J. Marshall Jenkins

Author, Therapist, Spiritual Director

How I Will Celebrate the MLK Holiday


Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (MLK)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God (Matthew 5:9).

On Monday, we remember Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in a holiday for everyone, even the privileged. For King made it quite clear that nonviolent resistance frees not only the oppressed but the oppressor. Descended from slave owners, from their children who later kept African-Americans in segregated servitude, and living today with privilege assigned me for my race and gender, how shall I celebrate?

Truly celebrating a holiday entails living the truth of the occasion. On Thanksgiving, turkey is optional. I want to be grateful. On Christmas, presents are optional. I want to be hopeful. On the Fourth of July, fireworks are, well, annoying. I want to savor freedom.

On MLK day then, the day off is optional. I want to practice nonviolence. I want to join in the peacemaking that not only liberated nonwhite races but liberated me. Liberated from what?

Thanks to MLK and the thousands who marched with him, thanks to Gandhi and the teeming masses who stood their ground with him, and thanks to Jesus and the generations of just enough people who focused more on following him than on claiming religion’s perks, I am free — or more precisely, being freed — of a false identity that would suffocate my soul. I am free of the need to find my dignity in standing over another. I am free of the loneliness of domination. I am free to accept God’s gracious invitation to the banquet to which the Host welcomes all and shames none.

In gratitude for this freedom, how shall I practice it? How shall I live nonviolently from a position of privilege? First, I shall give my fear a nod but refuse to let it control me. Fear lies at the heart of domination and violence, and nothing takes more faith and courage than nonviolence. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you,” said Christ. “I do not give as the world gives,” the world that rewards domination, that threatens the dominated. “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Do not be afraid” (John 14:27).

Next, I shall affirm with my choices and actions large and small that love overcomes death and anything else I fear. I will trust with MLK that whatever suffering love brings is better than any happiness hate renders, and whatever joy love brings profits more than any price paid.

Finally, I will offer what a disciple of MLK, Rev. William Barber, calls, “necessary interruptions,” refusals to participate in put-downs of the less privileged, interjections of uncomfortable questions in the board room of the status quo, displays of solidarity with my Savior and others with no place to lay their heads. And in doing so, I will indiscriminately extend invitations to the banquet to which the Host welcomes all and shames none.

J. Marshall Jenkins

About J. Marshall Jenkins

J. Marshall Jenkins is an author, psychotherapist, teacher, and spiritual director. For several years he has been writing on the Beatitudes for people in emotional pain, publishing biweekly here on his Beatitudes Blog at http://www.jmarshalljenkins.com. His newest book, Blessed at the Broken Places: Reclaiming Faith and Hope with the Beatitudes, is now available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.


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14 Replies

  1. Good and healthy reflection, Marshall, that offers a wise counter-cultural perspective.

    1. Many thanks, George. I’m trying to practice what I preach today!

  2. Cinda McGuinn

    Marshall, this post brought tears to my eyes. Such wisdom.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      Thanks, Cinda. You live the wisdom of King with a rare combination of courage and charm.

    1. Yes, my read on MLK and Gandhi is that the inner and outer work are inseparable.

  3. I love the phrase “welcomes all shames none.” I was impressed to begin MLK day by reading his letter from the Birmingam jail, was moved and blessed.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      What an excellent way to start MLK Day! As I reflect on the Beatitude, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” I often think of that letter. especially his words on preferring not a “negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice.”

  4. Blessed are the peacemakers, indeed. I love this line: “Fear lies at the heart of domination and violence, and nothing takes more faith and courage than nonviolence.”

    1. That point, so clear in the teachings of the two men whose nonviolent leadership led to more positive change than any violent leaders have, is well worth remembering as so few question violent responses to violence in our fearful era.

  5. Cornelia Gamble

    I shall always remember walking into the still active church where the little Sunday School girls were murdered. That living experience of faith meant more than any words could ever mean.

    1. J. Marshall Jenkins

      My goodness, that must have been powerful. What a sacred space!

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