The program says Moments to Cherish with my name. Two, two moments came to my mind as I was thinking about this occasion, this tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Two moments come to my mind. While cherish is not the word I would use, I do think about these two moments a quite a bit.
We once had a weekly after-school program for grade school children at Corydon Christian. We called it Youth Club. And I remember a boy, a child, tracing around his hand onto a piece of paper with a black marker. He was doing so to complete a Youth Club craft. Having finished the job and upon removing his hand from the paper, he noticed ink from the marker on his hand. Looking at his hand, he loudly exclaimed, “Man, I didn’t think I could get any blacker!” I had to laugh; it was the funniest thing I had heard anyone say in months.
Some time after and another Wednesday after school, I was talking with the Youth Club kids about the Lord’s Prayer and what it means to pray “deliver us from evil” specifically. I explained that when we pray “deliver us from evil” we are praying that God will keep us safe, that God will not allow bad things to happen to us. And I asked the kids about the kinds of bad things from which they wanted God to keep them safe. We made a list. Among the things the kids put on that list I remember guns, drugs, jail, and violence. Then we went into the sanctuary with our list, gathered around the communion table, lit a candle, prayed that God would keep us safe from the things on our list—that God would deliver us from evil—and prayed the Lord’s Prayer together.
As the other children raced down the sanctuary aisle and back to the fellowship hall, that one boy, that same child, walked beside me and quietly. He said to me, “It’ll take a miracle to keep those things from happening to me.” And in that moment I caught maybe a glimpse of what it must be like. It cut me to the quick. I turned to him and, having addressed this child by his name, I then said to him, “I hope all kinds of good things for you.” I said this, but I knew the facts, the statistics: While African-Americans comprise 12% of this nation’s population, 44% of the inmates in this nation’s prisons are African-American.
These facts, these statistics, paint a picture that is neither right nor good nor beautiful; something is wrong. And it is neither right nor good that that child, a fourth or fifth grader, should have found himself thinking about his future with such apprehension. Something is wrong. Something is wrong and it feels as though we, all of us, we are all being borne away and tossed about by forces and powers over which we have very little if any control. “I hope all kinds of good things for you,” said I. And it felt as though hope is all that I had, all I had to offer this child. Borne away and tossed about by forces and powers, sometimes all we have is hope, a hope and some dream.
But we do, we do have hope. Yes we do and with both of our feet on the ground, no longer tossed about and borne this way and that. And we do have a dream, a dream right and just, good and beautiful. We have a dream and can see the truth, can see the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners sitting down together at a table of brotherhood. We have a dream and can see the good, can see the heat of injustice and oppression transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. We have a dream and can see, we can see what is beautiful, can see children judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. We have a dream and can see, can see that Promised Land.
We do, we do have this dream. And we do, we do have hope, because “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” So says the Apostle Paul. The good Apostle also saying to us, saying that this hope will not disappoint us. We shall not be, we shall not be disappointed.
Martin Luther King Tribute, Corydon, IN, January 14, 2007