I realize that MLK Day was a couple of weeks ago but this blog post has kind of been nagging at me ever since then.
Everyone knows him from his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech from 1963 and as an important civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. But how many of us have ever took the time to really read, study or digest that speech?
History buffs and civil rights advocates may know more about him. They may know that he’s also remembered for his ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail,’ for leading protests there and a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama to draw attention to state discrimination in voting rights.
They may credit him with helping to put pressure on President Johnson and Congress to pass both the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. They know that after fighting so long against legal segregation and political equality in the South, he had begun campaigning for economic justice nationwide.
But we forget that he was a pastor, a theologian, an intellectual, a husband and father, a reader, thinker and writer. “Rev. Dr.” means that he was ordained and had a PhD. He wasn’t just a gifted speaker, activist and organizer. He was a ridiculously prolific writer.
He’s one of my personal favorite writers.
As a History/Social Studies teacher, I think his most fascinating piece, in therms of political science, sociology and philosophy has to be his 1967 speech ‘Beyond Vietnam.’
Two of my favorite books aren’t political speeches or editorials though, they’re sermons, devotions and essays on spirituality, love, and King’s trademark non-violence. Strength to Love from 1963 and The Measure of a Man , from 1968.
Without having open copies by my side, or a tab open to search for quoted from MLK, I want to share some principles I’ve gleaned from Doctor King’s writings that I try to apply as life lessons. Full disclosure; I’m a white male that grew up in the middle-class suburbs of Phoenix in the 70’s (‘Leave it to Beaver,’ only not in the 50’s).
Maybe that’s the point though- while as a progressive it ticks me off to see right-wing extremists and conservative Republican pundits and politicians try to co-opt Dr. King’s quotes or use his image to try to evoke pretend inclusion or phony compassion- much of King’s teaching really does transcend race, gender, and era.
King made no secret that he was influenced by Mahatma Ghandi, Henry David Thoreau, Martin Luther, and Jesus Christ of Nazareth. I bet he was also influenced a lot by Mahalia Jackson and Cloretta Scott-King too. What positive role models? We could all use some role models like those today.
When I read King, I see much of his ideas and beliefs echoed in secular authors like Viktor Frankl and Christian authors like C.S. Lewis. white And in white evangelicals like Tony Campolo and black activists like John Lewis and Cornell West. Most of all, I hear echoes of Saint Paul and of Jesus.
If I could pass anything on to my children or my students, I wish I could plant these lessons in their hearts and minds, but I know they have to read Kings books for themselves, listen to his speeches for themselves, study history, read scriptures and encounter God all for themselves. I can’t do it for them. Be that as it may, here are some things I learned from Dr. King.
Off the top of my head, & from the well of my heart-
Lessons I’ve learned from Doctor King
- Meet physical force with soul force
- Peace isn’t just an end, it’s a means to many ends
- Forgiveness is hard, but it shouldn’t just be a habit, but a way of life
- Be a thermostat, not just a thermometer
- Better to be tough minded and soft hearted than hard-hearted and soft-minded!
- Never give up hope, seek to become a prisoner of hope
- Undeserved suffering is redemptive
- ALL of our destinies are inextricably tied together
- Injustice ANYWHERE is a threat to justice EVERYWHERE
- Never stop; if you can’t fly, run, if you can’t run, walk, if you can’t walk crawl- but keep moving forward.
- Hate can’t drive out hate, only love can do that
- Just a sneeze can change history
- Just because something is a law doesn’t make it just and unjust laws sometimes may even need to be broken to draw attention to the fact that they ought to be changed
- Change comes from faith, prayer, love, community, and sacrifice
- Words are powerful
- It’s one thing to claim to believe something, it’s another to live out the true meaning of those beliefs
- Love others, even your enemies
“Emotion is your enemy… Losing control of your emotions, at work as much as anywhere, is a losing proposition. As a leader, it’s important that you manage your emotions instead of letting them manage you.” ~John Wooden, UCLA Basketball Coach
“Complaining about a problem without proposing a solution is called whining.” ~Theodore Roosevelt, President of the United States
Gotta tell ya, some politicians irk me. I mean make me so angry I just want to shout expletives. But my wife reminds me that I’m a Civics teacher, and a Sunday School teacher, and a parent.
Part of me is so full of angst when I see the groundwork for authoritarianism being laid that I feel like I HAVE to say something. After all, as a History Major in college I had British parliamentarian Edmund Burke’s words pounded into me- “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”
But I think about the poor “spaz” on the elementary playground. So full of frustration that they must lash out at their bullies, but all they manage to do is flail around spasmodically- only giving the bullies and their schoolmates more material to ridicule, instead of injuring their tormentors.
