Who was MLK?
Rev. Michael King Sr. grew up a poor, Black sharecropper in Georgia at the turn of the last century. As a young man he moved to Atlanta, fell in love with a Baptist preacher’s daughter and eventually followed in his father-in-law’s footsteps and studied to become a minister.
In 1934, Rev. Michael King, Sr., attended the World Baptist Alliance in Berlin. He was so moved by the teachings and sacrifice of sixteenth-century German church reformer Martin Luther, that he changed his name from Michael King to Michael Luther King and finally Martin Luther King. His teen aged son chose to change his name to Martin Luther King Jr, after his father.
MLK Grew up in segregated Georgia during the Great Depression, but went on to become one of the greatest leaders of the civil rights movement. Now, on the third Monday in January, Americans observe the legacy of his contributions with a national holiday.
King Jr. studied sociology in college and then went to seminary to become a pastor like his father and grandfather. While serving in Alabama, Pastor King became involved with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, a group of mostly Black pastors committed to achieving racial equality through non-violence.
Many people either think of Martin Luther King Jr. as just a Black hero, with nothing to offer to the rest of us. Others take him for granted as just another pop-cultural icon along with JFK, Marilyn Monroe and Elvis. For me, he is a hero of the faith. A courageous Christian leader like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who stood up to Adolf Hitler and the NAZIs.
One of my favorite books that I wish everyone on Earth would read is Dr. King’s “Strength to Love,” (1963) in which he explores the parable of the good Samaritan and what it means to love your neighbor and love your enemies, as Jesus taught. In it, he also wrote about the parables of the friend who knocked on his neighbor’s door at midnight and the rich fool who hoarded his wealth in his barns, only to have his soul required of him that night. King addresses fear and speculated on what sort of epistle the Apostle Paul might have written to America.
I think that even in mostly white, rural Iowa, it would be good to consider some of the lessons of Dr. King today in 2008. We forget that he was a Baptist minister like Mike Huckabee and a PhD who could analyze domestic and foreign and military policies just like like a Barack Obama or a Bill Clinton. We forget that King was a Nobel Peace Prize winner like Al Gore.
I recently found a speech that he made about Vietnam back in 1967 on April 4, 1967 at a meeting at Riverside Church in New York City. He was assassinated a year later on April 4, 1968 trying to help striking garbagemen in Memphis, Tennessee.
People wondered why a civil rights leader was suddenly turning into a war protester.
“I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission — a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for ‘the brotherhood of man.’…but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I’m speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men — for Communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them?”
After three decades of supply-side economics, Americans have seen the high-tech bubble burst, and the real estate bubble burst, the stock market repeatedly crash and rebound, more millionaires than ever before yet a disappearing middle class, disappearing manufacturing jobs, jobs shipped over seas, high gas prices yet record profits for oil companies and a widening gap between the super rich and the working poor. No wonder so many voters in Iowa responded to the messages of John Edwards as he railed on big corporations and unfeeling insurance companies.
King talked about our problem with consumerism in his 1967 speech too.
“…We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin…we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality.”
Black , White, Red, Yellow, or Brown, Dr. King’s teaching may have as much to say to us today, as it did forty years ago.
Strength to Love
Nearly every year I re-read a book of sermons by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. called “Strength to Love,” from 1963. Many people would be surprised by what a Biblical teacher King was because we tend to take him for granted as a cultural icon or a Black leader or a political activist.
One chapter in particular struck me as something that we could all use these days. Let’s face it, this is a time of high anxiety and stress for many of us. Governor Culver recently tried to reassure Iowans that we’re in better shape than the nation as a whole to face the coming recession. But come on, things have been getting hard for all of us for a long time.
Wars, stagnant wages, increasing costs of living especially gas, food, heating fuel and health insurance, talk of climate change, cultural change, and global competition have all left us a little frazzled. Perhaps you’re finding that just the challenges of daily life, let alone personal tragedies and crises are wearing you down.
Rev. King talked about Jesus’ parable of the man who knocks on his neighbor’s door at midnight asking for bread found in Luke 11:5-8.
