Category: Prophetic Voices

One more thought about King

The Roman Catholic Church takes sainthood seriously, even if a prospective saint didn’t. Dorothy Day (1897-1980), responded to the idea of her potential sainthood by saying, “Don’t call me a saint. I don’t want to be dismissed so easily.”

In spite of her resistance, the canonization process is underway. That she would vote “no” is the best evidence that her practice of faith should be recognized. A redemptive aspect of faith is that outcasts/non-conformists improve the neighborhood.

A federal holiday is somewhat akin to sainthood. I think Martin Luther King, Jr. would respond to MLK Day with something like, “That’s nice, but let’s pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.”

The New York Times‘ opinion columnist Jamelle Bouie said one of King’s most powerful sermons was “A Christmas Sermon on Peace,” given at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 1967. Bouie sees MLK as a “democratic theorist.” From the sermon:

Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world.

(See also “8 powerful speeches from Martin Luther King, Jr. that aren’t ‘I Have a Dream.”)

Cesar Chavez, Coretta Scott King and Dorothy Day, St. John the Divine, New York City, February 20, 1973, Timeline photos, from the Dorothy Day Guild Facebook page

The beloved community

One of ML King, Jr.’s gifts was making widely known–and expanding–Josiah Royce‘s idea of the beloved community. When I was young, I accepted the widely held US idea that America was the beloved community, i.e., uniquely blessed by God. Ronald Reagan inspired many people with his idea that we are a nation “set on a hill.”

America is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, (until recently) moderate climate, and our Founders’ (unfinished) vision of liberty and justice for all. It’s easy for an awareness of blessing to merge a national self-understanding with the biblical concept of ancient Israel as “God’s chosen people.”

I once heard a rabbi say of the Israelites: “Chosen yes, but for mission, not privilege.” The nature of the Royce/King vision is completely inclusive. It embraces all the earth–all the Universe. We are beloved because the Universe is beloved. The beloved community practices the art of receiving and giving unconditional love.

From “The King Philosophy” (including the Beloved Community), The King Center. (L-to-R, Ralph David Abernathy, James Forman, MLK, Jr., Jesse Douglas, John Lewis,

The big picture

Regular readers of this blog know that I often draw from “Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation,”produced by the Center for Action and Contemplation. When I typed “Richard Rohr” into this blog’s excellent search engine, I discovered that I’ve referenced Rohr in 96 of 1,206 posts.This one is number 97.

Rohr is one reason that in recent years I’ve been increasingly drawn to the “big picture” theme. CAC’s 1/16/23 meditation, a Rohr reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr., entitled “Big Picture Thinkers,” was personally very helpful. As he often does, Rohr put King’s life and message within a larger context (what he calls a “larger frame”).

As MLK applied the idea of the beloved community to a “wider frame” beyond race to economics and war, he lost a sizable part of his following. Then, writes Rohr:

We don’t want the big frame. No one wants the big picture. … Jesus’ metaphor and image for what we would simply call the big picture is the reign of God, or the kingdom of God. … To consider things in light of eternity is a great clarifier. Maybe it comes to us on our death bed, when we think to ourselves, “Is this going to mean anything? Does this really matter? Is this little thing we’re upset about now and taking offense at going to mean anything in light of eternity?” The prophet or prophetess speaks truthfully and in the largest context.

From “Six big picture thinking strategies that you’ll actually use,” by Madeline Miles, BetterUp, July 29, 2022

Loving Your Enemies

Many years ago I bought a small pamphlet for $1 with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1957 “Loving Your Enemies” sermon, his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” and his 1967 Riverside Church address, “Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam.” Here are excerpts from his “Loving Your Enemies” sermon:

…we must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. … Forgiveness … means … the evil act no longer remains as a barrier to the relationship. …the evil deed is no longer a mental block impeding a new relationship. … Forgiveness means reconciliation ….

… there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. … we love our enemies by realizing that they … are not beyond the reach of God’s redemptive love.

…we must not seek to defeat or humiliate the enemy, but to win his friendship and understanding. …

… Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world that we must love our enemies–or else? The chain reaction of evil–hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars–must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. ..

To our most bitter opponents we say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. … We shall meet your physical force with soul force. … be… assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall win you in the process….

As a footnote, in Alabama and Mississippi, today honor both Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert E. Lee. An Alabama bank is taking heat for noting the dual aspect of today as a bank holiday. Mississippi Public Broadcasting gives the strange history of joining the Confederate general alongside the winner of the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize.

About ten years ago…

… I drove to Monroeville, Alabama for lunch and conversation with Thomas Lane Butts (1930-2021), a retired pastor. He told me about the time he met Martin Luther King, Jr. in early 1955, when Butts was a seminary student at Emory University and pastor of a 4-church “circuit” near (then wild and woolly) Phenix City, Alabama.

Butts’ mentor, Welton Gregory, phoned to say, “Tom, I want you to be in Montgomery at 7:30 tomorrow morning. A group of us are going to Talladega to spend the day with a young black Baptist minister who has just been called to be pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery. We believe he’s going to have a creative influence on race relations in Alabama. His name is Martin Luther King, Jr.”

