On Race (?)
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Simultaneously one of America's most famous and infamous locations. Indeed, it was the nexus of an earth-shaking series of historic events. We remember with sorrow the largest single loss of dedicated souls ever to occur on our soil. We take a small measure of comfort in President Lincoln's famous re-dedication of a ground so desecrated by wanton destruction. However, perhaps the most important message delivered at the site is preserved merely as a footnote in the historical record. It is high time that the oversight be rectified.
While Lincoln's Gettysburg Address had a profoundly healing effect on our nation so splintered by hatred and death, his was not the most important speech given. We see the first hint of our message with the quiet fact that on the very first day of the battle (July 1, 1863), the Lutheran Theological Seminary (known locally as 'Gettysburg Seminary'), now arguably our nation's eldest seminary, became a central location in the fighting. 'For he who has ears to hear', they begin to perk up a bit at this point in the narrative.
The seminary survived the battle largely intact, despite being occupied by each army during the battle. Perhaps it was spared because it was employed as a field hospital, or perhaps because even in the midst of combat, both sides still held on to the idealism of sacred institutions. However, a search for surface justifications is not our aim here. The Divine Hand ('of Providence', as our Founders were wont to put it) writes behind the lines, lending deeper meaning through symbolic subtext.
The center of our war then, as it is now, has even been, and as any conflict ever shall be, lies in the spiritual realm, within each of our Hearts. This Greater Struggle, as the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon us all!) so succinctly termed it ( 'Jihad' literally meaning 'struggle' in Arabic), the struggle of the Heart, is not fought for external kingdoms nor principalities, it is for the dominion of our Soul. We are each at once our own champion of the Divine and our greatest Enemy. The Dweller on the Threshold, Satan, our own lower self. It is he/she who tricks us into the external striving to effect change through the sword.
Had our religious institutions and our spiritually-oriented laymen & women stood together and discharged their duty adequately in the years leading up to the Civil War, leading with the cooler head and warmer heart of the Servant, the Church would not have experienced the showdown literally on what was likely contemporaneously observed to be Her metaphorical front lawn.
I take the liberty of connecting our story of the Lutheran Seminary to another namesake of that religious 'awakener' Martin Luther. I remember a time when the man I speak of was respectfully known as 'the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.', before this preacher of Truth became (rather flippantly) referred to as 'Dr. MLK'. But first, a bit of personal background.
I was born near Newark, New Jersey, a place the Reverend King had visited years earlier on a much less joyous occasion. Despite my beginnings there, an area to this day marred by the very divisiveness the Reverend King died working against, I was moved to rural Lancaster, Pennsylvania early in life and was raised fairly unaware of racial tensions. Lancaster is not a diverse place, it was, in fact, perhaps one of the least ethnically diverse counties in the country in my youth. I am, admittedly, in no position to speak on race relations.
That stated, I recall fondly when the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was compared favorably to Moses leading his people out of Egypt. Today, it is more likely to hear him placed alongside Karl Marx, a fact which should effect our pause. Not only did the Reverend King wholeheartedly live against the damning idea of religious life being the 'opiate of the masses', he spoke of that Almighty Power of the Divine, that keeps us ever in Its care. To me personally, listening to the voice of the Reverend King has always conjured up images of Mahatma Gandhi's indefatigable confidence in the success of quiet Integrity against all (illusionary) violence and injustice.
The Reverend King believed in creating a world he could be proud of. His servant leadership taught us that bricks are meant for construction, not destruction. His efforts largely prevented our country from descending into an even Darker Night of the Soul in his era. He preached and proved the strength of moral superiority in a time, not unlike our own, when physical dominance was considered the exemplar.
The Reverend King knew, as truly we all do, that we are all equal in the sight of Divine, that we will rise up and create that Truth in our land, that it shall be self-evident not merely in our Hearts, but blindingly brilliant to our eyes, our children's eyes, and those of the entire world. He manifested a dream, and although he did not personally reap that which he sowed in the brief span of his time on Earth, I am confident we now stand on the brink of the harvest he helped prepare for us. We shall indeed realize his dream, our own dream, that Divine dream born deep within the Heart of humanity's collective consciousness. An eternal Peace for all, with our American nation serving the first fruits on that table of brotherhood, centered in the wilderness of this mortal life. Let us finish running the race our good brother in the Lord relayed for us.
Thank you for your time in reading these humble remarks.
Light, Life & Love!