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In commemoration of the Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr holiday, Crossroads offers a series of reflections from the Rev. Dr. Danté Quick.
O LORD, you have enticed me,
and I was enticed;
you have overpowered me,
and you have prevailed.
I have become a laughingstock all day long;
everyone mocks me.
8 For whenever I speak, I must cry out,
I must shout, “Violence and destruction!”
For the word of the LORD has become for me
a reproach and derision all day long.
9 If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.
10 For I hear many whispering:
“Terror is all around!
Denounce him! Let us denounce him!”
All my close friends
are watching for me to stumble.
“Perhaps he can be enticed,
and we can prevail against him,
and take our revenge on him.”
11 But the LORD is with me like a dread warrior;
therefore my persecutors will stumble,
and they will not prevail.
They will be greatly shamed,
for they will not succeed.
Their eternal dishonor
will never be forgotten.
12 O LORD of hosts, you test the righteous,
you see the heart and the mind;
let me see your retribution upon them,
for to you I have committed my cause.
(Jeremiah 20:7-12 NRSV)
The final reflection! I start by once again thanking Monica Weeks and the Crossroads Theatre Company for this kind invitation. I pray I have not been a source of regret. In this final reflection, I start at the root…the baseline…the driving force! For at the base of human action there is always a motivation! The French term is raison d'être. It literally means the reason or justification for which something exists and therefore functions!
For instance, Paul Leroy Robeson would not be reduced to a singer and actor…NO…his artistic gift was the gateway through which the world was invited to witness the depth of his demand for the democratic ideals that denied no one full personhood and participation. Is that not what true art fosters? The motivation of art and the artist is the creation of democratic environments. The tenors and the altos must make space for each other if there is to be harmony. As inheritors of Robeson’s artistic impulse, Sidney Poitier and Cicely Tyson presented notions of Black dignity that would not be denied by supremacist notions of Black buffoonery. Yes…at the base of all action there is a raison d'être.
In this regard, the fact that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Ph.D. referred to himself as a “Drum Major for Peace” in his own reflections about the end of his life points to an artistic self-portrait. Why would a man who had all the trappings of a beautiful Black bourgeois life walk squarely into death? King was a Black man with a Ph.D. from a prestigious university with a beautiful and well-educated wife formally trained as an opera vocalist and four children in the 1950’s/60’s America! He had the “American dream,” at least as much as a “negro” would be allowed to access! So...why??
Enter stage left the 7 th century prophet Jeremiah! Born of priestly lineage, Jeremiah stood amidst turbulent theo-socio-political times to prophetically speak to the community. It is clear that such was not his plan: “Oh Lord you have enticed me, and I was enticed.” In the Masoretic Hebrew the word presented as ‘enticed,’ פָּתָה, can be translated as ‘deceived.’ With a lyricism that surpasses the poetic depth of a Shakespearean sonnet, Jeremiah decries that he has been reduced to a laughingstock. And yet…the more he tries to withhold his art…the more he tries to mute his motivation…the more he resists his raison d'être…there flows out of the nerve center of his personhood… “something like a burning fire shut up in my bones.”
This…this is the call of an artist…this was the call of Dr. King… a burning fire shut up in his bones! We dare not reflect about the life and legacy of the man known as King…the man who graced everybody’s grandma’s refrigerator… and not deal with the towering and terrific truth that he was a man of God! A Black preacher extraordinaire! Part poet…part priest…part politician…the Black preacher is the most dynamic artist produced on American soil. Dr. King’s raison d'être and legacy must be rooted and grounded in a God of liberation! On April 13, 1960, in an article entitled “Pilgrimage to Nonviolence” for The Christian Century magazine, Dr. King wrote:
In recent months I have also become more and more convinced of the reality of a personal God. True, I have always believed in the personality of God. But in past years the idea of a personal God was little more than a metaphysical category which I found theologically and philosophically satisfying. Now it is a living reality that has been validated in the experiences of everyday life. Perhaps the suffering, frustration and agonizing moments which I have had to undergo occasionally as a result of my involvement in a difficult struggle have drawn me closer to God. Whatever the cause, God has been profoundly real to me in recent months. In the midst of outer dangers I have felt an inner calm and known resources of strength that only God could give. In many instances I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic championship.
This is it!! This is the legacy!! No matter how talented we may be…no matter how much education we may have…no matter what social or financial resources one may have…if you not are driven, by a deeper, divine purpose…one shall not fully actualize a Kingian legacy! You may not seek the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob…yours may be the call of Buddha or Muhammad…whatever Divine you seek…Dr. King teaches us all what it means to be so centered in one’s calling that the noise external to your heart and therefore your raison d'être can never diminish your art! Go change the world by honoring the fire burning deep within you!! #BurnBabyBurn
About Rev. Dr. Danté Quick
Rev. Danté R. Quick, Ph.D., Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Lincoln Gardens, Somerset, New Jersey is a popular lecturer and writer. He is well known for his research and expertise in Philosophical and Systematic Theology with a focus on African American Studies. His work is considered an important resource for religious educators.