He Should Know

I couldn’t go to Easter church. My daughter had the vomits night before, so I stayed home that morning to make sure she was okay.

She was a subdued little one, so I went about my business that glorious sunshiny morning listening to my headphones. I’d been listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s recorded sermons.

From decades past, Martin Luther King preached the word.

His audience was mostly African American people, and in one of these sermons he was recounting things that people would say about African Americans. Judgments and slanders.

He recounted things that sounded to me like they might as well be ancient history. My reaction was “Really? People said that?” And not only did they say that, but in the 1960s apparently, people seemed to have believed it about themselves.

And as I listened to what felt like legends from the mists of time, I had a feeling that this was familiar.

It was 1787 that America passed the 3/5ths compromise, saying that the slave population-African Americans and some native Americans–would count in the census as 3/5ths of a person for calculating representation in congress.

Not only not a whole person, just a technicality.

This is a degrading and horrible law. It was also forever ago. But it casts a long shadow.

I’m not African American, but as a woman, I have some historical baggage that can weigh me down too.

I remember reading about the chivalric ideal of womanhood. A woman should never quite say what she wants to a man, but to cleverly put him off: always coy, always witty and never a person of action.

That shadows my life to this day. I heard it from people last week, reprimanding me for speaking too plainly in a meeting, recommending a course of action.

King Arthur was a myth from centuries ago, but this pernicious weed is still trying to climb my leg and trip me up.

When Dr. Martin Luther King listed a number of stories and expectations society had for the people in his audience I felt it. Those particular ones weren’t mine, but I’ve got my own.

Fears of how other people see me, and shame for who I think I might be.

Any group has their battles. Every group has their secret shames. It’s those shames that make us turn on others to distract from our own disgrace.

What good does it do to talk about it? It’s not fun to remember. And a solution, if there is one, is not easy.

But Martin Luther King did not leave me there. He knew how to preach. He gave me an answer to this situation.

“Love is the only creative, redemptive, transformative power in the universe.”

That’s the sort of answer a preacher would give. Not very scientific. Love is not so easy to nail down. Maybe that is why it can be so big.

Martin Luther King got it done. His life shows that he is someone I want to listen to. I do not understand all of it, but I believe that he knows more than I do.

So I know what creation, redemption and transformation is. That’s what I would like to do with those weeds of judgment. And if love is the force that activates those three things, I am willing to spend time and effort promoting love within myself.

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