The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. was deeply grounded in scripture. His story has many parallels to the story of Jesus: “The mendicant road preaching, the travel from the margins to confront the center of power, the arrests and trials, an assassination, filled with the passion of forgiving love, even the freedom and power of resurrection — the pattern is all there.” (Bill Wylie-Kellerman, “The Gospel of the Beloved Community,” The Other Side, January February 2003) The story of Acts 10:1-11:18 of Peter’s interaction with Cornelius and ultimate conversion to include uncircumcised people into the Jesus community underscores the life-long work of Dr. King.
He has been glorified, vilified, minimized, and maximized. Whatever one personally believes about Martin Luther King, he was and is a man to be reckoned with. His words today are maybe even more powerful than they were when he first spoke them because the historical events which he was addressing continue to play themselves out in myriad ways even today.
The following are selected words from this man who has been called a prophet.
Courage and hope
Forces that threaten to negate life must be challenged by courage, which is the power of life to affirm itself in spite of life’s ambiguities. This requires the exercise of a creative will that enables us to hew out a stone of hope from a mountain of despair.
We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.
Only God is able. It is faith in …[God] that we must rediscover. With this faith, we can transform bleak and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of joy and bring new light into the dark caverns of pessimism.
When our days become dreary with low-hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a great…power in the universe whose name is God and…[God] is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.
Interrelatedness of Life and Service to Others
In a real sense, all life is interrelated. All … [people] are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the inter-related structure of reality.
The true neighbor will risk his position, …[her] prestige, and even his life for the welfare of others. In dangerous valleys and hazardous pathways, … [she] will lift some bruised and beaten brother [or sister] to a higher and more nobel life.
Life’s persistent and most urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’
When an individual is no longer a true participant, when he[/she] no longer feels a sense of responsibility to his[/her] society, the content of democracy is emptied. When culture is degraded and vulgarity enthroned, when the social system does not build security but induces peril, inexorably the individual is impelled to pull away from a soulless society. This process produces alienation– perhaps the most pervasive and insidious development in contemporary society.
All too many of those who live in affluent America ignore those who exist in poor America; in doing so, the affluent Americans will eventually have to face themselves with the question that Eichmann chose to ignore: How responsible am I for the well-being of my fellow? To ignore evil is to become an accomplice to it.
An individual has not started living until he[/she] can rise above the narrow confines of his[/her] individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.
Everybody can be great. Because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.
We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plain of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. We must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
Let no one pull you so low that you hate…[that person.] Always avoid violence. If you sow the seeds of violence in your struggle, unborn generations will reap the whirlwind of social disintegration.
The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you murder the hater, but you do not murder hat. In fact, violence merely increases hate…. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkens to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
Six Principles of Nonviolence
- Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.
- Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.
- Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice not people.
- Nonviolence holds that suffering can educate and transform.
- Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.
- Nonviolence believes that the universe is on the side of justice.
Many people fear nothing more terribly than to take a position which stands out sharply and clearly from the prevailing opinion. The tendency of most is to adopt a view that is so ambiguous that it will include everything and so popular that it will include everybody.
Most people are thermometers that record or register the temperature of majority opinion, not thermostats that transform and regulate the temperature of society.
Courage faces fear and thereby masters it. Cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous…[people] never lose the zest for living even though their life situation is zestless. Cowardly…[people], overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live. We must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.
Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear; only love can do that. Hatred paralyzes life, love releases it. Hatred confuses life. Love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illuminates it.
Burnout is a surrender. We have just so much strength in us. If we give and give and give, we have less and less and less — and after a while, at a certain point, we’re so weak and worn, we hoist up the flag of surrender. We surrender to the worst side of ourselves, and then we display that to others. We surrender to self-pity and to morose self-preoccupation. If you want to call it depression or burnout, well, all right. If you want to call it the triumph of sin when our goodness has been knocked out from under us, well, all right. Whatever we say or think, this is arduous duty, doing this kind of work; to live out one’s idealism brings with it hazards.
One day we will learn that the heart can never be totally right if the head is totally wrong. Only through the bringing together of head and heart — intelligence and goodness — shall … [we] rise to a fulfillment of…[our] true nature.
The belief that God will do everything for …[you] is as untenable as the belief that …[you] can do everything for …[yourself]. It too, is based on a lack of faith. We must learn that to expect God to do everything while we do nothing is not faith, but superstition.
Injustice / War
I’m tired of this stuff about menial labor. What makes a job menial is that we don’t pay folk anything. Give somebody a job and pay them some money so they can live and educate their children and buy a home and have the basic necessities of life. And no matter what the job is, it takes on dignity.
The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just. A true revolution of values will lay hands on the world order and say of war: ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ … A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.