Yesterday, I attended: “2012 Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Observance: Remembering Martin Luther King Jr. in His Own Words From the Mountain Top” at Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral, an Episcopal Church in the Heart of Kansas City, Missouri.

Various speakers read the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. One man, Archie Williams had memorized MLK’s words and cadence in voice and mannerisms, and I listened to him before I had to leave to get to an appointment across the Broadway Bridge in North Kansas City.

At one point,  the quotes that are on the wall of Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. were handed out by a friend, Ron Mariani, and each of us was asked to read one of them. I was drawn particularly to these three quotes: 1) “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that. 2) Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. 3) And, True peace is not merely the absence of tension: it is the presence of justice.”

Also, since my default drive within my personal make-up keeps going back to peace and what makes for peace, I had to read the what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr spoke at Manhattan’s Riverside Church on April 1967 called: “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence: Declaration of Independence from the War in Vietnam. Here is a link to read it in full. I will quote from it.

Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr

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.”

Since I am a preacher by trade, I suppose it is not surprising that I have seven major reason for bringing Vietnam into the field of my moral vision.  There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle, and others, have been waging in America.  A few years ago there was a promise of hope for the poor – both black and white – through the Poverty Program.  Then came the build-up in Vietnam, and I watched the program broken and eviscerated as if it were some idle political play thing of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic, destructive suction tube.  So I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such.”
“Perhaps the more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home.  It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population.”

“So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realized that they would never live on the same block in Detroit.  I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.”“…I have told them (angry young men in Northern ghettos) that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems.  I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through non-violent action. But, they asked, what about Vietnam?  They asked if our own nation wasn’t about the changes it wanted.  Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today, my own government.”

“For those who ask the question, “Aren’t you a Civil Rights leader?” and thereby mean to exclude me from the movement for peace, I have this further answer.  In 1957 when a group of us formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, we chose as our motto: “To save the soul of America.”  We were convinced that we could not limit our vision to certain rights for black people, but instead affirmed the conviction that America would never be free or saved from itself unless the descendants of its slaves were loosed from the shackles they still wear.”

“…I cannot forget that the Nobel Prize for Peace was also a commission, a commission to work harder than I had ever worked before for the “brotherhood of man.”  This is a calling that takes me beyond national allegiances, but even if it were not present I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ.  To me the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war.  Could it be that they do not know that the good news was meant for all men, for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and white, for revolutionary and conservative?  Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the One who loved His enemies so fully that He died from them? What then can I say to the Viet Cong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minster of this One?  Can I threaten them with death, or must I not share with them my life?”…..Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and non-violence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know of his assessment of ourselves.  For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”

“Perhaps only his sense of humor and irony can save him (Ho Chi Min of N. Vietnam) when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of aggression as it drops thousands of bombs on the poor, weak nation more than 8000 miles from its shores…..Somehow this madness must cease.  I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor of Vietnam and the poor of America who are paying the double price of smashed hopes at home and death and corruption in Vietnam.  I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken.  I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation.  The great initiative in this war is ours.  The initiative to stop must be ours.”

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.  When machines and computers, profit and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it is not haphazard and superficial.  It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.  A true revolution of values will soon look easily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.  With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say This 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.”

“America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values.  There is nothing, except a tragic death wish, to prevent us from re-ordering our priorities, so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war.  There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood.”

…”War is not the answer. Communism will never be defeated by the use of atomic bombs or nuclear weapons……We must not call everyone a communist or an appeaser who advocates the seating of Red China in the United Nations…We must with positive action seek to remove those conditions of poverty, insecurity and injustice which are the fertile soil in which the seed of communism grows and develops.”

These are revolutionary times. All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wombs of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born.  The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before.  “The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light.”  We in the West must support these revolutions.  It is a sad fact, that, because of comfort, complacency, a morbid fear of communism, and our proneness to adjust to injustice, the Western nations that initiated so much of the revolutionary spirit of the modern world have now become the arch anti-revolutionaries……Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

I could not help but conclude that we in America need to continue to heed the actions and words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and especially those of us who call ourselves Christians.  When I read about Jesus’ life and actions on earth, peace, compassion, and love exude from Him. Shalom is shown. The peaceable kingdom is lived out in the midst of the violence of the current Palestinian Jewish times in which the Jews were under Roman occupation. Peace can be lived out today through struggle and courage.  These definitions of shalom help illuminate it for me:

“Shalom, in the liturgy and in the transcendent message of the Christian scriptures, means more than a state of mind, of being or of affairs. Derived from the Hebrew root shalam – meaning to be safe or complete, and by implication, to be friendly or to reciprocate. Shalom, as term and message, seems to encapsulate a reality and hope of wholeness for the individual, within societal relations, and for the whole world. To say joy and peace, meaning a state of affairs where there is no dispute or war, does not begin to describe the sense of the term. Completeness seems to be at the center of shalom as we will see in the meaning of the term itself, in some derivatives from its root, shalam, in some examples of its uses in Jewish and Christian Scriptures, and in some homophone terms from other Semitic languages.

The noun shalom means safe, for example, well and happy. On a more abstract application, its use points to welfare, for example, health, prosperity, and, peace. It is the verb form shalam, though, that provides a deeper understanding of this term in theology, doctrine, and liturgy. Literally translated, shalam signals to a state of safety, but figuratively it points to completeness. In its use in Scripture, shalom describes the actions that lead to a state of soundness, or better yet wholeness. So to say, shalom seems not to merely speak of a state of affairs, but describes a process, an activity, a movement towards fullness. Using the King James Version as reference, James Strong lists the rendering of shalom and shalam, among others, as:

  • To make amends
  • To make good
  • To be (or to make) peace
  • To restore
  • Peace
  • Prosperity
  • Wellness
  • Wholeness” (From Wikipedia definitions)

A female Episcopal minister who was there at this MLK, Jr memorial brought up the word shalom when she described what she though Martin Luther King, Jr. might have been striving for in his lifetime.

It seems that it is part of my spiritual journey to prioritize learning all the ways I can usher in God’s kingdom here on earth (as it says in the Lord’s Prayer–“on earth, as it is in heaven”) by practicing as much shalom as I know how and by growing in God’s ways, learning, striving to be a “light,” in the world and not add to the darkness that already exists.

JKA—1-17-2012

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