Ninety years ago, January 15th, 1929, Martin Luther King, Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia. We celebrate him on the third Monday of January, but his birthday is today. We celebrate America’s preeminent dreamer in a myriad of ways. From protest marches to a day of service, a rainbow of individuals and organizations will dedicate this coming Monday as an opportunity to advance humanity to a more human space and place. Yet, what if we treated the day as not a day off, but a day on? What if we started today and, leading up to the actual day of celebrations, did something much more relevant and (potentially) revolutionary? What if on this day and going forward we honored the father of twentieth-century American democracy with a day of reckoning—dare our souls and the organizations with which we are associated to take a real look at whether or not we are making a real difference in our world. A Day of Reckoning!
The juxtaposition of depicting MLK’s life and words against the backdrop of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue would be banal at the least. Last year in celebration of the former Nobel Peace Prize winner’s birth, the current occupant of the White House decided to golf at one of his private resorts. His not so subtle disdain for persons of color has spoken volumes over the last 724 days.
A morally imaginative use of the time in the days leading up to next Monday would be to take an honest assessment of how you are making the world better than you found it—not being seduced by the American preoccupation with success but rather taking an honest inventory of your life. What is your commitment to the eradication of extreme poverty, not just by writing a check but by reassessing what you does with your free time? Delve into the nuances of racial equality—not simply by counting your social media friends who appear different, but by asking those same friends to recommend to you reading materials that changed their life, for the sake of your soul’s maturation. Such commitment to wisdom is what humanity longs for in a time when content “trumps” substance. The world is inundated with successful people but yearns for those who embody noble ideas that transcend time and space. King understood this intuitively then, as the Dalai Lama does now. It grows not from genius but gratitude. So, as we celebrate MLK’s 90th birthday, a fair question is: how do you show gratitude?
Many of us have long forgotten our resolutions for the New Year. I know I have. Instead, let’s look to King’s birth as a day of reckoning—to move you and those around you to be aligned with the better angels of our natures. Study. Awareness. Service. Accountability. How are you giving back in service for the life you are fortunate enough to have? King would often say: “We all may have come over on different ships, but we’re in the same boat now.”
A day of reckoning is afoot for humanity, now more than ever. As imperfect as I am, I am trying my best to be both grateful and ready.
How about you?
Peter Matthews is the pastor of Historic McKinley United Methodist Church, and Director of the Center for Global Renewal and Missions at United Theological Seminary. With the Global Village he assists in revitalizing three congregations and a campus ministry in developing a pipeline for a new generation of persons working in historic African American congregations. Peter is married with two adult sons. Jazz and his grandson are his joy! For more information visit his website at www.peterematthews.com