Thoughts on MLK Day

“Would you have joined the Resistance?”, my wife asks curiously.

“Yes,” I answer with no hesitation.

Kari and I are watching The Man in the High Castle, an Amazon Original Series that depicts a what-if dystopia arising from an Axis victory in World War II. The Nazis, after dropping an atomic bomb on Washington, D.C., occupy the former United States from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains. Imperial Japan occupies the portion from the Pacific to the Rocky Mountains. The Rocky Mountain area is called the Neutral Zone and it is rife with American Resistance and those who wish to flee oppression. The most infuriating parts of the story include Americans who have gone over to the Axis side in collaboration. The most vicious characters are these sorts of people.

My pugilistic, Scots-Irish blood boils as I watch what is depicted and fantasies informed by French Resistance in World War 2, Casablanca, and Red Dawn flicker in my mind as I imagine myself with brothers-and-sisters-in-arms dispensing justice to jack-booted thugs and to the perpetrators of Bataan and Pearl Harbor.

Then Martin Luther King, Jr. Day happens. Life seems suddenly much more complex and unsure.

AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar

What do I mean by this? Earlier this year, I read an observation by someone who extolled the strength of Mr. Rogers (yes, that one), exhibited in his consistent kindness and gentleness. This was absolutely true! Today I realized the incredible and sublime strength Dr. King and his followers exhibited in their commitment to non-violence. They were being beaten, arrested, spit upon, and sometimes killed for standing for equal rights under the law. They allowed it to happen and did not retaliate.

Could you do that? Could you do that if it was happening to your family? All it took for me was watching a TV show and I was ready to take up arms. It is really hard to overstate the strength of character involved in forgoing an immediate dispensing of justice and not going on the offensive… especially when your side is right. Not retaliating is just unheard-of!

Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding; it seeks to annihilate rather than to convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends by defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. Nobel Prize Lecture, 1964

These words by Dr. King muddy the waters of our generally accepted ways of thinking. The realization of the enormity of these words’ fulfillment leaves me agog and utterly humbled.

The man knew his Scripture and knew his Lord.  He believed the words of the Sermon on the Mount enough to stake everything on them.  In this, he was true to his namesake.  Unlike his namesake, he was cut down way too early in life.  In this we may number him with Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Janani Luwum, Wang Zhiming, and uncounted others who gave their lives in the service of Christ.

Photo credit: Joseph M. Arseneau / Shutterstock, Inc.