Tag Archives: Dr. Martin Luther King

Celebration Tension


Martin-Luther-King-Jr-Famous-QuotesToday is both Dr. Martin Luther King day and the second inauguration of President Obama. Each are worthy of deeper reflection, but as Lutheran pastor in mid-west America, I don’t have much to give other than I am thankful and yet yearning.

I am thankful for a nation that can honor one of its slain civil rights leaders, who spoke out against the injustices of racism and poverty in our nation. Thankful that Dr. King’s dream of equality is now woven into our national ethos. His life’s work still inspires me.

I am also thankful that we can celebrate our nation’s ability to transition power peacefully.  President Obama is starting his second term, but I am quite confident that in four years our nation will elect a new leader and continue the process of handing the presidential authority to that leader. I may or may not have voted for that person, but still he or she will be my president.

Yet I continue to yearn. Yearn for the day that King’s dream of a true equality and prosperity is our nation’s (and even world’s) reality. Yearn for the day that our leaders can lead us with unity, strength and harmony.  Yearn for the day our nation can truly be the beacon of hope for the world.

I know that part of that yearning comes from my faith in Jesus Christ, and the promised of God’s kingdom. We live in the “already” of God’s victory in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, but we yearn for the “not yet” of the new heaven and new earth.

 Already: This is written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).

Not yet: See the home of God is among mortals, He will dwell with them; and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away (Rev. 21:3-4).

Today’s celebration lives in that tension. I am thankful for the many wonderful blessing that our nation has experienced, while recognizing there is much work to be done and that God’s kingdom has not fully arrived. I do not want to confuse the United States of America with God’s kingdom, yet I remain very thankful that I am an American citizen.

How do you respond to this day’s celebrations?

Lord Jesus, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Today as we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., it would be good to reflect on some of his words from his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

But more 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.

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.

Further on he wrote,

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”

Regarding the accusation that he was an extremist, he wrote,

I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. . . I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.”  So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?

When I read Dr. King’s frustration and plea for justice and equality, I have two reactions. One is a prayer of thanks for the journey we have taken so far towards racial equality; the other is that I might become as extreme in my love as God calls me to be.  Lord, have mercy.

You can read the whole text here.

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while spinning

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today is Dr. Martin Luther King day and when I woke up, I was not sure how to honor it.  I had planned to go into the church for scheduled meetings, but unsure if the holiday would truly register for me.  Prior to coming into the office, I went to the YMCA to do a group cycling class.  I expected a large crowd due to the holiday, however there were only three of us, including the instructor Sara.  

As she started the class, she told us that she had selected all the music, centered on MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech.   Some of the songs had only a vague reference to it, but others, like U2’s Pride, were a direct reference to Dr. King’s life of service.   Then, as we neared the end of the workout, she played for us a portion of the speech.   The three of us kept spinning as we listened again to the familiar cadence of Dr. King’s preaching.   One sentence stood out,  “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  That hope still resonates for me.

What also struck me during this workout was how simple a testimony this instructor gave by her selection of songs and  the speech.  In a simple, caring way she integrated her witness to Dr. King into her daily life as an instructor.  I was impressed and thanked her for that simple act of honor.   I don’t think I cycled any better than usual because of that act, but my heart was a bit lighter and joyful.   The C in YMCA stood out.

Have you found ways to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr?