See that line of bricks aiming toward the wreath? It is marking the line that a bullet travelled toward that balcony almost 40 years ago. Only the balcony wasn't empty then. Martin Luther King, Jr. was standing on it.
If you turn around 180 degress, the line of bricks points toward a bathroom window in an old apartment building across the street. It is also a museum now. In that window, someone with hatred in their soul sat and waited for Martin to be standing alone on that balcony. Then they shot him.
Ever since we visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis last Monday, I have been thinking about violence. We visited on the Fourth of July, when the United States celebrates independence from Great Britian, and the birth of a new nation. A violent birth. A bloody birth. Displacement of native people. Enslavement of African people. A violent revolution.
An entire history scarred with violence. The terror of slavery. A horrific war between the states. The hatred and violence of racism. Jim Crow. Lynchings. Segregated schools, restaurants, swimming pools, water fountains. Then there's the not one but two world wars. The nuclear arsenal capable of destroying the entire planet several times over. The toxic pollution freely flowing from our factories, violently choking the planet to death. And on and on and on.
Now another attack. This one in London. Blood, death, violence. It makes us think about 2001, that other attack, the one we refer to by date alone - 9/11. Extremists? Terrorists? People with evil in their hearts? Hunt them down! Root them out! Kill them all!
But will it help? In the end, there is either violence or not-violence. (Nonviolence.) In the end, you can either shoot a bullet at someone or take one from someone. Martin took one on a motel balcony in Memphis.
Jesus took one on a cross in Jerusalem.
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered;
we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
where the white gleam of our bright star is cast. (James Weldon Johnson, 1921)
God, where is the star? The people who walk in darkness have walked in darkness long enough. Could you possibly spare us a little light? Maybe just a flicker ...