That the United States observes a federal holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is one of the great ironies of American history. After all, when King was assassinated nearly fifty-one years ago, he was known by many as "the most hated man in America."
We honor Dr. King with a holiday, but Greg Thompson argues that this might be a convenient way of shielding our hearts from his prophetic challenge. He writes, "King simply remains an abstraction even to those who summon him, a talisman carried to assure us that we are faithful members of a righteous tradition and that the moral arc of the universe bends toward, well, ourselves."
What would we hear if we went out into the wilderness and truly heard King's voice? We would hear the good news of "love made flesh in the streets of this world." More specifically, we would hear the call to see with the eyes of love, to take up the works of love, and to embrace the sufferings of love.
Read "The Friend We Need But Do Not Want: Martin Luther King Jr." at Comment or watch Greg Thompson's TEDx talk on the topic. For more on King's public theology of love, see Thompson's An Experiment in Love: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Re-imagining of American Democracy.