One of my favorite scenes from the movie Gandhi portrays the Rev. Charlie Andrews standing in the pulpit of his church. The Anglican clergyman has been working with Gandhi to challenge how the people of India are being treated under British rule.
Andrews looks out at his privileged, all-white congregation and dives into what he knows will be a divisive subject.
“What Mr. Gandhi has forced us to do is ask questions about ourselves,” he says.
Many in the congregation get up and leave, some with indignant expressions. They don’t want their beliefs questioned, certainly not in a church. They see no reason to even talk about change.
Can we identify with that reaction in some ways?
I think of that image from Gandhi as we honor the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend. The two of them were kindred spirits, prophets from different religions and different countries. They shared the same spirit-filled message and the same nonviolent methods.
And they met with the same responses.
Many who heard them were inspired and worked to change the world in some very significant ways. Others opposed them and tried to silence them. Both were assassinated by gunmen. But their message and their spirit endure.
So do their questions.
Prophets are always asking questions. Tough questions. Unsettling questions. Questions that they pose to themselves, then try to answer by how they live.
Questions such as:
What’s in our hearts? Are we concerned too much about ourselves and too little about others? Do we believe in love? Why do we give in so readily to bitterness and hatred?
Why do so few have so much, while so many have so little? Aren’t we all diminished by the poverty, discrimination, violence, and the various injustices in our world? Why do we glamorize violence and weapons as solutions to our problems?
Do we really believe that we’re all equally beloved children of God? Do we act that way? Do we walk past the person bleeding by the side of the road without stopping to help? Do we even notice them?
How long will we accept the status quo? How long until we make justice a reality for all God’s children?
Prophets are as unpopular as they are indispensable. Their questions generate friction and a lot of creative heat that can be used to reshape our world.
Perhaps a good way to honor the Rev. King this weekend is to ask the questions all over again. To ask them compassionately and emphatically, just as he did. And then to have the daily courage to try to live our individual answers.
The challenge is to be prophetic. To change the world a little bit at a time, one act of love at a time.
To have a dream, too.
Joe Kay is a professional writer living in the Midwest.