Why I Remember Dr. King

Civil_Rights_March_on_Washington,_D.C._(Dr._Martin_Luther_King,_Jr._and_Mathew_Ahmann_in_a_crowd.)_-_NARA_-_542015_-_Restoration

King at the Civil Rights March — Washington, DC, By Rowland Scherman – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain, via Wikimedia

I am spending half of my day today remembering the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I suspect that there will be some who read this who will wonder why I would do this, particularly if it is a holiday and I can do anything I want.

To be honest, part of the reason is that I sing in a community choir has been invited to sing in both citywide and local celebrations–I’m spending a good part of the morning singing. Our director is an African-American man, a gifted musician steeped in the tradition of the music of the Black church, much of which became the music sung during the Civil Rights movement. The music is different from that of my church upbringing. It teaches me to exuberantly praise, to cry out in lament, to endure for the long haul, to hope and aspire.

As a white man, I will never fully understand what it is to be black. Days like this are part of a process of understanding more. The songs, as they sink into my being, put me in touch with the long struggle of a people and invite me to join in that struggle. The speakers invite me into a different set of stories from those I ordinarily hear. I admit that there is much more to understanding what it is to be black than joining in a one day celebration. It is one of many steps. I always learn something.

The day honors the life and work of Martin Luther King, Jr. He was this rare combination of Christian who was a prophet, a peacemaker, and a martyr.

  • Prophets not only foretell, they “forth tell.” They call people forth to God’s highest ideals and expose when we are less than that. King said “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” Injustice at the lunch counter, on the bus, or at the voting booth threatened our whole fabric of justice, our aspirations as a nation for “liberty and justice for all.”
  • He was a peacemaker. He said, “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” He taught church people to put these principles into practice with non-violent resistance. For the same reason, he opposed the Vietnam war.
  • He was a martyr, not merely for the sake of his own people. He understood the tremendous soul-burden racism placed upon whites as well as blacks. He said, “If physical death is the price that I must pay to free my white brothers and sisters from a permanent death of the spirit, then nothing can be more redemptive.”

His life and death are worth remembering for these and many other things. It always does me well to remember the noblest words and deeds of others, rather than the tawdry words and deeds that are so much a part of our news.

I can imagine someone at this point interjecting with the imperfections of King’s life. I’ve read the biographies and know them well. I won’t offer any justifications. But it seems that we only call up these things against those we don’t like, and overlook them in those we favor. Worse, we overlook them in ourselves. King admitted “the evil in the best of us.” Do we? Perhaps it is not a bad thing to engage in some self-examination on a day like this. What is the log in my own eye that needs removing?

I use this day to remind myself of the reason Dr. King is known to us, the log in our national eye, as it were. Our sins around how we displaced one people and forcibly enslaved another, and after Emancipation, have persisted for another 150 years in finding ways to oppress our Black fellow citizens have been called “America’s original sin.” Even a bloody Civil War failed to bring us to lasting repentance. Abraham Lincoln seemed to understand better than most how this war was a judgment of God upon the nation:

Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said “the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether (From Lincoln’s Second Inaugural address).

I tremble as I think of God’s judgment that we failed to heed the scourge of the Civil War and have perpetuated for another 150 years in different ways the oppression of slavery, and often nurtured racial hatred in our hearts. The lament songs that ask “how long” speak powerfully to me, calling me to persist in prayer for repentance from our national sin, and the healing of our racial divisions.

But I cannot stop there. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of hope. On the night before he died he said,

I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me to go to the mountain. And I’ve looked over and I’ve seen the promised land! I may not get there with you, but I want you to know tonight that we as a people will get to the promised land.

If a man like King, who had faced so much opposition and evil and hate could continue to hope, why shouldn’t I? To gather with others across racial boundaries on this day is to remind ourselves of that hope, the “Dream,” and to strengthen our resolve to persist in that hope. It cannot be just another “kumbayah” moment, quickly forgotten. It means continuing to stand together to seek justice in our communities, in our prison systems, and in loving resistance against structures that try to perpetuate white supremacy in a country formed around the “unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” of all of our people.

All this is why I remember Dr. King today.

