Monday, January 19, 2009

Great Expectations

This country and all of its citizens owe an inestimable debt to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Americans of every race, gender, ethnicity, creed, sexual orientation and ability have benefited from his life’s work. His message of love, forgiveness and non-violence revolutionized the American socio-political landscape and inspired millions.

Yet on this day of his commemoration, I also want to remember his humanity. Dr. King was a man, plain and simple, and as a man, he made mistakes and experienced failures. Moreover, his accomplishments did not occur in a vacuum, for he was not the only one marching, preaching or sitting-in.

I say this not to denigrate his importance, but to drive home the essential truths that
(1) each of us has the potential to stand up for truth and justice and act non-violently out of love and service to make the world a better place; and
(2) that none of us can accomplish great things all by ourselves.

On the eve of what cannot be denied as a shining moment in American history, the inauguration of this country’s first African American President, it is of paramount importance that we hold these truths before us. For all that Barack Obama may represent, for all he may inspire, for all his potential, he is still a man. He will make mistakes. He will experience failures.

Those who are caught up in the adulation around his historic ascendancy will set themselves up for bitter disappointment. Those who oppose him will take every opportunity to expose and exploit the slightest misstep in an effort to sabotage any good he attempts. Both groups have the potential to draw the focus away from the real work that will have to be done by all of us if this presidential administration is to succeed in truly benefiting this country and its citizens.

Dr. King, I believe, was fully aware of his humanity. As a Christian pastor, he would have had to know that he, himself, was not God. We have to know that for all he accomplished, he did not eradicate racism in this country. He was unable, for all his efforts, to completely heal the wounds still festering 100 years after the end of slavery. Forty years after hatred and fear caused someone to murder him, these wounds still ooze. At the same time, his work and his message were not buried with his body. Thousands of individuals carried on his ideas and beliefs and, to this day, we remember and honor his ideals.

Mr. Obama, I hope, is also aware of his humanity. He knows it will take heroic efforts—far beyond human capability—to address our factiousness and unite us in a movement toward greater peace and justice in this country and beyond. We have to know that he can’t do it alone. Our work didn’t end when we cast our ballot. The real work—everyone’s work!—starts tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. I love your articulation of the seeming dichotomy that each of us has the potential to make the world better, and yet that none of us can accomplish great things alone. I as an individual really do have great power (for better or worse), but at the same time I am one tiny person and can't change the world solo - I need others. So, I get to do what I can, use my "power" in positive ways, and let myself be led to work with others as I am supposed to. Cool. :)