It’s jarring to recall Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was only 39 when he was gunned down on that second floor balcony in Memphis.

He’d have been 90 now, yet the passage of time has done nothing to dull the horror of his assassination, other than to underscore how much America lost when it lost this giant it officially honors Monday.

He’s remained this unforgettable because he was that irreplaceable.

And, no, you didn’t have to be black to regard him as a personal hero, no more than you had to be Catholic to revere Mother (now Saint) Teresa.

You just had to be open to the message they carried.

As a third-generation Baptist preacher, King was raised on “truths that endure to all generations,” ever reminding us common sense does not have a color nor does brotherhood have a party affiliation.

That’s a lesson we’ve yet to fully learn.

Even now, he’s so easily quoted because he was so spot-on in his observations and so dead-on in his exhortations.

The one that frequently reverberates here is what he had to say to the country’s religious community.

“Our lives begin to end,” he suggested, “the day we become silent about things that matter.”

He said that in a context of civil rights.

Though putting words into the mouths of those who have died has always been an annoyance here, the guessing is that King, literally believing we should be our brother’s keeper, would have been just as concerned and outspoken about other factors now affecting the nature and quality of our everyday lives.

What do you suppose he might have had to say regarding the adversarial effects of corporate greed, political corruption, social injustice, gambling, pot, secular militancy?

This much we do know: The silence of America’s religious community is deafening.

In his “Letter From Birmingham Jail” King remembered “a time when the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded ideas and principles, but also a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.”

He mourned the change.

“Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church,” he noted, “the power structure of the average community is (now) consoled by the church’s silent sanction of things as they are.”

King said he often passed “churches with lofty spires pointing heavenward,” wondering if they were led by pastors who “merely mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities, more cautious than courageous, preferring to remain silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.”

He wrote that in 1963.

What do you suppose he might have written today?


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