2020 MLK Weekend: What Makes You Come Alive?
"The world needs people who have come alive"
“Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman
This weekend, as we once again commemorate the life and legacy of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I wanted to introduce to some, and re-introduce to others, a lesser-known figure who served as one of the spiritual anchors of the civil rights movement. That person is none other than Reverend Howard Thurman. Born in 1899, Thurman, a grandson of former enslaved persons, stressed education as a means of overcoming racial discrimination.
He graduated as valedictorian from Morehouse College with a Bachelor of Arts in economics in 1923 and from Rochester Theological Seminary (now Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School) with a Bachelor of Divinity in 1926. He subsequently served as pastor of a Baptist church in Oberlin, Ohio, and pursued graduate course work in theology at Oberlin College. A meeting in 1934 with Mohandas K. Gandhi instilled within Thurman an appreciation for the value of nonviolent resistance in combating racial inequality.
In 1944 he left Howard to help found the Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples (also known as Fellowship Church) in San Francisco, the first congregation in the United States that encouraged participation in its spiritual life regardless of religious or ethnic background. Thurman stayed there until 1953, when he assumed the deanship of Boston University’s Marsh Chapel. This was the first time that an African American had assumed such a deanship at a traditionally white American university.
Thurman, who was a classmate of Dr. King’s father at Morehouse, had MLK Jr. as a student while he served at Boston University. It was there where King was introduced to the powerful tenets of nonviolent resistance in combating racial inequality. Among the many books that Reverend Thurman authored was the seminal “Jesus and the Disinherited” which Dr. King kept in his coat pocket wherever the Civil Rights movement took him. It served as a source of spiritual strength and guiding light to him as he led that movement alongside others.
As we spend some time this weekend reflecting on the writings of Reverend Thurman, I'd also like to invite us to remember Dr. King's legacy as a man who certainly committed himself to that what which made him “come alive”—even to death—as Thurman posited. With that example in mind, I alsoo encourage you to spend some time this weekend asking yourself the same question: what makes me come alive? What was I put on this planet to do? It is my prayer that as we all thoughtfully consider this question, the Spirit of God would reveal to us (or bring back to our memory) our reason for being.
Let us all be a community that commits ourselves to be world changers, not simply by asking what the world needs but instead who the world needs—each and every one of us operating as the fully alive versions of ourselves that God created us to be.
“So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.” ~ Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.