Last Sunday afternoon I made it a priority and attended the 31st annual Martin Luther King Jr. worship service at Zion AME Church on South Washington Street. It means something to me to “walk the talk” that black lives really do matter. It was good to be welcomed, not just as a guest, but as part of the family. It was also good to see many familiar faces from other churches there.
After the rousing service, I had the opportunity to share food and fellowship with people who don’t look like me and don’t worship like I usually do. Yet we all share a deep respect for Rev. Dr. King and we are all committed to the work of justice. Dr. King was a well-educated man who could deliver an eloquent speech, but he was — first and foremost — a Baptist preacher and based all his sermons on a deep understanding of human nature and morality. Like the prophets of old and new voices rising today, he called us to be true to what we say we believe, and true to who we say we are.
King had an inspiring vision, one he described in his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, of a beloved community. For him, and for many of us endeavoring for the same, the beloved community is a realistic, achievable goal that can be attained through the power of love and nonviolence — through justice and the building of relationships. In a beloved community, poverty, hunger and homelessness are not tolerated because human decency will not allow them. Racism and all forms of bigotry and prejudice are replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of humanity, the faith that we are all created in the image of God.
The theme of this year’s MLK worship service pointed out what is required: the Strength to Love All. King knew the work of justice is challenging. His first principle of nonviolence was that it is a way of life for courageous people. It is active nonviolent resistance to evil. It is aggressive spiritually, mentally and emotionally. Modern scholars agree: Brené Brown, of TED Talk fame, affirms that it takes strength and courage to show love. Love makes us vulnerable, yet vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability and love are the source of authenticity, creativity, innovation and compassion, the cornerstones of a beloved community.
I believe with all my heart that this vision is worth working for and is the will of God for us all. And I’m not alone. NPR’s All Things Considered reported on the thousands of people across the country who volunteered their time and talent on their day off to offer community service. Such selfless efforts to serve others, to get to know our neighbors, make our communities better places, and sanctify the national holiday, making it a holy day.
As I mentioned, there are new voices rising today, speaking up against systemic injustice, calling us to live true to what we say we believe and who we say we are. Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, and Ta-Nehisi Coates, writer, journalist and educator, are two I encourage you to hear.
Get to know your neighbors. Jesus said the first commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. How can you love your neighbors when you don’t know them? The prophet Micah asks: “What does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Don’t wait for Martin Luther King Jr. Sunday next year. There are many other opportunities throughout the year to volunteer, to serve and to make our hometown, Delaware, a more beloved community. It’s a dream worth striving for.