Saturday, January 14, 2012

Martin Luther King Helps Us Remember

On this birthday of Martin Luther King I wonder what he would think of the state of our nation  today. Behind the hoopla toward our President I cannot but believe if you follow the string far enough back you will find racism pure and simple. I remember reading about the first black football players to break the color line in colleges in the South--they were scorned and spat on and had a hard time. Maybe we ought to remember that change is a long time coming.

What would Dr. King say about the discriminatory laws that have been passed in several states toward immigrants. Republican  Alabama state senator Bill Holtzclaw responding to critics who said the state's immigration law was the meanest in the nation said, "I want you to know I am a Christian. I'm a Methodist, and I voted for this law. This legislation was written by Christians." On the other side Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, AL recently spoke about she felt about Alabama's new law as it affected migrant families. "I'm wondering when that day will come where they will be asked to wear the yellow star."

Take any social issue and there is a strand of hatred toward anyone who just might be poor or gay or an immigrant. What would Dr. King say about the disciminatory laws passed in several states which require voter ID before someone can vote? Legislators must surely have known there were people in their constituency who had no driver's license or identification card of any kind. Are they first class citizens or should we just ignore them?

On this special day when we honor that "Drum major of justice" my mind goes back to the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham. On September 16, 1963 a bomb shattered that church on a Sunday morning. When the dust had settled four little girls who had come to Sunday school that morning lay dead. (Spike Lee told that story in his film, "Four Little Girls.") Many were injured that day when the church was damaged. Word of that tragedy spread around the world. And in Cardiff, Wales children began to collect money to help replace the church's shattered glass windows.

An artist, John Petts of that country offered his services to create a special window for the church. A local newspaper editor there launched a campaign to raise money for the venture. The maximum donation would be half a crown (thirty pennies) so that the window would come from all the people of Wales and not just the well-heeled.

The project took two years. Petts delivered his gift from the people of his country to the church when it was completed. If you were to go there today and stand in the pulpit and look out on the rows and rows of pews you could not miss this window. It dominates the whole church. As the light filters through the colored glass it touches those that worship there. A rainbow surrounds a huge black Jesus with his arms outstretched. His right hand pushes away hatred and injustice. His left hand holds out forgiveness. Underneath the figure of Jesus, Petts has etched into the window: You Do It to Me. Underneath the window is inscribed: "Given by the people of Wales."

I wish everyone could see that window. That stained glass memorial is a symbol of forgiveness fashioned out of pain and suffering and racism. On this day when we remember the great King--let us remember where we are as a nation. The mean-spiritedness touches every part of this country. Let us ponder where racism and hatred took us years ago. Let us commit ourselves to a better day and a better time. "Deep in my heart I still believe we shall overcome."

1 comment:

  1. I've seen that window - very moving, indeed. Any trip to Birmingham is worth a visit to the Civil Rights Museum and 16th Street Baptist Church.