Remembering Dr. King

MLKDr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is a personal hero of mine. I think there was so much to admire about him. He consistently stood for justice, for peace, and for non-violence. He believed in the Kingdom of God, and he believed that Christians, regardless of color, ought to do all they can to create outposts and colonies of God’s Kingdom here on earth – to create what he called “beloved community.”

When I was in grad school, I did a project on Dr. King’s rhetorical skills, looking at the way he was able to take traditional black preaching styles – with its use of storytelling, rhythmic phrasing, and uplifting hopefulness – and combine that with the logic and power of traditional white sermon styles. (And thanks to my lifetime friend from college, Kurt Stallings, for giving me the idea!) In the process, I read just about everything that Dr. King ever said or wrote. I was absolutely blown away by the body of his thoughts.

Many of us are familiar only with his famous, “I Have a Dream” speech, and obviously, that’s wonderful. But there is much more, so on this day set aside to honor him, I will let him speak for himself.

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

 

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

 

Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.

 

The time is always right to do what is right.

 

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.

 

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

 

Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.

 

The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice.

 

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus and 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.” And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” And Thomas Jefferson: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal . . . .” 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?

 

I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.

 

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction.

 

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 Gad rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment… 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 arch-defender 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.

 

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. It is this type of understanding goodwill that will transform the deep gloom of the old age into the exuberant gladness of the new age. It is this love which will bring about miracles in the hearts of men.

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.