“The traveler asks for three loaves of bread,” Dr. King wrote. The three things we need most are faith, hope and love.
“In a generation of so many colossal disappointments, men have lost faith in God, faith in man, and faith in the future…in the midst of staggering disillusionment, many cry for the bread of faith.”
“There is also a deep longing for the bread of hope.” Dr. King continued, “In the early years of this century many people did not hunger for this bread. The days of the first telephones, automobiles, and airplanes gave them a radiant optimism. They worshiped at the shrine of inevitable progress. They believed that every new scientific achievement lifted man to higher levels of perfection.”
But as we all know, came WWI and WWII and the Cold War. We realized that technology won’t produce a futuristic utopia. We may have more than enough food to eradicate world hunger, but greed and corruption prevent us from ever being able to get the food to who needs it. The twentieth century left mankind wounded and disillusioned.
King lamented that “the light of hope went out, and they roamed wearily in the dark chambers of pessimism. Many concluded that life has no meaning… But even in the inevitable moments when all seems hopeless, men know that without hope they cannot really live, and in agonizing desperation they cry for the bread of hope.”
If anything, we’ve learned too well that life is not fair. Some people don’t even see the point in trying anymore.
Finally, MLK pointed out what we are most starved for.
“There is the deep longing,” King wrote, “for the bread of love. Everybody wishes to love and to be loved. He who feels that he is not loved feels that he does not count. Much has happened in the modern world to make men feel that they do not belong. Living in a world which has become oppressively impersonal, many of us have come to feel that we are little more than numbers.”
We all need to find ways to get out of bed in the middle of the night and come to our neighbor’s aid. We all need to try to feed others in anyway we can but we should also remember where to turn when times get worst.
Luke 11: 5-8 has a man asking to borrow bread from a neighbor, but in Luke 11:1-4, Jesus teaches the disciples the Lord’s Prayer and in 11:9-13, He urges us to pray and ask God’s help for anything we need. If we need faith, hope, or love, all we have to do as ask, seek, or knock.
Don’t miss the main point; Re-read the important stuff if you have to
I try to read through the Bible about once a year and it really all boils down to a few things. I’ve read the law and the prophets and the psalms and the proverbs in the old testament and I’ve read the gospels and the acts of the apostles and the epistles in the new testament and it all seems to come down to these:
Faith, Hope, and Love
Of course, the greatest of these is love. God is love, there is no fear in love. The whole of the law and the prophets is summed up in love the Lord your God with all your hear and all your soul and all your strength and love your neighbor as yourself. The greatest commandment is to love one another.
But still, people who call themselves Christian demand, compete for and cheat to gain and maintain control (showing a lack of faith). They use fear as a tool to get leverage and to motivate, and they seem to be motivated by jealousy, defensiveness and anger- all showing their lack of hope. And they behave and talk as if they’re motivated by hate. Even if/when they claim not to be, their actions and words convince other people that they are.
Now I don’t read Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic, and I realize that whether I like it or not, many people seem to interpret Scripture very differently than I do. I’m only human and I pray that if I’m way off base, God will correct my thinking, but I guess my suspicion is that most people who throw around the Bible to support their political, social or philosophical positions haven’t spent a lot of time reading it, let alone asking God’s Spirit to truly work on their hearts or change their character to be much like Jesus’.
You’re right- I’m not an ordained minister, I don’t have a ThD or a PhD or a DivD or RelD, or whatever expert degree in Biblical history, literature or doctrinal studies to make me the ultimate expert. I’m not God. I’m just another sinner like everybody else.
If you really want some credentials, I’ve taken undergraduate college-level religion and theology courses, been taught about at least basic level hermeneutics and exegesis and was given a diploma granting me permission to teach religion classes to 7-12th graders in Lutheran schools. I’ve taught adult (not very well) and youth (not very well attended) Bible studies and helped my wife teach junior high Sunday School classes. I’ve served as an elder at two congregations and on the church council at one.
