Six excellent suggestions for reigning in our impulses to take on more than we can reasonably manage. Thank you, Jemar Tisby!
I’m still processing Martin Luther King’s letter. It has become a bit of history, written with a heart aflame with truth and clarity. The reference to Reinhold Niebuhr rings loudly, as I’ve just finished Eric Metaxas’ masterpiece Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Prophet, Martyr, Spy.
We can’t afford to close our hearts to this message, but I fear it will be drummed out by the daily rush of our lives. Lord, help us seek justice in the midst of our routines and relationships. Help us listen to your voice and show us how to respond.
The job isn’t finished yet.
16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas…But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham…basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly…
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham…You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood…
…My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
…There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern…One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”
…One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire…
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal”…
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”…Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.
…I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.
When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.
…I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: “Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother.” In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.
I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South’s beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: “What kind of people worship here? Who is their God?…”
…There was a time when the church was very powerful–in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being “disturbers of the peace” and “outside agitators.”‘ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were “a colony of heaven,” called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent–and often even vocal–sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
…Never before have I written so long a letter. I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?
If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.
I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.
Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,
Martin Luther King, Jr.
WordPress is starting a post a day/post a week challenge for 2011. I want to do this, I really do. It will be fun. I doubt my ability to write anything worth posting on a regular basis, but maybe that is only part of the reason for jumping in. Some of this will be about developing regularity and commitment, discipline and perseverance. What can you lose?
Here is the sample post and challenge from WordPress:
Title: I’m Posting every day in 2011!
I’ve decided I want to blog more. Rather than just thinking about doing it, I’m starting right now. I will be posting on this blog once a day / once a week for all of 2011.
I know it won’t be easy, but it might be fun, inspiring, awesome and wonderful. Therefore I’m promising to make use of The DailyPost, and the community of other bloggers with similiar goals, to help me along the way, including asking for help when I need it and encouraging others when I can.
If you already read my blog, I hope you’ll encourage me with comments and likes, and good will along the way.
<Your Name Here>
Sound like fun? Are you up for it? What is holding you back?
For me there is some fear associated with this. What will I write about? Who will read it? Will it stink out loud? Likely some of it will, but at the end of 2011 we will all look back with a sense of accomplishment. We’ll see growth and development in our skills. We’ll have a new community of readers and writers.
Will I make a post a day, or even a week? Likely not. There are already some weeks ahead that are tightly scheduled and won’t allow the luxury of an unintimidated keyboard. But somewhere between 52 posts (if you post once a week) and 365 posts (if you post once a day) is what I’ll shoot for. That leaves some wiggle room. That is something I can do!
So, as morning light gains a foothold over the snow draped mountains, I’ll look forward to the coming year of posts. What’s the worst that will happen? I won’t make a post a day, maybe not even a post a week, but I’ll end the year having written more than the year before, and that will have made it all worthwhile.
In 1966, at the age of eleven, I spent Christmas in Berlin. My mother purposely planned this as a powerful lesson about freedom and democracy. Germany was still divided and occupied by Allied Forces following WWII. Access to the former capital, Berlin, was controlled by the Soviet government. My mother said, “Kristi, this will be a different kind of Christmas, and it will change your life forever.” That year we left the Santa Claus Christmas behind with all the decorations, the carols, and the warmly lighted tree in our living room.
Our Christmas journey began with an evening train departure from a West German station. We traveled through the night, crossing into East Germany under cover of darkness, a stipulation of the communist government. We woke to a leaden mist swirling outside the window. Not three feet away was a double row of twelve-foot chain link fences topped with razor wire. The space between the fences allowed uniformed guards to patrol, armed with rifles and accompanied by guard dogs. On the opposite side of the train another set of fences and guards completed the security system. We had traveled through the night, a method that kept surrounding Communist-controlled land from perusal by those wishing to enter Berlin during the Cold War years.
Our visit to West Berlin included a trip to a museum dedicated to those whose ingenuity and courage had allowed them to escape the Communist-controlled country. It was heart wrenching to see the deprivation.
We heard stories of many who had tried to escape but had been gunned down or imprisoned. We saw the series of fences, the guard towers, the check points. On a tour into East Berlin we felt the intimidation of the guards who walked the aisles of our bus to check under and between seats for any who might be hiding. We watched as they checked under the buses with mirrors looking for those who may have strapped themselves to the undercarriage, hoping to gain their freedom.
The damp cold of a northern European December could not compare to the chill that permeated our hearts. You see, the citizens of this country were not allowed to celebrate Christmas. The citizens of West Berlin, occupied by French, British and American forces after WWII, would do what they could for those on the Soviet side of the Berlin Wall.
Our Christmas tree that year was perched atop the Berlin wall, stabilized amidst the broken glass cemented along the top edge, one more diabolical means to keep souls from scaling its barrier in an attempt for freedom. The tree, one of many situated at intervals along the wall, was placed so those on the Soviet side would have a reminder of Christ’s birth, a truth they were not allowed to celebrate or acknowledge. Christmas carols played from loudspeakers in hope the citizens in the Soviet part of the city could hear them. News flashed from the top of the highest building, telling of happenings in the free world. It was a cold, gray existence, and we saw no one smile.
I had understood that Christmas was more than Santa Claus, presents under the tree, and special holiday delicacies. I had known it was more than the warmth of family and friends sharing time together. But I had never experienced a Christmas surrounded by those with no joy, by those whose job it was to constantly monitor your actions and conversation.
My mother was right, that Christmas changed my life forever. I would never again take freedom for granted. But there was more.
That year I realized there had to be something extremely significant about the birth of Christ, about who He was and why He came, that the government of an entire nation would go to such lengths to stifle the truth of His existence. They had tried to keep Him out, but they could not.
Built in 1961, the Berlin Wall stood until 1989, the year President Reagan challenged Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.” It had stood as a physical roadblock to freedom for many people, but Christ’s message had not been kept out—it was hidden in the hearts of many, including President Gorbachev himself. In March, 2008, he admitted his closeted faith, the faith that God used to bring Soviet communism to an end.
Christmas, and the Christ Child Himself, had made a long-awaited appearance.
And so, this Christmas season gives much to rejoice over.
Freedom, and those who protect it
The joy of corporate worship
Family rejoicing together
The celebration of the One born to set us truly free
The freshening that comes with the promise of a New Year: clean, perfect, and anticipated