If ever a man lived who actually wrestled the demons of his era, Dr. Martin Luther King was that man.
Tavis Smiley makes that point absolutely clear in his new book Death of a King: The Real Story of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Final Year.
Dr. King’s steadfast espousal of non-violence, having been firmly founded in his biblical faith, was a burden he bore with dignity his entire working life. What Dietrich Bonhoeffer had earlier called “the cost of discipleship” is a very high price for any Christian disciple to pay, especially one who accepts a mission on the front lines of a never-ending battle. The battle that Dr. King chose to fight–for dignity and wellness among his people, and indeed, among all people–was but one 1950’s-’60’s phase of very long war struggle against injustice and poverty. It is a righteous war that has extended back into the times of Old Testament prophets such as Amos, Moses and Isaiah.
While reading Tavis’ account of Dr. King’s last 365 days, I am convinced that the man stood forthrightly in the line of prophetic anointing that stretched back to those prophets of long ago, especially Amos, and including the Messiah himself, Jesus.
There are some among my Christian brethren who question Dr. King’s authenticity in the high calling of the Christian gospel. Their objections gather around accusations that he was a troublemaker, an upstart, an adulterous sinner, all of which is probably true.
But this Christian agrees with Dr. King, and with our greatest Book, which teaches that we are all sinners.
We are all sinners on this bus, whether it’s a bus to Montgomery, Birmingham, Atlanta, Washington, wherever. A bus to hell itself can be turned around by the power of a man’s faith.
In the unique case of Dr. King–that one man’s exemplary faith,even sin-tainted as it was– was a rock upon which millions have clung for stability since those heady, raucous days of the 1960’s.
Including the honky who writes this review.
In fact (and Tavis’ book makes this absolutely clear) Dr. King’s unyielding stand on Christian non-violence is the main attribute of that leader’s fortitude that set him apart from most of his comrades during those cataclysmic days of 1967-68.
The preacher’s insistence on non-violent civil disobedience instead of violent confrontation compelled him along a lonely course of isolation, with periods of self-doubt and blatant rejection on all fronts friend and foe.
Those other luminaries who labored with Dr. King during that time–Stokely, Rap, Adam Clayton, and many others, including men in his own SCLC camp, Jesse, Ralph, Stanley–those other movers and shakers, who marked Martin as an Uncle Tom whose relevance was being eclipsed by bloodier strategies– wanted to leave the preacher in the dust.
Which he ultimately was, as we all will be, in the dust.
I haven’t even finished reading Tavis’ book yet. But I just had to let you know. . . there was a man–he lived during my lifetime– whose
“radical love ethos at the heart of Christianity–is not to change with the times but, through the force of his constant conviction, to change the times.”
Thank you, Dr. King. Your life has been, always will be, an inspiration to me. I look forward to hearing directly from you when we are all together as God’s children, black and white, in that place he has prepared for us.
And also, from this white boy to you, Tavis Smiley: thank you for this timely illumination of Dr. King’s work among us. In spite of all the turbid waters that have passed beneath the bridges of our times, we are still a divided nation. We could stand to revisit the vision of peace that was manifested, not so long ago, in the life and work of this one man’s faithful legacy.
my song about him: Mountaintop
Tags: 1960's, activism, America, attitude, book review, books, Christian, Christianity, civil rights, Death of a King, Dr. Martin Luther King, injustice, Jesus, justice, non-violence, Old Testament prophets, peace, poverty, struggle, Tavis Smiley