MLK’s Dream: The Hope and the Challenge

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is pictured in an undated file photo.(CNS file photo)

Today is Martin Luther King Jr Day. There can be no better tribute to his memory than to re-read his words, or read them for the first time:

I Have a Dream

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Nonviolence and Racial Justice

And many others

King’s words require no commentary. But I will leave you with one thought. There are two ways to betray his legacy.

First, we can celebrate it while refusing to allow it to challenge us. We can sanitize his legacy as a nice person we all admire, as an exemplar of what we all already want and are doing. We thus anesthetize ourselves from the painful realization that we do not always measure up to his teaching, and in fact are often complicit in the injustice he rejected. But we have to be willing to embrace that pain if we are going to grow from his example.

Second, we can depress ourselves with how far we have fallen short of his challenge. The struggle for justice is never easy, and it takes a personal toll on those who engage in it. But King’s message was one of hope, not of despair. If we find ourselves despairing that we cannot do all that must be done, then we are not imitating King. King trusted in the slow work of God. Only that trust will give us enduring hope.

King could name injustice without losing hope in justice. Instead of “celebrating” King today, let him challenge and inspire you. Can you find the courage to accept the ways you have been unjust, and the hope to keep fighting for justice?

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