41 Years Later and Charleston

As we stood outside Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace Friday afternoon under the blazing June sun, a park ranger approached the man behind me, “Sir, I’m not sure you’re going to be able to take that in,” referring to the book bag slung over his back as he stood with his second-grade son and teenage daughter.  The ranger went on to explain, “The police, the FBI came by here this morning and put us on alert, we just have to be extra safe.  Concern for copycats.”  He walked away to ask his associate to check those filing into the house with purses and packs of their own. 

“Copycats,” I thought. 
Copycats are those kids in class next to you who didn’t prepare for their tests or forgot to do last night’s assignment or who were just too lazy to do their own work. 
Copycats are not murderers.
But somehow, in a world full of hatred and bitterness, they can be.
Minutes before, my eyes were welling up with tears reading the exhibits at the MLK Visitor’s Center.  An entire wall devoted to the Jim Crow laws, with heinous statements like:
 All persons licensed to conduct a restaurant, shall serve either white people exclusively or colored people exclusively and shall not sell to the two races within the same room or serve the two races anywhere under the same license. Georgia

The board of trustees shall…maintain a separate building…on separate ground for the admission, care, instruction, and support of all blind persons of the colored or black race. Louisiana
My daughter kept moving me from exhibit to exhibit, hoping the next one didn’t bring tears, but it didn’t work until we went to the room where we were told about Dr. King’s nomination and subsequent award for the Nobel Peace Prize.  This man wanted justice, but he also wanted peace.
And yet, after his death, the theme of bloodshed continued, the victims in his family. 
In 1974, a gunman, a 23-year-old black man from Ohio fatally shot MLK’s mother, “Mama” King and Deacon Edward Boykin and wounded three others in the sanctuary of Ebenezer Baptist Church, a place that King described as a second home, a place where his father served as senior pastor for over four decades and a place where Dr. King himself served as co-pastor.
In a span of 6 years, Rev. Martin Luther “Daddy” King Sr. lost his two sons and his wife, as his son A.D. King drowned in a backyard pool in 1969.
“How long, Oh Lord?”
I had been teary, worried, anxious, muttering things like, “What can I do?” over and over again and the other night I sat down and listened to the reactions of the family members of the Charleston shooting: “You took something very precious to me…but I forgive you.” 
How do we root out these seeds of bitterness? 
I don’t have the answers, but I saw how these victims reacted and I drew strength. 
Here is the secret.  We don’t lock ourselves away, we lock arms in solidarity, in embraces with our brothers and sisters in Christ.
We listen, we grieve, we pray and we keep forming those bonds, we remain true to our word like our lives depend on it, because they do, because these bonds may be hard to piece together to begin with.
We love, because he first loved us. 
Do you hear me?  Respond to that voice mail, that text message, follow up on that conversation and Love, because love is the only thing that is going to cast out fear. 
Love is the only thing that is going to bring reconciliation. 
Love always protects, always hopes. 
Love never fails.
If I speak with the tongues of angels and have not love, I am a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  My words have no worth unless they are followed through with action.
Change you laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom, humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up in due time.  This is not the time for empty platitudes.  This a time to put our faces and our knees to the ground and ask for mercy, once more, and know that love casts out fear.
We note, too, that life is short and the only things that matter are eternal.  So whether God allows you to see 90 or somehow, life is cut much shorter than that, you leave behind a legacy that these 9 people did to their families: that of faith, of forgiveness and yes, love.

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