Peace and service ­— celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.

How often do our lives change from what we want them to be to an even greater expression than what we imagined? This Monday, Jan. 19, is a day in our country when people speak about peace and service as we honor the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., an American who became an icon of equality through non-violence, universal compassion and service. It’s not what he started out to be, but it is so important to the fiber of what we stand for as a nation that it has become a federal holiday in the hopes that people will practice service to their fellow citizens of every race, color, belief, sexual expression, age, nationality, etc.

He wanted to be a pastor in a southern parish, and accepted a position at the Dexter Ave. Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama. He was happy there with his wife Coretta. He liked peace and a time to contemplate theology and philosophy. However, just three weeks after his first child was born, in November 1955, a member of his congregation was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus to a white person. Her name was Rosa Parks.

He reluctantly became the spokesperson for the bus-boycott protest that followed, fully understanding that in the segregated south he was risking violence to himself. In an Advice for Living column in 1958 he stated, “The believer in nonviolence is the person who will willingly allow himself to be the victim of violence, but he will never inflict it upon another. He lives by the conviction that through his suffering and cross bearing, the social situation may be redeemed.” The rest is public history.

Dr. King was so eloquent, humble and had so much conviction in what he stated that it was easy to follow him. He asked little for himself. In 1964, he even gave all his $54,000 Nobel Prize money to the Civil Rights movement to keep it going and kept living in his rental house. In his acceptance speech he said, “I think Alfred Nobel would know what I mean when I say that I accept this award in the spirit of a curator of some precious heirloom which he holds in trust for its true owners — all those to whom beauty is truth and truth beauty-and in whose eyes the beauty of all genuine brother and peace is more precious than diamonds or silver or gold,” And he wanted all of us to be those true owners.

How do these live evolving changes happen? In Dr. King’s case, I know that he loved God and chose to serve Him. With God as “Guide” of one’s life, it’s logical to imagine that God who is all powerful, all knowing, all loving and present everywhere would ultimately cause the greatest good for the greatest amount to occur. Yes, I know that Dr. King was assassinated, but I believe that he accepted that possibility when he accepted his loving service to all of us.

Who hasn’t felt like a minority at some point, even if it’s about weight, or dress, or choice of some kind? But thanks to Dr. King, and thousands of others, we look deeper and can feel one with out humanity, no matter the expression.

So how do we figure out how to serve others? A friend of mine was in a group who had the task over the holidays to do a random act of kindness. One of the men happened to notice that a yard belonging to elderly neighbors had become neglected. While they were out one day, he cleaned the yard! They came home and were so greatly appreciative that they wanted to thank the person and wondered if the man had seen who had done it. He never told them. What a great service that was and how meaningful to those two and probably the rest of the neighbors.

“Let Life Happen” founder Barbara Jacoby states, “There are so many little things that we can do to help out someone else and it doesn’t cost us anything but a little bit of observation and one small action. But, that action can have far reaching effects that we may never know or understand.”

Did you catch that “little bit of observation”? If we just open our eyes sometimes, we can make a difference for others. I see people in parks and beaches walk by someone else’s trash and then I’ll see another person pick it up and throw it away. What’s the difference in philosophy here? There’s nothing wrong with “I’m not responsible for anything but me,” and yet the “It would be better for me, the living beings here, and others if I dispose of this,” has a greater impact. Maybe a person will see this and do the same. It’s been proven that if public places are clean and orderly, it is less likely that others will leave their trash around.

What I’ve learned is that service and kindness go together. True acts of service are acts of kindness and come ultimately from the love we are that we can never run out of. We do have to remember to love ourselves too, and not over extend. Some people push because they have substituted the approval of others for receiving the love of others, often because they don’t believe they deserve it. So only do something for another if it truly feels good.

Here are some King quotations to inspire you. They came from the “Dream – The Words and Inspiration of Martin Luther King. Jr.” by Blue Mountain Arts, 2007

“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

“We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”

“All humanity is involved in a simple process, and all men are brothers. To the degree that I harm my bother, no matter what he is doing to me, to that extent I am harming myself.”

“Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a permanent attitude.”

“What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.”

And from Brainy quotes: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.”

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

May your acts of kindness and service lead you to an ever greater expression of your life, and a better understanding of who you really are.

To learn more about Dr. King, celebrate his life, and learn ways to serve Kauai, consider attending the Interfaith Roundtable of Kauai’s annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration at the Lihue Neighborhood Center, 3353 Eono St. Lihue from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Lunch will be served. Call 634-9992 for more info.

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Hale Opio Kauai convened a support group of adults in our Kauai community to “step into the corner” for our teens, to answer questions and give support to youth and their families on a wide variety of issues. Please email your questions or concerns facing our youth and families today to Annaleah Atkinson at aatkinson@haleopio.org

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