The interfaith community celebrates the Martin Luther King holiday in a virtually infinite variety of ways here in Los Angeles, and throughout the United States.
On Saturday, January 15, I took part in a Martin Luther King conference called “Building the Beloved Community” sponsored by the University of Laverne, Christ the Redeemer Church, and the Parliament of the World’s Religions. This event featured as its keynote speaker Dr. Mark Waldman, a neuroscientist who has written extensively about religion, based on the latest scientific research. His most recent book “How God Changes Your Brain” shows how religious practices like prayer and affirmation alter our brain functioning in positive ways (see http://www.markrobertwaldman.com/. ) Dr Waldman led us in a series of exercises to teach “Compassionate Communication.” I led a workshop on Compassionate Listening with my Sufi friend Noor Malika (see compassioantelisening.org). It seemed appropriate to honor Dr. King by studying techniques we need to cultivate in order to bring peace into our daily lives as well as into our peace activism.
On Sunday, January 16, I took part in a joyful and uplifting celebration sponsored by the South Coast Interfaith Council in Long Beach. We heard a thoughtful keynote address by the Honorable Deborah Sanchez, a circuit judge who is also a leader of the Chumash Indians. A six-year-old black child movingly recited by heart the “I have a dream” speech. The highpoint of this celebration was the amazing music—gospel choirs consisting of whites and blacks who rocked our bodies and fed our souls.
My weekend culminated in the MLK parade in South Central Los Angeles, where most blacks in our city reside. Marching with the peace community—Veterans for Peace, Code Pink, Healthcare for All, and Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace, to name just a few—also seemed like a fitting way to honor Dr. King. And many in the crowd appreciated our efforts to remember that Dr. King was a strong advocate of economic justice and peace.
These are just a few of the infinite variety of ways to honor the multifaceted legacy of Dr. King. I would like to hear about other ways he has been honored, especially by the interfaith community.
It occurred to me that MLK Day is the only national holiday that has not been drained of meaning due to commercialization. George Washington’s birthday has become simply an excuse to go on a shopping spree, like Lincoln’s birthday. The 4th of July is about fireworks and barbecue, not about reflecting on the birth of our nation and what it means Labor Day has become a time to relax with one’s family, not think about the important contribution of organized labor to American life.. Thanksgiving has become a sentimental holiday, as well as a mindless affront to Native Americans, that whitewashes what really happened between Indians and white colonialists.
Only MLK Day compels us to think and reflect deeply on important concerns, like racism, economic justice, peace, and our spiritual lives. Thank God that Dr. King’s spirit lives on, challenging as well as inspiring us! –Anthony Manousos