Every year on this day set aside for celebrating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., I make time to listen to or read his famous “I Have a Dream Speech.” I encourage you today to read the speech or watch (below) the roughly seventeen-minute speech that King gave over fifty years ago. He articulates a vision that transcends his individual life and puts into eloquent words the deepest longings of many people not only then but also now. This speech still rings with power, reminding us that, as he said, “Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.” We have come so far but we still have so far to go.
On this day celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to remind us of one of the most significant writings by Martin Luther King, Jr., his letter from a Birmingham jail. Written after King’s arrest, along with 50 others, on April 12, 1963, as part of the Birmingham Campaign to shine a spotlight on the racist treatment suffered by African Americans in one of the most segregated cities in America. Letter from a Birmingham jail is a direct response to criticism that King and the protestors received from religious leaders through an open letter in a local newspaper.
While there is much that could be said about MLK as a leader, orator, pastor, and husband, I want to encourage us to read or listen to the letter (roughly an hour long as read by King). The issues he addresses continue to be important for our day and time as we wrestle with how our faith relates to the public sphere, just and unjust laws, consideration of how our Christian faith moves us to action or to wait, and what it means to lives as kingdom citizens while seeking to “let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!” (Amos 5:24).
Here are a striking excerpt from the letter:
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 God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be “astronomically intimidated.” 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 archdefender 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 with no meaning for the twentieth century.
You may also want to explore more of King’s writings, sermons, and speeches through the compilation work A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2003).
On this day celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to remind us of one of the unparalleled moments in his life and work. While there is much that could be said about MLK as a leader, orator, pastor, and husband, I want to encourage you today to simply read or watch (below) the roughly seventeen-minute “I Have a Dream” speech that King gave over fifty years ago. The vision he articulated transcends his individual life and puts into eloquent words the deepest longings of many people then and now. This speech still rings with power, reminding us that, as he said, “Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning.” We have come so far but we still have so far to go.
You could also join us later this evening at 6:30 PM for the 3rd annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day Celebration sponsored by The Milwaukee Declaration and hosted at Eastbrook Church. We will have a worship service led by multiple churches and pastors as we stand together across racial divides in our city for the goal of racial reconstruction in Milwaukee. Find out more and get connected to this movement at The Milwaukee Declaration Facebook page or web-site.
Open unto me, light for my darkness
Open unto me, courage for my fear
Open unto me, hope for my despair
Open unto me, peace for my turmoil
Open unto me, joy for my sorrow
Open unto me, strength for my weakness
Open unto me, wisdom for my confusion
Open unto me, forgiveness for my sins
Open unto me, tenderness for my toughness
Open unto me, love for my hates
Open unto me, Thy Self for myself
Lord, Lord, open unto me!
By Howard Thurman, 20th century religious and civil right leader.
“The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.
“Southern Baptist Convention Vows to Address Sex Abuse in Its Churches” – A lot of attention has been given this past week to the Southern Baptist Church, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, as they grapple at their annual convention with the appropriate response to the sex abuse scandal within some churches. The New York Times: “Thousands of pastors voted late Tuesday afternoon to address the problem in a concerted way for the first time, enacting two new measures they say are a first step to reform. Outside the arena where they were gathered, victims and their families protested what they considered an inadequate response.” You can read more at Christianity Today with Kate Shellnutt’s “Southern Baptists Vote to Name Abuse as Grounds for Expelling Churches” or at The Atlantic with Jonathan Merrit’s “Southern Baptists’ Midlife Crisis.” It is also worth taking a look at the recent attention in The New York Times given to negligence in dealing with sexual abuse claims at The Village Church, a multisite Southern Baptist megachurch in Dallas, where Matt Chandler serves as pastor.
“Questions Skeptics Pose” – Here is Ravi Zacharias outlining and responding to what he says are the nine toughest asked by nonbelievers. “What questions are they asking? Here are the ones I have been asked most often. By developing a clear response to each, we can increase our ability to talk with those who are not Christians. It is important to note that while these are the attacking questions, as the conversation goes on, the questions become kinder and more personal, till one can focus on the Cross and present the gospel in its simplicity and beauty. This has happened in every venue in which I have spoken.”
