Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Mondays with Martin: Existential VIP

The National Park Service treats its volunteers well, right down to the title they've designed to make volunteers feel special: Volunteers in the Parks, or VIP. When the ranger who coordinates volunteers sends out a mass e-mail communication, it is always addressed to VIPs, and, speaking only for myself, we do feel like very important people.
I was reminded of that during my four hours at MLK today when I directed at least a dozen people to the nearest bus stop or restroom. Hey, what's more important than finding a bathroom when you need it? The little things in life make up most of life, after all, and, though they feel like an ever-flowing stream, as it were, the whole of it doesn't last very long.
When I get to talking with visitors I always ask where they are from. Today one woman answered my question with, "oh, from here, temporarily."
I couldn't resist replying, "well, that's true no matter where you're from." Free directions to attractions around the Tidal Basin, and a pint of philosophy thrown in for no extra charge. You're welcome!
A family from Atlanta stopped for a lengthy chat, and asked all kinds of interesting questions, including "what is my favorite quotation on the wall of the memorial."
I answered, "the one I probably quote most often is 'the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.'"
The mom asked why I believe that, and, having already established some Presbyterian common ground, I said, "because we're an Easter people, I believe that resurrection is woven into the fabric of the universe. In the end, it will be all right. If all is not right, it's not the end. When we do the work of love, we bend the arc toward justice, and toward that day when all will be well for all of God's children."
At the memorial I often invite kids to look at the figure of Dr. King carved in granite, and see what's missing. Eventually most of them will notice that the sculpture, which is, technically, a relief, has no feet. When I ask why they think that is, responses range from, "I don't know," to "feet are hard to carve," to deeper reflections, such as, "his life wasn't finished," and "his work wasn't finished."
The figure invites us to consider the long walk to freedom, and who is going to keep on walking now, in this moment when it is not all right, yet. Who is going to use this temporary time, this brief sojourn we have, to bend the arc a bit further?
There are all kinds of ways to do that work, and at a moment when some folks seem particularly concerned about bathrooms, telling people where they can go -- and working to make sure that all people can go to the bathroom where they feel comfortable and safe -- is very important work, indeed.