I realized this morning that Dr. King is the reason why I went into ministry and why I take a missional approach to life and faith. I heard the entire “I Have a Dream” speech on the radio this morning. NPR played the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s entire speech to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in observance of the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
I don’t think Dr. King’s importance for missional living can be overstated. I read David Garrow’s Bearing the Cross: MLK and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference when it was published in 1986. I was in college. I had given up on religion and was battling a severe bout of depression. Something clicked. Reading about Dr. King and the SCLC, I regained my faith, not in God, but in the church and in people.
I was raised Catholic and I loved the gospel stories of Jesus. When I heard these stories, I heard a call for compassion, inclusion, fairness, justice, and peace. I didn’t see this in the church. There have always been people of faith who embody and live out their principles. I didn’t see these people until I read Garrow’s book. After reading King’s story, I was able to see that priests and ministers and people of faith were not extraordinarily holy. People who took the gospel to heart were flawed people, no better or worse than anyone else, doing their best to make real The Kingdom of God, and call forth the Beloved Community.
I didn’t realize it at the time, and I certainly didn’t have the concepts or vocabulary for it that I do now, but something inside me I couldn’t articulate began understanding the need to live missionally, to make the mission of my life the mission of God which is the creation of Beloved Community. Everything I have done since from organizing for Amnesty International to working with people with HIV/AIDS to teaching in an inner city high school to running for political office to the ministry is about one thing: the misseo dei, the creation of the Kingdom Commonwealth of God, the birth and nurturing of the Beloved Community. Nothing, really, has ever mattered much beyond that.
I realize that many people who old enough to experience the Civil Rights Movement were similarly inspired by King. I haven’t really put together until this past week that my own approach to faith and life began to form when I encountered Dr. King in depth for the first time back in 1986. The epiphany that maybe, just maybe we can create the world we long to live in began a journey that still continues. Shortly after reading Bearing the Cross, I read things by and about Mahatma Gandhi and non-violent resistance and began to see the missional example of others such as Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero and Bishop Tutu and Aung San Suu Kyi and Occupy Wall Street and many others who no one has ever heard of except the people and the communities they serve.