None of that makes me any holier than the next schmoe or more better, smarter, or the definitive expert on God’s Word- but even a numb-skull jerk like me can tell you that if your religion tells you to hate people, hurt people or deny them the same legal/social/economic/political rights as you, then there’s something very wrong with your religion.
May I suggest that either you’re not listening, you’re not willing to surrender and let God be God (and give up being god yourself) or you’re not bothering to read God’s Word as often or as deeply as you say you do (or as you think you do).
Ask yourself something. If God gave YOU your rights, your property, your money, your lifestyle, your position in life- what makes you think He hasn’t given those same rights to other people? Or don’t you think of all other people as people?
Which brings me to my next line of thought.
I end up reading through a lot of other things pretty much every year because I teach Civics. The Mayflower Compact, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the Bill of Rights and the rest of the Constitutional Amendments, our state constitution (Iowa,) a number of laws, treaties, Presidential speeches (including the Gettysburg Address) and number of letters and speeches from other noted historical figures like Ben Franklin, Thomas Paine and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
And guess what?
It really all boils down to a few things:
Liberty and Justice for ALL
Some read the Pledge of Allegiance and focus on the flag, the republic for which it stands or on God, but I stick on last three words because I’ve noticed a pattern where these three concepts (at least in synonym form) keep showing up in document after document.
The Mayflower Compact doesn’t address freedom (liberty) and it certainly didn’t offer rights or equality to women, natives or other non-whites, but it does say that the signers would offer all DUE obedience to any JUST laws meant for the GENERAL good of the colony. That certainly seems to cover justice and all.
I teach my Civics classes that at the core of the Declaration of Independence is that King George III and Parliament had broken the social contract (been unjust) to the colonists, therefore Congress believed that they were justified in separating from the mother country.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL men are created EQUAL and endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable RIGHTS… to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, whenever any government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it…”
The three principles there are equality, rights, and justice (social-contract), or if you reverse the order; liberty (rights and freedoms), and justice for all (equality).
The Preamble to the Constitution implies and assumes equality when it begins “We the people.” The “blessings of liberty” means the right to partake in participatory, representative-democracy. Establishing justice is the first goal meant to help us form our more perfect unity.
The First Amendment describes our most fundamental rights (including religion, speech, press, assembly, and petition. Other amendments cover many other rights and liberties and the Fourteenth Amendment in particular emphasizes the equal nature that justice is supposed to take.
Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address reminds us that America is supposed to be “dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal” (as the Declaration says). Yet most people seem to miss that that proposition is the “great task remaining before us” to which Lincoln urges us to find increased devotion toward.
I contend, in fact, that his closing about “government of the people, by the people and for the people” embodies these same three concepts. It is OF the people because ALL people are created equal- there isn’t supposed to be a ruling class like in an aristocracy, oligarchy or plutocracy. It is BY the people because we all have a RIGHT (the LIBERTY) to participate- if not to run, then to vote, to speak up and speak out, to assemble and petition.
And this is the “creed” in his “I have a dream” speech that MLK imagines the United States rising up and finally living out. Keeping the contract that promised equal rights, because we’re ALL created equal and endowed by God with the same rights.
Liberty and justice for ALL.
I don’t see these three the least bit incompatible with faith, hope, and especially love. Bottom line; If you don’t believe ALL human beings are equal and therefore entitled to justice, equal rights, equal opportunities, equal dignity, equal respect and fair treatment- well, you’re not doing “America” right.
I recommend reading some of the documents that formed this great experiment in participatory government. You don’t have to be a History Major or take a graduate course in political science. The Declaration, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address are all a Google-search away, for free. There are free versions available on many app for your phone. Look for whenever you see those three concepts of equality, rights and social-contract, AKA liberty, and justice for ALL.
If you STILL can’t see what I see, if you STILL don’t find that governments exist to protect rights and we have rights because we’re all created equal- if you still aren’t humbled or inspired toward altruism, compassion and community- if you’re still convinced that America is for only a chosen, exceptional few and government’s only role is to protect the privileges and property of those few- well, then, may I recommend that you start reading the Bible and look for the core message THERE.
