On a recent visit to see our granddaughter in Baltimore, Greta and I decided to take a day off from our time with our family to make a pilgrimage to the Martin Luther King, jr. statue in Washington, D.C. We made our way to the DC Metro station and took a train in to the city, and walked about a mile to see the new monument recently dedicated in memory and in homage to the life and the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Our first glimpse of the monument was from a distance, where the monumental stone from which the statue was carved was visible. As we walked closer, we realized the enormity of the statue. Towering 30 feet above us, carved as if pulled out of the granite by a sculptor’s skill and labor was the likeness of Dr. King. We had walked through a tall portal made of the same stone as the statue. Only upon reading the words on one side of the statue did I understand the full impact of what we had experienced. The words declared: “Out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.” Words to live by! Words to commit to! Words to remember each day of our lives! How many of us, in so many ways, experience challenge and failure, despair and hopelessness in our lives that is so grand and so monumental that it threatens to overcome us. Yet somehow, by the grace of God, a stone of hope comes in the form of a person or persons who can give us back our sense of optimism, and our vision of a better time and a better world.
In a semi-circle around the statue is a wall upon which has been emblazoned some of the gems that Dr. King spoke in his lifetime. They are moving testament to his heart and soul and his dedication to the ideals of justice and liberty for all persons: all persons made by God, who as God’s children should be heirs to the basic blessings of life. Dr. King said: “I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits.” Those words should strike a chord at the heart of each one of us. It should ring a familiar tone that resonates with who we are and what we do in our lives. But there should also be a dissonant tone to that ring because we have not yet achieved the lofty goals that Dr. King believed in. He left that to us to continue to nurture and to achieve by our commitment to the highest ideals in life. His dream is not yet a reality; we are called to help make it so through our lives upon this earth.
Other words that moved me: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” We have just celebrated Christmas in many churches with the reading from John that speaks about the darkness and the light. From the Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
I fear that we are entering a time when we may have forgotten the ultimate truth of the words of the Gospel and the words of Dr. King. If Jesus is the light of the world, and if we have really celebrated and worshiped the coming of God into the world in the form of the Messiah, we must also confess that the darkness still threatens the safety and security, the rights and the liberty, of many persons in many places on this earth in the form of racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia and many other fears. Our Christmas joy fades too quickly, and the world’s darkness persists. We must remember that we are the ones who must work to make this world bright with love because of our lives.
As we remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, jr., let’s remember his words as inspiration for our lives. My desire to make a pilgrimage to see this statue was borne out of a deep respect for a man who made a positive difference in the lives of so many. Even as a young person growing up far from the center of the civil rights movement, I was inspired by Dr. King's life. I hope that this monument and our honoring him will ensure that future generations will strive for peace and justice and equality in part because his legacy will live on.
Robert Hoshibata is Bishop of the Phoenix Area of The United Methodist Church and presides over the Desert Southwest Annual Conference. Hoshibata presided over the Oregon-Idaho Conference from 2004-2012 and his blog postings are here for reference.
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