Saturday, January 17, 2009

Listening for Hope

It is a great irony and thing of import that Barack Obama will be sworn in as the 44th President of the United States the day after the Dr. Martin Luther King holiday. Dr. King was assassinated in Memphis in April of 1968. I was six years old and remember the Army National Guard tanks rolling down my street on the way to their posts in downtown Memphis. Of course, I was too young to know what was going on. I just remember my parents watching the TV a lot and their being extremely on edge. Forty years seem like a lot time in between the events of that I Am A Man strike and Dr. King's death and finally electing a man of color to serve as our President.

I am fascinated by the rhetorical prowess of both Dr. King and President-elect Obama. I have been reading many of Dr. King's speeches in the last few days as sort of a introspective homage to the purpose to which he dedicated his life. His ability to unite, inspire, and lead people toward a more hopeful, righteous future is amazing. And, I could make the exact same statement about President-elect Obama.

In one of his speeches entitled "The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life," Dr. King uses inspiration from a vision that John the Baptist had while in prison about the importance of the length, breadth, and height of God's Temple. Dr. King interpreted the length of one's life as "the inward concern for one's own welfare." He said it is that inward concern that motivates us to push forward and achieve our goals. It is one's inner-strength and courage. Dr. King says the breadth of one's life is "the outward concern for the welfare of others." It is one's sense of purpose and selflessness. It is using our gifts for the betterment of life for others. The height of life is "the upward reach for God." I would call this one's sense of gratitude and sense of The Sacred. To me this is having a sense of one's life as a gift and a sense of responsibility in making use of that sacred gift, to be called to service.

In looking at these three dimensions, I see President-elect Obama as being aware of his three dimensions and of his calling each of us to use our courage and talents to put our life in service of Goodness and Love. I think next week will be an exceptionally powerful and critical moment in the history of our country. I can't wait to witness the glory of the moment and hope that the tides of emotion wash over us collectively as a country such that hope becomes prevalent in all of our lives and our actions.

Check out past Inaugural speeches as well as MLK speeches at American Rhetoric.

photograph by Memphis Photographer Ernest C. Withers

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