Help re­al­ize King’s dream for Amer­ica

Record Observer - - Opinion -

As we pause this week to re­flect upon the life and legacy on Martin Luther King Jr., many are of­ten drawn to the hu­man­i­tar­ian’s most mem­o­rable ef­forts: the 1955 Mont­gomery, Ala., bus boy­cott; the Birm­ing­ham, Ala., protests or the 1963 March on Wash­ing­ton.

A gifted or­a­tor and stud­ied min­is­ter, King’s most quoted words are likely his “I Have a Dream” speech, which came out of the fa­mous march that cul­mi­nated at the Lin­coln Me­mo­rial.

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true mean­ing of its creed: We hold th­ese truths to be self-ev­i­dent; that all men are cre­ated equal,” he said to an es­ti­mated crowd of 250,000 on that Au­gust day.

While King’s im­pas­sioned speech cer­tainly played a part in the pas­sage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, it is still con­sid­ered by many to be an un­ful­filled dream. So how do we start to help ful­fill it? We look to our fa­vorite ser­mon by King for just such in­struc­tions, and un­for­tu­nately it was his last ser­mon, com­monly ti­tled “The Drum Ma­jor In­stinct,” given at Feb. 4, 1968, at Ebenezer Bap­tist Church in At­lanta, just a few weeks be­fore his as­sas­si­na­tion.

In this ser­mon, King speaks at length about a pas­sage in the Gospel of Mark in which the apos­tles James and John ask Je­sus to anoint them as those who will sit on his right and left sides in the af­ter­life. Je­sus asks them if they are pre­pared to do what is nec­es­sary for such an honor, to which they re­ply they are. How­ever, Je­sus replies it is not an honor for him to be­stow.

“But whoso­ever will be great among you, shall be your ser­vant: and whoso­ever of you will be the chiefest, shall be ser vant of all,” he tells them.

James and John suf­fer from what King calls the “drum ma­jor in­stinct,” or “a de­sire to be out front, a de­sire to lead the pa­rade, a de­sire to be first.” He talks at length about the the­ory de­vel­oped by psy­cho­an­a­lyst Al­fred Adler, who con­tends that this need for recog­ni­tion is the dom­i­nant or ba­sic im­pulse in life.

The “drum ma­jor in­stinct” is what drives van­ity and jeal­ousy, King says. If not prop­erly “har­nessed,” then we turn to worse ways to seek our recog­ni­tion. So what are we to do about our “drum ma­jor in­stinct”? King said the an­swer to that ques­tion lies in Je­sus’ an­swer to his apos­tles, in which he told them to har­ness their “drum ma­jor in­stinct” for good.

“And so Je­sus gave us a new norm of great­ness,” King said. “If you want to be im­por­tant — won­der­ful. If you want to be rec­og­nized — won­der­ful. If you want to be great — won­der­ful. But rec­og­nize that he who is great­est among you shall be your ser­vant. That’s a new def­i­ni­tion of great­ness.

“And this morn­ing, the thing that I like about it: by giv­ing that def­i­ni­tion of great­ness, it means that ev­ery­body can be great, be­cause ev­ery­body can serve. You don’t have to have a col­lege de­gree to serve. You don’t have to make your sub­ject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aris­to­tle to serve. You don’t have to know Ein­stein’s the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity to serve. You don’t have to know the sec­ond the­ory of ther­mo­dy­nam­ics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace and a soul gen­er­ated by love. And you can be that ser­vant.”

Let us re­flect upon King’s word and try to make our­selves more hum­ble as we help shape the world to the place we want it to be.

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