January 17, 2022 MLK Day – Seeking Courage
My thoughts on this “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Weekend” begins here: “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. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are [people] 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.”
So began Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s response to criticism from fellow clergy as he sat in jail on April 16, 1963 for stirring up “good trouble” (as John Lewis often exhorted us to do). His ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ reflects a different time, as well as a time of courage sorely absent today. (Read the Letter here: https://bit.ly/33s1DkJ)
I marvel at Dr. King’s ability to engage others with forbearance, even after multiple arrests (he would be arrested 29 times in his lifetime, including trumped-up charges on infractions such as driving 30 mph in a 25 mph zone); after a nearly successful assassination attempt in 1958; and numerous death threats against him and his family. I truly marvel.
Given my own resources, I cannot fathom how he could see and experience so much hatred, violence and widespread mistreatment of people of color and their allies – and still manage his responses with such grace and clarity and fire, now and then.
I am left with only a truth that he believed so much in God’s call to him – that he just kept doing what he did and refused to shrink; rather he grew in his God – and as a result so did we and our nation.
As we celebrate his birthday, even as we hear the echoes of lies from racist rallies during his time and ours, I, too, believe we are people of good will, mostly. I believe that we have the power to address our times as Dr. King and others did theirs. There is no promise that we will be celebrated, admired, or that others will even know our names. There is no guarantee of safety or earthly longevity when we come to believe and live accordingly. Just a call to action and forbearance in a way that does not cause us to shrink or cower, but to grow in courage and strength, while refusing to be silenced; speaking in a voice that is clear and can be heard because it is filled with courage and love.
There is a language like that. It is the language of the heart, the language of peace and justice, equality and fairness that reflects beliefs from deep in our souls. It “compels” us, as Dr. King says: “…to carry the gospel of freedom beyond our own home”. It transforms us into who it is we are meant to be. I
I believe we are meant to trust in God or a Power greater than ourselves by whatever name that may be known, if we are to practice such principles in all our affairs and our time on this planet – bringing the gospel of many traditions and their light to all. To believe in such a way is to know hope and trust that as Dr. King says in the closing of his letter, ”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 [our shared humanity] will shine over our great nations will all their scintillating beauty.” May it be so. May we and those we call to lead us have the courage to make it so.
On January 15th, the weekend honoring Dr. King’s birthday, former President Donald J. Trump held his first rally of 2022. On the weekend in which we honor the work of Dr. King and all who have followed him, the former president did not mention Dr. King in his comments in this state, which was the last state in the union to formally install the holiday. It is also one of the states in which extremists embrace the passage of laws implementing voting-rights restrictions and suppression; where many continue to embrace the “big lie”, reiterated again by the former president at the event. Holding a rally on such a day in such a place by such a person draws obvious connections to those who continue to embrace not only “big lies” but a a rallying-cry that another president of color should never again be elected. Many believe it was this prejudice and racism that was the driving force behind the national movement that elected Donald J. Trump as a response to former president Barak Obama. None of this and more would be lost on those gathered and watching who want to “bring America back” and place others in jail again, if that is what it takes.