JT and I took many classes together in seminary, and are good friends. He is one of those encouraging sorts of people who always have a smile and a "How you doing, darlin'?" for everyone.
In my last semester, one of the classes we were in examines the life and ministry of Martin Luther King, Jr.
For me, this is a rich history course. For JT, it is memories. He is a retired funeral director, getting his M. Div. for his own spiritual growth, and to strengthen his existing ministry. He is African-American, and he grew up in the South. He drank from labeled water fountains. He is a big man, tall and broad-shouldered, with dark skin. This dignified gentleman, a successful, generous businessman, lived, and lives, in a world that sees him as the bogeyman.
He and I both have deep beliefs about the power of love. For me, life has made this root of my theology easy. For him, it has made it a just-shy-of-impossible struggle.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. preached over and over about justice. But even more, he preached on love. He exhorted others to even love those who wanted to hurt you, wanted to bomb your house, wanted to kill your babies. Over and over, through his sermons, through his speeches, he counseled love. He knew that to cede the power of love was to lose part of yourself.
JT shows me how very hard this is. That to forgive others, others who have never even realized how wrong they were, is a herculean task. The stories of what was done to ancestors are passed down, generation to generation, in his family. There are no such stories in mine. We do not pass down what we are ashamed of.
Our professor, slightly younger than JT, grew up in the North and remembers being yanked away from a "white" water fountain when visiting family in the South. But he is more positive. We read the laws that were on the books in every state in the late 1950's. "Look at how things have changed!" Part of our grade is based on analyzing the success or failure of MLK's ministry.
After class, JT shakes his head. "Right is right, and wrong is wrong," he says. There are certain things, certain hurts, that are unforgivable.
Today, we will probably hear "I have a dream" and "mountaintop" and maybe even "arc of the universe." But to me, Rev. King is still speaking. Part of my spiritual practice lies in reading and studying his words. Words he wrote 50 years ago challenge, indict, and inspire me today. Every day for 2012, will be MLK day for me.
His ministry continues.