End of sermon (rant/plea/manifesto- whatever you want to call it.
The Jesus Revolution
Great sermon by Brian Zahnd on Isaiah 56:1-8, Acts 8:4-32, & Galatians 3:28. Exclusion is legalistic, the Gospel, grace, love, & mercy are all INCLUSIVE.
A Valuable Read/View for Our Times
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” ~Rev.Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1963
Thank you Kirwan Inst. and kudos to Jamaal Bell. I teach middle school civics and we’re studying Dr. King’s letter and how it relates to the civil rights movement as it’s covered in our textbook and the 14th Amendment. I think that both having a variety of narrators rather than a single actor portraying King or merely reading the letter, combine with the still images and historic footage you’ve woven together made this a more meaningful and compelling piece- especially for rural, mostly white Iowa eighth graders in 2018, who otherwise may not have understood or appreciated the letter as well.
When I re-read or re-teach this letter, I am reminded of Dr. King’s intelligence, patience, compassion, and insight. This letter has inspired me to write poems and blog posts and paint paintings.
This year, however, just as Dr. King wrote it in response to well intentioned white clergy fifty-five years ago, I wish I could introduce it to all the well-meaning white Christians, especially moderates and conservatives.
King, speaking to clergymen after all, even though it’s an “open” letter that the entire world was privy to in newspapers and magazines, alluded to several saints, philosophers and scriptures. He referrers to the teachings and examples of Jesus frequently in the letter.
These days, my family, friends and neighbors don’t understand the protests over police brutality in the last 2-3 years in Ferguson, Baton Rouge, Baltimore, etc. They saw white supremacists demonstrating in Charlotteville, VA and somehow they blamed former President Obama for being racially divisive during his time in office.
President Trump started his campaign off by describing Mexicans as drug dealers and rapists and started his administration off by calling for a ban on travel and immigration from predominantly Muslim countries.
Just this week Attorney General Jeff Sessions let slip during remarks to law enforcement officials in Washington that he thinks that sheriffs’ have an”Anglo–American heritage.”
My own Congressman, Steve King (R) of Iowa has opposed immigration because he doesn’t think we can restore our “superior culture” with “other people’s babies.” King has met with and admires Tomio Okamura, the leader of a neo-fascist white supremacist party in the Czech Republic.
As much as people would like to think that we’re more enlightened than Americans were in 1963 or have somehow achieved racial harmony, but obviously we haven’t. I fear that too many of us ARE the “white moderates” that Doctor King criticized in this letter.
We have become complacent or numb to injustice and inequalities. We’re reluctant to recognize let alone repent of our own latent racism. Many of us our even either in denial about or oblivious to institutional forms of racism and the racism of many of our leaders, either because recognizing it would mean having to do something about it or worse, recognizing it would reflect poorly on ourselves. We don’t want to admit that we could possibly be wrong.
Then there’s women’s inequality. Why do we hesitate to equate sexism with racism? Are they not the same? I think that when King talks about Austrian philosopher Martin Buber’s discussion about “I and Thou” rather than “I-It,” we could apply that to women as well as to people of color. Don’t we too often treat women as things rather than people?
And of course today discussion of LGBT rights is much more prominent than in the 1960’s. Even if you have difficulties getting past religious qualms about non-traditional (“non-binary”) sexuality, its impossible to get around that the Constitution’s requirements of equal protection and due process for all, regardless of race, creed, gender, and political persuasion. Discrimination is discrimination, no matter who it’s against or what your motivation.
This year, what made an impression on me was King’s discussion about just and unjust laws. Too many politicians have been using the argument about following the “rule of law” to whip up anger and indignation against DACA “Dreamer”immigrants, who’s parents brought them to this country when they were young children and who essentially have never known any country (home) than this one, but now face deportation decades later.
Doctor King handles head-on the fact that morality and justice are more important than the letter-of-the law, especially when state or local laws are abused by those in power to discriminate, segregate, or violate the rights and protections guaranteed by the Constitution. Had he been a judge or a lawyer rather than a pastor and organizer, he probably would’ve quoted the Fourteenth Amendment directly.
