It's a really dreary kind of day. The sky is gray. A light fog makes the view out of every window bleak and depressing. Lonely. Barren. The only spot of color is a red truck parked down the street. I keep hoping the phone will ring or a friend will drop by and bring a moment or two of cheerful, upbeat, funny, positive, uplifting, happy… news. Nothing. I hope maybe someone had posted a clever thought on Facebook. It is definitely NOT the place to go today for encouraging words – just a dismal assortment of complaints, diatribes really, blaming the Democrats Republicans Conservatives Liberals Whateverists … for all the things wrong with our planet. The same old, same old shocking headlines - “90 thousand Christians murdered by radical extremists in 2016”. “XYZ causes cancer and the FDA, the CDC, and the WHO have known for years...”. I did not bother to fact check any of the above. That was not the point. The negativity was. The only break in that downward spiral was the usual couple of individuals who feel compelled to try and validate their existence by posting four or five selfies a day. Sorry, but I don't care about what you are fixing for lunch, or your failed experiment with a new crafting project.
I did try briefly discussing my BLAH state of mind with God, but He, I am sure, is much more concerned about the 90 thousand Christians than with my bad hair day. I should be too, especially since one of the New Year's resolutions nearest the top of my list is to pay more attention to others and to focus less on Susan. I'm also really bad about procrastinating, so I have no one to blame but myself when there is [another] eleventh-hour, desperate scramble to meet a deadline for my column. Like again today. My less than chipper mood is not the fault of the weather. Or Facebook. Or the silent phone or doorbell.
I just took a break from this pity party (and this futile effort to create a column out of nothingness), and lo and behold, miracle of miracles (He was listening after all), a good friend knocked on the door. A lively conversation ensued - a procrastination which I heartily encouraged - and in the course of our chat he inquired if I had ever read Martin Luther King's “Letter from a Birmingham Jail”. I could not remember, but since it IS a timely topic, and therefore possible grist for my column mill, I Googled it as soon as my friend left.
What an amazing piece of writing! Many of us may recognize quotes from King's “I have a dream” speech, and rightly so, but this letter deserves quoting in the pages of our history books as well. It qualifies as “literature” in my way of thinking – literature in the same sense as the Gettysburg Address has become a piece of our American literature. Written over half a century ago , it resonates as soundly today as it did during the early stages of the Civil Rights movement. Several columns ago, I lamented the absence of prophets in today's world. I forgot about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Shame on me.
Addressed to “My Dear Fellow Clergymen”, this letter takes on the issues of lack of support among contemporary “ministers of the Gospel” for King's non-violent activities, which they have publicly labeled as being “unwise and untimely”. His defense of Civil Disobedience as a legitimate means of protesting unjust laws is most remarkable. His criticism of the police brutality rampant in the South at the time was generously laced with love and forgiveness. I have to wonder how well received such thoughts would be today. Another thought for today, which accentuates the prophetic threads that weave through is memorable words: “And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies--a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.”
Again, I must wonder, how would today's leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement react to Dr. King's call for non-violent protests. How many leaders today, black and white [and members of the press], have used terms like “frightening racial nightmare” to describe scenes from Ferguson, Missouri and the like. A prophecy fulfilled? King asks, and so should we today, how can we “help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood”? He describes justice as defined in our Constitution as a God-given inalienable right, and challenges his detractors who insist he wait for the “right time”, by insisting that “justice [equality] too long delayed is justice denied”, a concept that dates back to the Magna Carta in 1215 - "To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay, right or justice."
King's tone at times is Biblical - “But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before.” [“the church” being any and all who identify themselves as Christian.] “ If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.”
Throughout his letter, Dr. King resonates hope: “We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom.” He concludes with “I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. (Echoes of St. Paul here?) I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.”
I hope you can make the time to read this little piece of our history. Copies of this letter should be sent to ALL of our politicians who keep insisting we can “make America great again”.
Peace be with you.
World peace, of course,
but starting with peace in our nation.
(Susan Ruland is a near 40 year resident of Heber Springs. She contributes “Susan Says” each week and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)