Wouldn’t you rather get in one good knockout punch, thus delivering a powerful lesson in who not to mess with?
So, some advice, and believe me, this is a case of “physician heal thyself,” but nevertheless, advice on when and how to exercise one’s First Amendment rights rather than to abuse them.
- Be articulate
- Be specific
- Avoid being coarse or profane
- Attack policies, positions and actions- NOT persons, personalities, or appearances
- Back up you assertions with facts (even though your opponents may not use them, or may believe in “alternative” facts).
- Allow trolls to troll (and make themselves look ignorant and angry), or delete their comments, but don’t engage them.
- Above all, speak out of your passion FOR something, based on principles, rather than get carried away with your anger against someone or something.
Granted, “do as I say, not as I do” may indeed apply here plenty of times. But this is still advice that I recognize that I myself need to follow.
For here we are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead, nor to tolerate any error so long as reason is left free to combat it.” ~Thomas Jefferson, President of the United States.
As a father of 3 daughters and a cheerleading coach for 23 years, who’s been blessed enough to have been married to a Proverbs 31 woman for 25 years- I’d like to think of myself as a feminist.
Women are intelligent & important.
They deserve respect as men’s equals and should have equal legal rights, status and opportunities professionally & economically.
This isn’t radical. It isn’t “liberal.” It’s common sense. It’s what’s right.
#Resist anyone who belittles you, or brags about sexually assisting you or grabbing you by your womanhood.
I’ve tried to stay off facebook, and I’ll keep trying. Let’s face it, sometimes it’s inflammatory for people you disagree with, sometimes it’s an echo-chamber for people you agree with and the rest of the time it’s an inane time waster at best and a vast wasteland (like TV) at worst.
I just want to let my family & friends know, that I don’t want to be obnoxiously inflammatory, and my political positions are not arbitrary or deliberately intended to offend you- they’re informed, reasoned and motivated by a life long love of country and passionate concern for democracy. I may have biases, but I’ve studied history, I try to read as much as I can and critically analyse facts and information.
Please keep all this in mind. Even when we disagree, please don’t just write me off with contempt. Even if I’m wrong, I’m not your enemy and I’m not stupid. I will try to offer you personally the same dignity and respect, even if I ridicule national figures and officials whom you defend.
It’s not a matter of conservative vs. liberal, libertarian vs. socialist, or old-fashioned vs. progressive. The current administration may not be as fascist as many on the left warn- but it is autocratic, hypocritical, and irresponsible. They are leaning toward authoritarianism and/or kakistocracy, not the centrist, democratic-republic we’ve enjoyed for 240 years. This isn’t just abnormal, this isn’t just change or the swing of the pendulum.
I will try to be speak out less often and with less vitriol (like I have for the last week or so), but please don’t expect me to remain silent as the Constitution, constitutional processes, constitutional principles and constitutional rights are eroded, ignored, and violated.
If things I share or comment on annoy, offend or disturb you, please consider un-following me. If I upset you that much, unfriend or even block me. I won’t be offended. Or, try what I’m going to try- moderate your engagement on Facebook. Who know, maybe some of us (myself included) could stand to give it up for Lent!
The day after the election I was a basket case (as you might have figured from previous posts on this blog). A professor of mine once suggested that our most prolific times would usually be times of emotional stress or poor mental health. He said it matter-of-factly, not even alluding to art therapy.
I remembered this advice (or admission) and decided that I needed to create something.
On the first day, my grief for my country was so deep all I felt that I could paint was what I felt. As Frida Kahlo once said, ” I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.” So this is what I painted:
I’d been teaching about the New York School. Action painters who emphasized the process as a cathartic, meditative experience and color-field painters who created pieces intended to invoke a contemplative mood in their viewers. It was very satisfying.
It wouldn’t leave me alone. It called out to me. This past Summer I’d read a biography of Lutheran theologian and WWII resistance member Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This Fall I re-read his reflection on Christian fellowship, ‘Life Together.’
Bonhoeffer refused to compromise genuine Christian discipleship to mollify the demands of the Third Reich. First this meant pioneering the “confessional” church movement and underground seminaries, but eventually he was recruited by the Abwehr (a German intelligence agency which pre-dated the rise of NAZI power) and thereby a number of assassination plots against Hitler.
He was For a year and a half, he was kept in a military prison, then to the Gestapo’s high-security prison, then to Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to Flossenbürg concentration camp where he was hung in April of 1945 days before German surrender.
