Tagged: MLK Jr
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.