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.