A movie was released this month entitled Selma in honor of the 50th anniversary of King’s famous march from Selma to Montgomery. I went to see the movie last Saturday night with a friend. As I watched, I was surprised to find that at times during the movie, I didn’t know what was about to happen. While it is true that these events happened before my birth on August 15, 1970, they happened in my home state. I have always been interested in the Civil Rights Movement for the courage shown by those who stood up for a cause they believed in, convinced of its worth, merit, and truth. Many Alabamians are ashamed of what happened here, but I’m not. I’m so very proud of my fellow Alabamians who did what it took to change a nation for good, people like Rosa Parks. She knew right from wrong, and she did what was right. I’m proud of her, a sister in this struggle called life.
I read through Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” last night before I went to bed. It’s long and kept me up later than I expected. My pastor, Dr. Danny Wood, quoted from it in church yesterday. What he read was intense and good. It made me want to read the whole thing, so I did. I found myself thinking of its relevance for today. Truth is truth and can be applied wherever falsehood exists. Dr. King’s efforts are rightly celebrated because they changed us. Our nation is not the same today as it was then. He brought great injustices to light. I have found in my 44 years of life that people in general are selfish. We, left to ourselves, think of ourselves first. But sometimes in human history, people stand up for God, for truth, for others, for what is right. The cause, the good, becomes more important to that person than him or herself.
As I watched Selma, the movie, I said out loud, “That’s right.” I was responding to something Dr. King was saying as I would in a church service. I was agreeing with this pastor who was speaking of God’s truth as I knew it so well. A white woman in front of me turned around to look at me as if to chide me. I felt her eyes say that I was in error to think Dr. King was right in being so selfless, selfless unto death. He was being warned in the scene that his life was in danger, that he needed to walk carefully, and that there were those who were bent upon his destruction. When someone stands up so defiantly against powers that be for what is right and true, there will always be people willing to kill them. I have thought so much about this over the past week since I watched the movie. I have tried to understand how anyone could be so compelled to murder another human being. I’ve tried to see why someone felt they had the right to take another person’s life from them, and I do think that it was out fear. Maybe they did think they were protecting their families, but that doesn’t make it any less appalling to me today. I didn’t live in that culture, so it is hard for me to understand. But I do understand courage, and it’s those who stood up so defiantly against a great evil, understanding the risks and doing it anyway because they were so convinced of their calling, that I applaud and relate to.
Dr. King told the man warning him that he wanted to be “happy” just like any other man but that he had come too far in this cause to back down now. Dr. King knew the risk he was taking. He knew people were out to kill him, and I believe he knew in his heart that he would die for what he believed in. But he did not count his life as more precious than that. He was no doubt well acquainted with Paul’s letter to the Philippians and stood with Paul in his belief that life in the flesh is to be lived for the glory of God and not for self and that “to die is gain,” for life in the presence of Christ is “far better” than life here as is. Dr. King stands among many who have been martyred because they knew their blood would pave a path straight to God, not only for themselves, but for countless others behind them. I have a book called Jesus Freaks. There is a story in it about a young woman named Anne Askew, a protestant in the time just before the English Reformation. She was tortured in such a way, and finally burned at the stake, that I could hardly bear to read of it. In fact, the book doesn’t go into the gory details but gave just enough information to compel me to do a little more research. What she endured for her faith at the tender age of 25 is amazing to me, but I believe her to be right. What else could she do but endure the pain? She knew she was right, and she knew what joy awaited her in Heaven.
I am not a martyr myself, but I certainly know the sting of death and am no stranger to pain. And I know this: that God’s truth, God’s kingdom, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the way of and to Heaven is worth the fight. Dr. King is right, God doesn’t desire for his disciples here on earth to seek out the pleasures of this world to make us comfortable and “happy.” God, in fact, desires exactly the opposite from us. He doesn’t want His true followers to be comfortable in this world, for this is not our home and to be settled in it as if it were is wrong. Our home, our happiness, and our Father await us in Heaven. He gives us the strength to endure unfathomable pain and suffering in this life because he wants us to know true life. For there is no real life apart from Him. Without Him, we are doomed to eternal separation from everything that is good and right and true. The Apostle Paul said he counted “everything” as a “loss” compared with the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord.” Paul was eventually killed for his beliefs as well, but I am quite sure he doesn’t regret anything he ever did for the sake of Christ. He knew, as did Dr. King and Anne Askew and countless others, that death for the Christian isn’t really death at all. It’s only the beginning of a new adventure with God, an adventure I believe is worth everything we have to endure in this life.
To have such a calling is where true joy is found. To do the work of the Lord is more satisfying than any gain, glory, or earthly pleasure to be found in and for self. So let’s take to heart in this day of remembrance the words of the great apostle, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in Heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:3-11)
I have posted the “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” also today. I encourage you to take the time to read through the thoughts and ideas of this great man not only to remember the past and what great strides can be made for good when we set our hearts and lives to it, but also to find truth for us today. The struggle has changed but the fight remains. I believe it is the fight for good, for Christ, and for our rights as American citizens to be free to worship God in spirit and in truth, for in the words of this great American, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”