THINKING FOR OURSELVES
By Shea Howell
Michigan Citizen, Jan. 25- 31, 2009
Each scene from Washington D.C. this week was surrounded by ghosts. The crowds on the mall, shivering with cold and excitement, evoked those who stood there nearly half a century ago on a hot August day to hear the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr call for the fulfillment of the American promise. The spirits of those who lived in bondage, building the places to house a government that called them property, seemed to be at long last finding rest. Everywhere, on placards, T-shirts and media images, Dr. King and President Obama were linked. The coincidence of the inauguration of our first African American President with the nation's celebration of the of Dr. King'ss 80th birthday made such connections natural.
Amidst the amazing crowds, music and speeches, one of the most important moments in the Inaugural Week was a quiet one last Sunday morning when Barack Obama visited Arlington National Cemetery and placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He did not make a speech but stood listening to Taps. I hope at that moment he felt some of Dr. King's presence.
The core of Dr. King's message to us is that we must turn away from violence. King knew that violence ends in only one place. Graveyards claim the victims and the victors.
As Barack Obama stood in Arlington, Israeli troops began their pull out from Gaza. They left behind 1300 dead people amidst the rubble of homes, universities, mosques and dreams. In Iraq suicide bombers struck again, killing political leaders and casual passersby. In Afghanistan the bombing intensified.
Into this world, President Obama has the rare opportunity to make a new beginning and turn the world away from violence. Writing in 1958, Dr. King said, "Along the way of life, someone must have enough sense and morality to cut off the chain of hate by projecting the ethics of love into the center of our lives."
King explained that the kind of love he is talking about is Agape, love "seeking to preserve and create community. It is the insistence on community even when one seeks to break it. Agape is a willingness to sacrifice in the interest of mutuality. Agape is a willingness to go to any length to restore community."
King believed that only by mending our broken communities can we transform ourselves. He said "He who works against community is working against the whole of creation. Therefore if I respond to hate with a reciprocal hate I do nothing but intensify the cleavage in broken community. I can only close the gap in broken community by meeting hate with love. If I meet hate with hate, I become depersonalized, because creation is so designed that my personality can only be fulfilled in the context of community."
The year before he was murdered, Dr. King said, "Today there is no longer a choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either non-violence or non-existence. I feel that we've got to look at this total thing anew and recognize that we must live together. That the whole world now it is one--not only geographically but it has to become one in terms of brotherly concern. Whether we live in America or Asia or Africa we are all tied in a single garment of destiny and whatever effects one directly, effects one in-directly."
Today Barack Obama has the opportunity to move the world away from violence and toward peace.
We have spent nearly a decade learning that violence abroad not only destroys what we want to achieve in the community of nations, but distorts our own souls and seeps into all our relations. Today we have the opportunity to make a different choice, toward life.