#WhatsTheMessage EP 003: Two Kings With a Cause

 

In this episode, Carmela and Claudia talk about the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, the importance of churches continuing the work of social justice, and the importance of the Bible in continuing that work. They discuss how Christ and Dr. King are two Kings who sacrificed their lives for the cause of justice.

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A Letter to Dr. King

Dear Dr. King,

I began writing this letter to you on your birthday. Though the gift of life was stripped from you, I wanted to offer you a gift that proves your legacy lives on. A gift that proves your dream has taken strides to becoming reality.

So much has taken place since you’ve been gone. The streets you once marched on tell new stories. Cracks in the pavement mark change made with every step. Rain washes away the tears that fell, the blood that was spilt, and even the gas that left a stinging pain in the eyes of many a peaceful protester like yourself. Each burn, beating, and bruise reminded them that the manifestation of dreams does not come cheap. Though Heaven’s cries wash the residuals from the streets, the cracks in the pavement remain. They serve to remind us that though the pain proves difficult to forget, the change that resulted from that pain is powerful, too.

The day to day interactions I often fail to consider would mark as milestones in your eyes. I watch girls of various races drink from the same water fountain after a basketball game. I see little boys of all shades playing outside together in the snow. The 44th President of the United States was an African American man, and his wife was an African American woman. I sit in the very front of my lecture with a sea of white, brown, and yellow behind me as President of the class in a school where, like many, racism once reared its ugly head.

Dr. King, this was your dream, and I have seen it come to life. Not just in Maryland or Michigan, but across the world. This dream that you had for the entire nation has spread far and wide. You raised your hand fervently in the fight for equality and little did you know that your fingertips would touch places you had never been. These are your cracks in the pavement, Dr. King. This is your reminder that change came from the pain. And though so much has changed, far too much has stayed the same.

You had dreamed that your four children would live in a nation where they would not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Though children of all races play amongst one another, 12-year-old black boys are gunned down in the streets. Immigrant children are locked in cages, separated from their parents at the border. The content of their character has no value here.

Churches that were once a place sanctified for dreams have become homes to nightmares. Horrors stemming from hatred such as the bombing of the 16th street Baptist Church in 1963 have been paralleled in racially motivated mass shootings such as that of the Charleston church in 2015.

Dr. King, the fight is far from over. Inequality is still present in various ways. Women do not have the same opportunities as men do for pay, whilst minorities do not have the same opportunities as that of white men for work and housing. Mass incarceration has taken its home in the black community. Gun violence and police brutality continue to speak boldly. They are shouting, Dr. King, but we are shouting louder. We are shouting Black Lives Matter, shouting Mike, Tamir, Trayvon, Sandra and Eric! We are shouting that all men are created equal; we are shouting with every brother and sister in Christ who will join us. Black, White, Brown, Yellow, whatever color – we stretch our hands out to God, even when it is hard to feel Him. We allow tears to fall from our faces into each crack our pain has left in the pavement. We feel the change underneath our feet, and we know that we grow closer with each passing day. Free at last, free at last! We are shouting free at last. We shout it, even before the freedom comes, for we still believe that who the Son sets free is free indeed.

 

Kyara Samuels




Why King Lives On

Jesus, when eulogizing his First cousin John, asked the attending crowd what turned out to be a series of rhetorical questions. He followed these questions up with the answer we find in Matthew 11:9 (NIV). He says “What did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.” Although I cannot theologically confer the words of Christ to the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, I like to imagine God pleased with His path. Dr king prepared a path for righteousness and justice as did John the Baptist in preparing the world for its savior.

I am awestruck every time I watch what most would consider to be the pinnacle of Dr. King’s influence: the march on Washington. Standing on the steps of the hallowed Lincoln Memorial Dr. King delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech. I am riveted when I listen to him speak boldly and candidly on behalf of the sanitation workers in Memphis Tennessee. I am deeply moved when I read the infamous “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” Indeed from the pulpit to the page, Dr. King sits on the mountaintop with some of the greatest literary activists of Earth’s history.

However, I would argue that if his life was not congruent with his tongue it would not be long before his oratorical ability and his literary prowess would be a mere conglomeration of sounding brass and clanging cymbals. Yes, we are easily inspired by ones’ ability to arrange words in a manner that stirs in our souls the desire to rally the proverbial troops to get the job done. Whether it is the melodic speech of the 44th President of the United States, or the rhythmic voice of ones favorite pop/rap artist, it doesn’t take much to get us going. However, we are quick to jump ship when we find that one’s actions are not congruent with ones words.

