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.

A Saturday tune-up

For a relaxing note on your Saturday, here’s a six minute music video of 7-year-old cellist Yo-Yo Ma and his 11-year-old sister, pianist Yeou-Cheng Ma in 1962. Both were born in France to Chinese parents who migrated to New York. You can listen along with Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy.

That six-minute interlude may be all you need from this post today. If you’d like a bit more, you can read about an autobiography of Carlton (Sam) Young, 96, Professor Emeritus of Church Music at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He was editor of the 1966 and 1989 Methodist hymnals.

When I was a student at Candler (1973-1976), Young taught at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology. Young brought a Perkins choir large enough to completely encircle Candler’s chapel. In 1975, he moved from Perkins to Scarritt College, then to Candler.

Young’s new book is I’ll Sing On: My First 96 Years.

From Yo-Yo Ma Official Website

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

This digital age

The underlying theme for Tuesday’s meeting about how to deal with rapid technological change was this: It’s a great time to be alive! Just as the industrial revolution brought greater complexity, this digital age brings a similar thoroughgoing change, with pluses and minuses of technical specialization. Some jobs disappear while others are created.

My friend Ernie named seven ethical issues for us to consider. Here are two: (1) workers displaced by smart machines; and (2) growing inequality. These require creativity regarding education, work and income. How do we educate for breadth and depth, while adapting to rapid change? How does our system of work adapt when machines generate much of the world’s wealth?

One change I’ve noticed is the increasing number of people in university teaching roles who are Professors of Practice, including Joyce Vance (University of Alabama School of Law), Ben Jealous (University of Pennsylvania School of Communication) and Andrew Weissmann (New York University School of Law).

From Never Forget Our People Were Always Free, by Ben Jealous, 2022

Elders

Our monthly meeting, pre-pandemic, was for lunch and discussion. Now, we meet for 60 minutes via Zoom. Yesterday’s 20 attendees came from Alabama, North Carolina (2), Florida, Georgia, Mississippi and Texas (the home of yesterday’s presenter).

The group began many years ago as an informal gathering of laity and clergy, skewed toward older adults. Yesterday, one attendee was 92, one was 91. We have a strong 80s contingent. We’re living into our somewhat whimsical name, the Elders.

The largest group by vocation is clergy, mostly United Methodists, but yesterday’s group included two Baptists and an Episcopalian. Present were educators, engineers, counselors, a psychiatrist, an attorney, a financial advisor, and a military retiree.

We’re exploring the privilege and challenge of rapid technological change. How can we collaborate from our various disciplines for a healthier, more humane planet? I’ll share more in coming posts. Click the link below for a brief book review.

From a Kirkus Review of The Power of Crisis, by Ian Bremmer, 2022

The more you know…

I think it was my mother, but I can’t be sure. It’s a version of a thought attributed to Aristotle: “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know.” The version I internalized in my childhood was: “The more you know, the more there is to know.”

Aristotle’s version implies some humility, which is a virtue, but the version I learned opens the Universe to further exploration. It implies that knowledge is cumulative, that one data point leads to perhaps numerous other data points. The Universe is expansive.

Today, I’ll be part of a meeting where my friend Ernie will lead part two of a discussion about recent rapid advances in science and technology, specifically the impact these advances have had on our ability to adapt to changes they’ve brought about.

A few weeks ago another friend, Burton Flanagan, shared with me his book, The White Rose, about a resistance group in Nazi Germany in the 1940s. The group was unknown to me, but on Saturday I read about the group in a Minnesota newspaper article.

The more you know…

From “‘The More You Know’: There’s More to Know,” by Megan Garber, The Atlantic, December 16, 2014

Christian nationalism

Following yesterday’s post about Russian Christian nationalism, it’s appropriate to look at our American experience. The best source I know is Christians Against Christian Nationalism, led by the BJC, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. The BJC’s Amanda Tyler is a strong, clear voice for religious freedom.

Christianity was born as a sometimes persecuted faith in a large (Roman) empire. Emperor Constantine (280-337) embraced Christianity, saw the faith as a way to solidify loyalty and made it the official religion of the empire. The development of European nation-states led to holy wars between Christian nations.

The Founders concluded Article VI of the US Constitution with: “… no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The First Amendment to the Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the exercise thereof.”

From “Why White Christian Nationalism Isn’t Going Away,” by Samuel Perry and Andrew Whitehead, Time, November 13, 2022

ноги глины

I try to give people of faith the benefit of the doubt, as I try to give people of doubt the benefit of faith. I don’t speak Russian. Context and nuance do not always translate, so I try to be doubly slow to criticize other-tongued faith leaders. Patience is warranted since we all have “feet of clay” (ноги глины in Russian). However …

Vladimir Mikhailovich Gundyaev, aka Patriarch Kirill of Moscow is widely known as a supporter of Vladimir Putin. This allegiance itself puts the Patriarch’s judgment in a bad light and (in my opinion) degrades the witness of his office. I, and all “people of the cloth” have erred in our allegiances. We all live in glass houses. Still …

The herder Amos reminds all who speak of, or for, faith not to profane what we seek to proclaim. I fear Kirill has moved from profanity (meaningless talk about God) to prostitution, equating participation in Russian military aggression with grace, the central theme of Christianity. He’s charging a high price for a free gift.

See Russian soldiers who die in battle will be absolved of their sins, Patriarch says and Dying for your country brings you to heaven, says Russian Patriarch. Sometimes the best response to bad theology is good humor and an honest look at one’s feet:

A squeaker in the House

Yesterday morning was my bi-weekly road trip to see my aunt. She was clear, content and delightful. Last night, she had a fall, injured her head and took an ambulance ride to the ER. On my second road trip, I found her alert, aware and ready to go home. So, I drove her back to her memory care unit, then headed home.

Nearing home after midnight, I heard Hakeem Jeffries’ speech of transition as he handed the gavel of the Speaker of the House to Kevin McCarthy. Then, at home, I watched the new Speaker’s acceptance speech following his election on ballot 15. The speeches were dramatically different in substance, tone and style.

I hope you had, or will find, an opportunity to listen to both speeches and their visions for the future. The past two years saw a remarkable amount of significant legislation passed by a very divided Congress. The new Speaker has a hard act to follow. The new Congress has made a raucous beginning. Bless their hearts.

The new Speaker, greasing a squeaking wheel, from “GOP leader McCarthy elected House Speaker on 15th vote in historic run,” by Christina Wilkie, Chelsea Cox, Dawn Kopecki, CNBC, January 7, 2023