Martin Luther King jr.

Last spring I was with one of my favorite authors and theologians, Skye Jethani. During our visit, he retold a Martin Luther King Jr. story that impacted me greatly. Rather than butcher the eloquent words of his conversation with our small group, it will be more fitting to quote directly from a blog post by Skye where he told the same story.

In 1956, Martin Luther King Jr. was a young Baptist minister in Montgomery, Alabama. After Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus, King found himself leading a bus boycott against the racist policies of the city. He lived under constant threat to his life. On Jan 27, he was woken in the middle of the night by a phone call. The voice said that if he wasn’t out of town in three days they were going to kill his family. King couldn’t go back to sleep. With his wife and infant daughter in the next room, he made himself a cup of coffee and sat in the kitchen trying to figure out how to escape Montgomery. He later admitted that he was “scared to death” and “paralyzed by fear.” Like Thomas Aquinas’ city under siege, fear had caused King to turn inward in a posture of self-protection. But then something happened, something unexpected. King felt something stirring within him–an inner voice that spoke to him. It said, “Stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth, and lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world. ”The voice promised “never to leave me, never to leave me alone. No, never alone. He promised to never leave me, never, to leave me alone.” That night King experienced the presence of Christ and it changed the way he saw the world. It took away his fear. He saw with new eyes. He saw a God-with-us world. After that encounter in his kitchen with God, he said, “I can stand up without fear. I can face anything.” His new view of the world was about to be tested. Four nights later he was speaking at a rally when someone ran in and shouted that King’s home had just been bombed—with his wife and daughter inside. He ran out to find an angry mob assembled in front of his still burning home. His family was ok, but the mob of angry African-Americans, with guns and bats, were ready to riot. King stood up on his still smoldering porch and addressed the crowd. He said:
“He who lives by the sword shall die by the sword. I want you to love your enemies. Be good to them. Love them and let them know you love them. For we are doing what is right. We are doing what is just. And God is with us.”
The mob put down their guns and bats, and starting singing a hymn–”Amazing Grace.” Historians look back at that night as the turning point in the civil rights movement. It was the night that nonviolence and love were put into practice and it changed our nation. I think they’re wrong. The real turning point in the civil rights movement was four nights earlier in King’s kitchen when he encountered Christ and had his vision of the world transformed. God gave him new eyes–eyes to see not a dangerous world in which our activism must be driven by fear and self-interest, but a God-with-us world in which we are freed from fear, freed to serve, freed to love even those who seek our harm.

Darkness simply cannot get rid of darkness. Only light can. In honor of Martin Luther King Jr., challenge the way you see the world and solutions to the real problems we face today. There is no doubt that we are all different – even more than a snowflake, each of us is a unique creation, one in a few billion! Different. But not better. Each of God’s children carry infinite value and let us choose to see through a lens of love, compassion, and light, not hate, self-interest, and shadows. Find someone who is different from you and connect. And if you have past wounds from trauma or abuse (that’s probably all of us!), find the courage to let down walls, fear, and dark expectations and finally trust again. Come into the light.

For the sake of others,
Brent Fessler
University President