The Time is Right

tick.jpgWhen I was a child, I recall a lesson in Sunday school teaching about “active patience”.  The concept, as best I can recall, is to view patience not as passive idleness, but as an engaged and active activity. I assume the point of the lesson was to teach our impulsive and hyperactive selves that instant gratification should not be the sole obsession of our existence, though I really only recall learning a flippant prayer “Oh Lord, give me patience and give it to me now!” and waiting, impatiently I may add, for snack time.

While impatiently waiting for whatever grace my Sunday school teacher was expecting to come my way, through the years I have found that impulsiveness can be as rewarding as patience. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. It really is the application to the situation that is important. Being right, I have found, is far more important than being patient.

It almost seems appropriate that the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial dedication, scheduled for this past Saturday, has been postponed due to the hurricane. As one of the most influential and identifiable  American figures of the 20th century, he waited nearly 50 years to get his image set in granite in our capital – what’s a few more days? For a man who was clearly before his time in so many ways, no one would claim that he was either overly patient, nor that he was impulsive.

He was just… right.

In an Op-Ed last week, Princeton University professor Cornell West projected himself into the mind of Dr. King, predicting that if Dr. King were alive today, he would be calling for a new revolution.

King’s response to our crisis can be put in one word: revolution. A revolution in our priorities, a re-evaluation of our values, a reinvigoration of our public life and a fundamental transformation of our way of thinking and living that promotes a transfer of power from oligarchs and plutocrats to everyday people and ordinary citizens.

West is right too.

If there was one idea Dr. King stood for, it was a fundamental change in the way we, as a people, do our business. But just as King called for a revolution not in the sense of a violent uprising, but in the sense of a fundamental shift in the perception of people, West calls for a political revolution that echoes the work of Dr. King and others during the civil rights strugges of the ’60′s:

In concrete terms, this means support for progressive politicians… ; extensive community and media organizing; civil disobedience; and life and death confrontations with the powers that be. Like King, we need to put on our cemetery clothes and be coffin-ready for the next great democratic battle.

Despite his dark analogy, West is calling for a political and ideological battle against those who ignore the poor and oppressed. Ironically, there is nothing particularly revolutionary in this call to revolution – these are well-worn ideas of the progressive movement for the past 30 years.  But that doesn’t make them any less necessary, or any closer to reality.

They are just right.

And so we come back to the idea of active patience. I suppose if Dr. King can wait this long for a memorial, I can wait just a long for a King-style revolution. But you can bet I won’t be just sitting here and waiting for the revolution. In his famous Letter from a Birmingham Jail, Dr. King himself said, We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.”

Indeed, the time is always right.