Sunday, October 17, 2010
An Inconvenient Hero
In one of my Peace and Justice classes at EMU, we have been diving into the concepts of nonviolence practiced by MLK and Gandhi. Here is a response I wrote on an essay/chapter titled "The Inconvenient Hero" by Vincent K. Harding. I would highly recommend Harding's writings on King. Not only was he a close friend of MLK, but he refuses to gloss over any uncomfortable parts of MLK's message. He is the perfect writer to ask the tough questions and to keep King's true memory alive.
“Who dares re-call this man, when all the plagues he fought are still among us, standing in the way of ‘the America we hope to be’: racism, militarism, materialism…is he safely dead? Perhaps we should re-call him and see. Now. Perhaps in the process we may learn again how to live – unsafely, in love with God and neighbor, with cleansing, purifying fire, with the America that is YET to be created – by us.”
Vincent K. Harding spoke these words in his chapter on Martin Luther King Jr. called “The Inconvenient Hero”. Harding uses powerful language…the language of King…to remind us that the memory of the dead becomes distorted when they are no longer there. Words can be picked at will, manipulated and used for shameless agendas, reduced to 10 second sound bites that become palatable to an American public that wants to be comfortable…a public that does not want to move or inconvenience itself to practice any true principles of love and justice. A public that does not inform itself, that does not become angry with righteous just indignation at a war-crazed government killing people all around the world. No one can tell Harding otherwise, and no one can tell me otherwise. If we were upset enough, we would have the power to demand that the injustices of this nation come to an end. A united America of justice-demanding citizens could force this insanity to stop. We don't, however, because we are divided amongst ourselves...just as the structures of power would have it. This may sound harsh, but upon reading Harding’s chapter, this same fire against injustice burned in Martin Luther King Jr., especially during the last years of his life…the life that he ended up offering as payment for those beliefs.
King was becoming radicalized. King’s focus was starting to become world centered, humanity centered, broadened beyond the borders of America. King realized that all of humanity was part of the same unity. National boundaries mattered no longer. The American “dream” (that more and more was looking utopian) was bigger than the dream of a nation, it was a dream that encompassed the entire world. It was a dream that had become a nightmare. King said as much himself…before Vietnam even started…when he was referring to the children killed during the church bombing in Montgomery, Alabama. King went on to call our country “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” Not much has changed in the 4 + decades since.
Martin Luther King Jr. was a prophet. Prophets are often not welcome in their homeland. Remember a man named Jesus? Prophets are the kind of people who grate, who do not compromise, who face indignation, condemnation, and assassination. Prophets are inconvenient and uncomfortable to listen to. They hear all the time that they should “tone things down a bit”. King heard this often. The toughest part for King was that he heard it from some of his closest friends. What has marked the great leaders like King, like Gandhi, is that they do not back down from their mission. They are determined in their actions, because they have their vision focused on love, justice and nonviolence at all times. They know that to go with the grain of the universe is to go with the divine. They will not be talked down, and they will not back down. They represent the alienated, the voiceless, and this means being outside of society and involves nonconformity to the ways of a profoundly sick society. Until all are treated equal, none are equal.
Harding says that “those who are serious about re-calling King must therefore be serious, too, about the risks of his company, his unexpurgated company.” The question that Harding has for us is this: Are we willing to REALLY embrace this “national hero” who has a politically correct holiday named after him? If we are, then we need to embrace his complete message…the message that called America to account for its injustices and demanded that it live up to the “dream” that it professed (and professes) to be about. Who will stand in the place of King?