The Key That Unlocks the Door

NicolasDay 30 of our Lenten journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind. This oft misunderstood, this oft misinterpreted concept, so readily dismissed by the Nietzsches of the world as a weak and cowardly force, has now become an absolute necessity for the survival of man. When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I’m not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality. This Hindu-Muslim-Christian-Jewish-Buddhist belief about ultimate reality is beautifully summed up in the first epistle of Saint John: “Let us love one another (Yes), for love is God. (Yes) And every one that loveth is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love. . . . If we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us.” Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.

By Elizabeth Nicolas, a Workers’ Rights Attorney at the Empire Justice Center (Rochester, NY)

In the weeks leading up to the 2016 presidential election, flyers were distributed in neighborhoods near my home in Rochester, NY that stated “Make Rochester Great Again.” The flyers directed residents to a website that promoted white supremacy. On the night of the presidential election, the home of a black family was vandalized: their windows were broken and a racial slur was spray painted across their house. The next day, two rainbow pride flags were set on fire while still attached to people’s homes.

During the election cycle and after the election, I felt demoralized by the messages and acts of hate occurring across the nation. I spent much of 2016 unable to engage with any media coverage or conversation regarding the election because I felt traumatized by it all. For months prior to the election, I had seen images of people of color suffering under state sanctioned violence – black and brown people murdered in the streets by police, Native Americans assaulted and beaten as they protected their land and water at Standing Rock. My parents are Haitian immigrants who came to this country in hopes of safety and equal opportunity. My sister and I were born here as part of that hope. As 2016 unfolded, I watched as the hopes of my family and community were crushed. The American dream was only for a select few and those few were taking that dream back with the force of the U.S. government behind them.

The election cycle and the post-election fall-out has felt apocalyptic to me. In Ancient Greek, the word “apocalypse” means an uncovering, a disclosure of something hidden, a revelation. The expression and legitimation of White supremacy and hetero-patriarchy is nothing new – it is bedrock in this country. But the depth of hatred, it’s intransience, it’s power, it’s ubiquity – that is what feels like is being uncovered. Grand claims of progress and post-racial America are being dispelled. It seems like the nation is being pulled 50 years back in time.

In this Lenten season, it has been a gift to reflect on King’s words. King’s speech invites us to remember the framing that Jesus, who was killed by the state, offered so long ago in his Good Samaritan parable: if you are to love your neighbors as yourselves, you must ask, to whom will you be a neighbor? To whom will you show mercy, kindness and justice?

King’s words remind us that love is powerful, love is radical, love destroys hate and love leads to a deeper reality – our shared humanity and vulnerability.

I have been able to re-engage in the world around me because I have been witnessing acts of courageous love. These expressions have been hopeful sustenance for me. I offer here with King’s words, the stories I have read that have given me renewed hope. I am no longer interested in the American dream – I am awake now and I am hoping to see love, new life and resurrection.

…neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation…

Millions around the country and around the world protested in January 2017 after the new presidential regime issued a travel ban for citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S. Thousands went to the nations’ airports in solidarity with those being unjustly kept outside U.S. borders.

…all-embracing and unconditional love for all mankind…

Hours after the Muslim ban was announced, the only mosque in Victoria, Texas was burned down. The local Jewish community raised money for repairs and gave the keys to their synagogue to those affected.

In February, after a Jewish cemetery was vandalized in St. Louis, Missouri, Muslim activists raised more that $55,000 in one day to repair the broken headstones. The activists said, “Muslim Americans stand in solidarity with the Jewish American community to condemn this horrific act of desecration.”

…Let us love one another…Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day.

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