Monday was the day for the observance of Martin Luther King Day in the US. Dr. King's actual birthday was the 15th of January but, in the way of many public holidays in many countries, the celebration is transferred to the nearest Monday. As a "recovering Yank" who has lived in Australia since 1980, Martin Luther King Day is one of two American holidays I continue to celebrate regularly (the other being Thanksgiving Day). As an undergraduate student at Lafayette, I wrote my senior honours thesis on aspects of Dr. King's theology.
In my opinion, it was a blessed coincidence that Barack Obama's second inauguration as President took place on Martin Luther King Day. Dr. King would have been pleased not only that Mr. Obama was elected in the first place, but that he achieved a second term.
Friday is another notable birthday, that of the noted Scottish poet Robert Burns. The 25th of January is a day when Scots people around the world gather to engage in such rituals as "addressing the haggis" in honour of their national poet. (And, in all honesty, haggises are probably best addressed rather than eaten, if I may say.)
And what do a Twentieth Century pastor from Atlanta and an Eighteenth Century poet from Ayrshire have in common with each other?
For both of them, a major theme in their life and work is the oneness of humanity. We are all part of a single human race. We are all dependent on one another to survive and to thrive.
- King conveyed this message as a preacher and a social activist, calling this conviction of the oneness of humanity the Beloved Community.
- Burns conveyed this same message of universal fellowship as a popular poet
Both Burns and King had a deep and abiding faith in the living God, even though both were bitterly criticised by the conservative religious establishments of their day. King's noted and inspiring "Letter from Birmingham Jail" and Burns's hilarious poem "Holy Willie's Prayer" were (in very different ways) their answers to their self-righteous critics.
And so, ladies and gentlement, please please charge your glasses and join in this toast to the abiding memories of Martin Luther King, Jr. (Pastor and Martyr) and Robert Burns (Poet and Prophet).
"For a' that and a' that,
Thank God Almighty, they're free at last."