I was in junior high school when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. As an adolescent, I understood that something horrific for the entire country had happened, but my understanding of the full impact of this tragedy has grown across the years of my own spiritual growth as a human being, as a Native American, and as a Christian.
One of the central cultural values from my indigenous tradition is the significance of wisdom and its importance within our cultural community. This is one of the reasons Native Americans hold elders in such high esteem--we experience our elders as keepers of our communal wisdom. This is the wisdom gleaned from a lifetime of gathering knowledge and synthesizing experience that contributes to the very existence, continuance, and quality of our life as a communal people.
Occasionally, we experience this kind of wisdom within a younger person whose voice is like a perfectly pitched musical instrument--when it strikes a note, everyone within earshot stops to absorb the sound, recognizing that there is something intrinsically and existentially crucial in this voice for the survival of the community. One such young wisdom keeper was the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
I lift up to you the voice of Dr. King as experienced in the following quote, “In a real sense, all life is interrelated. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
I hear the words and thoughts of so many of our indigenous wisdom keepers reflected in this powerful quote. My cultural tradition as a Keetoowah Cherokee person has taught me the ultimate value of these words for a world struggling with the divisions and differences within our humanity versus a world standing upon the shared and communal nature of all Creation. Dr. King offered these words both within the context of civil rights for persons of color and within the broader context of the implications of ignoring the interconnectedness of all life.
His understanding of human beings as creatures created by a loving and just Creator, creatures living daily within the implications of the shadows and light cast by one another, is profound for our time as it was profound during his short life. What would our contentious world be like if we chose to stand up for the truth of our universal relationship with one another? What would our United Methodist Church be like if we chose to search for the implications of our interrelated life together?
The voice of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. continues to hold us accountable to one another across each instant of time while connecting us to those who came before us and those who will follow us, even to seven generations and beyond. As we contemplate the upcoming Human Relations Sunday from within our self-professed connectional faith communion, may we consider that we are indeed surrounded by a cloud of witnesses of all colors, from all eras, across time and space, who testify that we indeed must find the meaning of our own lives within the context of living among “all our relations.”
Rev. Anita Phillips is an elder in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference. She has served for eight years as the Executive Director of NACP. She has served in many capacities within the United Methodist Church both as a lay person and clergy person, including as a district superintendent. She is coauthor of the book, On This Spirit Walk. Rev. Phillips is both a mother and grandmother who still lives on part of the original allotment lands in Oklahoma ceded to Cherokee people in the early 1900’s as reparation for confiscated ancestral lands in the Southeast and the forced death march known as the Trail of Tears.