This week, most of us in this nation celebrated the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in a variety of ways, many of which have become routine in our culture—from acts of service, to video tributes, and social media posts from professional athletes, celebrities, and elected officials.
While I applaud the timely acts of remembrance that surface on the third Monday each January, let’s not forget the powerful road map that Dr. King left for us. As all exceptional leaders do, Dr. King articulated a compelling destination.
No, it’s not the “mountaintop” or “the dream.” As I have come to understand it, Dr. King’s destination is the “Beloved Community”—a moment in human history where the fundamental interactions and relationships between human beings elevate and reflect the power and centrality of God.
Why not use his own words, as featured on the King Center’s website:
“Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision, in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood. In the Beloved Community, international disputes will be resolved by peaceful conflict-resolution and reconciliation of adversaries, instead of military power. Love and trust will triumph over fear and hatred. Peace with justice will prevail over war and military conflict.”Source: https://thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy/ (January 25, 2019)
I encourage those who are reading this to remember this road map and not just the soaring rhetoric. Dr. King’s road map is a beautiful blueprint for action—personal and collective.
Here is my take on Dr. King’s road map toward the destination of the Beloved Community.
Let’s begin with the obvious—the vehicle. Non-violence is the vehicle and it’s an appropriate vehicle because it’s accessible to each of us. Non-violence is a vehicle that everyone can operate, without regard to age, class, religion, or ability. Non-violence is a vehicle that is equipped for all terrains and it functions in all climates—rain, wind, heat, and ice.
Next, let’s focus on the drivers—you and me. The pursuit of a world devoid of poverty, racism, and militarism—where justice and love are enjoyed by all—will require each of us to take a turn in the driver’s seat. Dr. King’s road map puts us individually—and thereby collectively—in the driver’s seat. Every time we see injustice, every time we recognize evil, we take the steering wheel of non-violence into our hands. Where we choose to steer is up to us.
Of course, being a driver of non-violence is a choice and a responsibility. But our passengers don’t always make that choice or that responsibility pleasurable or desirable. Those who benefit from and who perpetuate poverty, racism, and militarism need to accompany us on this journey. The Beloved Community is a shared destination, even for those who don’t recognize it as such. So, it is up to those of us who accept the role of driver to persuade our adversaries and detractors to join us.
Dr. King has a renewable source of fuel ready for us—agape love. It is through a deep recognition of the presence of God within everyone around us that we can power non-violence. Love is not a resource that we need to mine from some kind of external source. Love is within and it is cultivated through a mindset and a commitment to seeing the humanity and dignity in everyone who comes across our path.
This leads me to the pathways for reaching the Beloved Community. Justice is a pathway. Desegregation is a pathway. Peace is a pathway. There are multiple routes that can guide us toward the Beloved Community. And, along the way, Dr. King suggests we look out for six landmarks.
These landmarks are elements in the environment (i.e., attitudes and behaviors) that tell us we are heading in the right direction. They’re called the Six Steps of Non-violent Change. Briefly, they include information gathering, education, personal commitment, discussion/negotiation, direct action, and reconciliation. You can read more about each of these landmarks on the King Center’s website.
It’s that last landmark, reconciliation, that truly tells us we’re getting close to our destination. Reconciliation and redemption mark our entrance to the gates of the Beloved Community. But there are clear obstacles and hazards that we’ll face along the way. Dr. King warns us to constantly be vigilant for the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism—for they have the ability to cripple our vehicle and halt forward momentum.
Despite the warning and the difficulty of the journey, I am encouraged by the words on King Center’s website:
“The Triple Evils of POVERTY, RACISM and MILITARISM are forms of violence that exist in a vicious cycle. They are interrelated, all-inclusive, and stand as barriers to our living in the Beloved Community. When we work to remedy one evil, we affect all evils.”https://thekingcenter.org/king-philosophy/
Pull on the loose threads and the tapestry of evil will unravel. Let that be our inexorable call to action. The road map has been published.