Letter from a Birmingham Jail

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.


Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Excerpts from Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail:

 

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.

Advertisements

Multitude Monday: Working Here?

Sometimes changes in life follow the annual shifts in the seasons. This year that is proving to be the case. For almost three years I’ve had time to recoup from some major life changes. As a result, I’ve moved to a beautiful and inspiring place. Time has been filled doing volunteer work for several organizations, making new friends, traveling to Central Asia, and being available to encourage my adult children.

I’ve had time to rest and rekindle.

But the autumn shift this year has also brought a new job. With it comes an opportunity to speak into young lives and bring home a pay check. If you haven’t caught my enthusiasm yet, check out these photographs of Glen Eyrie, the conference center owned and operated by the Navigators. Nestled in it’s own secluded valley, it was originally the private home of General Palmer, founder of Colorado Springs.

Some of the regular residents rambling the acreage include a herd of big horn sheep, several rafters of turkeys (yes, I had to look that up), deer, and bear. As a conference center it is a place where people from all over the world come to learn and grow in their faith.

It is a peaceful place, one of my favorite spots on earth.

And they are going to pay me to work here!

So, on this Multitude Monday, I begin my list with thanks for His gracious provision:

A new job

His perfect timing

A new season

A lingering summer

The first signs of approaching fall

The yellow in the treetops

The antelope grazing across the road, the herd grown this year to an even dozen

Sunflowers blooming across the fields

The moon dancing across the sky

Fields tanning across the hills as summer grows to a close

The grasses whispering as they fade

A chill in the evenings and a sweater to warm in

Candle light, warmth for the eyes and the heart

God’s purpose, manifest

God’s love and strength

~”And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

Philippians 4:19-20







Does God See?

“He sees you,” she whispered, bent low, hands on my shoulders.  Later another woman crossed the room, knelt by me and said, “God sees you. He sees your tears, your faithfulness, your years of hard work. He sees you.”

How odd. I hadn’t been aware of the need for such encouragement, yet twice in one morning the same word came through two unconnected women. The following week a third person delivered the same message.  Spoken with no elaboration, almost as an afterthought, the words struck with an intensity and depth that left no doubt of its significance.

God had my attention.

I went home feeling ravaged. The message had sheared my armor and exposed my soul. So what? He sees me? He sees everyone. I’m still here, alone. Instead of giving strength and comfort these encounters had marked a deep sense of abandonment. I had walked through the forty-nine months since my husband’s illness and death wrapped in God’s presence, like a blanket insulating me from the harshness of the reality. Yet there was something else deep inside, untouched and unacknowledged. My response to the message was mystifying, yet God was using it to uncover something hidden deep in my heart–the depth of aloneness that comes with separation from our “one flesh” partner.

And a seed of bitterness trying to find the light.

Days passed. I came across in Laurens Van Der Post’s A Story Like the Wind a moving reference to the African Sindabele greeting, “I see you, indeed I see you.” Spoken with the right hand lifted high, palm out, it is a sign of “being recognized and accepted…almost as good as an embrace.”

This touches me through. It makes me want to draw closer, to pull out the meaning of God’s message. I draw a shuddering breath. Okay, God, I’m ready. Please show me what You want me to see. I get out my Bible and begin to study.

“The God Who Sees,” El Roi, is found in the story of Hagar in Genesis 16. Hagar is a run-away Egyptian slave. She is pregnant with Abraham’s child, was treated cruelly by her mistress, and has struck out across the desert to return to her homeland. In her loneliness and distress El Roi finds her.

This is one of the few places in the Old Testament where God appears in physical form, a theophany. Not only does He appear, He ‘sees’ her depth of anguish and despair. He makes Himself visible and speaks directly to her. The cultural implications are similar to Jesus’ speaking to the Samaritan woman in John 4. This was something that wasn’t done. Men did not lower themselves to speak with women, much less a female slave.

But He speaks to her, confronting her deepest need and bringing comfort and encouragement. He gives her promises for the son she is carrying, and blesses him with the name Ishmael, meaning “God Hears.”

Before God appears to Moses in the burning bush, before Jacob wrestles with Him at Peniel, God appears to Hagar. A woman–a slave, an Egyptian, someone out of God’s chosen line–was seen by God. Here she names Him El Roi, and the place she names Beer Lahai Roi, “The Well of the One Who Lives and Sees Me.”

