Growing up, I heard many stories about Martin Luther King Jr., and his courage, and his conviction that the only way for us to become a more loving world was for us to act more loving.
He said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness - only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” If it were all dark in the room you are in, you couldn’t make it less dark by turning more lights off. No, that would be ridiculous. And that’s how it is with hate. You can’t change hate by meeting it with hate. You have to meet it with love.
But a very particular kind of love. Not romantic love. He didn't mean - if we'd all just fall in love with each other everything would be ok. And not love between friends like - oh let’s all just be friends.
The kind of love he was talking about is what we might call “Courageous Love.” It is a deep and selfless love, a love that connects you to everyone and everything - past, present, future. A superhero kind of love.
It is a love that involves action. You can't really be a superhero and not do anything - that wouldn't make any sense. In the same way, you can’t feel this kind of love and not act.
Because when you feel it, it pierces through what poet Margaret Wheatley calls your “armor of fear.”
Are you wearing an armor of fear? I’d guess we all are, at least a little. We get afraid of what could go wrong, so we protect ourselves, put up walls and defenses. Lots of them, over a lifetime.
But this same armor that keeps you protected Also keeps you from being known or seen or belonged. Until we are moved by the call of courageous love to risk in ways that we would otherwise never imagine.
King’s vision required his own armor of fear be pierced, and his courage pierced through the armor of others. Through his vision, we did things together none of us thought were possible before.
Now I grew up admiring this man and other people like him. In fact, I admired them so much that in my mind, they were the very definition of courage, and of courageous love. I thought, if I can’t be Martin Luther King, then I’m obviously not really courageous or loving.
Let's just say that this makes choosing a college major extra tricky. What does one major in to become Martin Luther King? I bet I'm not the only one who has come to this conclusion. We don't talk about courageous love and our call to justice without referencing these kinds of great charismatic leaders who risked it all.
But the reality is, not all of us are going to be Martin Luther King.
And yet we are all capable and worthy of having our armor of fear pierced by such a courageous love; capable and worthy of offering such a courageous love to another.
Perhaps some of you know the song Roar by Katy Perry. My kids and I listen to it almost every day on the way to school, so it’s often stuck in my head. It’s a great, fun proclamation of how she’s going to reclaim her power and courage and let out a big roar. “You’re gonna hear me roarrrrr.” And sometimes courage does look like this. Roaarrrrrr.
But, as author and artist Mary Anne Rademacher says, “Courage doesn’t always roar.”
I sat in a reflection circle with volunteers from our homeless family ministry - and let me tell you that was a circle filled with courageous love that was not roaring. It was courageous love served one meal at a time. Offered one cot at a time. And it was a courageous love shared one heartbreak at a time, as our circle tried to come to terms with all the things they could not do to make things ok for these families, and so many others.
I talked with a church member this week who is trying very hard to change big and painful patterns they’ve had their whole life. Courageous. Love.
A couple Sundays ago, despite her fear, church member Evanne Winograd got up here and sang so boldly she touched something deep within. That was a moment filled with courageous love. Ok and yes it was a little bit of a roar.
Our willingness to try to understand a friend who is being mean to us at school rather than hurt them back. Or, when we tell our partners about our hard day rather than just brush it aside and pretend we’re just fine. The risk of vulnerability, authenticity. These too, courageous love.
“Sometimes,” Mary Rademacher’s words continue, “courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day, saying ‘I’ll try again tomorrow.’”
And so on this day honoring Martin Luther King, let us all keep finding ways, small and big, roaring and hushed, to pierce our armor of fear, and build a world fueled by this courageous love.