 

Review: Nonviolent Action

nonviolent actionNonviolent Action by Ron Sider. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2015.

Summary: Ron Sider argues from a number of instances over the past seventy-five years that nonviolent action can work and bring about political change.

“I ain’t gonna study war no more”

Ronald J. Sider thinks we have spent far too long and far too much studying war. It is time, particularly for persons of faith, to devote ourselves and our money and our lives to study peace: the use of nonviolent means of protest and resistance in the pursuit of peace and a just order. He argues that both pacifists and just war advocates actually have much in common in advocating the use of nonviolent efforts as much as possible, with the only difference being between war never being a resort and war being a last resort.

Sider builds his case by recounting the numerous instances of nonviolent resistance over the past seventy-five years beginning with Ghandhi’s effort to secure Indian independence from the British empire. The first part of the book recounts Ghandhi’s, and India’s, long road to freedom and Ghandhi’s persistent and principled decision to renounce violence. Following chapters recount Martin Luther King, Jr’s leadership of the civil rights movement and commitment to loving, nonviolent resistance, seen most vividly at the Edmund Pettus Bridge as chronicled in the recent Selma. He tells the story of his own involvement with Witness for Peace’s work in Nicaragua standing between invading Contras backed by the U.S. and the Nicaraguan people. And he tells the story of the peaceful People Power resistance to the Marcos regime in the Phillipines including the instance when a wheelchair was more powerful than a tank:

    Cardinal Sin tells the story of bedridden, eighty-one year-old Mrs. Monzon, owner of Arrelano University. Everywhere she went, she used a wheelchair. But Mrs. Monzon insisted on joining the people in the streets in front of the camps. When the tanks came, she wheeled in front of the advancing war vehicles. Armed with a crucifix, she called out to the soldiers, “Stop. I am an old woman. You can kill me, but you shouldn’t kill your fellow Filipinos.” Overcome, a soldier jumped off the tank, and embraced the bold nonviolent resister. “I cannot kill you,” he told her, “you are just like my mother.” She stayed in the street in her wheelchair.

    The marines finally withdrew without firing a shot.

Part Two of the book focuses on two instances of nonviolent resistance in the defeat of the Soviet empire. First he tells the story of a Polish pope and a ship yard worker, Lech Walesa, who led the Solidarity Movement, which over ten years, brought an end to the Communist leadership in Poland. Then he turns to the Revolution of Candles in East Germany and the fall of the Berlin Wall and eventual reunification of Germany.

Recent developments are the focus of Part Three. He begins by describing how Leymah Gbowee led a movement of prayer among Liberian women pursuing peace and justice for the women and children of Liberia during the dictatorship of Charles Taylor. He recounts the nonviolent efforts in the Arab Spring, including the wonderful shalom moment of a ring of Christians forming a protective circle around Muslims at prayer. He ends this section by talking of the work of Peacemaker Teams and similar groups in many parts of the world including in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

He concludes the book with the contention that it is time to devote serious attention to nonviolent action. We spend billions on military defense and military academies but virtually nothing for nonviolent resistance and peace academies. He argues that pacifism that engages in nonviolent action is in fact as courageous as armed resistance because it also is willing to die in the pursuit of just and peaceful conflict resolution. He further contends the following:

  1. Nonviolence often accomplishes its aims with far less loss of life.
  2. Nonviolence accomplishes its aims more often than violence.
  3. Nonviolence is more likely to lead to democratic institutions.

One of the sobering implications of all this is the willingness to die without killing. One of the questions Sider left unanswered for me was whether there are circumstances where one should not pursue nonviolent resistance, where force must be met with force. I think particularly of instances when a regime has determined a course of genocide. Here, the evidence seems to be that armed peacekeeping forces have been both necessary and successful in places like Kosovo and South Sudan in stopping genocidal regimes.

Perhaps what this points up is the necessity of what Sider argues. Many nonviolent efforts have been spontaneous and sometimes undisciplined. It is time for rigorous studies and the devotion of resources that inform and make possible disciplined and strategic action. War calls for these things as well as courage. It just makes sense that the pursuit of peace requires no less.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Crying Out Day and Night For Justice

I never saw this before.