Following this meeting, Hagar obeys God and returns to her earthly master, Abraham. He also listens to her, hearing with an obedient heart, and honors her encounter by christening their son Ishmael, the name given by El Roi.

Reading and studying this short passage begins to open my heart and mind to God’s message. Like the loving God He is, he was answering a need before I was fully aware of it. He was working deeply, rooting out a seed of bitterness and abandonment I wasn’t aware of. While I had chosen to stand on the Word of God, trusting that He never leaves us nor forsakes us, that He is a Father to the fatherless and a husband to the widow, there was more going on in my heart than I realized.

Two weeks went by and another woman pulled me aside, looked into my eyes and said, “He sees you.” This time I could hear and receive the message as God intended, a message of love and encouragement. But, if I hadn’t been willing to face the sense of abandonment and work through it, the message could have been lost. Worse, it could have hardened the shell developing over my heart.

Instead, it has brought healing, growth, wisdom, and thankfulness. I know now that He not only sees me, my needs, my heart, and my future but that He also cares for me at a depth that is unfathomable, except by His grace.

And I am blessed.

God bless you and keep you,

God smile upon you and gift you,

God look you full in the face, and make you prosper.

The Aaronic Blessing, Numbers 6:24-25, The Message


Our Spiritual Worship: Life in Community

I worshipped this past weekend in a wonderful way with wonderful people. I say the weekend because it extended far beyond a singular Sunday morning. It was time spent sharing in lives that had grown together, some over decades. This group contributed their love and their talents to each other, and they welcomed me into their lives like I was part of their family.

Two of them were in a play Friday night, and we joined to applaud their talent and hard work. Spectacular. We breakfasted with an extended family and enjoyed a spaghetti lunch where everyone loved each other so much they didn’t want to go home.

When we talk about attending church it is so much more than showing up one morning a week. It is sharing lives, with all the bends and twists, the joys and hardships. It means trusting and loving and serving.

It involves risk, and it is worth everything to reach this place of companionship and care.

What I experienced last week was the church, the Body of Christ, in riveting action. Living life together with depth and cohesion.

When St. Benedict set his rules of order in place he added to the typical call of poverty, chastity and obedience something else. He added stability. He required his followers to join a community and stay there. No flitting from one place to another, no seeking out another community because they might be ‘more spiritual.’

No. One place, one people, one God to serve.

And last week I got to share in the fruit of lives lived together, a foretaste of Heaven.

Would you like to return to the Garden?

…where God walks in the cool of the day? The way is open, secured for us by the Last Adam. There we can find rest, relationship, and love that will sustain us. It requires something of us though, as many of the best things in life do.We must open the gate...

  • Willingness to see the benefit.
  • Surrender of habits that block the way.
  • Courage to step out of the usual and away from things that rob our time and our treasure.
  • Trust that God really does have something better.
  • A Decision to make the time set aside inviolable, an appointment that will be kept.
  • Self discipline.
  • A Plan for the time in the Garden.

Where do all those things come from? From He who waits in the Garden. We ask Him for them.

The cool of a garden after the heat of the day is the most refreshing place imaginable.

The cool of the Garden is the place to begin to breathe again.

If you are looking for a PLAN, one option is to join National Community Church in their Garden to City Bible reading. It begins on Ash Wednesday, February 17, 2010, and goes through Ash Wednesday 2011. It follows their ‘modified liturgical year’ using the ESV. More information is available at http://www.fromgardentocity.com/home.

Part of our family SURRENDER came in the form of turning in our cable box and turning off the television for the evening. We are trusting God for good things to come out of our time in the GARDEN.

God’s best blessings,

~Kristen

The Genesis Journey

The path ahead, tended and well-traveled...

The door is open, and the path disappears around the bend into the trees. The first step is tentative. I hold my breath, starring forward. Doubts, failings, fears, discouragements; all the past burdens wrap themselves around my shoulders.

“I’m doing a new thing,” His voice whispers, “leave those weights behind.”  The warmth of His hand on my shoulder replaces the heaviness, bringing courage and hope. The next step opens the expanse of sky, the third the mountains beyond. Like incense, His presence freshens the breeze. Possibilities replace the doldrums of  fear and indecision.

“I’ll never leave you,” comes the whisper through the trees ahead, “but you must learn to listen for my voice. As long as you walk with me, you walk as a new creation. The past will remain past. Journey into the New.”

The next step brings assurance, the step after that hope. Joy comes in the pacing, the genesis of the New.

If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come!

2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV