Sunday, January 18, 2015

Praying with our feet - Thoughts on the Martin Luther King, Jr. March in Las Cruces, NM on January 18, 2015

     I wouldn't miss it.   On April 7, 1968,  when I was 13 1/2 years old, I stood with my parents and brother at the memorial service in Kansas City for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.   My rabbi, William B. Silverman, spoke.  Many members of my congregation and people from throughout the community filled the plaza by Liberty Memorial (created to remember soldiers who died in World War I).   That memory has led me to a constant desire to be a part of some commemoration of the need to realize Dr. King's dream.  His dream was challenging and inclusive, one that called for us to adopt "a new heart and a new spirit" that would lead us to freedom, justice and equality, one that would leave behind vestiges of past hatred and prejudice.
      It hasn't worked out that way.   Making Dr. King's dream real takes action and presence.  That is why I go.  I was fortunate to take part in the "Whose Dream Is It?" commemorations of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. birthday in Topeka, Kansas from 1994-2006.  I joined the Dover Area Religious Leaders Association in Dover, NH for 5 years at their annual commemoration, and I also participated in events at the University of New Hampshire at around the same time.  In Las Cruces, NM, the local NAACP chapter plans a march on Sunday afternoon of the weekend, and sponsors a breakfast on the morning of the birthday observance.  These events are staples on my annual calendar.
    This year was just a little different.  Yes, as the rabbi, I get called upon each year to offer a spontaneous prayer.  Yes, I am present with members of my congregation and groups in which I am active as a leader (in this case, New Mexico Communities in Action and Faith, a local affiliate of the PICO National Network). It was heartening to see members of the Las Cruces Muslim community present at the march this year, some of whom I have met a previous local gatherings.   That was appropriately reminiscent of some of my past involvements in interfaith work, and it was inspiring to see how diverse this group of marchers had become.  
    I was given the microphone to conclude the event with a prayerful reflection.  I can't reproduce exactly what I said, but the essence of the thoughts I shared began with my sermon on the Torah reading for this past week from Exodus Chapter 6, in which God told Moses to communicate five promises to the people, declarations that they couldn't hear because they were broken of spirit (or their spirits were "short").  Perhaps the people were simply exhausted from their harsh labor, but it was also that they couldn't see any possibility for change.  They had no hope.   
   What I told the group is that we should have hope, but that we may feel broken because, in many ways, we have fallen so short of making Dr. King's dreams real.  Yet, we shouldn't allow ourselves to feel broken and give up.  We have to keep working towards freedom.  The last two promises to Moses can guide us today.  One was, "I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God."  I told those assembled that we should see each other as one people, linked together to realize Dr. King's dream of justice, freedom and equality.   The last promise was that God would bring the people into the land sworn to their ancestors.  As we marched, we sang traditional American songs that spoke of that freedom and equality that, hopefully, remains a goal for most (if not all) Americans.    I declared that we are in a land that could be a place  of liberty and justice for all.  We aren't there yet, but we can't be broken, we can't give up.   We have to keep on marching to that goal.   
    This is a message in which I truly believe.  Too many people allow their narrow ideologies to stand in the way of working with people of different faiths and backgrounds with whom they may disagree on some issues, but with whom they would find welcome and energetic partners for alleviating poverty and eliminating hatred and prejudice from our society.   We need to focus on making our lives better, together. 
      One of the songs I have learned in my community work over the last year, "come and go to that land," sees a land of peace and justice and freedom, a place where there is no more sorrow.  We have to get there, and we will only get there marching side by side, looking a lot like we did today in Las Cruces, with a group of people with differing backgrounds united in one common purpose.   
       Psalm 133 declares, "How good and how pleasant it is when people dwell together."   May we believe in that vision and live it every day.  If we do, we will truly honor Dr. King's legacy. 

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