Posted by David
It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day once again. I would like to think that those national holidays which are devoted to individuals are so because those people were truly noble and had character traits that should be considered and revered by the nation which celebrates him or her.
In college I read a bit of his Letter from Birmingham Jail and more recently listened to some of his sermons. He has some powerful sermons, that’s for sure. Did he have that quality that a nation should celebrate and desire? It would certainly seem so. But things that are done for noble reasons can’t be reliably discerned from history. They can only be known by the state of the heart under which the actions were committed, which we are not privy to in others and only on special occasions of insight are we of our own.
I do feel that we should celebrate noble acts, but less so noble people, because we are all flawed and by celebrating a person we tend to start confusing the noble act with the flaws in that person. For instance, people look at King’s extramarital affairs and say, “See, he wasn’t noble afterall,” and so therefore neither were his acts they conclude. The opposite condition can occur also. A cult-of-personality can develop in a person who may have done something seemingly noble, yet he or she is actually a narcissistic, totalitarian control freak, who did the act to gain popularity. I expect that this is how many of history’s leaders came to be.
What is important about celebrating noble acts is it gives us the opportunity to know what one such act really feels like. As difficult it is to set forth examples in this day and age, there are some, if not only clearly in fiction. The actions of Samwise come to mind first from the Lord of the Rings series. But today, I offer up a recent reading that describes a perfect noble act upon which we should learn and celebrate.
In the next to last chapter of The House at Pooh Corner, we learn that Owl had just lost his home in a windstorm and all the animals were helping him get his belongings from his sideways, smashed-up tree house. Rabbit had summoned and directed everyone to look for a new home for Owl. Eeyore, who usually did more grumbling than anything of much use, had actually found a home for Owl and he was quite proud of himself. He took Christopher Robin, Pooh and Piglet to see the fine new home. We find them there discovering that the new home just happens to be Piglet’s house.
And then Piglet did a Noble Thing, and he did it in a sort of dream, while he was thinking of all the wonderful words Pooh had hummed about him.
“Yes, it’s just the house for Owl,” he said grandly. “And I hope he’ll be very happy in it.” And then he gulped twice, because he had been very happy in it himself.
When Martin Luther King, Jr. took to the streets, did he do it as if in a “sort of dream”? Did he do it out of self-sacrifice? He was certainly not a perfect man, but must we be perfect to do anything noble? I personally would prefer to celebrate the noble acts of Marthin Luther King, Jr. rather than the man himself. What were those particular acts?
Mostly we don’t hear about noble acts. They are the sort of thing that your left hand doesn’t know that your right hand is doing. But they happen every day. Nowadays, Jesus does that work only through us. And we do it only through him. Those acts bore a hole right through history and live beyond time itself. History doesn’t remember those sorts of things. It’s not the nature of history to remember that stuff. But you can remember and if you look out for them you will see them. And one day they will happen to you and you won’t even know it.
“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.