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.
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!
Dear Jason & Steve,
I am very concerned about recently proposed cuts to our community colleges, state universities, correctional facilities, and human services.
Iowa legislators have failed to abide by our 1995 allowable growth law for several years in a row now.
But I know that you will remember, that Iowa children are our most vital investment, not corporations or out of state interests.
Please do everything you can to oppose the bills which came out of appropriations committees this week. Prove to your constituents that you are willing to put Iowa’s children first.
Thank you for your consideration.
Feel free to copy & paste, although phone calls work even better.
“I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
You’ve probably recited it a million times. Every day in elementary school. As part of Memorial Day or Veterans Day ceremonies. Perhaps as an opening to meetings of civic organizations or governmental proceedings.
But do you really think about what the words mean?
I’m not talking about it’s political or sentimental origins or Supreme Court decisions on the legality to refuse to recite it or to mandate that others recite it. Nothing so controversial.
And with all due respect, I’m also not talking either about any sentimental or profound interpretation of it by an inspiring speaker. When I was a child a fast food chain issued 45 rpm recordings of television and radio comedian Red Skelton’s dramatic interpretation of it. Nor am I about to urge you to sincerely utter it out of respect for those who have given their lives for our freedoms.
I’d simply like to challenge you to think, regardless of your political or philosophical leanings. I’d like to encourage you to actually consider and digest the meaning of the words we so often drone through mindlessly and complacently without giving a second thought to what we’re saying.
- I pledge [a serious promise or agreement]
- allegiance [ loyalty to a person, country, group, etc.]
- to the Flag [ Consider these words of President Woodrow Wilson to luncheon in New York City in 1915- “I see alternate strips of parchment upon which are written the rights of liberty and justice, and stripes of blood to vindicate those rights, and then, in the corner, a prediction of the blue serene into which every nation may swim which stands for these great things.” Sure, it’s a piece of cloth, but it is a symbol. Ah, but this isn’t merely a symbol of nationalism or puffed up patriotism, or even of veterans’ sacrifices; it symbolizes principles- specifically liberty & justice.]
- of the United States of America [ Think about the Preamble to the Constitution here; “We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union…” What is meant by unity? Is it our nation’s motto, “E Pluribus Unim?” From Many, One. After all, let’s face it, this exercise is intended to promote unity. Don’t believe me? Read about it’s history yourself.]
- and to the Republic for which it stands, [I tell my students not to think about the old republic in the Star Wars movies, nor of the Republican party, but of the “republican principles which James Madison talks about in Federalist Paper #51; Representative government, Federalism (power limited & shared between tiers of government, separation of powers and checks-and-balances between the three branches of government and balancing the interests of the majority with the rights of minorities by balancing the various factions of our large and diverse population). If you don’t understand these, let alone agree with them, what business do you have pledging your allegiance to this republic? Don’t we have a responsibility to ourselves and our fellow citizens to learn about and understand our own system of government?]
- one nation, under God, indivisible, [“impossible to divide or separate : not divisible” kind of like prime numerals in Math class. We are one. Even our deepest racial, political and RELIGIOUS (I wasn’t glossing over it) differences should not, can not divide us- we are pledging not to let it when we pledge allegiance. You see, if “We the people” ARE the government because WE ordain and establish our Constitution, because Lincoln urged us not to let government OF the people, BY the people, and FOR the people perish from this Earth- then we are pledging our allegiance, not to the flag, not just to the republic, but TO EACH OTHER. Even the “others” that are different from ourselves, even to the others with whom we disagree or whom we fear or disrespect. One group may want to emphasize “under God” so that they can subjugate segments of the population under their own interpretation of God’s laws. My understanding of the Bible and the God of the Bible is that we all need to “love mercy, act justly and walk humbly with our God” Micah 6:8- that precludes coercing my fellow citizens into believing what I believe. Whatever you believe about religion, please notice that the “under God” is inserted between “one nation” and “indivisible.” Christian, Jew, Gentile, Atheist or Agnostic, we are all one, like it or not. Are we going to let religion divide us? Then we’re liars and hypocrites when we take this pledge. Pretty sure most major religions say that lying is a sin. Remember that.]
- with liberty [ Merriam & Webster say this- “1: the quality or state of being free:
a : the power to do as one pleases
b : freedom from physical restraint
c : freedom from arbitrary or despotic control
d : the positive enjoyment of various social, political, or economic rights and privileges
e : the power of choice”
I say that it’s not just a synonym for “freedom,” but it is the power and opportunity to participate in the republic, it is the ability to exercise your inherent, Creator-endowed rights. If an when any of us curtail, abridge, erode or deny any of these of any other human beings, we are degrading and dissolving our very own rights as well. “Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and, under a just God, cannot long retain it.”–Abraham Lincoln.]
- and justice [ I teach my students that this isn’t just fairness, nor is it just enforcing laws and imposing penalties for violating laws- it is the very act of participating in the social contract itself. “To secure these rights, governments are instituted among men…” in short, justice is making sure that there is liberty. Perhaps that’s why the two words are usually used together. Princeton University professor Cornell West once said that “Justice is what love looks like in public.” That resonates with my religious beliefs since Jesus taught again and again to love one another, to love they neighbor as thyself and even to love your enemies. But why not look at what Merriam and Webster have to say about it-
Full Definition of justice
“1 a : the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments
b : judge
c : the administration of law; especially : the establishment or determination of rights according to the rules of law or equity
2 a : the quality of being just, impartial, or fair
b (1) : the principle or ideal of just dealing or right action (2) : conformity to this principle or ideal : righteousness
c : the quality of conforming to law
3: conformity to truth, fact, or reason : correctness”]
- for all.” [ALL as in EVERYBODY, not just males, or Whites, or wealthy or Christian- not even just naturalized, legal U.S. citizens, EVERYbody, EVERYONE ALL HUMAN BEINGS.]
Yes, I’m saying that if you pledge allegiance to the republic for which that flag stands, you are promising to offer liberty and justice to ALL as a member of that nation. Did you realize that? Has that ever occurred to you? Are you still prepared to make a solemn oath be before God that you will be loyal to such a republic? One “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that ALL men are created equal?”
Is that “just my interpretation.” Sure, okay, I’ll stipulate as to that. But if you disagree with my interpretation, then what DO these words all mean? Have you ever thought about it? Does it matter to you? Shouldn’t it?
Shouldn’t you think about what your pledging before you make a pledge?
Maybe that’s why so many religious groups have gone before the U.S. Supreme court to argue that they have the liberty NOT to recite the pledge of allegiance, because they believed Jesus when He taught in the sermon on the mount,
“33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. 37 All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” ~Matthew 5:34-37
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.