1 Corinthians 12:1-11
“I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” – Philippians 3:10-12
On September 17, 1959 the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the Hawai‘i House of Representatives. His speech focused on race relations in America and on the efforts towards racial harmony and justice. His speech discussed three responses to the question, “has there been any real progress in the area of race relations?”. Rev. King said one response is optimistic and focuses on the strides towards equality and civil rights that had already been taken. The second response he outlines is pessimistic and primarily names the unjust disparities that remain in the systems of society. The final response is the realist. This response acknowledges the facts in both the optimist and pessimist response. Dr. King said,
“You see, it would be a fact for me to say we have come a long, long way, but it wouldn’t be telling the truth. A fact is the absence of contradiction, but truth is the presence of coherence. Truth is the relatedness of facts. Now, it is a fact that we have come a long, long way, but in order to tell the truth, it is necessary to move on and say we have a long, long way to go.”
The acknowledgment that we have come a long way and also still have a ways to go has resonance in contemporary conversations focused on equality. It also speaks to me about our experience of COVID. We can and should give thanks for the distance we have travelled, for the challenges we have overcome, and for the grace of God that has carried us. At the same time we would do well to pick up the Apostle Paul’s language and “press on” in our desire to be Christlike. We still have room to grow in fully applying the values and priorities of Christ to our interpersonal, professional, societal, and public life.
Martin Luther King ended his speech by quoting one of his kupuna. He said
“I close, if you will permit me, by quoting the words of an old Negro slave preacher. He didn’t quite have his grammar right, but he uttered some words in the form of a prayer with great symbolic profundity and these are the works he said: ‘Lord, we ain’t what we want to be; we ain’t what we ought to be; we ain’t what we gonna be, but thank God, we ain’t what we was.’”