Preemtive Mercy

  • Movements are not made by individuals.
  • Movements are definitely not made by men.
  • Our preference for simple stories seduces us into the myth of the charismatic leader.
  • If we don’t pay attention we will miss out on what is emerging RIGHT NOW as a new movement emerges from decentralized groups of people coming together to live our way into a new day.

All of this is true.

AND we can still celebrate the grace of the prophetic voices. The resonant voice of women of color like Adrienne Maree Brown is for me an example of that.

I celebrate and honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who he was, and how he lived, in all the complexity of human imperfection.

It is good that more of us can point out the ways in which his message has been sanitized so that we don’t really have to change.

It is important to remember what Dr. King stood for at the time of his untimely death.

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  • He denounced the Vietnam War and warned that America was courting “spiritual death.” 
  • He planned the Poor People’s Campaign, in which millions of impoverished Americans — black, white and Latino — would gather in Washington for an enormous demonstration. 
  • He called for $30 billion annually in antipoverty spending.
  • He asked Congress to guarantee an income for each American.

It is also essential that we remember his spiritual leadership, his stance for love, the demand that he made of ALL OF US.

David Brooks described it as “rigorous forgiveness, which balances accountability with compassion.” He says that Martin Luther King Jr. stood for “Pre-emptive mercy.” That he “argued that forgiveness isn’t an act; it’s an attitude. We are all sinners. We expect sin, empathize with sin and are slow to think ourselves superior. The forgiving person is strong enough to display anger and resentment toward the person who has wronged her, but she is also strong enough to give away that anger and resentment.”
“In this view, the forgiving person makes the first move, even before the offender has asked. She resists the natural urge for vengeance. Instead, she creates a welcoming context in which the offender can confess.”

As injustice continues to unfold, and even intensify. As racism is embodied by the highest office of the land, it is essential that we tend to our souls, and that we not allow anger and resentment to poison our own hearts. Because that would be the biggest loss of all.