I saw this quote and this picture floating around on Twitter and Instagram last Monday, which was the day of formal recognition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Every year when people are led to commemorate a special figure in history I am filled with frustration and dismay. MLK's national holiday is no different. I am reminded of how his legacy and his mission have been romanticized and co-opted by mainstream American culture and thought. Quotes from his most prominent and celebrated speeches are posted on Twitter, in Facebook statuses, and turned into memes. These quotes usually contain themes of love, peace, and equality. A commonality within these quotes is the ability to produce a warm feeling inside the millions of people who will read them. While they are a good representation of themes that were present within his movement, there always seems to be a lack of the essential criticisms King made against American society.
It is no secret that King is loved now more than he ever was while alive. Why is this true? Is it the result of a competing ideology admitting fault after an honest reflection of past events? Or, is it the result of a revisionist history that remembers King as a beloved figure that stood on the principles of non-violence in such a way that was never a threat to core American values?
Dr. King was quoted as saying, "A man of conscious can never be a consensus leader." This has been true throughout history. The prophets in the Bible and Jesus Christ himself are great examples of this. At the time of his death, MLK had an approval rating of 30%. How much of his ideology and theology would we actually adhere to today?
In a sea of misappropriation, the picture from above stood out to me. First, because of the amount of times I came across it on various social networks. Second, because no one attempted to offer an explanation of why they agreed that the question asked was persistent and urgent. It must be true if it resonated with so many people.
As Christians we are called to service and we are called to community. In 1 Peter 4:10 the author writes, "As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace." Galatians 5:13-14 states, "For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"
The quote by Dr. King speaks to what it means to be a Christian and also what it means to share in this experience we call life. It is a question I think about a lot in my attempt to be less indulged in my own personal ambitions and to be more concerned with how I can help my family, my community, and ultimately every human being alive.
So, what are you doing to help others? This is not an indictment of anyone's character, rather a genuine curiosity to learn about some of the wonderful work that people are doing in the world. Please share below in the comment section.