So I attacked my muddy brown canvas with black, then built an almost ghostly face with stark white. The under-painting began taking shape.A ghost in a concentration camp. Certainly not the prophetic voice of hope which I had met in his writings. But definitely a product of my own angst.
I thought I remember reading somewhere that angst is the combination of anger and anxiety born from the inability to control a situation or effect change. This is certainly how I feel about the election of Trump; a hateful, unprepared, unqualified, angry, entitled, demagogue.
There it stood on my easel for a week. Students commenting that it looked like me- perhaps an indictment of my melancholic disposition. To me it felt like Poe’s raven, constantly reminding me of the death of equality, liberty, justice and any hope of any kinds of peace at home or abroad. A dour ghost haunting my classroom.
I experimented in Photoshop with blending the original photo with my under-painting. The image was exciting and moving, but still ghostly. For me it evoked the spirits of Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, Corrie ten Boom and Viktor Frankl, not just Bonhoeffer.
Finally this week, I resumed painting. Like the prophet Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, I attached flesh to the bones. But alas, dry ache became weeping sorrow. But at least students told me, “now it’s finally starting to look like him instead of you!”
Yesterday I made a great deal of progress, although I think it looked more like a cross between William H. Macy and Philip Seymour Hoffman than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Now I felt like it had some indignation and resignation rather than just depression and despair. Somehow I hoped to add some sense of hope or faith, since these are the things Bonhoeffer demonstrated most to me.
Today, I feel like I gave it a great deal more dimension and solidity. I feel like it looks more realistic and closer to finish. This may be prejudiced somehow, but I think it even looks German or at least European- although I’m not quite sure it looks like Bonhoeffer exactly. I’m also not sure how to capture any hope. It may be too late for that.
It’s hard to imagine a martyr with any hope or joy- but that is what is so amazing about Bonhoeffer’s story- witnesses claim that they were amazed by his warmth and encouragement for his fellow prisoners and his amazing composure and bravery even in his final moments.
I haven’t decided whether or not I’m finished with it. Perhaps if I live with him for another week, he will tell me again. But I do like it. Of course, I liked that ghost-like mummy from the second and third days too.
To check that I had the spectacles in the right place, I held my canvas up to the projector on the SmartBoard in my classroom and projected the original photo onto the painting. I loved what I saw so much, I had to take a picture of it. It seems to me still sorrowful, but challenging as well. “What are you prepared to do, Ted? For democracy? For authentic Christianity?” Would I have the faith or the courage to make the kinds of sacrifices he did?
I pray I’ll never have to. One biographer notes that while he wrote treatises and essays and devotions and letters, he never really wrote much poetry until he was imprisoned. But I have to say, one of his poems is one of the most amazing pieces of reflective existential art that I’ve ever run across.
Once you read it, look back over the various stages of my painting’s development and imagine them reciting it to you.
Who Am I?
by Deitrich Bonhoeffer
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!
I didn’t come up with that like, “If the past were a foreign country, it just invaded.” Someone else it. If I’d been more responsible, I’d have closer attention to whom so that I could give them credit, but these last couple of days I’ve been in kind of an emotional daze. I remember the same kind of numb fog when my father died.
Over reaction, you say? Trust me, I was not that emotionally invested in Hillary Clinton. But since my childhood I have been deeply emotionally invested in America. The America that I thought I knew.
The afternoon of September 11, 2001 and for at least the next week, everything felt different. Worse than being trapped in an episode of the Twilight Zone or the Outer Limits. Anxiety and uncertainty gripped us. The day of the 9/11 the skies were conspicuously empty. Having grown up with my dad working at the airport for American Airlines, I had always been unconsciously aware of the constant mostly unnoticed rhythm of traffic in the skies and of the crisscrossing of vapor trails.
This week, after the unthinkable happened, I now eye everyone with suspicion.
At school, I wait for the middle school boys to become Rolfe, the delivery boy teenage suitor tuned Hitler youth and challenge my authority and accuse me of being a traitor to the new state.
At the grocery store I worry that every immigrant or Latino is afraid of me because they imagine that I hate them, I’m judging them or I’m ready to falsely accuse them of something or deport them- because I’m a white male. A middle-aged, middle-class, white male. Especially the girls. I’m acutely aware (even if it’s irrational) that they fear me most. Almost as if I’m Frankenstein’s Monster visiting the village, and they cower around corners to avoid my slightest glance.
Yeah, my Black and Latino and Gay “friends” are just former students on Facebook, far away, not people I live around or work with every day (I’m not trying to show them off as Liberal trophies of tolerance), but I fear too that they may not trust me or like me anymore. Will they resent me? Will they be waiting for me to turn on them like everyone else seems to have in the last few days? Am I just another “one of them” to them?
