I confess that I have often approached Martin Luther King day as a celebration of how far we've come--and let us take a moment to remember how far we really have come, and in a relatively short time. For example, when I took a summer job in 1985 at a D.C. office of Lutheran Social Services, I met a black woman who was old enough to have experienced Jim Crow laws and how they impacted travel by car just 25 years earlier.
And now, same gender couples can get married.
Some of us are worried about the erosion of Civil Rights. We tell ourselves that once rights are given they can't be taken away, but you don't have to do too much digging in history to realize that statement is not true.
Some of us are frustrated that the rest of us never realized how much was left to be done. That's fair. But now it must be clear to us all.
So on this day that honors one of our Civil Rights leaders, let us take some time to think about the work left to do and how we might be part of it:
--We can shake the despair we might have been feeling in the past. Let us dream boldly again. If any society was possible, what elements would we want to have as part of that society?
--We can use our art, whatever those talents might be, to share that vision with others.
--We can use the old tools of writing letters to lawmakers, organizing, marching, and teaching to dismantle the structures that oppress.
--We can learn to use the new tools of social media--those are the tools that taught many of us how much work is left to be done.
--If we're spiritual/religious people, we can pray that our vision of a better future will come to pass. We can ask for Divine help.
--We can remember that much of the work of social justice is not the type that will get us a holiday in our honor. In fact, those Civil Rights workers, including King, did that kind of work for years and decades before breakthroughs happened. We can do the work of making the sandwiches, running the childcare centers, working with disadvantaged students, listening to the dispossessed in our own communities.
There's plenty of work to do and a wide variety of ways to do it. That's both a frustration and a blessing. There's room for each of us, although the work we do may feel very piddly.
We can't always know that progress is being made when we work for social justice. We proceed in faith, trusting that our work will not be done in vain. Perhaps that's true of any big project: books that we write, children that we raise, students that we educate, long-term relationships of all kinds.
Today is a good day to take some time to envision a better future, for ourselves, for our children, for future generations who will marvel at what's been done. What dreams do we have? If we believed that anything was possible, what would we want to see?
Let us do what can be the hardest work of all--to believe that anything is possible.