From corrupt politicians to pocket snatching preachers we have become calloused and indifferent to leaders who attempt to swoon us with their words only to slap us with their actions. Such was not the case when we examine the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. In an era when equality dripped as slow as molasses and injustice ran free as a flowing river there was one man whose actions functioned as the mitochondria of his words.

Dr. King was a father, a husband, a friend, a theologian, an icon, but most of all an indiscriminate friend to the least of society. Where did he get his uncanny drive to continue amidst hostility and assault? On what rock was his foundation established? I could extrapolate bits and pieces from all of his known manuscripts. I could list a number of individuals as well as historical documents that influenced his thinking. However, there is one document written first in 1892 and most recently ratified in 1957 that truly moved the drum major, the pledge of Allegiance. It is the final line of the pledge that I believe encapsulates the mission and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It reads “One nation, under God, indivisible, with Liberty, and justice for all”

One Nation

​Dr. King was a proud American who sought social and civil reform for his beloved nation. His message was one of unity and cohesiveness for mankind. He understood that while it was not possible for everyone to reach the pinnacle of success it was important to him that they at least have the same opportunity afforded them. As a historian, Dr. King understood that the unity of a nation was a must have variable that greatly determined its rise or fall.

Under God/Indivisible

​As a theologian, Dr. King, though a prolific agent for social change, understood that we should reckon with the truth that any nation not guided by a strict moral code cannot stand long. King did not use his influence to promote his denominational preference but understood as well as the forefathers of this nation that the past, present, and future of this great nation lies in its submission to the governing principals as prescribed by the early puritan settlers. The very character of God was communicated to Moses some 4000 years ago. It is the principals of the ancient Decalogue known as the Ten Commandments woven into the fabric of this nation that still provide foundation in America.

Still stitched in the very currency we exchange is the now controversial phrase “In God we trust”. Without these principals exalted there becomes an abundance of every crooked and perverse thing. I submit to you today as did Dr. King did over 50 years ago, that a code of success that is never translated from paper to practice is as null and void as a blank check written with insufficient funds to match. In essence, while this nation may one day desire to disassociate itself with its God, it was never Gods intention to disassociate Himself from her. Dr. King’s life of sacrifice and legacy of Christ centered justice will forever remind us of that great truth.

Liberty

​The fuel of the oppressed to make it yet another day lies in the hope of one day being free. Liberty was the theme that consistently drove Dr. King to continue when dogs were loosed in the streets during protest, and Molotov cocktails were thrown through his living room windows. Each demonstration of oppression fed his peaceful rebellion. I submit to you today that if we believe for one moment that Dr. King’s dream of liberty was exclusive for the people of African descent then we need to re-evaluate our understanding of his mission. Dr. King desired to have keys made to unlock every chain of oppression that had fettered any individual within the human race! Understanding that freedom is not free he sacrificed his time, talents, family, and eventually his own life to see that his proclamation of freedom become a reality.

Justice for All

​In his letter written while in the Birmingham jail Dr. King makes a statement that gives the reader clear picture into his political and social philosophy at the time. Now, one of his most quoted phrases, Dr. King wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Dr. King was unafraid to expose the injustice that affected him and countless others. A leader is often born out of a need. There was a definite need for reform in his era. I believe Dr. King was a successful leader because he was well acquainted with the griefs of those who followed him. He was unwilling to relent in his pursuit of fair treatment for all people.

While the majority of America pledged its allegiance to the ideals of the nation, Dr King and so many others pledged their allegiance to seeing those ideals become a reality. He was ever mindful of the mountains he had to climb, and received strength and motivation when he looked back at the valleys from whence he came.  Such should be our resolve. Such should be our motivation. The legacy of his writings, his service, and even his sacrifice, live on in the lives of every one of us.




“Give Us the Ballot”

*Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech “Give Us the Ballot – We Will Transform the South” delivered in front of the Lincoln Memorial during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on 17 May 1957, the third anniversary of the Supreme Court’s famous school desegregation decision.

Three years ago the Supreme Court of this nation rendered in simple, eloquent and unequivocal language a decision which will long be stenciled on the mental sheets of succeeding generations. For all men of good will, this May 17 decision came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of enforced segregation. It came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of distinguished people throughout the world who had dared only to dream of freedom. It came as a legal and sociological death blow to the old Plessy doctrine of “separate-but-equal.” It came as a reaffirmation of the good old American doctrine of freedom and equality for all people.