I view everyone differently. Dear friends and neighbors and family too. Who can I be open with? Who feels like I do? Who’s going to scoff at my concerns? Who will judge me derisively as a “libtard?”
Who casually, callously, uncritically voted for him just because they didn’t like her, didn’t trust her?
Who voted for him with conviction, with passion, because they were convinced that he truly is the only one who can take back our country and make it great again?
And who relished voting for him because he lets them say what they’ve always wanted to say. He legitimizes their fiery, passionate, fucking hatred of those fucking fucktards that have been fucking up our country so long?
Who would write me off and marginalize my values, the compassion and kindness and egalitarianism that I was taught- as soft, irresponsible, weak, not really Christian.
Who would betray me should the day come, like it does in Sinclair Lewis’ novel ‘It Can’t Happen Here,’ when the the thugs come to take me to the re-education camps? Or at least, who would let that happen if someone else betrayed me?
Who would beat me up, vandalize my home, threaten my family?
And I think of my daughters. Will they never be allowed to hold office? Will they lose their right to vote? Will no one believe them if they’re ever harassed, or assaulted, abused, or raped?
Will they never be good enough because they’re not thin enough, not blonde enough, not sexy enough?
What about my daughter with the speech impediment and variety of other special needs.
Will she be denied Medicare? Will she be denied a job? Will she be beaten up?
So yes, I feel like we’ve been invaded. But maybe not like France or Belgium. Maybe more like Austria. Invaded by invitation. And yes, I’m resentful, but if it makes the invaders feel any more self-satisfied, I’m more fearful than I am angry.
But don’t get too complacent or smug. Soon my fog will lift and righteous indignation and deep commitment will connect to others who feel like I do. We know we’re not alone. We’re already reaching out. Soon we’ll shake off our funk and reorganize. And then we’ll begin to rise back up.
And love will find a way. Decency will find a way. Kindness, compassion, community… even justice will find a way and she will take her country back, so that she can once again offer liberty and justice to ALL.
Because the arch of history is long, but believe it or not, like it or not, it will bend toward justice.
So when you hear the “Golden Rule,” Do unto others or “Love your neighbor” in Leviticus 19:18 and Luke 10, and you ask “who is my neighbor?”
Leviticus 19:9-18 sure makes it look like our neighbors include the poor, sojourners (immigrants and aliens), workers (servants and employees), the handicapped, and both the lowly and the great.
Even non-Christians are at least somewhat familiar with the parable of the Good Samaritan that Jesus taught inn Luke 10:25-37. So when the teacher of the law tests Jesus by asking “who IS my neighbor?” We should ask that too.
Think about who were the neighbors to whom Jesus Himself showed love in the New Testament?
Aliens, Sinners, Prostitutes, Tax Collectors, Gentiles, Jews, Romans, Pharisees, Sadducees, Lepers, the Poor, the Sick, Prisoners, the Oppressed, Hypocrites, even the Demon-Possessed, Samaritans, our ENEMIES, You and Me.
So today, who is my neighbor? Blacks, Latinos, legal and illegal immigrants, Syrian and Afghan, Iraqi and Iranian refugees? Policemen? LGBTQ? Our political opponents? Republicans? Democrats? White supremacists? Hypocrites? Bigots? Ex-Spouses? Bosses? Gun activists? Gun control activists? Women? Competitors & rivals? Strangers? Sinners? People who scare me? People who offend me? People who disagree with me?
Yes, yes, yes.
The “Law” whether Federal, State statutes, local and municipal codes or God’s Law & God’s Word is all about community, all of it is about working together for the betterment of others, not just ourselves. The “letter of the law” is about details, control, and judgement, but the “spirit of the law,” the WHY of it, the reason for it, is about LOVE. It is about being responsible for each other just as Jesus demonstrated for us.
That’s what I believe it means when people say that America was “based on Jewish and Christian principles” or “based on the Bible.” I don’t think that means that only wealthy White, Evangelical conservative fundamentalist Christians get power or control, I think that Leviticus 19 makes pretty clear that equal treatment and justice for ALL is part of God’s law. Seems to me that the equal protection and due process clauses of the 14th Amendment are intended to do just that. The Spirit of both God’s law and secular civil law is not to protect God or to protect the power or privilege or control of certain “godly” people, it is to protect ALL people from the effects of sin and selfishness- to protect all of us from each other. It is a “social contract,” a covenant, a compact, a promise to treat each other with love rather than hate and selfishness or indifference.
All of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures come down to this; LOVE. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. God is love. Anyone who tells you otherwise either hasn’t read it, doesn’t get it, or is trying to mislead you.