From A Birmingham Jail to the Modern Black Athlete

MLKFrom The Undefeated and ESPN collaborating on a tremendous series called  The State of the Black Athlete:

Martin Luther King Jr. penned his Letter from Birmingham Jail in a narrow cell on newspaper margins, scraps of paper and smuggled-in legal pads. He had no notes or reference materials. Yet, King’s eloquent defense of nonviolent protest and searing critique of moderation continues to resonate in a nation still divided by race. Continue reading

Prayer for the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.

USMC-09611By Bill Wylie-Kellermann

Spirit of the Universe, whose moral arc you make to bend toward justice,
thank you for birthing our brother Martin, right on time, into our history, into the journey of transformation for which we yearn. For uttering him in the Word, and forming him in the womb.

We lift him up this day in the communion of ancestors, summoning him from among all who have ever interceded and struggled for justice. Continue reading

The Fierce Urgency of Now

FierceBy Ched Myers, originally posted in the June 2017 BCM eNews

Note: Below are edited and excerpted comments from Ched’s keynote to the annual dinner of the Cal-Pac Chapter of the Methodist Federation for Social Action and Reconciling Ministries Network, at the University of Redlands, CA on June 17, 2017.

It’s a formidable task to come up with 15 minutes of inspiration and exhortation to a group like this, given that your vocations have long been forged around the work of inspiring and exhorting. So I’ll leave that task to one who inspired and exhorted all of us, and does so still: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the author of tonight’s thematic meme: “The fierce urgency of now.”

It is both relevant and poignant that this very phrase anchored two of Dr. King’s most famous public addresses, speeches that bracketed the second half of his public career as a civil rights leader. It first appeared in his most well-known exhortation to the nation–you know, that one in front of the Lincoln memorial on Aug 27, 1963. “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now,” intoned our greatest prophet. “Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”
Continue reading

A Creative Psalm of Peace

mlkDay 35 of our Lenten Journey through Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam.”

As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, eloquently stated:

Once to every man and nation comes a moment do decide,
In the strife of truth and Falsehood, for the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah offering each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever ‘twixt that darkness and that light.
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet ‘tis truth alone is strong
Though her portions be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.

And if we will only make the right choice, we will be able to transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of peace. If we will make the right choice, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our world into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. If we will but make the right choice, we will be able to speed up the day, all over America and all over the world, when justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
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-Today, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam.”  Rachel Harding, Ruby Sales, Michelle Alexander and many others will be gathering tonight at Riverside Church from 7-9pm EDT.

-Listen to the original audio recording of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech in its entirety HERE.

-For more analysis of the speech, Dr. Vincent Harding and the history social justice movements in the U.S., check out this Iconoclast episode with Joanna Shenk, Elaine Enns and Ched Myers, recorded at the February 2017 Kinsler Institute hosted by Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries.

Beyond the Prophesying of Smooth Patriotism

michelleDay 2 of our Lenten Journey with Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

Some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation’s history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movement, and pray that our inner being may be sensitive to its guidance. For we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.

Over the past two years, as I have moved to break the betrayal of my own silences and to speak from the burnings of my own heart, as I have called for radical departures from the destruction of Vietnam, many persons have questioned me about the wisdom of my path. At the heart of their concerns, this query has often loomed large and loud: “Why are you speaking about the war, Dr. King? Why are you joining the voices of dissent?” “Peace and civil rights don’t mix,” they say. “Aren’t you hurting the cause of your people?” they ask. And when I hear them, though I often understand the source of their concern, I am nevertheless greatly saddened, for such questions mean that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling. Indeed, their questions suggest that they do not know the world in which they live. In the light of such tragic misunderstanding, I deem it of signal importance to state clearly, and I trust concisely, why I believe that the path from Dexter Avenue Baptist Church—the church in Montgomery, Alabama, where I began my pastorate—leads clearly to this sanctuary tonight.

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From Michelle Alexander (photo above), the author of The New Jim Crow and professor at Union Theological Seminary, posted a week after the 2016 election:

Like millions of people, I am still struggling to wrap my mind around what the election means for our collective future. I won’t try to sort it out here, in a Facebook post.

What I will say is that what happened can’t be explained simply as a failure of the political establishment — though it has failed spectacularly. Nor is it simply a problem of racism or sexism — though both are alive and well and flourishing in this moment. Nor is this election simply a matter of economics, though global capitalism and neoliberalism have created a world in which people of all colors are suffering greatly as factories close, work disappears, wages stagnate, and human beings are treated as disposable — like plastic bottles tossed in a landfill — as political and media elites (not just Trump) spew propaganda that encourages us to view “the others” as the enemy. Continue reading

Always on the Verge of Being Mesmerized by Uncertainty

rose-and-vincentToday, we begin our Lenten journey together, daily meditating on the words of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967.  

Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, I need not pause to say how very delighted I am to be here tonight, and how very delighted I am to see you expressing your concern about the issues that will be discussed tonight by turning out in such large numbers. I also want to say that I consider it a great honor to share this program with Dr. Bennett, Dr. Commager, and Rabbi Heschel, some of the most distinguished leaders and personalities of our nation. And of course it’s always good to come back to Riverside Church. Over the last eight years, I have had the privilege of preaching here almost every year in that period, and it’s always a rich and rewarding experience to come to this great church and this great pulpit.

 I come to this great magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice. I join you in this meeting because I am in deepest agreement with the aims and work of the organization that brought us together, Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam. The recent statements of your executive committee are the sentiments of my own heart, and I found myself in full accord when I read its opening lines: “A time comes when silence is betrayal.” That time has come for us in relation to Vietnam.

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty. But we must move on.
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Highlights from Rose Berger’s April 2007 Sojourners Magazine interview with Vincent Harding (photo above: Rose with “Uncle Vincent”), the author of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech:

The Riverside speech (variously called “Beyond Vietnam” or “Breaking the Silence”) named the sickness eating the American soul as “the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism.” It was a watershed moment. Continue reading

Sermon: Born to Be a Light

homrich-9

Trial for the Homrich 9. Activists blocked trucks from turning off Detroiters’ water.

By Bill Wylie-Kellermann, Saint Peter’s Episcopal Detroit, Epiphany 2, January 15, 2017

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-11
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

Our readings for today echo those of last week. Again we have reference to John, to the baptism of Jesus, the dove alighting upon him, AND again beside it a Servant song from Isaiah.

There is a striking commonality of Second Isaiah and John: both have central figures whose identity is hard to pin down. In the gospel of John it is the “beloved disciple,” identified only by that name. Is this a cipher for John himself, for his beloved community? Is there an historical referent? Even another character in the story? Or is this a narrative figure with which we, as readers, may identify, a call to discipleship by another name? Continue reading