Unfortunately, this noble and sublime decision has not gone without opposition. This opposition has often risen to ominous proportions. Many states have risen. Up in open defiance. The legislative halls of the South ring loud with such words as “interposition” and “nullification.” Methods of defiance range from crippling economic reprisals to the tragic reign of violence and terror. All of these forces have conjoined to make for massive resistance.

But, even more, all types of conniving methods are still being used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters. The denial of this sacred right is a tragic betrayal of the highest mandates of our democratic traditions and it is democracy turned upside down.

So long as I do not firmly and irrevocably possess the right to vote I do not possess myself. I cannot make up my mind – it is made up for me. I cannot live as a democratic citizen, observing the laws I have helped to enact – I can only submit to the edict of others.

So our most urgent request to the president of the United States and every member of Congress is to give us the right to vote.

Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights.

Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an antilynching law; we will by the power of our vote write the law on the statute books of the southern states and bring an end to the dastardly acts of the hooded perpetrators of violence.

Give us the ballot and we will transform the salient misdeeds of blood-thirsty mobs into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens.

Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of good will, and send to the sacred halls of Congress men who will not sign a Southern Manifesto, because of their devotion to the manifesto of justice.

Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will “do justly and love mercy,” and we will place at the head of the southern states governors who have felt not only the tang of the human, but the glow of the divine.

Give us the ballot and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May 17, 1954.

In this junction of our nation’s history there is an urgent need for dedicated and courageous leadership. If we are to solve the problems ahead and make racial justice a reality, this leadership must be fourfold.

First, there is a need for a strong, aggressive leadership from the federal government. So far, only the judicial branch of the government has evinced this quality of leadership. If the executive and legislative branches of the government were as concerned about the protection of our citizenship rights as the federal courts have been, then the transition from a segregated to an integrated society would be infinitely smoother. But we so often look to Washington in vain for this concern.

In the midst of the tragic breakdown of law and order, the executive branch of the government is all too silent and apathetic. In the midst of the desperate need for civil rights legislation, the legislative branch of the government is all too stagnant and hypocritical.

This dearth of positive leadership from the federal government is not confined to one particular political party. Both parties have betrayed the cause of justice. The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating to the prejudices and undemocratic practices of the southern Dixiecrats. The Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing, reactionary northerners. These men so often have a high blood pressure of words and an anemia of deeds.

In the midst of these prevailing conditions, we come to Washington today pleading with the president and the members of Congress to provide a strong, moral and courageous leadership for a situation that cannot permanently be evaded. We come humbly to say to the men in the forefront of our government that the civil rights issue is not an ephemeral, evanescent domestic issue that can be kicked about by reactionary guardians of the status quo; it is rather an eternal moral issue which may well determine the destiny of our nation in the ideological struggle with communism. The hour is late. The clock of destiny is ticking out. We must act now, before it is too late.

A second area in which there is need for strong leadership is from the white northern liberals. There is a dire need today for a liberalism which is truly liberal. What we are witnessing today in so many northern communities is a sort of quasi liberalism which is based on the principle of looking sympathetically at all sides. It is a liberalism so bent on seeing all sides that it fails to become committed to either side. It is a liberalism that is so objectively analytical that it is not subjectively committed. It is a liberalism which is neither hot nor cold, but lukewarm.

We call for a liberalism from the North which will be thoroughly committed to the ideal of racial justice and will not be deterred by the propaganda and subtle words of those who say, “Slow up for a while; you are pushing too fast.”

A third area that we must look to far strong leadership is from the moderates of the white South. It is unfortunate, indeed, that at this time the leadership of the white South stems from the closed-minded reactionaries. These persons gain prominence and power by the dissemination of false ideas, and by deliberately appealing to the deepest hate responses within the human mind. It is my firm belief that this closed-minded, reactionary, recalcitrant group constitutes a numerical minority. There are in the white South more open-minded moderates than appear on the surface. These persons are silent today because of fear of social, political and economic reprisals. God grant that the white moderates of the South will rise up courageously, without fear, and take up the leadership in this tense period of transition.

I cannot close without stressing the urgent need for strong, courageous and intelligent leadership from the Negro community. We need leadership that is calm and yet positive. this is no day for the rabble-rouser, whether he be Negro or white. We must realize that we are grappling with such a complex problem there is no place for misguided emotionalism. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for the goal of freedom, but we must be sure that our hands are clean in the struggle. We must never struggle with falsehood, hate or malice. Let us never become bitter.

