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Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK, Jr. Day—The Forgotten Holiday?

Today’s post is from Bruce McCluggage, philosophy professor at Pikes Peak Community College. Thank you Bruce for your willingness to share what you’ve learned from a local friend and the experiences you shared with each other this past year.

MLK, Jr. Day—The Forgotten Holiday?
By Bruce McCluggage, Philosophy Faculty at Pikes Peak Community College

It’s happening again—another all-white church service in January without mention of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. It is amusing how I can build the excitement, the tension, in my head while I’m sitting here. “Will we, or won’t we?”

My memories flood back this past year to how God used a man named John to make some of us in our all-white Colorado Springs church a bit ‘uncomfortable.’ John is a major editor for a quite large and reputable Christian publishing company. Yet, he suffers not only from a physical malady but also one that strikes at the heart of many a family—the unbearable heartache of a wayward child. Years ago John started to attend an all-black church in town. He said he found comfort there and understanding in the midst of his ‘unbearable heartache.’ He invited us white folk to go with him and a few of us ventured forth.

Then John invited me to an annual retreat for men—black men from black churches in the Denver/Colorado Springs area. I too suffer the same malady as John—the ‘unbearable heartache’ of a prodigal son/daughter. So I went, I saw, and I was conquered by the unconditional love of black men adopting two white guys into their midst because we ALL know the condition that life just does not go the way that we think it should. It’s unfair, it’s unjust and we hurt as a result. We don’t choose these conditions, rather they choose us. But we can choose to be with those whose history bears the mark of suffering ‘unbearable heartaches’ and in that fellowship we often find the understanding and empathy that is more oft difficult to experience in an all-white congregation.

While riding home from that men’s retreat in the church’s van full of black men we cooked up a plan for us to invite our wives to go out together for a movie and dinner afterward. The movie?—The Help. We decided that we would discuss all the feelings and emotions that would probably be raised by the movie over the dinner. John and I had already viewed the movie before so we were surprised that none of our black brothers had seen it.

I cried a few tears when I saw the movie the first time. But something very strange happened to me while watching the movie a second time sitting next to a black couple from a black church that I had come to know. I couldn’t stop crying. I was a human water fountain. I think it had something to do with the power of empathy.

This morning I will join one of my colleagues, a fellow community college instructor, at an MLK, Jr. celebration at the college where she will take the stage to share some of the journey of being a poor black single mom who overcame obstacle after obstacle to eventually earn a Ph. D. and be courted by many a professional and organizational opportunity. She’s depending on me though. I told her of a video clip I happen to have of actual footage of MLK, Jr. being arrested and thrown into a Birmingham City Jail and other footage summarizing the path that eventually led him to making his memorable “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, DC. So, Regina wanted to show some of that footage at the school-wide meeting this morning.

Well, January isn’t finished yet. I need to have hope for the white churches in town and all across America. I think I’ll call the pastor and offer to stand up in church and share a bit of my story, a bit of my history of what MLK, Jr. day means to me. I wonder what the pastor will say. I wonder what other white pastors say. I wonder how many more Januarys will go by with this happening again.


Catalyst4Missions said...

A powerful story. It's never an argument that changes our attitude, is it? Personal relationships, human interaction breaks down the barriers, but we have to be willing. And believers should be at the forefront, inviting others along.

Jon and Mindy Hirst said...

Thanks for your comment Ellen. Yes, it is amazing what a shared experience can do to impact people and grow their understanding of others. We appreciate Bruce so much for sharing his story.