This past Sunday, I preached on the Parable of the Persistent Widow in Luke 18:1-8. I’ve often heard others preach, and have myself taught the message of this parable that we should “always pray and not give up” (v. 1). I’ve thought in terms of things like seeing people come to faith, praying for the sick, praying about needs related to our work and our lives. I don’t think that is wrong, but as I studied this parable I was struck by the fact that the widow was seeking justice from the unjust judge (v. 3). Furthermore, in Jesus’s own application of the parable verse 7 says, “will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night?” Verse 8 reinforces this theme: “I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.”

One of the basic things I learned about Bible study years ago was to pay attention to repeated words. They are a clue to what the writer or speaker considers important. Clearly in this passage, one of the things Jesus considers important is justice, and praying for it.

In recent months and weeks, we’ve been inundated with news stories about the death of a young black man in Ferguson, a black youth in Cleveland, and an older black man in New York City. In two of these cases, local grand juries refused to charge police with any wrongful death and there has been a great outcry in the press and in social media either decrying the injustice of these decisions and the deaths that occurred at the hands of police, or in defending the police officers, who often put themselves at risk in protecting public safety and have to make split second decisions that, if wrong, may cost them their lives or the lives of others.

While I personally have decided that it is fruitless to raise my voice on one “side” of this discussion or the other in social media, I will say a couple things. One is there is something wrong with this pattern with so many dying in the streets, some at the hands of police. It is clear to me that we still are a racially divided society. If nothing, the vehemence in the outcries on both sides of the discussion reveal we are a long way from what Martin Luther King, Jr. envisioned as “the beloved community.”

It seems to me that in the predominantly white church community (the one I know best) we either resort to attempts at personal justification (“I’m not racist” or “I’m personally colorblind”). Or we attempt to join and justify one side of the outcry, and, from what I can see, simply perpetuate and deepen the divisions in our society.

None of this is to say that the bereaved and their communities shouldn’t pursue justice nor that police shouldn’t be supported in their hard work. In fact, in a society where the rule of law is upheld, our legal system should be the place where these things are adjudicated, and it is right for those who believe that justice is denied to continue to pursue it via legal means. It’s not a perfect system, but the best we humans can devise in a fallen world.

But the parable (remember the parable!) also exhorts us to prayer to God for justice as well. For those of us who are Christ-followers, obedience to Jesus means that we keep praying for justice. Our first work in these matters is to seek the Lord. But the parable also says it is to be our persisting work. And this is where I fall down. I see advances in civil rights. I see a president of African-American descent in the White House. I mistake progress toward King’s “dream” with fulfillment. And I stop praying.

What the succession of events in Ferguson, Cleveland, and New York do is challenge me to renew my efforts in prayer and become aware that this is an area where persistence is vital. As I look for God’s answers, such praying can also change me. Praying helps me listen both for God’s invitations to join him in pursuit of the “beloved community” and opens my ears and my heart to listen to other voices than simply the ones that most resonate with me, voices that need to be heard if real reconciliation and not simply self-justification are to occur.

I’ve concluded that I need to persist in crying out to the Lord to bring justice (all that that means) into the racial divides in our country. I pray the Lord’s prayer each morning and night. As I pray, “Thy kingdom come” I will include in my prayers the coming of Jesus’s just rule into our racially divided land. It occurs to me that I could be praying that the rest of my life. I hope not, but Martin Luther King, Jr. was fond of saying, “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” What sustains our persistence over that “long arc” is the promise of a God who will grant justice, who will bring a kingdom of shalom.

Going Deeper question: For what do you believe God wants you to persist in prayer? How is a concern for justice a part of that?

This post also appears on my church’s Going Deeper blog for this week.

