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The day I stopped to listen (MLK Day)

The day I stopped to listen (MLK Day)

Martin Luther King Jr. day is one of those holidays that I always forget about. It seems to sneak up on me every year, and it passes by with little fanfare. This year as I sat at home with little to do, I decided to finally read Dr. King’s famous speech in its entirety. I was surprised to find how few of the battle lines have moved in the past 55 years. We still are dealing with issues of prejudice, bias, and hate today. Yet it seems like the weapons of our wars have changed drastically in the past few years. Today, I want to take a step back and look at how we fight. Are our actions leading us further into the society that Dr. King spoke of in his dream, or are we drifting out into the sea of injustice?

The day I met a feminist

A little less than a year ago, Jessica and I were out shopping at the Mall of America. Jessica decided to brave the crowds at the Bath and Body Works semi-annual sale to get some scents. We were separated by the crowds, and I began to wander the store looking for her. As I rounded a display table, I found myself in the path of a woman in her forties. She set her face in a scowl as she strode forcefully through the store. Her eyes flashed with anger, as if she were ready to challenge anyone there to a fight at a moment’s notice. I immediately dropped my gaze and stepped to the side (as did everyone else in her path). As she passed by, I noticed a button on her lapel. It read “This is what a feminist looks like.”

In the days following that split-second encounter, I looked back and wondered if the woman’s statement was really true. Is there a way that we can fight for freedom and equality without becoming wearied veterans? Is there a way to preserve my neighbor’s countenance even if we find ourselves on the opposite sides of a debate? Two months after my encounter, “Pride Day” rolled around. My Facebook feed filled up with angry, hateful, and ignorant comments from both sides of a modern debate. As I scrolled through the mutual hate and ignorance, I discovered the root of the problem.

Are we fighting for equality or superiority?

In every debate since history began, the world has been divided into “us” and “them.” But this attitude will never bring us into true equality. As soon as I divide the world into two groups, I lose the ability to set “them” on the same level as “us.” If the issue is about one of two groups gaining power, then I cannot honestly desire to see “us” enter the minority. Many of the debates I see today begin by drawing the battle lines and dividing us into factions. But “us” and “them” debates  will never bring change, save by violence or intimidation. If I want to see the chasms in our nation healed, it is up to me to stop placing “them” in a category and start treating everyone like my neighbor. (see Luke 10:25–29)

2000 years ago, God willingly gave up His power and majesty when He came to this world for our sake. He was the only person in human history to truly deserve a position at the top of Earth’s society. Jesus didn’t take what was rightfully His. Instead, He “humbled himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:8) When Jesus gave Himself for us, He started a new movement: those in power willingly laying aside their positions for the betterment of their fellow man. If I can live like Christ through His power, I can begin to break down the barriers that exist in my life.

What this holiday has to teach me

As I read a little bit today about Dr. King and his efforts to bring equality to our nation, I learned a little bit about the opportunities I have to make a difference. In his speech, Dr. King called out the white people who joined the march for equality in his day: “many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny.”Jesus commissioned every one of us to stand with the poor and oppressed. This means that I have a responsibility to listen and to care.

The answers aren’t always easy. But healing begins when we are willing to stop and understand each other. I cannot find my worth in my worldly position, but from my place in God’s hand. Armed with this knowledge, I can honestly rejoice when my neighbor is exalted, even when they reach a position far above my own head. “No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) Today, I want to begin placing the needs of others before my own. Justice starts when I lay down my rights and fight for the rights of my neighbor as if they were my own.