He Had a Dream!
Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the Last Sacred Holiday
In spite of my Christian beliefs, I’m a notorious humbug around the holidays. I just don’t see how gathering around a pagan totem in the spirit of avarice can possibly bring honor to Christ. I’m not even certain that the government should be in the business of religious ceremony. Which brings me to our next national holiday: Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Dr. King isn’t getting his due from what I can see. After all, if we’re serious about honoring the Civil Rights Movement’s greatest hero shouldn’t we be using the observation of his birthday as an excuse to shill for a quick buck? Isn’t that the American way?
Consider the abundant marketing opportunities as a Dr. King impersonator appears on your television screen bellowing:
I have a dream — a dream of lower prices!
I have climbed the mountain — and it’s a mountain of savings!
Free at last, free at last — buy one get one free, while supplies last!
Without the taint of commercialism I have to believe Americans haven’t really embraced Martin Luther King Jr. Day. There’s a lingering sense that we acquiesced to the holiday based on a sense of guilt, and not the overwhelming merit of King’s life and accomplishments. That’s the only logical reason I can think of to explain why everyone from Wal-Mart to Slick Rick’s Used Car Emporium is afraid of mining this rich advertising vein — the fear of finding Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton camped out in their parking lot after launching such a campaign.
Let me be clear on this issue: I fully support honoring Dr. King with a national holiday. I have the utmost respect for the man who lived and died for the noblest of causes and principles, and who exemplified the words of Jesus Christ who said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
I am humbled by Dr. King’s life and legacy. King accomplished more in 39 short years than I can hope to do should I live to be 100. He gave selflessly of himself and changed a nation for the better. I’m thankful that I have been blessed to live in the world he helped shape; a world that made it possible for us to say goodbye to Barack Obama after eight years as President of the United States.
I do, however, find it more than just a little ironic that the birthday of a man who preached and followed the teachings of Christ, indeed, was martyred and became an exemplar of the life lived by the very Son of God, would be treated with more reverence than the birthday of Jesus himself.
I’m not sure Dr. King would have wanted to be regarded as more sacred than the King of Kings. I’m not sure he’d want to be treated with more respect than presidents Washington and Lincoln.
Christmas has devolved into little more than the apex of a month-long marketing spree, where consumer spending and economic indices are watched with greater anticipation than our moral compass. Retailers sell their souls in December and hope that, by tempting shoppers with the promise of satisfying wanton lust, they can make up for eleven months of sloth.
Likewise, we celebrate the death and resurrection of that same Savior by stuffing candy and colored eggs into baskets under the pretense that a beneficent rabbit is on the loose spreading joy throughout the land. I’m sure Jesus is pleased that He chose to suffer on a cross so that we could nibble the ears off a chocolate bunny.
In another month hucksters of every stripe will don powdered wig and stovepipe hat while imploring any and all to “save a few presidents” on a car, or mattress, or house linens. Independence Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day have all become mere excuses for an extended weekend bacchanalia, and I doubt four out of five random citizens can tell you when we observe Flag Day or Veteran’s Day.
Dr. King spoke eloquently of his longing for a day when people would be judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character. He fought and died for equality and to break down the racial taboos that divided a nation and its diverse peoples. In spite of Barack Obama’s landmark victories in 2008 and 2012, many of the taboos King spoke of remain firmly entrenched within our culture. If Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory is among them, can we ever hope to achieve his dream?
(This article first appeared on January 15, 2009 in the East Bay Express.)