The Month in Reviews: November 2014

November marked my first foray into the world of graphic novels, another volume in Morris’s biography of Theodore Roosevelt, a George MacDonald fantasy and a thought-provoking book on Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” There were a number of good theological books in this month’s list as well including an excellent book on dogmatic aesthetics from a young theologian, an extremely helpful book on spiritual direction, a concise book reflecting the latest scholarship on the life of Paul and a provocative book on death before the Fall. So here’s the list:

1. Birmingham RevolutionEdward Gilbreath. Gilbreath briefly sketches the outlines of King’s life but focuses on the events at Birmingham, including the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, that led to the writing of “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

2. Theodore Rex, Edmund Morris. This is the second volume of Morris’s three volume biography covering Roosevelt’s years as President, from the assassination of McKinley, to the Panama Canal, to setting aside millions of acres of National Parks and Monuments.

KingTheodore RexAestheticsLiving Paul

 

3. Dogmatic Aesthetics, Stephen John Wright. Wright, a young scholar, proposes a framework in Christian theology for aesthetics ground in our doctrine of Christ. Throughout, he dialogues with the theology of Robert Jenson.

4. The Living Paul, Anthony C. Thiselton. This is a concise treatment of the life of Paul reflecting recent scholarship and dealing with questions of Paul in relation to Jesus as well as Paul’s view of women.

5. Spiritual Direction, Gordon T. Smith. A thoughtful yet practical introduction to spiritual director that looks at the roles of both director and directee.

Life of mindSeasons of MistSpiritual direction

6. Season of MistsNeil Gaiman. Volume 4 of his “Sandman” series and my introduction to graphic novels with this story of Lord Morpheus descending into hell to rescue a former lover he had consigned to Lucifer’s domain.

 

7. The Life of the Mind, Clifford Williams. This is another concise book that makes a good case for the intrinsic worth of thinking well, how one begins to cultivate the mind and tensions for Christians in the life of the mind.

8. Beginning with the Word, Roger Lundin. Lundin, an English professor, explores the radical doubt of modern literary theory and how a Christian framework might provide a basis for meaning and belief.

WordCurdieDeath

9. The Princess and Curdie, George MacDonald. This is the sequel to the Princess and the Goblin in which Curdie is given a special gift and employs it to attempt to rescue Princess Irene, her father the King, and his kingdom from a conspiracy of councilors and servants with malicious intent.

10. Death Before the Fall, Ronald E. Osborn. An impassioned and well-written argument dealing with both biblical literalism and a theodicy of animal predation, suffering and death, for those not accepting “young earth” creationism. The author spends the first two-thirds of the book on the issue of literalism, only the last third on the title them itself.

Looking over the list for the month, I’m reminded again of the idea that with so many good books, I just don’t have time for bad ones. I hope these reviews are helpful to you in finding something good or maybe a good gift for Christmas!

“The Dream” on Veterans Day

liberty and justice for allIt is customary on Veterans Day to speak of supporting our troops and honoring the service of our military. It is in fact a point of family pride that my father served in the Army in World War II, my uncle in the Navy, and I have a nephew who is an Air Force Colonel. Military service was/is a defining event in each of their lives. Love of country has been a prominent part of the motivation of each.

Yesterday, I posted on a book on Martin Luther King, Jr. and his “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” With King on my mind, I think today of his “I have a dream” speech. I think of these lines:

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

And I wonder, how well is that dream being realized for the many veterans of color who return to our cities from hazardous places where they have put their lives on the line? A good friend of mine wrote on this in her blog, By Their Strange Fruit, today. The truth is, from the Revolutionary War on, persons of color have served in our military, showing themselves bright enough to carry out orders, brave enough to face enemy fire and not flee, and human enough to shed blood and die.  My friend observes that we often speak of “supporting our troops”. Do we support these troops when they come home just as we would wish our own family members to be supported?

I’m troubled when troops who have acted with courage and integrity are racially profiled by our police and store security. I’m troubled when those who have done the job for our country return home and have a difficult time finding a job. I’m troubled when for-profit schools eat up veteran benefits without providing a real education leading to a good job. I’m troubled when our wounded warriors of whatever race fail to receive the health care they need to recover from the physical and mental scars of battle.

We contend that “liberty and justice for all” is something worth fighting or even dying for when it is too often the case that the reality of our system is liberty and justice for some. To speak of honoring service or supporting troops is hollow language if we do not strive for the kind of society where all our returning troops are treated equally under the law and enjoy equal access to the opportunities of education, healthcare and employment that all of us need to provide well for ourselves and those we love.

Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Whites, and others have served side by side on behalf of a nation they together have made great. How much longer will these veterans have to wait to realize the dream they’ve fought for? Hasn’t that time come?

Review: Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church

Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.'s Epic Challenge to the Church
Birmingham Revolution: Martin Luther King Jr.’s Epic Challenge to the Church by Edward Gilbreath
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Solitary confinement in prison can be a shattering psychological experience, one often used to break the spirit of those imprisoned. For Martin Luther King, Jr., solitary confinement served not only to further forge the character of this civil rights leader, but resulted in one of the signature documents of the civil rights movement, indeed, one of the most important human rights documents of the Twentieth century. The document of which I’m speaking is “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”

Edward Gilbreath’s new book gives us an account of King’s life centered around the Birmingham Civil Rights demonstrations and this letter that became a kind of manifesto for this movement. Rather than give us another full-blown biography, Gilbreath briefly sketches King’s early life and the tension between coming from an elite Atlanta family of preachers with a distinquished education, and the call to civil rights leadership that began in Montgomery and suffered a setback in Albany, Georgia. King found himself caught in a nexus of caution, gifting, and necessity when Fred Shuttlesworth invited him to Birmingham.

Gilbreath paints the contrast between the cautious but eloquent King and the firebrand activist Pastor Shuttlesworth. Shuttlesworth grasped that King’s visionary leadership was necessary to turn passion into disciplined action. What it also led to were confrontations with police chief Bull Conner who threw King, and eventually hundreds of child-demonstrators into prison. Those confrontations, complete with fire hoses and dogs caught the nation’s attention and began to turn the nation’s support to King.

Meanwhile, a group of eight moderate white clergymen, known to actually have sympathies with the civil rights movement, published an open letter in the Birmingham paper taking issue with the marches led by outsider King, counselling patience, moderation, and local solutions. A prison guard, perhaps to further depress King, gave him a copy of the paper while he was in solitary.

Gilbreath explores the phenomenon of latent black anger at continued injustices as a backdrop to King’s response of scribbling the “letter” in the margins of the newspaper. In it, King makes the argument, later expanded into his book Why We Can’t Wait that makes the case for civil disobedience to unjust laws and that “justice delayed is justice denied.”

The rest of the book considers King’s life after Birmingham and the response of evangelicals then and now to King. Gilbreath does not attempt to cover over the flaws in either King’s theology or life but also explores the blindness of both the eight moderate pastors in Birmingham as well as many in the white evangelical community to the biblical themes that shaped King’s vision in the “Letter” and in his preaching.

The book helped me understand not only the circumstances behind King’s “Letter” but also raised questions for me about our continued racial divides in the United States and my own temptation to identify with the moderate white pastors rather than hear the anger and pain that comes from injustices and the biblical themes that challenge me to see why justice can’t wait.

View all my reviews

Justified Anger

We usually assume anger is a bad thing, often because it results in bad things–outbursts, hurtful words that cannot be taken back, or even physical violence. Yet even the Bible seems to allow for the possibility of anger that isn’t a bad thing. The apostle Paul says, “In your anger, do not sin: Do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26, NIV). This is anger that is acknowledged and turned into constructive action, not bottled up where it becomes bitterness or explodes in rage.

Twice today I’ve come across the idea of justified anger, both in the contexts of our country’s continuing struggle with racism. The first came up in Edward Gilbreath’s fine new book, Birmingham Revolution, which chronicles the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. leading up to, and following the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” Gilbreath discusses the latent anger many African-Americans struggle with in the everyday incidents of racism they continue to experience, whether it is being treated with suspicion in a store, or being stopped by police because one fits a racial profile.

birmingham revolutionFollowing arrest during a civil rights march in Birmingham, King was placed in solitary confinement. A guard, perhaps to increase his displeasure, gave him a copy of the local paper with a letter from eight moderate white clergymen, not opposing civil rights but counselling moderation and “waiting”. This indeed got King’s blood boiling, but he turned this into constructive anger in writing what is perhaps the signature treatise of the civil rights movement. In it, he argues that it is never timely for those who benefit from oppression to face action against it. He also argues against the accusation of law breaking that while just laws must be kept, an unjust law demands to be broken because it is out of harmony with moral law.

