Most of the time I hate graffiti. It defaces property and reminds me of gangs marking their territory. But, the other day, my husband and I were out walking and we passed a large cement block that had a message sprawled across it: CANCEL FEAR. Surprised, I thought, “Well, this is actually something incredibly helpful for this moment in which we’re living. (See picture below)
And I remembered Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. whose life we’re celebrating today. I can only imagine the great trepidation he and his followers must have felt walking straight into the crowds full of sweaty clenched fists, high flying billy clubs, stretched hoses spewing out stinging daggers, and the shouts, those shouts, all wrapped around, infusing, and punctuating that crowing jewel of all insults . . . nigger.
Still, he and his followers walked. And later he would even refer to them, those very ones who aimed fists, billy clubs, hoses and insults, as his white brothers.
As an interfaith minister, I’ve long championed the path of inter–spiritual, inter–cultural, dialogue and communication. From the To Hear How Others Pray series fifteen years ago co–sponsored with the Souhegan Valley and Nashua Interfaith Councils to the Under One Sky Interfaith Peace Walks of 2016 and 2017, sponsored by the Souhegan Valley Interfaith Council, to my TEDx talk of 2018 stressing how we can find unity in diversity one encounter at a time. Over the years, my ministry has centered around galvanizing people for collaboration—particularly with those with whom we may feel tempted to label as the other.
However, I believe this moment is calling for a different response—very similar to the time of Dr. King. Sadly, the path of collaboration only works when both others (yes, we’re all the other to someone) are wanting and willing to sit together to find common ground. But, just like the angry white mobs that accosted Dr. King and his followers, those today who are exhibiting rage, hatred and terror in the name of certain political ideologies are also clearly not interested in the path of collaboration. And, as a result, our very democracy now hangs dangling from a noose, each moment losing breath and strength to kick.
So, what are we to do? I propose we must come together with those of similar minds to explore ways we can fight for the America we want for ourselves and, more importantly, for our children—as opposed to simply succumbing to fighting against the other. This is key for if we fall into fighting against we become no different from those with whom we would resist. Dr. King modeled this great ideal as he marshalled the forces of love for his fellow man, through non–violent action, to confront a tyranny of hate. It would serve us well to take note for it was only in this way that he was able to describe the others as his brothers—assuming we too would desire to aim so high.
Yet, when fear reins, many recall his untimely demise. Yes. But I believe this very moment is also asking each of us, “What are you willing to die for?”
Overplayed? I don’t think so. Consider all the brave men and women who face death every day: our military service men and women, all the first responders, our police force, the health care workers who show up every day to care for the sick and dying in the middle of this pandemic. Every day, so many, not–so–ordinary people just like you and me live the answer to, “What are you willing to die for?”
And, so can we.
Let’s never lose hope or site of the incredible healing that can occur when those of differing viewpoints and beliefs are willing to come together and truly listen with open minds and hearts for the sake of cultivating greater understanding and awareness. But, when such collaboration eludes us, as it did in Dr. King’s time, let’s rise to follow his example. Let’s fight for the forces of love to confront, today, the growing tyranny threatening the welfare of all our people.
It’s our turn. I know together we can restore the soul of our great nation and re–enliven the ideals still burning in that torch held high by our great lady, the Statue of Liberty. So, when our grandchildren ask, “What did you do?” We can answer, “I stood tall and did what I could. And, even though I often had great trepidation, I still worked hard to cancel fear . . .
So love could rein.