I remember the evening vividly. It was a spectacular experience. It must have been early December, because I remember the stress I felt trying to host this dinner between Thanksgiving and Christmas. I thought I overextended myself, but when the night finally came, my stress melted away and sense of peace washed over me.
Quiet and still, my surroundings seem to have stopped around me. I somehow felt more alert, yet more at peace than ever. Maybe it was his company, maybe it had something to do with the holiday season – I don’t know. What I do know is that he spread a message of love in a way no other man I know could have. His reminder of true love and respect was a refreshing one amongst the Christmas chaos.
Just a day prior to his visit, I had decided to start my Christmas decorating. I was convinced I could have it done in time for dinner the next day. I couldn’t. I had just finished hanging a strand of lights in the window when he arrived, and I quickly tried to hide the dozen open boxes of unorganized Christmas decorations before answering the door.
I answered the door, and even knowing who to expect, I stood there speechless for a moment. My awkwardness resulted in me rudely leaving him out in the cold longer than necessary, while I pulled myself together. Excited, nervous, and extremely humbled, I welcomed him into my home.
“Hi, Doctor. Please come in.”
“Thank you. You are looking very nice today.” He said.
“Please, Mr. King, you’re too kind.” I responded with a blush.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in my house, giving me compliments and I responded like a total idiot. Flustered, flattered and freaked out, I tried to recover.
“So, Mr. King, what have you been up to lately?”
FYI – Not something you should ask a dead guy.
“Oh, not much at all, actually.” He responded politely. “Although, I did get a game of chess in with Peter last week.”
Well, at least he has a sense of humor about it.
“Right…” I anxiously answered. “Anyway, make yourself comfortable. We’ll eat in just a little while.”
The serenity of the night eventually caught up with me, and I was able to take my foot out of my mouth without the help of a surgeon. We engaged in some polite conversation about family and friends, and then relocated into the dining hall for supper. Over dinner, I sought out some advice from the man with the unbreakable spirit.
“Doctor, I have to ask you – I want to know how, in times of great vulgar and ugly discrimination you were able to keep your promise of non-violence and commitment to love. Your first instinct has always been to love others. I was surprised to learn that some labeled you an extremist. I always thought your dedication to love and non-violence was counter to what we would normally label an extremist person or group. How do you feel about this classification?”
Dr. King thought about it for moment and replied, “Though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal …” 1 These men were considered extremists in their time, and if my name is listed with these men, then I am proud to be an extremist. If I am an extremist for love and for justice, then I am proud to be an extremist.”
“In today’s world it seems like anyone who takes a hardline stance on anything they believe in is at risk of being called an extremist. I always associate that word with some sort of militant or hate group, but I never considered what it would mean to be an extremist for love. Why do you consider love to be so important?” I asked, interested in what he had to say.
“The first reason is fairly obvious. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars… Another reason why we must love our enemies is that hate scars the soul and distorts the personality… Hate destroys a man’s sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true… A third reason why we should love our enemies is that love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” 2
I nodded in agreement with every word he said. I was truly inspired by the love this man had to give, despite the hatred he received.
“Wow.” I started in amazement, “I must tell you that I have so much respect for what you just said. In today’s world, it feels like hate is everywhere. Politicians, celebrities, and news organizations are pushing hatred and fear and tearing us apart. Hate groups and radical militant forces are on the rise. People inside both the media and the government have escalated this tense climate in which it appears hate has won. I don’t believe in the culture of hate they are trying to perpetuate; I still believe that the majority of people are good, and are not hateful. I want to change the environment we live in so that we start selling a culture of love instead of a culture of hate.”
I cleared our plates from dinner and prepared the dessert. When I returned with the pie, I directed the conversation toward education.
“Lately, we have been seeing much of the hate culture come out of the school system. It is coming both from K-12 education and the universities. Progressive agendas and liberal policies are continually pushed in public schools, and kids are being taught what to think instead of how to learn.”
“To save man from the morass of propaganda, in my opinion, is one of the chief aims of education. Education must enable one to sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, and the facts from the fiction.3 If we allow propaganda to be spread in schools and do not teach children how to search for the truth on their own, we have failed to properly educate them.” He replied.
We continued to talk through the pie and into early evening. His words were inspirational and his presence was calming. We discussed God and country and our despair for the state of the union. We talked about our hope for the future and our Savior who will guide us.
“Well, dear, I really ought to be going.” He said, noticing the lateness of the hour.
He grabbed his over coat and I walked him to the door.
“Thanks for coming. I really enjoyed your company.”
“Thank you for having me.” He opened the door, “and remember, the time is always right to do right.4”
- Letter from Birmingham Jail, 1963
- From Strength to Love, 1963
- The Purpose of Education, 1947
- Commencement Address at Oberlin College, June 1965