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The Lion King is back in town at the Durham Performing Arts Center. I was happy to see it again last week after having seen it once before on Broadway. And, being a parent, I’ve watched the movie version several times. Every time I see it, I’m struck by a statement that the spirit of the former lion king Mufasa makes to his son Simba, who has adopted a carefree attitude and shirked his duties as Mufasa’s successor, allowing the hyenas to take over and ruin the pride lands.  

“You are more than what you have become,” Mufasa says. “You have forgotten who you are.”

Ouch.

How many of us, in forgetting that we are children of God, have adopted self-centered lifestyles and become less than what we are, less than the men and women God intended us to be?

Perhaps we can see that happening in our individual lives. We certainly can see it happening in our nation, where cooperation and mutual respect have given way to enmity and polarization on so many issues of consequence. 

Martin Luther King, Jr. never ruled as a king, though he had the name, and many people adopted him as their leader because he spoke needed truth to the conscience of the nation. In so many words, King reminded our racially divided and highly prejudiced population that we had become less than what we were made to be, and he challenged us to recognize that all people are worthy of equal rights, equal treatment, equal respect.

And King recognized that attitudes aren’t real until they become actions. He once said “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?'” 

That is not unlike the bottom-line rule that Jesus – sometimes known as the “Lion of Judah” as well as the “King of Kings” – has declared, calling us to love others in the same self-giving way that he has loved us.

I like the trend toward celebrating Martin Luther King’s birthday with a day of service, rather than seeing it as just another holiday. As we live out the call to serve others and not just be self-serving, perhaps we can remember who we are, and aspire to be more than what we have become.

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