Butts said the group that met with King that day in 1955 numbered about twelve. Butts said the session was transformative for him because of King’s intellect and communication skill. I found a 2012 blog post by Butts that provides a fuller context for their meeting in Talladega.

Welcome to a tea party

Issues of faith and ethics are central to our conversation about rapid technological change (see previous posts). A related issue is the way faith itself is impacted by the technology of mass communication (particularly the “silo” effect of social media). I’d like to invite Diana Butler Bass into this conversation.

DBB writes an occasional blog called The Cottage. Point 4 of her January 11 post is: “The internal tensions and divisions of American Christianity will continue to dominate our political life, both overtly and more surreptitiously.” She writes that Kevin McCarthy, Matt Gaetz, and Hakeem Jeffries are all Baptists, a reality worthy of “an entire dissertation in American religious history.”

DBB invites conversation about “what it means to be Christian in a less-Christianized world. … humility and hospitality” to “embody a beautiful biblical faith that contributes to a flourishing, fairer world.” … “Ignoring religion and politics won’t spare us from divisions, anger, and pain. Ignoring them ensures that even more extremist and more dangerous forms of Christian politics will arise to the detriment of not only American politics but to Christianity itself.”

I left a comment for DBB at her blog: I try to have a virtual cup of tea each day with Phyllis Tickle and John Lewis, simply to ask them, “What should we do now?” At tea today, we’ll discuss this post. Thank you!

From “Congress and the Religion Imbalance,” by Diana Butler Bass, The Cottage, January 11, 2023

A new year

Clarence Jordan (pronounced JER den), 1912-1969, biblical scholar and agent of social change, gave us a “Cotton Patch” version of Hebrews 11:1 in the New Testament: Now faith is the turning of dreams into deeds. It is betting your life on the unseen realities.

My 2023 question is: “How can I make a difference?” My 8-syllable 2023 prayer is: Abba-Amma: Lebh Shomea. This is an inclusive version of Jesus’ Aramaic-language name for the Deity (Abba, or “Daddy”), coupled with a Hebrew-language yearning for a “listening heart/mind.” This Aramaic/Hebrew combo is shorter than my “briar patch” English prayer: Father-Mother: Give your servant a listening heart-mind.

I believe this short prayer will help me discover the unfolding answer(s) to my question. May you find how (and where) to turn your 2023 dreams into action.

From “What Did Solomon Pray For?“, by Rick Hamlin, Guideposts (based on the story in 1 Kings 3)

My Jewish sister

Radio, TV and other media create an immediacy that augments face-to-face human interaction. Many who sat by the radio for FDR’S fireside chats felt like he was speaking directly to them. Some never knew he was in a wheelchair.

Joyce Vance is a frequent digital guest in our home via her Civil Discourse blog and as a contributor for MSNBC. I feel a kinship with her on several levels, including her Jewish faith, which I have adopted by way of Christianity.

In Vance, I hear Old Testament prophets’ unwavering commitment to justice. Yesterday, I read the transcript of her conversation with Chuck Rosenberg, which included this excerpt about her service as a US Attorney:

There was nothing like standing up in a courtroom and saying: “I represent the people of the United States.”

…the most important thing is your integrity, and what we always said in our office was there was no case that was more important than the integrity of the office.  

From “Transcript: Joyce Vance,” The Oath with Chuck Rosenberg, MSNBC, September 24, 2019

The Blessed Youngster

As dawn breaks this Christmas morning, my mind is on Mary’s contribution. She has been called “The Blessed Virgin” and “Theotokos” (Mother of God). Can’t top that! But, do those accolades draw her closer or make her seem more distant?

History has placed several layers of cultural veneer around Mary’s sexuality, freighting “The Blessed Virgin” with baggage that likely would feel foreign to her. At heart, her story is about a profoundly faithful, powerful simplicity.

So, this Christmas, my focus is not on Mary’s sexual history or her divine motherhood, but rather her blessed youthfulness, which radiates eternal dedication to simple truth and justice in a world dominated by the ethical complications of elders.

Without creating an unnecessary comparison or pedestal, a simple tip of the hat to youngster Cassidy Hutchinson for a 2022 example of freedom from a complicated web created by the ethical compromises of those older but not wiser.

From tandirection.com

Anti-prophet

What drags a person down into anti-semitism? Why does Judaism arouse resentment and fear among some people? These questions flow from yesterday’s post as I reflect on the long history of prejudice, including the Nazis’ anti-semitic strategy to gain power in Germany, 2017 tiki torches in Charlottesville and the appearance of Ye (Kanye West) and Nick Fuentes on Alex Jones’ InfoWar show.

The Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) should be a source of unity for Jews, Christians and Muslims, but cultural prejudice toward the people that produced the OT has damaged the credibility of some expressions of Christianity and Islam. Judaism’s prophetic tradition is rooted in the Law of Moses (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, etc.

The prophetic tradition stands for justice and against tyranny. Those who aspire to, or support, dictatorship properly understand Judaism as a threat to their power. Judaism’s respect for, and defense of, the “least of these” undermines authoritarian rule. To be anti-semite is to be anti-prophet, or anti-Bible. Anti-semitism tries to make the prophetic tradition into the “bad guys.”

From “The most striking photos from the white supremacist Charlottesville protest,” by German Lopez, Vox, August 12, 2017