Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Lutheran Seminarian @ the MLK Memorial

I've had an amazing opportunity this January break to check out a bunch of things I otherwise wouldn't have had time to.  Wired Beans Cafe and the LTSP archives were definitely some amazing discoveries, but my most profound experience over the last couple weeks was experiencing the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington, DC.  Thanks to some of my old fraternity brothers I had free lodging in the district, so I figured MLK Day would be great opportunity to check out the new memorial.  Returning to DC is always sort of a pilgrimage for me, and this time was no exception.

After a great night visiting with friends from Camp Calumet the night before, I woke up at a friend's place on Capitol Hill and decided to walk to the memorial since it was a pretty warm day out.  I even had the opportunity to check out the Smithsonian's Botanical Garden on the way. Eventually after walking down the national mall and past the empty reflecting pool, I was able to find the memorial by the huge crowds around the shore of the DC's tidal basin.  It was definitely a perfect space for MLK surrounded by the cherry trees, and the MLK sculpture itself gazes out over the water (perhaps symbolically) towards the Jefferson memorial.

While I didn't think the central sculpture was particularly amazing, many of the quotes around the rest of the memorial were extremely thought provoking, especially "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, quality and freedom for their spirit."  All to often us Lutherans think about advocacy and social justice as important but limited by our belief that we cannot create an ideal world.  While we indeed cannot make things absolutely perfect in this world due to our sinful natures, we're saints too and thus can greatly improve from its current state.  The basic goals MLK set forth in the above quote are not only something we should strive for but can in fact attain with God's help.

My other favorite part of the memorial was the other people there visiting.  There were park rangers, some Occupiers but also a large number of families, both black and white.  I overheard one young mother telling her child about civil rights, comparing Dr. King to Moses in the Bible.  A few folks, one who told me he personally knew MLK, were quite emotional, with one even crying that the dream had not yet been met.  I don't love the central sculpture itself, but I do greatly appreciate that it looks unfinished, because Dr. King's dream has indeed yet to be fulfilled... we are not finished reaching the dream.  In this regard, it was helpful to read President Obama's interpretation of the controversial quote on one side of the memorial, which reads "I was a drum major for justice, peace and righteousness."  President Obama points out that interpreted in the context of the whole speech, the quote is a call to service, stating that we can all become drum majors for justice.  In a time when some states are trying to once again restrict voting rights, as folks of all backgrounds are crying out for jobs, and as elderly folks are refused foodstamps in Pennsylvania, we need those drum majors for justice more than ever.

God's peace,

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