In an earlier article, reference was made to the Christian comedian, Steve Harvey, who after hosting his own TV show for 27 years, made the following comment about retiring from stand-up comedy:
“Your career is what you are paid for; your calling is what you are made for…and tragic is that man who comes to die before he comes to know what he was made for.”
This is to put in sharper focus the thrust of the earlier article.
In considering the central issue here, that is, the possibility of spiritual values also being human, and the roles both can play – as more stable incomes and literacy will – in creating wholesome Black communities, one question is beyond pertinent: is the selfless pursuit of justice for those most in need and least able to defend themselves, our calling?
Like many of the stalwarts involved in the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, I think it is. I believe that as humans in the process of being, we are flesh…and more. Or as one prescient being observed, “The body is more than meat and the life more than raiment.”
In language more prosaic, “The body is more than the food we eat, and our lives more than the clothes we wear.”
Which segues back to the central issue cited above and to Steve Harvey’s point of departure between one’s career and one’s calling. The lives of two individuals, both influential Americans, provide some insight into these options. One had a Doctorate in Divinity; the other was an aerospace engineer.
The latter, in the 1970s was also a business magnate, investor, aviator, filmmaker and philanthropist. He is more remembered, though, for his eccentric and reclusive lifestyle. The other, a 1960s person, and the elder of two sons, had been born to a pastor of Georgia’s renowned Ebenezer Baptist Church.
He was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A disciplined student, he had earned scores so high in his junior years, that he skipped grades nine and 12. At the age of 15 and bypassing graduation from high school, he was admitted into the bachelor’s degree program at Morehouse College. Later, he would become the youngest graduate to earn a PhD from Boston University.
With his career assured as the ordained pastor of an established church and congregation, his halcyon future was however about to change, and radically. This occurred after the brutal murder in 1955 of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago visiting family during the summer in Mississippi.
Dr. King subsequently became the national leader of the Civil Rights Movement. It was leadership that would effect many historic milestones, including Rosa Parks’ 1955 refusal to cede her seat in a bus to a White man; the game-changing 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery; the subsequent signing in the same year of the Voting Rights Act.
King’s career as a pastor had been superseded by his calling to be a “drum-major for justice”.
Always aware of the spectre of pending assassination and with a wife and four young children, he nonetheless had no life insurance. A colleague, realizing this, bought King an insurance policy that would eventually assist in sustaining his orphaned family.
The other man, one of the wealthiest ever, was Howard Hughes. He was a highly sought-after celebrity. For decades, he was darling to the most glamorous; adored by the movers in Hollywood and confidante to the shakers on Wall Street. After sequential careers in several stellar fields, he retired, a recluse.
He died in his seventies in 1976. According to Ron Kistler, biographer and former bodyguard, Hughes’ last coherent days were spent snatching flies on the wing; totals chloroformed and recorded.
King, not yet 40, had died a decade earlier. He changed the world. His life, cut down in his prime, energized then and now, the link between being human and being spiritual: that is, our pursuing justice for those unable to do for self or others. The GPS of King’s soul had set him aright between career and calling. He once stated:
“The arc of the moral universe is long. But it bends towards justice.”
Charity became a sin because justice is always the issue. Courage infused others he had inspired; some unto untimely deaths: Medgar Evers (1963), Bobby Kennedy (1968).
From examples as theirs, any selfless stance taken beside the marginalized reveals human values more clearly as also being spiritual. Among these, compassion versus ambivalence and justice versus justification as the revealed human metaphors for the spiritually righteous versus the spiritually unrighteous.
On the night before he was martyred in 1968, King gave his own epitaph:
“Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the coming of the Lord.”
Which of these men, King or Hughes, went down to the grave justified; their calling fulfilled?
I am convinced that our communities, far and near, are in need of healing: vast and deep from centuries of casual and unabated abuse. Our healing against poverty, incarceration, violence, illiteracy, anti-Black racism will be realized, in addition to our vigorous opposition to all aspects of anti-Black racism, to our living large, the spiritual values of justice, truth, honour, courage and peace.
Human values all, these are most needed by those most at risk of being victims and/or perpetrators of violence. In this 21st century, our calling as adults is to assist in emancipating our youth from the defeats of self-hatred and cynicism into lives of hope, discipline and compassion.
For none of us should die tragic and wasted; not knowing by whom, and for what we are made.