MLK Day 2016January 18, 2016
“he was enormously gifted”
“he was predatorially adulterous”
“he suffered, not for his outspokenness but for his colour”(God knows in America being outspoken is no crime, but a national pastime)
[I wonder what would be said of him if he were a cricketer in 2016?]
“he said things out loud, in public that needed to be said”
“he plagiarised large sections of his phd dissertation”
“he made a space in which many others were emboldened to risk, to speak, to stand, to resist, to suffer”
How shall we honour the life of Martin Luther King today?
it could be that we sweep some things under the rug…
it could be that we rationalise his faults (both the real and fabricated) in the name of the greater good…
it could be that we acknowledge that men of power will be men, and power carries with it corruptions in greater and lesser measure…
it could be that we see a human made larger than life by history, whose sins were magnified along with his courage and gifts…
it could be that we understand that there are none who are wholly great or perfect : but the righteous words and actions of men and women are pressed together with their iniquities – and that we are all more in need of forgiveness than we are praise.
I am not a cross-stitcher. Following a point by point pattern is not my idea of either recreation or art. But many years ago, I was so captivated by the words:
‘I believe that unarmed truth
and unconditional love
will have the final word in reality’
that I did stitch them on to a piece of fabric, a point by point pattern that I thought worth trying to follow in thread, in order that I might try and follow it in life and have at least a few threads push through to show on the right side.
‘Show Way’ by Jacqueline Woodson, art: Hudson Talbott
Years later I was given this book by a dear friend. Show Way tells the story of many generations of young black girls, slaves, then freed, who stitch the secret paths to freedom in quilts, and then later stitch their stories to remember and to continue to struggle for a freedom that is yet incomplete. It is a story of orality and art, of the child, the female, the slave who is both vulnerable, oppressed and yet a powerful agent of life changing knowledge and liberation.
In every course I teach on child and theology, this book is a core text.
The righteous cause of liberty, equality, and human dignity is brought to the public consciousness through the name celebre of Martin Luther King: it has been said that women were his ‘weakness’. That’s a euphemism for the misuse of gendered power that I am not altogether satisfied with.
More than this, though, it ought to be said that for King, women were very much also his strength. And if the cause of King is to be celebrated, it is the cause of the women – as well as the men – who organised, protested, were arrested, molested, resisted and, of course, persisted after King’s death.