(Remarks delivered at 1:30 p.m. Saturday March 30 at Heart of Memphis celebration at Tiger Lane:)
“The Heart of Memphis: A Declaration of Interdependence”
Thank you, Mayor Wharton. I say we do this every week because this IS the heart of Memphis! We are a city whose greatest assets are its people, history, and diversity. What a great display not only of who we are but of WHAT we are as Memphis.
It hit me that this happening isn’t really an event. It’s a Declaration of Interdependence – it’s quintessential Memphis because Memphis is about ALL of us, not just some of us. Everyone counts in this major city that’s more like an overgrown small town. We support each other and we love each other because the beauty of Memphis IS its diversity – Memphians are diverse and creative, colorful and beautiful, and we are a city where we don’t just tolerate different colors, creeds, and walks of life, we celebrate our differences.
And we also know that at our core, we are all the same. The Bible we share begins with a man named Adam – “Adam” is actually a Hebrew word referring to multicolored specks of earth. The Bible didn’t begin with a Jewish man or a Christian or a black man or a white man. God create Adam to emphasize what the Heart of Memphis is all about – our common humanity. To put it simply, God must love diversity – just look at us!
The image of God inside every man, woman, and all these beautiful children is what Memphis is all about – divinity is INSIDE us, even if it’s the last place in the world some people look to find it. In Memphis or anywhere else, race, creed, sexual orientation, gender, or a person who practices a different religion should never be an obstacle to affirming that person’s innate and unchallengeable divinity. For there is no Jewish God, no Christian God, no Muslim God – there is only ONE God, the Creator of every human being, or as Dr. King put it, “every human life is a reflex of divinity and every act of injustice mars and defaces the image of God in man.” So here’s the bottom line: If every man, woman, and child possesses a portion of God’s greatness, then that means God’s total truth and Memphis’ total truth cannot be complete without all of us together. The world cannot be whole until we accept all its parts. That’s our Declaration of Interdependence!
Today demonstrates that the possibilities for our city and nation are endless when we focus on bringing people together rather than driving them apart. Even our religious traditions, whatever they may be, do not exist to serve our own faithful. Religions exist to help the faithful serve the world. Religion saves us when we affirm the Godliness hidden in everyone; it fails us when we denigrate the image of God in anyone.
And when we affirm the Godliness hidden in everyone, we see what Viktor Frankl saw, that there are really only two types of people in the world – not Memphians and non-Memphians, not believers and non-believers, not Jew and Gentile, certainly not white and black, not even man and woman. When we affirm the Godliness hidden in everyone we see that the only types of people in the world are the decent and indecent.
The prophet Malachi proclaimed “Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us all? Why then do some [sick] brothers deal treacherously against others?” Can we not see, Malachi teaches, that the grandeur of God resides not just in some of us but in all of us? That’s what’s behind today’s Declaration of Interdependence, behind the food trucks and amazing music – what we’re saying by our presence is that to love Memphis is to love each other because to love God is to love each other.
Today’s Passover and tomorrow’s Easter both teach that God cares and loves and wants US to care and love each other more than ever before because we are all refractions of God’s light. Elie Weisel, when he accepted the Noble Peace Prize, was talking about this moment. He said that wherever people are put down, harassed or persecuted because of their race or religion, THAT place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe. Today, Tiger Lane IS the center of the universe because we don’t fear anyone, especially those who hate. In Memphis, our love is greater than fear, and our unity is more powerful than anything that divides.
It doesn’t matter whether you worship under the Shadow of the Cross, the Star of David, the Crescent of Islam, in a Hindu Temple, the way of Buddha or any other path, in Memphis we are one community with different faces yet all part of the same grand design. We share a history of faith and redemption; we stand together at the edge of the river. In times of darkness, Memphians reach for the light. And in Memphis we know where true beauty lies – not in the masks some wear on their faces but in the spirit inside.
We are one, and today’s Declaration of Interdependence proves it. Even in a city where 30% of our residents live in poverty, we won’t give up striving to improve life for everyone. As Dr. King who died 45 years ago this Thursday said, again, as much about Memphis as any place on the planet, “when your character is built not on business foundations alone, and not on political foundations alone, but when your character is built on a moral foundation, your contagious way of life can influence millions. THAT, my friends, is the Heart of Memphis.
Please join hands with those around you and let us pray: God of Moses, God Jesus, God of Mohammed, God of the oldest adult and youngest child here, God of every woman, man, and children – our God. Open our hearts to the radiance that shines from every human soul in our great city. Inspire us to shed our apathy; remind us, Lord, that it is our obligation to be responsible for one another, to stand up and look out for each other. Give us the courage to combat prejudice and intolerance wherever they exist with unity and with love. Teach us to see each other through Your eyes, God, for in Your eyes all people are equally loved and equally precious. Bless our city and bless us all, God, with compassion, with kindness, and with peace. And let us all say: