A masked magician hosts an occasional television show called “Breaking the Magician’s Code.” On national television, Val Valentino, the Masked Magician, exposes the tricks of the magicians’ trade. When he shows us how our attention was misdirected, we say “Aha,” and acknowledge that we were duped.
We use the term “smoke and mirrors” to explain how we are distracted. We only see and paid attention to what the illusionist wants us to see: “Look over here at what’s in my left hand. Watch this.” Then he waves a wand or points toward a beautiful assistant with an entertaining amount of cleavage. Meanwhile, the magician’s right hand has been sneaking about doing something else. We are fooled. We do not perceive the truth because of the magician’s chicanery. Gullible people sometimes believe a magician has supernatural powers. How else can you explain the inexplicable? A miracle?
The culture of my childhood practiced a kind of sorcery when it came to race. We were seduced to ignore the realities in front of us. Some of us were even taught that the world we lived in reflected the “will of God.” Just accept what you see as true. Don’t think about it too much.
“Let’s send missionaries to Africa because that’s the most important work that can be done on the face of the earth,” was a common mantra. Millions of dollars were collected for “foreign missions.” Meanwhile, we ignored the dirt roads right beside our churches and the impoverished African-Americans who lived down those rutted paths. They may have had poor drinking water and inferior medical care, but we didn’t see that. Smoke and mirrors. Sleight of hand. Let’s send our money to the Mission Board so they can tell the gospel story in Africa and Asia. Some marketing genius called this misdirection “The Great Commission.”
That allowed us to ignore what Jesus called “The Great Commandments,” which said that we should love God and we should love our neighbors as we love ourselves. He was not collecting money. He was answering a question about what is most important. We didn’t do a very good job of loving our brown-skinned neighbors in those days. That should have been obvious to anyone whose attention had not been diverted. However, following the sleight of hand of a master magician, our vision was pointed elsewhere. We collected lots of money to send people all over the world to talk about Jesus while we treated people of color as a second-class caste here at home. Untouchables? We wouldn’t even touch what they touched, so we had different drinking fountains and separate restrooms.
Martin Luther King, Jr. helped us remove our masks and see the truth.
The churches of our childhoods were co-conspirators in the illusions that were perpetrated. Our “Bible studies” focused on lakes of fire and streets of gold, on the second coming of Jesus at some point way out in the future. We ignored the real problems many of our neighbors faced. I never heard a sermon on gluttony in spite of a church full of fat people. I never heard a sermon on racism, in spite of injustice and prejudice against people of color.
Martin Luther King, Jr. saw the world differently and helped us see what he saw. He made some bullies so mad that they erupted in violence. Children were murdered. Black men were lynched. I can’t imagine that the magicians’ union, if there is such a thing, is very happy with Val Valentino exposing the truth about their tricks. Martin Luther King, Jr. was despised by those who had a vested interest in keeping people blind to the truth.
But Martin Luther King, Jr. opened my eyes. For the first time, I saw behind the curtain.
Thank you, Dr. King.