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I wrote in the encyclopedia

April 4, 2018

Image result for Dr. Martin Luther kingWhen I was a kid our family had the World Book Encyclopedia. I can remember the day the boxes arrived.  Along with the boxes full of olive green colored books full of knowledge just waiting to be discovered, there was an additional set of books.  Childcraft: The How and Why Library.  My familial claim to fame is that I read through the entire 15 volume set of Childcraft books, sometimes by flashlight under the covers into the late hours of the night.   But I digress.

We had strict rules in our home about using the encyclopedia.  One of them was to not write in these volumes.  They were for our education.  But one night I broke the rules and to this day I am not sorry I did.  I was 9 years old on April 4, 1968.  I was just beginning to understand the horrors of the world around me.  A few months earlier I heard my father teach about the end of the world and the return of Christ.  This had been prompted by the Six Day War in the Middle East. I had figured I would not make it past the 6th grade before Jesus came. My uncle was sending letters every now and then from the base in Vietnam where he was stationed.  I would see the casualty count every evening on the television.  It was a bit frightening as a kid.

Then on April 4, 1968 the news came across the TV that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.  I was not fully aware of the issues.  I sadly admit that race relations was not a hot topic in our family and not always were the conversations such that I would want to repeat.  But in my 9-year-old mind I knew that something was terribly wrong, and I had to do something.  So, I did.  I wrote in the encyclopedia.  It was all I could do at that moment.

I quietly went downstairs and found the correct volume of the World Book Encyclopedia.  I looked up the entry for Dr. King. And as a confused, sort of frightened, not fully aware of his world 9-year-old, I completed the date line.  April 4, 1968.  I looked at it for a few moments and then put it back.  That moment never left me.

It has taken the next 50 years of life to begin to understand the power of that moment in my life.  I have had to learn and understand and honestly admit the sin of  ͞white privilege from which I have benefited.  I have had to work to understand that every human is a creature, made in the image of God and needs to be treated that way. I have worked to teach my children that reality.  I have had to apologize to friends for offensive statements made.  And I have rejoiced in the richness of life of the many friends of color that God has graciously allowed me to have.  Friends who have helped me, challenged me, encouraged me, and by their very lives taught me the value of celebrating differences.

I was in the middle of this 50-year journey when, as an adult, I was visiting my folks in Kansas with my own young family.  I wandered to the basement one day and found the World Book Encyclopedia.  I pulled the J-K volume off the shelf and opened it to the entry of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  As I found the slightly faded date I had written I found myself deeply moved. I knew then that this would be a life long journey of living the words of Dr King to never judge someone “…by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”  May I never forget the lessons that I have learned and continue to learn in a journey that started when I wrote in the encyclopedia on the fateful day 50 years ago.


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