Thoughts for the Day from MLK

When I was in graduate school, I once did a study examining the rhetorical style of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s preaching.  What I found was that Dr. King was able to successfully combine preaching styles from both black and white homiletic theory.

What I mean is, Rev. King was able effectively to merge the best of black preaching style, with its powerful storytelling, vivid images and rhythmic cadences, with the best of white preaching styles, with its rhetorical structure and its use of logic and Aristotelian reasoning.  The result was preaching which appealed to both white and black audiences.

In other words, good communicators are always able, in every situation, to find the available means of persuasion – exactly as Aristotle himself taught in his book on rhetoric, so many centuries ago.

In honor of today as the day we remember and honor him, here are some of my favorite MLK quotations.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.

Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”

The arc of the universe is long, but it tends towards justice.

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.

The times is always right to do right.

But the end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the beloved community. It is this type of spirit and this type of love that can transform opposers into friends. The type of love that I stress here is not eros, a sort of esthetic or romantic love; not philia, a sort of reciprocal love between personal friends; but it is agape which is understanding goodwill for all men. It is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. It is the love of God working in the lives of men. This is the love that may well be the salvation of our civilization.

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners, will be able to sit together at the table of brotherhood… 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.

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 Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand I can do no other, so help me God.”….And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”….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 love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?…Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.

I just want to do God’s will.  And He’s allowed me to go to the mountain.  And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land!  I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the Promised Land.

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