by Jonathan Gramling
And yet Jesus saved our souls by showing us that there is a higher life than the brutish existence that humankind groveled in. He appealed to the best parts of
our beings, to our souls and showed us the way to this higher existence.
And on Easter Sunday, Jesus arose from the dead, showing us that the world did not have an unbreakable chain around the human spirit and the good qualities
that exist within all of us. Even in death, Jesus — and humankind — were ultimately victorious. He saved us from our brutish existence, from Original Sin, and
showed us that even on this Earth — not to speak of Heaven or our existence after this one — we can live a life more humane, more loving and more spiritual
than what our amoeba instincts would lead us to do. Jesus saved us from our sins and even saved the people who reviled and hated Him.
I am truly grateful for this Resurrection.
I am also grateful for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who is, in my view, America’s savior. For 13 years, Dr. King led the way of the non-violent civil rights movement
that in the immediate, sought to destroy the underpinnings of America’s apartheid system and grant African Americans equal rights under the law — and in the
everyday workings of American life.
And yet, to call Dr. King just a civil rights leader is to do him an injustice. He was here to save the soul of America.
I have to be honest with you, my audience. Where I grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, Dr. King was not a beloved figure. In a community bereft of people of
color and with racism imbued in its culture and laws, it was hard to discern anything closely resembling truth. As I look back, it was a community of a shared
psychosis, believing in a view of reality that did not exist.
Dr. King talked about loving all people, even the person who reviled you, who spits on you, who is held back from doing you bodily harm by the threat of
prosecution. Dr. King had all of it done to him during his 13 years of leading the movement and yet he held to his spirituality and to his beliefs. He would not go by
the way of those amoeba instincts and would continue to lead America to its Promised Land, the American Dream and the Beloved Community even if America
came kicking and screaming.
And even as Dr. King’s search for truth led him to oppose the Vietnam War, realizing the connection between oppression in America and the war against the
Vietnamese halfway around the world, people began to turn against him. He understood that the billions spent on war deprived the poor in America the chance to
join the American Dream. Dr. King began to turn his attention to the causes of poverty as the fight against de jure apartheid began to wane. He began to plan a
Poor People’s March in Washington, D.C. He understood the importance of the garbage men’s strike in Memphis, Tennessee as a push for human dignity. He
began to understand a lot of things and push for them even if it meant losing the “opinion polls of the day.” He sought truth and it is truth and higher existence that
Jesus pointed us to that led him to his destiny in Memphis.
And on the night before he died, Dr. King gave his Mountain Top speech that almost foretold his death. And on April 4, 1968, Dr. King was martyred because he
would not succumb to a comfortable existence and a long life as the price for compromising his moral compass.
Like Jesus, Dr. King pointed all of us — not just African Americans — to a higher existence both on this Earth and in the next. Dr. King died for our sins.
And like Jesus, I feel that Dr. King has experienced a resurrection. We are hardly near the Beloved Community that Dr. King envisioned. But we get glimpses of it
every day if we open our eyes to see. When I see more and more students of color going into STEM occupations or running for office and participating in the
whole of community life, I can’t help but feel that it is Dr. King’s life — and death — that pointed the way.
And to the extent that all of us can see beyond our own amoeba instincts, especially as it relates to race and culture, we can thank Dr. King for our redemption.
Thank you Dr. King. Your death was not in vain.
It is a wonderful coincidence that the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. comes just three
days after Easter. I hope my friends and readers who are not Christian will give me understanding as I write this column.
I would say that spiritually I am Christian, having been raised Catholic. But I stopped practicing the rituals that were
almost a cultural manifestation and not a spiritual manifestation years ago as my world — and my circle of friends — grew
beyond the more parochial religion of my youth. I know that all religions have expressions of morals and values that are
expressed in their own unique historical contexts and I appreciate the differences and similarities. This is not to say that I
don’t relish the values and morals that I learned and the fine education that I obtained.
For all that I have been given in life, I am truly grateful for I feel that I understand that I have had a better life than probably
99 percent of the people who live in this world in terms of a life of purpose and physical comforts and love.
In terms of my Christian spirituality, I appreciate Easter and the whole sense of sacrifice and redemption. Jesus was
worshipped on Palm Sunday and by the time that he prayed in Gethsemane after the Last Supper on Thursday night, the
masses had begun to turn against him, so that by Friday night, He was nailed to a cross and died for the humanity who
He could have compromised and backed down and could have asked God to intervene. But Jesus stood for the soul of
his people, for all people and would not succumb to the desires, fears, jealousy and other human weaknesses that have
plagued humanity since our appearance on this earth as amoebas. Being nailed on the cross wasn’t going to be of any
personal gain and seemed to give victory to the people who hated him, the power structure that was the Roman Empire.