For many people, the Martin Luther King holiday has become yet another three-day weekend, time off from work or school. The Civil Rights movement, which began with the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., in 1955, may seem like ancient history in a society where there's "instant" everything from coffee to messaging.
But this special day is a time to consider that despite the progress that has been made, racism hasn't been completely eliminated.
Discrimination against indigenous peoples, against immigrants (including legal ones), as well as those of different races still remains, even though it sometimes takes subtler forms. For example, in many large cities young African Americans still grow up in poverty and remain there because they can't escape that mental environment. Breaking out of the culture of poverty isn't just about getting more money. It's about knowing that you have value, that your presence in this world can be a blessing.
In a way, that is perhaps the last but also the most challenging aspect of the civil rights struggle. Mary Baker Eddy, who founded the Monitor, witnessed this country's struggles with slavery, and the transition out of it. In her book "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," she observed, "Legally to abolish unpaid servitude in the United States was hard; but the abolition of mental slavery is a more difficult task" (p. 225)
Speaking of the mortal view of life, which devalues each of us by tricking us into devaluing others, she continued on the same page, "The despotic tendencies, inherent in mortal mind and always germinating in new forms of tyranny, must be rooted out through the action of the divine Mind." To the divine Mind, each aspect of its creation is perfect and purposed. Each one of its children – that's you, me, and everyone, regardless of skin color, type of job, or bank account – has value. Each is precious in God's sight.
The Bible gives proof of this over and over again. From its stirring words about the right of everyone to have freedom, to its message of salvation in the Gospels, it speaks of man (including men, women, and children) as spiritual, as God's creation, as "very good." And Jesus' ministry among the poor and despised people – as well as his rebukes to the rich and self-satisfied – reinforce the point.
For Jesus, healing was not only about setting people free from suffering, but also about changing the thought of society, especially among those who felt superior to others. So, for example, when he was criticized for healing a woman on the Sabbath (because no work was supposed to be done that day), he replied, "Doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering? And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound ... be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?" (Luke 13:15, 16)
To me he was saying, "You value your animals enough to take care of them. Can't you see that this woman, as a descendant of the man to whom God promised His care, has an even greater heritage?
Society has changed greatly from the times of Jesus, yet the same mental struggle goes on: the need to value each individual, to see his or her spiritual heritage and the blessings to be gained from unlocking those talents. Each of us can contribute by not looking down on someone else because of race, background, handicap, or gender, and by praying for the day when all people will be valued.
And there's a direct, personal benefit to taking this step. Each time we can see others as children of God, we reinforce our own spiritual heritage as God's offspring. We become freer from the mental slavery that says some are "top dogs" and others are not. We are loosed from the burden of despising or rejecting others to rejoicing in the knowledge that our Father's house is big enough for everyone to have a place and for each one's gifts to be joyfully expressed.