There is another warning signal. We talk a great deal about our rights, and rightly so. We proudly proclaim that three-fourths of the peoples of the world are colored. We have the privilege of noticing in our generation the great drama of freedom and independence as it unfolds in Asia and Africa. All of these things are in line with the unfolding work of providence.

But we must be sure that we accept them in the right spirit. We must not seek to use our emerging freedom and our growing power to do the same thing to the white minority that has been done to us for so many centuries. We must not become victimized with a psychology of victors. In our nation, under the guidance of the superb legal staff of the NAACP, we have been able, through the courts, to remove the legal basis of segregation. Every person of good will is profoundly indebted to the NAACP for its noble work. We must not, however, remain satisfied with a court “victory” over our white brothers.

We must respond to every decision with an understanding of those who have opposed us and with an appreciation of the difficult adjustments that the court orders pose for them.

We must act in such a way as to make possible a coming-together of white people and colored people on the basis of a real harmony of interest and understanding. We must seek an integration based on mutual respect.

I conclude by saying that each of us must keep faith in the future. Let us realize that as we struggle along, but God struggles with us. He is leading us out of a bewildering Egypt, through a bleak and desolate wilderness, toward a bright and glittering promised land. Let us go forth into the glorious future with the words of James Weldon Johnson resounding in our souls:

God of our weary years,                                                                                                                       God of our silent tears,                                                                                                                         Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;                                                                               Thou who has by thy might,                                                                                                                           Led us into the light,                                                                                                                                     Keep us forever in the path, we pray.                                                                                                            Lest our feet stray from the places, our God,                                                                                   Where we met thee.                                                                                                                                             Lest our hearts drunk with the wine of the world.                                                                                                            We forget thee;                                                                                                                                       Shadowed beneath thy hand, may we forever stand                                                                     True to our God, true to our native land.

 




The Starbucks Moment: Take a Second Look

May I offer you a puzzle that I would like you to experience?  Please take a moment and identify the confusion in the following story:

A father and his son, while driving cross country, end up in a terrible car accident. The father dies at the scene and the son, bloody and badly injured, is rushed to the hospital.  In the operating room, the surgeon looks at the boy and shouts, “I can’t operate on this boy. He is my son.”  Fifty to 75% of people have stumbled in finding the solution.   The solution, recounted in Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People (Delacorte, 2013), is this: the surgeon is the boy’s mother.

Snap Judgement

Blind spots, or implicit bias, or hidden bias is the tendency to make hair-trigger associations.  Our unconscious takes over, and from among those thousands of mental artifacts and images housed in our brain, we come to a snap judgment or evaluation of a different person. We are left wondering in a conscious moment, “Now why did I think that?” 

In the story above, the very word surgeon was associated with a male by the majority of readers.  This is because of the history of gender-association in the medical profession.  We could change just one word in the story. “The nurse looks at the boy and shouts, ‘I can’t operate on the boy, he’s my son!’” Then the dilemma would have been easily solved—but not for the right reason!

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Real-Time Application

Now, I offer you a second, more recent story—except this time it is altogether true.  On Tuesday, May 29, Starbucks closed more than 8,000 stores to educate its employees in the science of implicit bias. They explored those unconscious attitudes, perspectives, and assumptions often triggered when encountering the “other.” 

Bias is caused by overriding the sub-surface differences in favor of superficial, stereotypical evaluations. African American boys and African American college students and job applicants suffer explicit consequences due to implicit bias.

This decision by the Starbucks’ CEO arose from the April 12, 2018 arrest of two African-American men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson. The two men had been sitting in a Philadelphia Starbucks awaiting a visitor who was a part of a real-estate transaction.  The Starbucks’ employee assumed that two black men “hanging out” in the store, and not ordering a product, must be up to something nefarious.  Video of the arrest of the two gentlemen, filmed by another customer, and taking place over the protests of a white customer, triggered a worldwide conversation about race, prejudice, and of course, implicit bias.

How pervasive is implicit bias?  According to experts in research on implicit bias, implicit bias is resident in every person they tested but in varying degrees.  In-field testing shows that real-time bias continues, and is widespread. For instance, white job applicants get about 50 percent more call-backs than blacks holding the same qualifications. College professors are 26 percent more likely to respond to a student’s email when it is signed by Brad rather than Jaquan.  And, physicians recommend less pain medication for black patients than for white patients with the same injury was what we learned from the 2004 Institute of Medicine’s healthcare disparities research. 