I wish my loved ones would realize that when laws are inadequate, unclear, or unfair, it is our responsibility to revise, reform, or replace them. And that challenging them, protesting, sometimes even deliberately breaking them are all part of our constant democratic process.
I feel like ‘Letter from a Birmingham Jail’ is a masterpiece of writing. Personally, I consider it part of the broader American “unwritten-constitution,” along side things like Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or Washington’s farewell address or Teddy Roosevelt’s corollary to the Monroe Doctrine and along side his own ‘I Have a Dream’ speech which he made just four or five months after he wrote this.
If you’ve never read it, I encourage you to find a copy. If you have about an hour that you’d otherwise end up using on Netflix or YouTube anyway, watch the video linked to at the top of this blog post. Consider it kind of an audio version of this letter. My prayer is that it will impact you half as much as it has me.
For Love of Country
This is a non-stop aching in the gut.
I can’t avoid the news forever, I apparently need to avoid Facebook and Twitter for at least a while.
Trump voters are offended by (and perhaps afraid of) the protests and flags being burned and the president-elect being disparaged.
Some of us who didn’t vote for Trump are frightened that civil rights and civil liberties will be stripped away. We are afraid that democracy as we knew it will be suspended, violated, tortured and dismembered.
Really? Wearing a damn safety-pin is unpatriotic?
Really? We’re persecuting you with words like “deplorable” or accusations of racism, sexism, & xenophobia? We’re the bullies? Not the Klansmen waving confederate flags at Veteran’s day parades? Not those writing Jew, and Nigger, and Faggot on peoples’ homes and cars?
Is it alarmist or reactionary or irrational to wonder if you should flee to Canada? Was it alarmist or reactionary or irrational for Austrians and Belgians and Czechs and Poles to flee Europe in the 1930’s?
I’m a coward. I will sit down and shut up and do my best not to rock the boat. It’s more important to me to get a long with neighbors and family and friends. I live in a homogeneous, rural area, what minorities or LGBT people do I have to stand up for?
But my hero, the mad I empathize for and admire right now is Captain Georg von Trapp, the Austrian naval officer who refused to support or accept an enlistment from NAZI Germany.
MY country was conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal. But it seems that our nation has been annexed by a power that believes in mocking the disabled, assaulting women, profiling Blacks, deporting Hispanics, “converting” homosexuals and torturing suspects. This new regime came to power on the fury of uneducated disadvantaged working class whites, but its intended policies will outrageously benefit the wealthiest of the wealthy.
Is this how Langston Hughes felt all his life? That the promises of equality and liberty and justice are all hollow, or at least that they are only for a privileged, privileged few?
God, give me the courage to stand in the conviction of our principles. Grant me the wisdom and self-control and gentleness and the magnanimity to demonstrate and teach and persuade the angry, self-righteous, defensive masses those principles. But if the day ever comes, Lord, grant me the protection and opportunity to spirit my family to safety, like von Trapp did his across the Alps to Switzerland.
My country, ‘ tis of thee,
Sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing;
Our fathers’ God, to thee,
Author of liberty, to thee we sing;
Long may our land be bright
With freedom’s holy light;
Protect us by thy might, great God, our King.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,”
-Thomas Jefferson, Declaration of Independence
“…our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
-Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address
“I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.
I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.'”
-Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., I Have a Dream
EQUALITY : the condition or state of being the same in number, amount, degree, rank, or quality (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/equality)
No, I’m not perfect. Far from it. Plenty of people are smarter than I am. Tons are more attractive than I am, more fit, healthier, more athletic- God knows plenty of people are wealthier than I am, and much more talented. So what in the world did Jefferson mean?
Surely he didn’t mean women? He says all “men,” after all. Obviously he didn’t mean Black people, did he? After all, he himself OWNED slaves, right?
Perhaps that’s exactly why King said what he did 187 years later. Because America was claiming to believe something in 1776 but we never quite lived up to it.
Yet just 87 years after Jefferson wrote what he did, Lincoln essentially argued that America was founded on and for equality- “dedicated” to that very proposition.
