January 10, 2008

Approaching Martin Luther King, Jr. Day: Have We Gone From Community To Chaos?

Martin Luther King's last book was Where Do We Go From Here: Community Or Chaos? Ironically, when I searched it on amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com, I was unable to find a copy in stock. Resellers were offering copies on amazon.

In the last few days, the major news outlets have reported the deaths of eight children, allegedly at the hands of their parents. After arguing with the children's mother, a father has confessed to throwing four of his young children off a bridge in Alabama.

In Washington, DC, a mother has been charged with the homicides of her four daughters, whose bodies were found in a seriously advanced state of decomposition (non recognizable). The bodies were discovered when U.S. Marshals went to the home to serve an eviction notice.

These horrific crimes, our equally tragic resignation to such occurrences (read online comments attached to some news reports of these stories if you doubt me), and our apparent powerlessness to reverse the trend of wanton abuse and murder (murders which increasingly seem to have some element of bodily mutilation associated with them) make me wonder if we have forgotten or abandoned the idea of the Beloved Community.

I'm aware and have considered that many crimes of these types occurred in the near and distant past. Perhaps it is our ability to learn about them quickly that has changed how we imagine community. Are we in a deeper chaos than we were over forty years when King prophetically warned us about losing sight of the true and fundamental nature of humans as spiritual beings? The title of King's book implies a choice must be made. Perhaps the choice has been made.

Can community exist only for me and my circle of family, friends, and colleagues? Is it too dangerous to extend our idea of community beyond those we already know and trust? In the Washington, DC incident, neighbors reported staying "to themselves" and not seeking interaction with what has been defined as a violent, poverty-ridden environment. The neighbor who smelled the decomposing bodies thought he was picking up the scent of dead mice in a vent and continued his daily routines. Can we really blame him for that decision? Would you knock on a door if you knew (or suspected) one or more dead bodies lay behind that door?

If I chose community only for my circle, how long can my circle be sustained in the midst of the unconcerned, fearful, and distant people who will live among and around us? Can I ever be safe in such a situation? How long can I enjoy the illusion of safety when rage and anger wait at my door and beneath my window?

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