One of the experiences described in Barak Obama’s latest book, “A Promised Land”, is his and Michelle’s visit to India and the impact of seeing where Mahatma Gandhi had lived before his death in 1948. His teachings and profound belief in non-violent resistance continue to inspire countless citizens and leaders today around the globe. His insistence of our “common humanity” is foundational to any free society. Gandhi’s hope of unity among all peoples despite differences in cast, religion and culture has not, unfortunately, become reality in India, nor in many other places.
Leading up to Wednesday’s presidential inauguration in the United States, we are seeing less of this recognition and celebration of unity among peoples of differing backgrounds, and far more images of violence, caused by hate and extremist views about differences, as thousands of national guard troops are posted around the capitol in fear that those bent on hate might cause further disruption, damage and even death. How far away we are from Gandhi’s beliefs and teachings.
While walking through Mahatma Gandhi’s private quarters, Barak Obama writes about some of the things that struck him most — how simple the space is; the spartan floor bed, the spinning wheels and a low wooden writing desk. Reflecting on what he saw, Obama writes, “I had the strongest wish to sit beside him and talk, to ask him where he’d found the strength and imagination to do so much with so little. To ask how he recovered from disappointment.”
I’m writing this on Monday, January 18th, two days before a new U.S. president is sworn into office, and a day commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.. Dr. King was profoundly influenced by Gandhi’s teachings. Remembering Gandhi’s insistence on one common humanity, Martin Luther King Jr. would later write, “I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality… I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.” In another speech, Dr.King would call those listening to action saying, “Every man must decide whether he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness. ”
As followers of Jesus Christ, we are not to follow the actions or ideals of those who wish to diminish the life of anyone. We are those who lift up the values of the Kingdom of God, to bless the poor and those who mourn, to side with the meek and the merciful, and all who hunger and thirst for righteousness – the kind God alone makes possible. Christ followers are not led by individual interests but are engaged in the cause of peace, enduring persecution as Sons and Daughters of God. (Matthew 5)
I wish times were easier for all of us, but in these difficult times, the Church of Christ is being given a moment in which to be visible, not only proclaiming the words of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, but fulfilling his teachings, as God’s beloved children.
May we each of us be given the strength and courage to be true to the one who calls us to live our faith, and to be the light in the darkness of this world, today.