You can argue for or against Conservatism, Progressive-ism, Liberalism, Libertarian-ism, Pluralism, Corporatism, Capitalism, Federalism or Socialism, Veganism, Vegetarianism, and Materialism- but if you claim to an American, you by definition have signed on to be an egalitarian. To believe otherwise is… well, un-American.
EGALITARIANISM 1: a belief in human equality especially with respect to social, political, and economic affairs 2: a social philosophy advocating the removal of inequalities among people (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/equality)
No, we’re not all equal in height, weight, IQ, assets, skills, popularity, prominence, or even (unfortunately) opportunities. But according to the Constitution, we are all entitled to equal protection under the law and due process of law and we are all entitled to the equal protection of our rights and liberties laid out in the Bill of Rights.
Or is this not “self-evident?” How dedicated are you to this proposition? How ready and willing are you to step-up and live it out?
Another Assignment; Two Heroes of Character
Using an essay format, research and report on 2 heroes (real or fictional, living or dead, local or world renowned) related to your curriculum & the Touchstone you created in Assignment #1. Your report should include the heroes’ names, a brief summary of their deeds, an explanation of what they overcame, and the connection between the traits that made them successful and your class touchstone of traits. Also, include a general plan of how you can integrate them into the curriculum/lesson(s) (e.g. video, literature, posted photo, as a guest speaker) and finally a brief summary as to how learning about these heroes can model character and be inspirations to your students and deepen critical thinking and problem solving skills.
HERO #1: Art Hero Edvard Munch
Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a Norwegian painter whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes greatly influenced an early twentieth century art movement known as German Expressionism. He is most famous for his 1893 painting, the Scream, which is thought to represent what it feels like to suffer a panic attack. This painting is so well known as to be considered iconic, like DaVinci’s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It is one of the most expensive paintings ever sold at auction, fetching more than $100 million.
Munch is believed to have suffered from both depression and anxiety. Munch’s mother died of tuberculosis when he was only five. His sister Johanne Sophie, to whom he was very close, died from the same disease when he was 14. Their father passed away when Edvard was 25 and attending college, leaving him destitute and forcing him to return home to take care of his younger siblings. In his 40’s, Munch had the courage to seek medical and psychiatric help. He believed that his treatments were successful and his work became brighter, more colorful. and had more optimistic themes.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis labeled Munch’s work “degenerate art” (along with many other modern artists) and removed 82 of his works from German museums and either destroyed, put into warehouses, or smuggled out to the Netherlands. In 1940, the Germans invaded Norway and the Nazi party took over the government. Munch was 76 years old and with the help of underground smugglers and art collectors gathered and protected as many of his paintings as he could on the second floor of his home, putting himself at great risk. Today those works and many by Dutch painter Vincent VanGogh are preserved at the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway.
Munch exhibited character traits which were uncommon among commercially successful painters of his time. He demonstrated his imagination in paintings that engaged viewers as if they were participating in scenes from a play. He showed his curiosity and adaptability first by delving beyond just subject matter into content and meaning and then by exploring new forms incorporating new philosophies into his works such as symbolism and synthetism. He showed enormous amounts of passion and self-awareness by making himself vulnerable in his work by constantly exploring his own personal pain and experiences. And he showed perseverance and courage by remaining true to his vision even in the face of enormous political and social pressure.
Much’s example shows us that everyone has inherent dignity and deserves to be treated equally with respect, because we never know what others have had to suffer through. Much didn’t settle for being just another post-impressionist painting the same pretty flowers and street scenes as the rest of his contemporaries- he challenged himself to learn and apply new ideas and explore new horizons, and we should also keep pushing ourselves to get better. Munch created several different versions of his composition the Scream between 1893 and 1910 with paint, pastel, etchings and engravings. That’s an example for us to never be satisfied, but to constantly work to improve and learn, even from what we think of as mistakes.
