On this day to honor Martin Luther King, Jr, I’d ask two things of you.
First, listen to his 20 minute “I Have a Dream” speech. ( My bet is, you haven’t listened in a while.) I find that if you read the words, it’s even more powerful. Do you hear the power in that message that says love is stronger than hate? Will you let his vision of what could be inspire you?
Secondly, think about your prejudice. Think about your fears. Ask yourself a few questions. What kind of person do I ignore, think less of, criticize? What kind of a person do I dismiss, prejudge?
It’s so easily to rail at others who are bigoted, close-minded, racist, xenophobic or prejudiced. It’s a little harder to recognize our own narrow-mindedness, isn’t it? ( And yes, I’m writing this to myself.)
Sadly, our country is awash in fear. We are afraid of people who pray to Allah, and some say this country cannot be for them, even though they suffer. (Somehow our religion based on charity and love seems not to apply.) We are afraid of women in headscarves. We are terrified of young, black-skinned boys wearing hoodies. And so, instead of dreaming about what the world could be if we work for change, we dream instead about keeping ourselves safe.
But such self- protection is neither productive nor pretty. There is a cost for safety. Yes, I can live in a gated community or buy myself an arsenal of weapons or surround myself with people who are identical to me, but I will live a life that is stale. I will not breathe the fresh air of truth or see the beauty of diversity in my self-contained castle/prison.
There are many legitimate evils in the world to be afraid of. ISIS may come someday inside the doors of my church. Someone with a gun might do me harm if I am on the streets of a ghetto instead of a suburb. I might get robbed. I might lose.
But withdrawal and retreat into a world of self protection is not a way forward. It will not fix what is wrong in the world.
So how does change come? It comes from people like my niece Jessa, who adopts a child with black skin. Some mothers are reluctant to let their daughters play together, but Jessa loves, forgives even them.
Change comes when instead of avoiding eye contact in the post office with the woman in the hijab, you smile, chat, are friendly.
Change comes when your children bring Moslem friends for dinner, when your son’s best man at his wedding is black.
Change comes on the day that the person you befriended who is of a different religion or ethnicity or race is no longer your project, but actually your friend.
Change comes on the day you say with Dr. Martin Luther King that love is better than hate, and that love is stronger than fear.