Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love. ~Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Jailed for civil disobedience, Dr. King responded to that missive with a scathing letter of his own. "[S]ome have been outright opponents, " he wrote, "refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.” [Letter from Birmingham Jail]
When we remember Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we must place this fiery exchange in the context of a larger debate about the role of religion in politics (in society itself), and all ways it manifested itself back then. More important, at least to my mind, is that we honor the brave souls that broke free of their own religious constraints, in order to support the Civil Rights movement. People like Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschell, who marched shoulder-to-shoulder with Dr. King. This, despite public rebuke and private peril.
In the photograph above, Rabbi Eisendrath is standing to the left of Dr. King, carrying the Torah, and Rabbi Heschell is on his right. Uneasy though their alliances might have been, they linked arms with protesters of all backgrounds and persuasions. Together as one, they pursued a shared Dream.
Dr. King once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy." Using that as a yardstick, Rabbis Eisendrath and Heschel — and all those who bowed their heads or prayed with their feet — were giants among men.
I love this photograph, hold fast its stories and truths. See here: God-loving people who answered the call to a Higher Purpose. Witness: God's servants–people who loved their neighbors, all of them, as we are called to do. As we commemorate the life and accomplishments of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let's celebrate them, too.