Boyer Valley Art Room Touchstone Creed:
We respect each other as artists
We push ourselves
We learn from mistakes
and celebrate each other’s successes
One of the National Art Education Standards is Personal Expression: Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas (content). Art History and Art Criticism are also among these standards. One of the critical thinking skills integral to Art Criticism is being able to interpret the content and meaning of artworks. Munch is discussed within one of the major 20th century art movements taught in Eighth Grade Art.
I introduced Munch by first having students perform “aesthetic scans” of a small number of his paintings in the series he called “the frieze of life.” These include one of a child at her mother’s death bed, one called “Jealousy,” and one called “Self-portrait in Hell.” I have students come up with possible narratives about what’s happening in the paintings and discuss the points of view of the various subjects in the paintings and speculate as to the possible frame of mind of the artist when he/she created them. We also discuss how and why artists attempt to invoke moods, evoke associations and provoke reactions from their viewers. Then I briefly share Munch’s biography with them before having them create their own expressionist paintings.
Instead of painting attractive impressionistic landscapes and flowers, Munch to paint his experiences and his feelings. By doing so he pioneered a whole new genre of painting which was more personal and unique. Today many people use painting as a form of art-therapy and most people tend to believe that art should be intensely personal and expressive, utilizing unique systems of personal symbolism and embedding meaning into color choice and stylistic decisions.
One of the most cliche axioms out there is “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” One of my favorite quotes from the WWII period which marked the end of Munch’s life is from British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, “when you’re going through Hell, keep on going.” Both of these quotes represent the Munch’s character to me. Instead of giving up a career in art when faced with having to become responsible for his family, he used his pain and struggle as the very subject of his painting. Van Gogh chose to escape his mental illness by suicide. Jackson Pollack succumb to his addictions. Munch had enough self-awareness, humility and courage to seek professional help for both his addictions and his mental illness.
At a public school I may not be able to directly quote 2 Corinthians 1:4 and tell students that “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” However, I can use Edvard Munch as an example of how we can derive meaning from our suffering and create purpose from our hardships. Munch shows me how just like steel is stronger than iron because it has gone through the fire, we can all become stronger from the challenges we have to face.
HERO #2: Civics Hero Senator James Grimes
Originally from New Hampshire, James Grimes moved West to practice law in what would become Burlington, Iowa. He served first in the Territorial and later State House of Representatives as well as as one of Iowa’s earliest Governors. He helped revise Iowa’s state constitution. As a member of the Whig party, he helped establish the fledgling Republican Party in Iowa in the 1850’s. As a member of the U.S. Senate, he served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction which drafted the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Perhaps his greatest demonstration of character was as Iowa’s Senator, just after the Civil War. Grimes broke party ranks to oppose the removal from office of President Andrew Johnson after he was impeached. Johnson was a slave owning Democrat from Tennessee appointed Vice President by Lincoln in a symbolic demonstration that his administration represented the entire nation. Johnson sought to quickly reintegrate the Southern states back into the Union but faced fierce opposition from the radical wing of the Republican party who wanted to punish the secessionists.
Congress impeached Johnson for firing his Secretary of War. The Constitution requires that Presidential appointments be confirmed by the senate, but Congressional Republicans hastily passed a law requiring that he also seek approval before removing Cabinet members as well. Grimes saw the impeachment for what it was, an unprecedented abuse of Constitutional process for in a play for power in a political fight. He didn’t believe that Johnson, no matter how arrogant or inept, had not committed high crimes or misdemeanors.
Not only did he go against his own party, but at the expense of his own health Grimes tirelessly negotiated between Johnson and Senate members for a narrow acquittal vote. Grimes suffered a stroke two days before the final Senate vote and fell before reaching his desk as he entered the Senate the day the vote was taken. Even though the Supreme Court Justice gave him special permission to remain seated, Grimes mustered the strength to stand up and announce his “not guilty” vote. A year later, poor health forced him to resign his office and he passed away at home in Iowa at the age of only 55.
Grimes is an incredible example of integrity and commitment. He demonstrated enormous amounts of judgement, responsibility, courage and temperance. Grimes put the Nation’s well being before the goals of his party and sacrificed his potential re-election, not to mention his personal health and well being to preserve the Constitutionality and balance of power between the branches of government.
