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people" (Washington Post) and that his sermon was "demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi" (TIME). People were not able to hear the words of love—and responded with fear.
Likewise, in the midst of the mourning and anger surrounding Trayvon Martin’s death, his detractors focus on his suspension for having a bag with drug residue in his backpack. Rather than realizing that we live in a nation where a child armed with Skittles and a can of iced tea can be shot, we (as usual) blame the victim. And fear can become larger than love.
So how do we respond with love in the midst of fear? That’s the answer—we respond. We don’t get to do nothing—for in that response we have chosen fear over love.
As the Archbishop Desmond Tutu wisely noted during the apartheid struggle, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”
Let’s speak the truth: most of us who live in predominately white neighborhoods pretend that the racism that affects our black and brown sisters and brothers doesn’t affect us. But yes, it does! As King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
It requires a choice. As U2 sang so many years ago:
Early evening, April 4
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride
In the name of love
One more in the name of love
In the name of love
What more in the name of love?
The Rev. Ruth Hawley-Lowry has pastored in the NYC, Chicago, and Grand Rapids areas. On the 40th Anniversary of his martyrdom, Naomi Tutu and she organized a gathering with moms from Nashville and professors and pastors from Boston, Baltimore, and D.C. on the steps of Lincoln Memorial to honor the legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. statue in Washington, D.C. Steve Heap/Shutterstock.com