now is the time
Dear St. PJs community,
On Monday, we celebrate and remember the inspiring and influential life of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King was a man grounded in his faith, who believed deeply in the Christian notions of freedom, equality and justice, and that we have the power to make these a reality now.
This past October, St. PJs hosted a visit from Bishop Ian Douglas. Before the Sunday service, Bishop Ian met with the wardens, church leaders and Vestry. At that point, we were mostly anxious and curious about what the next steps would be after Harlon’s re-retirement – we trusted that the bishop would have all of the answers to our questions: When will we have a new priest? Who will that person be? Frustratingly, he urged us to be patient and have faith that the Holy Spirit, who is already mightily at work in our little parish, is continuing to do Her work and will lead us to the right person in God’s time. While this wasn’t particularly reassuring, I did settle down a bit, knowing there wasn’t much we could do at the time.
Instead, for most of our meeting, Bishop Ian had given us some homework: to read Dr. King’s “Letter From A Birmingham Jail.” He then led us in a discussion of the letter, urging us to focus on what it means to us today to be a church, particularly in a historically white, powerful denomination, and how Dr. King’s words from 1963 can continue to speak to us today.
I must confess ashamedly, I had never read the letter before, at least not deeply or in its entirety. If you have not read it before, or if it has been a while, I would recommend it. There is a button to click below where you can access the full letter. I know that many of us in the discussion with the bishop in October were struck by how it could have been written today, and how many of the points Dr. King makes continue to be relevant, if not even truer than before.
For a bit of context, Dr. King wrote this letter while he was sitting in jail after having been arrested in one of his non-violent demonstrations. While in jail, he saw a piece in a newspaper penned by eight white religious leaders, mostly from Jewish and mainline Christian denominations, entitled “Call for Unity.” In this piece, the authors (which included two Episcopal bishops), admonished the civil rights demonstrations, saying that it wasn’t the right time to bring up these issues, and the protesters weren’t going about it in the right way. Do these arguments sound familiar? In any case, this made Dr. King angry, and he wrote this letter in response.
I will highlight a few passages that particularly struck me, and encourage you to read the rest on your own time.
“We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”
“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"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." ”
“Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.”
“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." … 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 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."
My friends, it is always the right time to strive for justice and peace among all people, and to respect the dignity of every human being. We must be the ones to do God’s work in this world. This MLK day, I encourage you to absorb and ponder Dr. King’s words, then let them guide you to action.
O God in these turbulent days when fear and doubt are mounting high give us broad visions, penetrating eyes, and power of endurance. Help us to work with renewed vigor for a warless world, for a better distribution of wealth and for a brother/sisterhood that transcends race or color. In the name and spirit of Jesus we pray. Amen.
(Prayer written by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King)
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