Grimes took responsibility for the integrity of our Constitutionally established system of government even though it meant standing up to peer pressure and standing up to prevent an unpopular person from being bullied. Even though he may have disagreed with the President on a variety of issues and even disliked him personally, he thought it was important to respect the dignity of his office and his right to due process of law and the protections provided by the law.
MS Civics Class Touchstone Creed:
We’re all responsible making this a learning space
We respect everyone’s rights & dignity
We show grit to grow & to try again when we fail
Everyone matters, everyone’s voice should be heard
Each year at Boyer Valley, we include a unit on Iowa History as part of our Civics class. Perhaps the greatest emphasis of the class is on the U.S. Constitution. In the Iowa unit, we also examine the Iowa Constitution. Some people describe Grimes as the James Madison of the Iowa Constitution. Talking about checks and balances between the three branches of government goes hand in hand with talking about Constitutional government. Not only are the Johnson, Nixon and Clinton impeachment attempts all part of history, but the impeachment/removal from office process is analogous to the Grand Jury/Trial Jury process in the criminal justice system.
Once we reach the Civil War/Politics portion ot the article on Iowa History written by an ISU professor which we use for the unit, I have students read and discuss an article from Iowa History magazine on Senator Grimes. This has been a terrific resource for launching discussions that Ryan & Bohlin might consider “moral discourses.” Students are asked to compare Grimes’ actions with Republican Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s negotiating with Richard Nixon and Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin’s address to the Senate in the wake of the Clinton impeachment.
I personally think that the 14th Amendment, which Grimes helped to craft, refocused the law on principles of equality and justice which the Constitution itself was intended to provide in the first place. I think that Grime’s example shows students that these aspects of our democratic republic require vigilance, commitment and sometimes sacrifice. To selfishly deny the rights of due process and equal protection to others for the sake of expedience endangers the equality, protection and processes for everyone, including ourselves.
Likewise a lack of integrity, judgement, responsibility, courage and temperance on our parts degrades those virtues in our collective community. When we contribute our character to the general welfare, we nurture these same traits in others. We repeat tales of Washington’s courage and Lincoln’s honesty in an effort to instill those virtues in our young. We regale kids with tales of Franklin’s ingenuity, Sam Adam’s aversion to tyranny and Patrick Henry’s audacity both to make kids proud of our moral heritage as Americans and to inspire a desire to belong to that heritage.
I’d hope that James Grime’s example would encourage students to become critical thinkers and readers so that they could scrutinize people’s motives and make choices which align more with their own principles than with objectives of parties or special interests. Better yet, to consider what’s in the best interest in the majority of the community, and not just what’s in their own personal interest or those of the subgroups with which they identify. In other words, stand up for what’s right, not just fight over who gets to be right in an argument.
Memorial Day Cognitive Dissonance
This weekend I’ve been thinking about that moment when a young Marine handed the flag from my dad’s casket, folded into a triangle to my mother. How much more painful must it be when the deceased had fallen in combat, on active duty, rather than sixty years later in a hospital bed? God bless the families of our veterans & active service personnel.
Here are some things to think about on Memorial Day.
What’s the difference between Memorial Day and Veterans Day? What are other national holidays supposed to be about? Flag Day, Armed Forces Day, Independence Day, & Patriots Day?
Every Memorial Day the American Legion and VFW have students read or recite Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. This is fitting since he gave it at the dedication of a memorial cemetery. Have you ever considered the meaning of Lincoln’s words?
Try these on for size:
“…testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.”
So how was this nation conceived*? To what proposition was it dedicated*? Are we still? Are you and I?
(*Lincoln's answers are in the beginning of his address)
“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -“
What tasks remain before us?
“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.”
Ask yourself, what work is undone?
“that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain –“
Did they die for a 3 day weekend? For camping? Boating? For BBQ or Beer?
Did they die just for nationalism or “patriotism” or “exceptionalism?” For political ideologies or parties? Or for the flag?
“that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion.”