Thursday, July 3, 2008

Lessons from the Lorraine

While in Memphis, Alyson and I took some time to stop by the National Civil Rights Museum. Built into the Lorraine Hotel, the location of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, the museum does more than tell Dr. King’s story. In great detail it traces the struggles, the persecutions, the failures, and the victories of the civil rights movement here in the United States. Our visit at the NCRM proved to be one of the highlights of the trip. On one level, the very existence of the museum gives testimony to how far we’ve come as a nation. As we strolled past the exhibit of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat, James Meredith applying to Ole Miss, Thurgood Marshall arguing before the Supreme Court, we saw families of all colors pointing out these brave folks to their children as heroes for all people, not just of one race. Also noticeable, were the looks of incomprehension on the faces of younger people as they watched old news reels of sit-ins and school integration. Their faces asked the question on my mind, “How could people actually think segregation was right? Was the God ordained thing to do?”

Such questions pushed me into the greater lesson of the museum: as grateful as we should be for the gains made in our country for the freedom of all people (and we have made great gains – from the writing of the constitution to this very day), we must constantly be on guard against the blindness caused by our own self-righteousness or the defensiveness caused by our own fears. The museum did a good job I thought of showing that such missteps occurred even within parts of the civil right movement. We are all such a mixture of good and bad motives. I left the museum asking myself, “What evils reside in me that I am simply unaware of? What evil do I excuse or ignore in the world around me in order to preserve my advantage, my comfort, my peace of mind?”


It’s always easy to see other people’s shortcomings. It’s somewhat of a miracle to see our own. G.K. Chesterton was once invited to participate in an essay contest for a newspaper which asked, “What’s wrong with the world today?” Chesterton, always the sharp wit and a faithful Christian, wrote back a two word answer – “I am.” You and I live in an amazing country. It has given us great freedom. It is a place where movements like the civil rights movement can happen and succeed. But as we celebrate our independence tomorrow, let us do so with grateful and humble hearts. No doubt in the world around us there exist horrific evils (terrorism, sexual exploitation, extreme poverty). As Americans we must use our resources to strongly resist such forces. But the testimony of scripture and our own history remind us that the evil in another person is never an excuse to ignore the evil in oneself. Even in America we can be blind to injustice, callous to the needy, ignorant of oppressed. So let us follow Paul’s command and use our freedom, not to indulge in the sinful nature, but to serve one another in love.

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” – Galatians 5:13-14

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