Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him. -- Martin Luther King
"Joy comes in the morning," lets certainly hope so. We need hope right now, and not a hope which is falsely propped up by platitudes and declarations, but a hope that is anchored in the knowledge that we can't continue to operate with business as usual, we can't continue to speak hatred without impunity; can't continue to think violence will go away without us doing something about it; can't continue to wish things were different but not be willing to make the necessary changes, accept the necessary sacrifices and be willing to admit that certain things just can't be tolerated any longer. "Joy comes in the morning," but not without a night of hard work, a night of serious soul-searching, a night of tears and anguish that leads us to the realization that the joy we seek, the solace we need, the hope we crave will not be handed to us by God on a silver platter. It is up to us, with the support and love of our Creator, to help bring that joy. That is the work of being human, that is destiny of our existence, that is the challenge we all face. And now, more than ever, face it we must.
We once again come to the weekend where we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a man who needs no introduction, no reminders of who he was and what he accomplished. So, what do we need on this MLK weekend? We need a reminder of King's courage, a reminder of King's dedication to nonviolence and love, a reminder that without King's commitment, our country might never have moved from the darkness of segregation into the light of hopeful equality. These reminders are for all of us, each person who lives and dreams of a better world, a more peaceful world, a world where little girls are not gunned down in broad daylight when they come to meet their Congresswoman. And these reminders are not just for the leaders of today, but for each one of us; each one of us can be seeking to bring forth our own inner Kings, our own representation of peace, harmony and justice wherever we are, wherever we live, wherever we work, wherever we play. For Dr. King was more than a man, he was an embodiment of a message, of a vision, of a calling from God that, like Moses in this week's Torah portion, raised up a nation from fear to hope, from darkness to light, from slavery to freedom. "Have no fear! Stand by and witness the deliverance which the Lord will work for you today; for the Egyptians whom you see today you will never see again." (Exodus 14:13)
Having no fear is a huge theme of deliverance in the Bible, and it was a huge theme for Dr. King. In the face of death, Dr. King was not afraid, as he famously spoke the night before he was assassinated. Calling that spirit of fearlessness, channelling that ability to stand up to the face of evil, to the face of hatred, to the face of the underbelly that exists in each one of us, that is the message I am seeking to impart this MLK weekend, for each one of us has that capacity, each one of us has a slice of Dr. King within us, for in the end, while he was larger than life, King was also a human being, born of parents, into a world where there were options and choices, albeit fewer for him as a black man in the segregated and discriminatory South, into a world where he could have walked down a path that hated those who sought his demise, into a world where he could have killed others before being killed himself. But, through his divine gifts and his penchant for mercy and love, Dr. King chose differently, as Moses chose differently, as each one of us can choose differently. The Torah says that before us God places a blessing and a curse, life and death, and we are called to choose life! There are two teachings in this famous idea: one is that we are born with free-will, born with the capacity to choose between right and wrong. And, that life is the utmost of blessings, life is where we are called toward, life is what are here to sanctify. Each day, we all face choices, we all faces options, we all employ our free-will, and by living with integrity, honesty, humility and faith, we can each make use of that free-will to make a difference for good in this world. We can each bring forth our inner Martin Luther King.
Yet, we are without a Dr. King at the moment to guide us through this tragedy in Tucson, no righteous, moral leader that will help us understand what it is exactly that we need to do in this moment. Dr. King had that authority, had that capacity, had that integrity, and we listened and we rose up. But, today, who are we to follow to ensure healing? President Obama was pretty amazing at the vigil, but he is not our moral leader, even as I believe he is a moral man. King worked with presidents, but he was a minister, clergy, an activist. We don't have a clear leader right now. We don't have a clear leader now to lead us in a serious national conversation, most urgently, on the issue where we can make the most difference now: gun control and the level violence that comes from rampant guns in our society. We are in need of moral conversation about this issue, not a political conversation, filled with lobbyists, the NRA, the fear and panic instilled in us by extremists, be in print, radio, television or internet; no, for joy to come in the morning, we need a conversation led by people of faith, people who desire to see children grow up in a world without violence, in world where there is more harmony and less warfare, a moral conversation about whether or not we need semi-automatic weapons and caches of ammunition available to anyone, for what purpose do they serve in life?
We are in need of a moral conversation about whether we want to keep living in a world where guns continue to be the sacred toys of grown-ups who refuse to see that 30,000 Americans die by guns each year in the U.S., we need a moral conversation about whether we want to keep living in a world where since the assassination of JFK, more Americans have died by gun fire in our own country than American servicemen and women were killed in all our wars of the 20th century; for joy to come in the morning, we need a moral conversation about whether we want to keep living in a world that cares more about keeping guns in our hands than caring for the mentally unstable people who use them to kill innocent men, women and children. I feel deeply that Dr. King would not only be calling us to have this conversation, leading it and helping us to see the sheer lunacy of our actions; Dr. King would have been able to possibly help us actually change our ways. Teshuvah, the magnificent Jewish concept of returning, repenting and renewing our ways, could see us through this time. We have to be able to talk to one another, listen to one another and slow down enough to realize that we are destroying ourselves, so then we can hopefully stop and redirect. Will this tragedy do this? While I doubt it, I also know it could. Malcolm Gladwell taught us that something will be the tipping point, we just never know what. Lets pray that this might be it.
Joy comes in the morning, the inspiring words of Psalm 30, is a reminder that joy brings light, light brings joy, and together, they bring new life. We are still in mourning over the losses in Tucson, even as we pray for the continued miraculous recovery of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, may God heal her and the others injured, but now is the time, in this national grief, to get ready, after our initial mourning period ends, to assert a desire for choosing life, to affect serious change, to finally pass and ratify serious, sensible and life-saving gun control laws, and not them lapse, as we did with the Brady Bill, which could have potentially saved us from this tragedy. As we emerge back into the world, let us emulate Dr. King, emulate Moses, emulate God, and seek peace, seek pathways to greater success for peace, speak to one another with kindness and respect, try to see the good and decency in one another, focus on what unites us rather than what divides. In speaking of little Christina Taylor Green, the nine year old killed, President Obama said "I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it. All of us - we should do everything we can to make sure this country lives up to our children's expectations." I couldn't have said it any better. And so, until we have a moral leader, to these words, I say amen.