“To Shape A New World: William Seymour and Black Faith in the Drama of Civil Rights” – Over at The Witness, Dante Stewart offers this helpful two-part historical look at how the Azusa Street revival and William Seymour relates to the civil rights movement and the shaping of of black theology. “Seymour’s impact cannot be understated. Fueled by this Resurrection Power, he indeed embodied what would be Black engagement during Civil Rights: participating with the Spirit in shaping a new world by challenging racist attitudes and social structures, spiritual renewal as foundational to social change, and participating in the Spirit’s work in the creation of the Beloved Community.”
“New Syriac Catholic bishop hopes Christianity will thrive again in Iraq” – This news from Iraq, which has been the source of much reporting as an example of the decline of Christianity due to religious violence. “Syriac Catholic Auxiliary Bishop Nizar Semaan begins his new mission in Iraq with hope ‘that Christianity will flourish again’ in his homeland. Semaan chose the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Qaraqosh, Iraq, his birthplace, as the site of his episcopal ordination June 7. Still scarred from the Islamic State group and not yet fully restored, the church, Semaan said, is ‘a symbol of what happened to our cities and villages in 2014 until the liberation (in 2017) from ISIS.'”
“Are McMansions Making People Any Happier?” – Not necessarily a surprise, since we know that the human heart struggles with contentment, but still worth reading in The Atlantic: “American homes are a lot bigger than they used to be. In 1973, when the Census Bureau started tracking home sizes, the median size of a newly built house was just over 1,500 square feet; that figure reached nearly 2,500 square feet in 2015. This rise, combined with a drop in the average number of people per household, has translated to a whole lot more room for homeowners and their families: By one estimate, each newly built house had an average of 507 square feet per resident in 1973, and nearly twice that—971 square feet—four decades later. But according to a recent paper, Americans aren’t getting any happier with their ever bigger homes.”
“Decline and revival in the Church of England” – Philip Jenkins here in The Christian Century on the Church of England, with mention of Holy Trinity Brompton, where I worshipped last summer for a couple of weekends. Jenkins’ reflections offer some interesting thoughts on how this secular age impacts the church and what it might mean for the rise of religious nones, even in the US. “British media regularly report the latest surveys of religious faith and activity in that country, and rare is the news that is not deeply depressing. So rapid has been the process of secularization that it hardly seems far-fetched to imagine a near future in which Christian faith in the country would be confined to recent immigrants….The Church of England has long been divided between high and low church factions, between Anglo-Catholic ritualists and evangelicals. During the 1960s, a new force appeared on the scene in the form of a charismatic revival. Over the following decades, that charismatic impulse rose and fell in influence, but it received new infusions of support from the global church repeatedly. At different times, those overseas influences derived from transatlantic revivals, both in the US and in Latin America, but also from new immigrant populations from Africa and the Caribbean. These new influences reshaped many urban parishes, some of which became what an American would easily recognize as evangelical-charismatic megachurches.”
“The Soothing Promise of Our Own Artisanal Internet” – Nitasha Tiku at Wired: “To put our toxic relationship with Big Tech into perspective, critics have compared social media to a lot of bad things. Tobacco. Crystal meth. Pollution. Cars before seat belts. Chemicals before Superfund sites. But the most enduring metaphor is junk food: convenient but empty; engineered to be addictive; makes humans unhealthy and corporations rich. At first, consumers were told to change their diet and #DeleteFacebook to avoid the side effects. But now, two years into the tech backlash, we know that cutting the tech giants out of our lives is impossible. So among some early adopters, the posture is shifting from revolt to retreat.”
“Speak, Memory” – “Julia Shaw’s book The Memory Illusion is a breakthrough in the jurisprudence of memory: the main question posed is not whether our memory is wrong on any given occasion but how wrong. It is thus essential reading for police, lawyers, judges, juries, insurance assessors, journalists … and anyone else who wants to understand why everybody else in the family “remembers” details of your family’s past differently from you. Her book discloses what modern brain science shows about how human memory functions, and where and how it is fallible. The title chosen for the German-language translation of her book—The Treacherous Memory—perhaps sums it all up best.”
[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]