Kings in Memphis



We waited three hours for the taxi; the restaurant had been closed for an awkward 58 minutes but who was counting? We were. When the driver finally appeared, he was apologetic and embarrassed. As he was also part-owner of the cab company, he wanted to make amends by giving us a free tour of Memphis. It was now close to midnight; my traveling companions opted to be taken to their hotel. It was 1980. I was in my early 20’s and was game for a little late-night sightseeing. Where to? I had no idea. 


The driver suggested Graceland, Elvis Presley’s home and burial ground. I couldn’t see much through the darkness but was intrigued by a handful of people who were keeping candlelight vigil. “That’s nothing,” my tour guide said, noting that there would be thousands more on the anniversary of “The King’s” death. Even in death, Presley’s minions regarded him as sovereign. When alive, he eschewed the title, “The King of Rock and Roll,” correcting his loyal following by stating, “There’s only one King and that’s Jesus Christ.” That gave me an idea. I wanted to see the notorious venue, the Lorraine Motel, where another “King,” the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, had died, in his case by an assassin in 1968.  


The contrast between the two late-night landmarks was stunning. Instead of mourners holding candles paying homage, there was a chaotic assortment of “evening entrepreneurs” offering whatever a man in the back seat of a cab in the middle of the night might desire. I asked the cabbie if I could get out and go to King’s room. I had heard that there was a memorial in his room, #306, kept vacant for those who wanted to pay their respects-at a decent hour. My guide would have none of it as some impatient individuals began hopping onto the hood of the hack. We sped away. My thoughts were racing as well. I considered the home of the rock and roller, a gifted musician to be sure, and the homage that was being paid to him. Other thoughts were of the then broken-down motel, where honor, though planned, was not yet able to be given. Proper recognition wouldn’t come until years later, in 1991, when the entire property was given a make-over and the prominence it deserves as the National Civil Rights Museum. 


On the ride back to my hotel, I considered the lives of these two men. One pursued fame and fortune through rock and roll; the other a dream of racial equality. I lamented the human condition (my own included) that celebrates the new, the popular, the fashionable, over the old hard work of fighting for harmony, peace, and justice. The condition persists today. If in doubt go on YouTube and see countless pastors, many of our own, who deliver an excellent message of Christ’s merciful love. These pastors pour their hearts out to their live congregations and a YouTube audience of maybe only 30 or 40. By contrast, a “cute kitten” video can go viral, attracting millions. 


How can we keep from making a lifestyle of joining the crowd, always opting for the cute and entertaining over the more substantive? The key is in cultivating the understanding that both the minister and the musician had: there is only one king. Praise the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords! Praise the one who gifted Elvis Presley with musical talent, whose 3 Grammy awards were for gospel music. Praise The One who gifted the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King with eloquence, passion, and courage. Far loftier than the 2nd story balcony where he was prophetically cut down was the mountain top, a vision from The Lord. He went up to the mountain top, saw the promised land, and came down, giving the rest of us mortals the inspiration and courage to live out his dream, making his dream our reality. We have come a long way; we have a long way to go. With the One true King to lead us, we can get there-together. 


On the ride with you, united in Christ,


Andy Q.  

January 14th, 2022