How Martin Luther King, Jr. Addressed Bias

But implicit bias is not new.  One of the classic exposures of implicit bias came from the civil rights era.  Dr. Martin Luther King insightfully attacked implicit bias in his Letter from Birmingham Jail.   King was responding on April 16, 1963 to the “Christians-should-model-law-and-order” criticisms of southern white clergy against the Civil Rights Movement.  We did not have the language, then, but the indictment of bias is central to what he wrote:   

“You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham.  But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations.   I am sure that none of you want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.  It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro Community with no alternative.” [Emphasis supplied]

King skillfully called out the implicit bias of his colleagues by appealing to reason and justice.

Self-Check

How can we become aware of the implicit bias in each of us?  We can first begin the process by assessing personal attitudes and biases using the Harvard Implicit Associations Test at https://implicit.harvard.edu/.

Second, can we honestly acknowledge that all of us are prone to make snap decisions on surface appearances?  Please indulge my premise—each of us reflects implicit bias in varying degrees—whether gender bias, or racial bias, or class bias, or nationalistic bias, or cultural bias, or numerous others.  These biases are triggered by overriding the sub-surface differences among us, and losing individuality to a stereotypical association. Let me illustrate.

I shall never forget my first trip to Africa 30 years ago.  It was the trip of a lifetime.  I had desired to visit what we warm-heartedly called “the motherland.”  Accordingly, I was steeping myself in the art, culture, and writers of the continent.  I landed in Lagos, Nigeria but my clothes were mistakenly sent to Cairo, Egypt.  My host, seeing my challenging condition, arranged for me to receive some beautiful and colorful Nigerian garments to wear.  Then my host said to me, “Dr. Pollard, let’s go to town center in Lagos so that you can see the city.”  Dressed like the exquisite Nigerian, that’s exactly what we did.

Sub-Surface

While strolling downtown, a little Nigerian street child of no more than six or seven years-old, and his little brother (I assume) approached me. With his upturned palm he began speaking in Yoruba (a tribal language of western Nigeria).  I played along by nodding as if I understood his attempts to get me to give him a donation.  After about two minutes of entertaining his best and most animated appeals, I finally said to him, “I am so sorry, but I don’t understand a word you are saying.”  Then the strangest thing happened.  At the sound of my American accent, a smile crawled across his face as he turned to his little companion and began speaking in perfect English. Giggling, he said to his little companion, “Hurry, hurry!  Come over here and meet the black white man.”

I expected that I would be welcomed as a son of the soil, and of course, I was accepted during my three-week stay.  However, in that moment, the assumptions of my African-ness were restructured by the reality of a small boy’s insight. My little visitor’s quick and comical analysis revealed a profound insight. Surface appearances can trigger responses that confuse situations.  People may look alike, but subsurface differences make the difference. 

Can we honestly acknowledge that all of us are prone to make snap decisions on surface appearances?

See Me

And that’s the third point—let’s do the critical second look at our assumptions about others. Let us view them through critical lenses of their individual story and experiences.  That requires that we get to know them and to dialogue with them. And to “see” them.

So, let’s go back to Starbucks.  The tendency to associate a black male with “trouble,” “criminality,” and/or “social deviance” is unfortunate, but all too common in our society.  In fact, from their earliest years, black boys suffer from implicit bias. According to an April 5, 2018 article by Valerie Strauss published in The Washington Post, “Implicit racial bias causes black boys to be disciplined at school more than whites, federal report finds.”  As early as kindergarten, black boys suffer disproportionately from bias.  So it’s no surprise that Nelson and Robinson were singled out on that April day.  What is surprising is the comprehensiveness of Starbucks response. My prayer is for this Starbucks moment to be transforming for our society!

 

 




Golden Opportunity and the Golden Anniversary

I missed my chance to be the change I want to see this week. Change, however, is more than chance.

This week saw the death of Winnie Mandela, and the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. There was no shortage of commemoration or memorialization. But, what happened to me on Sunday, shifted my consciousness and course for the rest of the week, and caused me to contemplate the golden opportunity in this Golden Anniversary.

I stood at the check-out line on Sunday, yes Easter, or as I prefer to call it: Resurrection Sunday. While shopping, I noted how far we’ve come since I was a child when Easter was a holy day and the stores were closed, gas stations shuttered, and the roads were clear. Though Sabbath keepers who celebrated the day before, or perhaps attended a sunrise service that morning, we learned to dress appropriately and conduct ourselves with requisite respect for a day recognized as the day Christ rose from the grave.

