Doctor King is dead … Long live the King

Yes, today, the 15th of January, is his birthday, and Doctor King is still dead.

Because we’re a nation of convenience, and not slaves to detail, we’ll “celebrate” his birth on the 20th.  Because that’s a Monday.  Because it’s more convenient to have a 3 day weekend than to take a break in the middle of the week.

And that’s the exact opposite of what Doctor Martin Luther King Junior was all about.  He wasn’t about taking anything easy.  He didn’t believe in taking short cuts, or doing something because it felt better that way.

Everything I’ve learned about the man says that he was a fighter; he fought against injustice every step, every day, in every way that he could.  His weapons were the most formidable: Christianity, non-violence, his mind, and the ultimate weapon, love.

I was still a child when he died, too young to see him as great.  His stature has only grown, but his words weren’t so easily accessible during my youth.  Recently, as I researched a book on hate, I came across a collection of his sermons entitled “strength to love.”

Perhaps you have read it already.  In which case you already know how stirring his words remain, how thoughtful his ideas, and how penetrating his passion.

If you haven’t, please rush out and find a copy.  I’ll quote a couple of short passage to give an idea as to what you’re missing. [1]

Let us consider, first, the need for a tough mind, characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgement.  The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false.  The tough-minded individual is astute and discerning.  He has a strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.”

But we must not stop with the cultivation of a tough mind.  The gospel also demands a tender heart.  Tough mindedness without tenderheartedness is cold and detached, leaving one’s life in a perpetual winter devoid of the warmth of spring and the gentle heat of summer.  What is more tragic than to see a person who has risen to the heights of tough mindedness but has at the same time sunk to the passionless depths of hardheartedness?

His words still resonate strongly, perhaps more strongly than ever.  For Doctor King, the struggles of the Cold War and skin-based segregation were the greatest evils imaginable.  Yet today, we have the creeping cancers of inequality of wealth, education, and desire for knowledge.  Dogma and diversion have replaced Ideals and Morality.  We have become complacent, drugged on our music and webby friends.

How would Doctor King fight the evils of today?  How would his tough mind and tender heart lead us through this latest tussle with evil?  I don’t know.  I am attempting to continue his work through writing like this, without measurable success.  He does warn against the evils that we see today, saying “A nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.” [2]  And it appears that we have softer minds than ever before.

So please, celebrate Doctor King’s birthday by honoring his memory; not only today, but as often as possible.  Yes, the King is dead; but Long Live the King!



[1]  These passages are from “strength to love” by Martin Luther King, Jr., published by Fortress Press in 2010.  The paragraphs quoted here are from pages 2 and 5, with each being the first paragraph leading sections 1 and 2 of his sermon.  The title of the sermon is “A tough mind and a tender heart” and not only serves to show what a wonderful writing this is, but could also be considered autobiographical.

[2]  Same book, same sermon, at the end of section 1.