When Little Decisions Explode (for the better)
The Better Plan blogsite usually comments on the seemingly little, and even unseen, ways in which our choices affect us and those around us, but today I am struck by two things I experienced last week that represent the power of choice on a much bigger, more perilous stage. True, these big displays of the power of choice came out of the seemingly little private choices that two individuals made, and true, these two individuals could not conceive of where their little choices would take them.
The two individuals to which I am referring are Martin Luther and Tommie Smith. You might be wondering how I experienced gentlemen last week, and in the case of Tommie Smith you might be wondering who he even is. Dr. Tommie Smith, of 1968 Mexico City Olympic fame, came to Pacific Union College last week and presented to the campus Black Student Union club, a presentation I was privileged to attend. It just so happened that last week, during my meditative reading time, I read about the reformer Martin Luther and his impassioned debate against the religious machinery of his day. Two men, one raising a black-gloved hand to the sky, imploring the world to pursue fairness and non-discrimination, the other nailing 95 theses to the church door, imploring the world to embrace simplicity of Jesus and His gospel of real freedom and real power. We think of them with a momentary, cognitive tip-of-the-hat, forgetting that their commitment to their message placed them on the very cusp of having their lives ended, crushed by the systems they were challenging.
Luther, whose only goal was to uplift the importance of Scripture and the Saviour that Scripture described, entered a maelstrom of fierce attacks that few of us can even begin to comprehend. It can truly be said that the forces of hell arrayed themselves against this humble monk. He had to be kidnapped by the good guys to prevent his sure assassination. Non-violent to the end, he understood the power of words and the ways in which every man and woman can and must decide for themselves the allegiances they will embrace. Words alone, without coercion, will do their work better than any sword or cannon.
Smith, along with John Carlos (and Peter Norman, the silver medal winner), raised a black-gloved fist during the medal ceremony and the playing of the U.S. national anthem in protest of the racism and discrimination so prevalent throughout the world, but especially in the United States. His punishment for this public act was swift and comprehensive. Banished from the Olympic village and sent home to multiple death threats and ostracization. Criticized for using the gold medal stand as his political soap box and dismissed as a problem. His message of non-violent change for the better was for many lost in the money-making machinery of sport and politics. Rejected by friends, and even family, Tommie Smith went on to gain his teaching credential, and ultimately his doctorate, which he applied to a life of service in the education system.
I have been inspired by Luther and Smith and have been led to question the extent to which I am ready to stand for something in which I deeply believe. Am I capable of thoughtfully, purposefully, non-violently, and resolutely “raging against the machinery” of my day, against the organizations and systems that confuse people, rather than help them, and hurt them, rather than heal them.
For Luther and Smith their journeys began with seemingly little ideas and choices. Interesting how our little choices can explode into such big deals.
I encourage you to do some research and reading on the characters written about in today’s post. Of particular interest is the story of Peter Norman, the Australian silver medal winner in the 200 meter race in which Tommie Smith and John Carlos also ran. Talk about an unsung hero.