In was in that Spirit that I noticed the woman behind me in line. She was petite, a senior, and white. Her faded print dress once was rich with hues in blues, greens and purples. Her crocheted turquoise shrug and matching fingerless gloves, let me know she had been somewhere special.

“Did you have a good day today?” I asked her, smiling. “Yes, I went to church this morning. I’m an usher, and usually have to wear black, but today we could wear anything we wanted.”

She was alert and friendly. On her game. I could see why she is an usher.   Fun to talk to. Her keys were on a tattered “US Army” lanyard around her wrist. My eyes flitted over the items she placed on the conveyor belt—a stalk of broccoli, a couple of lemons and tomatoes, the package of chocolate meal replacement drinks and a Red Bull.

“That’s my one sin,” she said, pointing to the energy drink.

“Wooo, don’t hurt yourself,” I said jokingly. She laughed with me, and it was time for us to move on. Just then, she put her hand on my shoulder and told the cashier, “My granddaughter here is going to pay for mine.”

My eyes must have glazed over. Did this woman in Huntsville, Alabama just call me her granddaughter? Funny. Wow, I thought. I laughed and walked away.
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 Missed Opportunities and Shirked Responsibilities

The Spirit pricked my conscience ever so slightly. But, I sadly confess, I was too shocked, too preoccupied, too selfish, and too disconnected to pay for her. It certainly wasn’t too much for me. I just wasn’t plugged in, and my natural inclination was to keep walking. Oh, but while He prodded gently there, in grace, He came back to arrest my sensibilities, full force.

While I didn’t care that she was little, old, or white, and I didn’t care about the $20 it would have cost me, the fact that I did not recognize the opportunity to extend a little grace, was a substantial mistake. It was not willful, but inadvertent.  And, that is what haunts.

Well done? When selfishness becomes our reflex, meditation upon the suffering, sacrifice and resurrection of Christ enables His servants to change.

In an extensive discourse about the end times Jesus tried to explain to His disciples, the signs of the end, in Matthew 24. He discussed the preparation needed to make it through this life to the end (Matthew 25), in which the “wise virgins” prepared by having enough oil to last the night—the oil being interpreted to mean the Holy Spirit to guide us through to the end. Then, in His parable of the talents, Jesus taught His people to work until He return, using whatever means and ability they had. He ended by painting a word picture of the judgment, in which He decides who comes with Him, and who suffers destruction that will last forever.

To the right, He motioned for His blessed people. “Come with me, because when I was hungry, and poor and was in prison, you fed me, clothed me, and visited Me.

“Oh?” the blessed must smile in surprise, “we didn’t know that was You, Jesus! That’s just what we do!”

“Because you did that to the least of these, you did it to Me. Enter!”

Their pattern had been ingrained; it was the substance of their characters, and by then, an unnatural tendency in a world so selfishly inclined. (See Matthew 25:34-40 instead of my personal paraphrase.)

But, it is with the same sense of surprise that the wicked, the ones bound for destruction, wonder, “Where were You, Jesus? Certainly, our oversight was inadvertent.”

“I was right there, the person you didn’t help, didn’t feed, didn’t love on, didn’t visit, didn’t care for, the one you cursed, and disrespected. You didn’t help them; thus, you didn’t help Me” (See Matthew 25:41-46).

Like a scene straight out of “Maury” or “Jerry Springer”—or a “Housewives” or any Tyler Perry film—they get hot, curse, and fight. Church wigs and pocket squares flying, the fire of everlasting destruction licks at their heels.

As the angels usher them through the door on the left, they scream, “Wait! We never even saw You!

Reflexive and Automatic

We draw closer to that day. We have the witness of God’s Word to remind us, and the prophetic voices behind us. In the King celebration we celebrated the life of one whose aims and energies advocated for the basic personhood of everyone. We also learned the results of an autopsy that confirmed that police resorted to shooting another unarmed man, in the back. A few days later, in a different city, another shooting resulted in the death of a mentally ill black man who wielded a plumbing fixture.

This pattern, while not readily acknowledged as such, certainly is reflexive and automatic. How much of our lifestyle and collective practice comport to our reflexive and automatic, selfish inclinations? I think we can find the answers as we examine everything from immigration, taxation, militarization and nationalism, to mass incarceration, and church participation.

We may revisit Memphis and that fateful day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. took a bullet for the oppressed and disrespected, but this Golden Anniversary must not overshadow the golden opportunity to change.