Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and A Drum Major of Love

Joseph Jones, Ph.D., was the featured speaker at Fresno’s 2019 Martin Luther King Day celebration Monday, January 21. Today’s Connections are selections from that speech.

“I have come today to speak to you not from the head, but from the heart. You see here in America we are suffering from a heart condition, and some of us don’t realize it.

“My task today is to help you hear the voice of Dr. King’s heart. Jesus once said that out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. If you listen carefully to the words Dr. King spoke through turbulent times, we might hear some remedy to this growing heart condition. He said: ‘Yes, it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies.’ We celebrate his life because he spoke of faith, hope and love. The Bible states, as Dr. King proclaimed, the greatest of all virtues is love. These words have the power to clear up the clouded lenses of prejudice and discouragement; they direct our attention to justice, freedom and reconciliation.

“The life blood that is channeled through these words (faith, hope and love) cleanses the soul of our selfish ambitions. Be careful not to dismiss these words, because in doing so we contribute to the decline in communities and lose sight of the hardening of our hearts. Slavery, Jim Crowism, prejudice and discrimination were only symptoms of the prevailing condition of the heart.

“Dr. King said: ‘One of the greatest problems of history is that the concepts of love and power are usually contrasted as polar opposites. Love is identified with a resignation of power and power with a denial of love. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and that love without power is sentimental and anemic.’

“This disease was not just the oppression of the African American community, it oppressed all people who were different in race and ethnicity. This disease blinds us to the dignity of all people. It effects our minds where we forget every person is a gift from God and has something to contribute to the wellbeing of us all.

“We often hear Dr. King referred to as a civil rights activist. I grew up in the South during the civil rights period. Even as a youth I was involved in walk-outs and marches. I remember not being able to sit at the lunch counter at Woolworth Department Store, but also remember the day when I was able to go to the store, sit at the counter and have a piece of apple pie. Remember Dr. King said: ‘Love is the most important thing. Hatred paralyzes life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.’

“It is not easy when you live in public housing, knowing that every weekend your father and any of the few men who are available will try to get drunk in order to forget the stress and frustration of being belittled and underpaid the few days they could get work. Your heart is vulnerable when you see one week after another the brutality of policemen who come into your community and beat those same individuals because they can. It becomes a heart condition when you go to school and you can’t use the restroom because half the toilets are broken, or the ceilings are about to cave in or you are starting a new class and the tattered and torn books you receive were those discarded from the white schools. You are vulnerable to the disease of the heart when you do not have the freedom to walk where you want to walk, and your brother and sisters live in fear of others just because of the color of their skin.

“Dr. King was not a physician, but he was a pastor. Most call him a civil rights activist, but in my community, we thought of him as a faith activist. He advocated faith, hope and love; a doctor of the heart. And when the heart is not right, the head is ripe for deception, self-centeredness and pride.

“Dr. King’s words shone light on this heart disease. His voice encouraged faith, a faith that led to action. There is no courage without faith, so faith was key to motivation, to the movement and to the marches. Read his speeches carefully and you will hear his heart of love. He recognized that love overcomes fear, roots out hatred and stirs up hope: This love is a faith in God’s justice, hope for a better future and courage to live with those who refused to change. The love that comes out of this great command is the love that leads to greatness.

“Two months before Dr. King’s death he shared the well-known sermon ‘The Drum Major Instinct’ at Ebenezer Baptist Church. The sermon was reflective of his heart and maybe in some ways prophetic about his future.

“Near the end of his discourse Dr. King tells this congregation what he hoped would be said about him at his funeral. He said: ‘I would like someone to say that he tried to love somebody.’ If you are not careful you will miss the heart of Dr. King. We love the wisdom in his speeches. Some would call him a prophet. We love the words that called us to action. Some might call him an activist; we think about the risk he took for the sake of others and we call him a courageous drum major. But that which was most important to him, which guided all he said and did, was Jesus’ example of love through his service. Dr. King remembered Jesus’ command to follow his example of love.”