Today our country celebrates the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I can’t think of a better way to begin this historic week than by honoring Dr. King and his message of nonviolence. Our country has experienced heartbreaking violence and yet there is hope as we embark on the transition of power from one presidential administration to another. I imagine Martin Luther King weeping with us as we watched the horrific attack on our Capital January 6. I also picture him encouraged and excited that a woman of color, Kamala Harris, is about to be sworn in as the country’s first woman Vice President. I see Dr. King continuing to preach his message of nonviolence as we journey together as a country, this many years after he lived among us.
Those of us reading this have never, nor would we ever, think of responding to situations with violence, would we? We try to be peace-loving, kind, compassionate people. What can we take from Dr. King’s message of nonviolence and how can we apply it to our little lives here in the Treasure Valley? I’ve been giving it some thought and here is what I need to remember, from Dr. King’s message, moving forward.
I think I may need to be aware of dialing down my rhetoric. I get it. I get as wound up as anyone when I see injustice. It can feel so good to spew something on social media and get it out there so people know how I feel. (I want people to know how right I am!) But how can I be honest in my posts without putting people down and disparaging them? Social media can be so inflammatory. I need to be aware of how my words can either lift up, inflame, or disparage others, and choose them very carefully. Also, stepping away from gossip or spreading non-verifiable news is another way of not adding fuel to flame. Sr Joan Chittister, OSB often likes to start sentences with, “I see it differently…” In other words, the way we see things feels very right to us, but it may be the complete opposite for someone else. Recognizing that may help us to stop vilifying and blaming others, even as we disagree. St. Francis talked about setting down the “purse of our own opinions.” In my case, it’s more of a footlocker than a purse and it can become a heavy weapon when I hurl it at others. I want to choose a nonviolent approach in my speech and rhetoric.
Another way we can choose nonviolence is in how we treat others. We can demonstrate nonviolence by doing the exact opposite of violence: making an extra effort to smile at others behind our masks, expressing gratitude to others as they check out our groceries or deliver our online purchases. In our concern about not spreading germs, I’m afraid we have lost some of our social courtesies as well. We can still honor the presence of others by treating them kindly, with understanding and giving them the benefit of the doubt. I want to choose the opposite of violence in how I treat others. I hope to show gratitude, kindness and compassion…even as I do my best to keep others safe.
And, what about extending nonviolence to ourselves? We tend to be hardest on ourselves and can scrutinize ourselves mercilessly, especially during hard times. These times call for us to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt too. We need to nourish and care for our bodies, not just to keep from getting and spreading the virus, but to care for our physical, mental and emotional needs. Can we bundle up and take a walk in the sunshine? Can we call a friend to chat when we feel up against a wall of defeat? Can we turn off the news when it starts to chaff against our own wellbeing? I decided to return to an old habit friend, my “Silent Sunday.” Once a month I totally unplug for a Sunday—no phone, computer, TV—none of it. I was surprised I could actually stay away from the news that long, but I did, and I slept so much better and woke up Monday with a lovely sense of peace. For me, nonviolence means taking care of me, too.
Martin Luther King looked to Jesus as his model for love, peace and seeking nonviolent change. Jesus modeled compassion, healing, and an absence of bitterness and retribution. Jesus publicly forgave those who crucified him. Jesus said, “Peace be with you,” the first time he saw his friends after they scattered at his arrest. Jesus was all about changing lives and hearts with love. The lesson of Jesus, later echoed by Dr. King, was peaceful and nonviolent change; that is, true transformation from the inside out. And that, is the way of love. And finally, we need to remember a little turn of a phrase from author Anne Lamott, “Love bats last.” Love will win in the end, despite the craziness we see and hear now. Love bats last.
Gracious God, thank you for the life and lessons of Martin Luther King. We ask that our country can take his lesson of nonviolence through this historic week and beyond. Help us to set down the purses of our own opinions and see one another as your beloved children, for that is who we are. Amen.
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Heidi, thank you for this lovely post. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr has left us a beautiful and challenging legacy to live up to. I think it’s important for us to remember that while he was adamant about non-violence, he was disruptive to the normalization of injustice. I think the challenge to the church is finding ways to speak the truth in love without giving in to the temptation to water down the truth.