Let’s Review A Bit

Last week I began a series of posts about the now famous Letter From A Birmingham Jail, penned by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in response to criticism by several influential, white religious leaders of the South. This letter is poignant and powerful. It’s influence transcends the issues of the day and includes current racial issues.

I believe every pastor and community leader should read this letter and consider its implications.

In part one of the series I focused on the introduction of the letter. Dr. King begins by citing his reason for accepting the invitation to Birmingham for what he called, “non-violent direct action.” More on this phrase in this post. The one thing that stands out is Dr. King’s ability to articulate the interconnectedness of everyone in matters of injustice.

“Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

This sentiment is both biblical and centered in the “Christ-consciousness” displayed in Jesus. I encourage you to catch up on last week’s thoughts before continuing on with this post. They certainly build on each other.

Tension As A Means Not An End

If you have consumed any of my other content over the last few years you know I’m a fan of “tension.” Most people shudder at this word, avoid its effects, and cannot see any positive point to engaging with the tension in and around their life. But I’ve come to see tension, the space between what is and what could be, as vital to the life of any person of faith.

I write about tension in my book, Build A Bigger Table. I’ve discussed tension in several discussion series. And I even wrote an article about how tension leads Downtown Faith, as an organization, into meaningful growth. I encourage you to check out any of this content if you’re interested in engaging with and embracing tension!

Dr. King addresses what he refers to as “creative tension” in his letter, and I believe lays a groundwork for the kind of positive action necessary “to see a mighty flood of justice,” as the Jewish prophet preached. Most impressive to me was that this kind of tension was not created through emotional reaction. No. It was generated through thoughtful consideration of the injustice, current political climate, and necessary training for everyone involved.

“IN ANY nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices are alive, negotiation, self-purification, and direct action.”

This is incredible!

Let’s not miss the intention with which Dr. King and others engaged in direct action. These protests were well thought out. People were trained and even asked if they could withhold violence in the face of violence. It was no accident that these demonstrations led to positive changes through the means of creative tension.

This past week I went to a party for a friend. A friend who had recently released a music video addressing the still-remaining racism of our day. I couldn’t help but think…my friend is exercising the same creativity demonstrated by Dr. King. I would invite you to watch this video and consider it’s implications in our current cultural climate.

Tension wasn’t just created for creativity’s sake. It was created to promote growth. Freedom. Dr. King saw these engagements as absolutely necessary for the transformation of a society enslaved to harmful ideologies, and for the fully realized freedom of an oppressed segment of society. Here’s how he put it…

“History is the long and tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily…We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

I think we can objectively see this as a true statement. It is his willingness to create the necessary tension in society that has led to great strides in race issues within America and the world. Is the work done? By no means. But we cannot discount what has been done already.

There is nothing I can think of, more like Jesus the Christ, than that of privilege sacrifice

“Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.”

My hope is that people of faith, especially those who follow Jesus, will be willing to lead the charge in creating tensions amid injustice. That we would be able to correctly identify true injustice and prepare ourselves for necessary, nonviolent, direct-action.

The Letter Part 2: A Series of Thoughts on MLK’s 1963 Response to White Pastors
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