Today’s observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day is in a good spot on the calendar, arriving about a month after Christmas, when most of us have tucked away all those hopes for peace on earth and good will toward men, along with the holly, tinsel and crimson bows.

A day in honor of the Rev. King, the legendary civil rights leader assassinated in 1968, is a reminder that noble aspirations for mankind shouldn’t be limited to yuletide. Next month, we’ll have Valentine’s Day, an affirmation of the great capacity of the human heart. Along with Mardi Gras, that raucous festival of joie de vivre, these holidays of the new year are the bright stepping stones of winter — the lighted footpath carrying us through the dimness of the season’s sky and the darkness of its headlines.

But what about the days in between — the ones without any large sense of occasion compelling us to be kinder, sweeter, fairer than we usually are? Those are the days when human virtue tends to lag, as King well knew. His ministry and social activism aimed to make tolerance, peace and civility a more uniform blessing of society, and he knew all too well how much hard work was involved in making that vision a reality.

All of this has come to mind with the news that members of the Baton Rouge clergy have launched an effort to calm tensions in the wake of recent acts of terrorism both here in America and abroad. We hope their work can be used as a model throughout Louisiana.

Throughout this month, the Interfaith Federation of Greater Baton Rouge, which brings together area churches, synagogues and mosques in the cause of common ground, is sponsoring “January Thaw: Melting Away Misunderstanding and Cultivating Peace.” It’s a series of public events aimed at underscoring the universal values that bind people of different faiths. That connection is easily lost amid anxieties about Islam prompted by terrorists who have misappropriated religion to commit evil deeds. But King, were he here today, would surely advise us against hating an entire group based on such misguided incidents.

“Dr. King believed in bringing the community together, diverse as it might be,” the Rev. Robin McCullough-Bade, executive director of the Interfaith Federation, told a recent meeting of Advocate editors.

“January Thaw” programs include World Religion Day, a Martin Luther King Day celebration, a community dinner and a week of prayer for Christian unity, as well as an evening of study and dialogue about Islam at Broadmoor United Methodist Church.

For more information about January Thaw, visit

“It is still one of the tragedies of human history,” King said, “that the ‘children of darkness’ are frequently more determined and zealous than the ‘children of light.’ ’’ That lament is, sadly, just as true today, which is why, more than ever, we should commit ourselves to the compassion and tolerance that King championed throughout his life.