The second reference to this idea was in a link I came across of an article by a Madison, Wisconsin pastor, who after a talk to a Rotary group, was approached by one of the audience members praising him for not being an “angry black man”. He responds that he is indeed an “angry black man” because of the difference between the image of Madison as a progressive university community and the realities that he and other African Americans experience in this community. He describes a traffic stop in the parking lot of the church he has pastored for 30 years, even though the car they were looking for was red and his was black and the name on his driver’s license matched the name on the church sign. Meanwhile they talked casually to his white associate while keeping him under suspicion. He goes on the describe other ways African-Americans continue to struggle under the continuing realities of racism and challenges Madison in the ways it can address these.

Reading this, as much as I’d love to identify with King and the Wisconsin pastor, the truth is I’m probably more like those eight white clergymen, preferring caution and moderation. But reading these accounts, I begin to get the anger as I see a people who were forcibly brought to this country and then treated as less than human and systematically denied rights that were equally theirs as citizens and subject to continuing suspicion. At one point, Gilbreath describes King’s angriest moment as a fourteen year old returning to Atlanta on a bus from a speech competition to be profanely ordered by the bus driver to give up his seat and stand for 90 miles so that whites could sit. Rich Nathan, a local Columbus pastor describes in his book Both-And a gathering of black and white pastors. The whites were asked how many of them and discussed with their children where to put their hands if stopped by a policeman. None raised their hands. The same questions was asked the blacks in the room. Every hand went up. That occurred in my city, one that similarly prides itself on its ‘progressiveness’ as a university town and state capital.

I’m tempted to want to run around and say and do all kinds of “virtuous” things. No one likes to face the truth that they are identified with injustice. Maybe the best thing I can do as a start is to realize that as William Gladstone says that “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Maybe the best thing I can do, at least to start is to stop defending and just listen and say, “you do well to be angry.”

MLK Day Reflection: The Jangling Discords of our Nation

“With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”

220px-Martin_Luther_King_Jr_NYWTS

I’ve just come from a Martin Luther King celebration that including a reading of his “I have a dream” speech, commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of this speech. The sentence above caught my attention and I thought I might share some of my thoughts about this.

Certainly in the fifty years since we have come a long way from setting dogs and fire hoses upon those marching for basic human rights. We thankfully do not have the riots in our cities that I grew up with in the 1960s. From the President of the United States to top positions in many fields, persons of color have advanced and accomplished amazing things.

Yet we are a long way from the “symphony of brotherhood” Dr. King dreamed of. One need only look at the political and media discourse going on in our country that is filled much more with “jangling discord” than beauty. The gap between rich and poor in our country has widened and 46 million of our citizens live below the poverty line. We learned today that my home state of Ohio ranks 48th in the country in infant mortality, which is often a function of into which zip code a child is born.  If this is a symphony, it is one of dissonance, harsh and ugly rather than beautiful.

I do not play in a symphony orchestra, but I sing in a choral group and it strikes me that there are some things we learn that might help us create more beautiful music as a nation.

1. One very simple thing is that we all have to be singing off the same piece of music. For us as a nation, it is a realization that all are created equal and “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights”. We have been at our best as a nation when we’ve recognized that these values truly apply to all and enshrined them not only in our laws but in our treatment of others.

2. A basic rule of choral singing is that if you can’t hear others over your own voice, you are singing too loud. Similarly, if the only voices we are truly hearing in our national debates are our own, we are speaking too loudly and need to listen to others.

3. Most of the time, the note you are singing should harmonize with others. Even when a written note is dissonant, it usually is so to create a tension that the audience is waiting to hear resolved. This suggests to me that most of the time, we should be asking how our own perspectives blend with others to create a harmonious society. And sometimes, when we must be dissonant, it is in the hope of a resolving harmony–never for the sake of discord.

4. Sometimes, harmony comes as efforts are made to balance different sections. Is it “fair” that one section may not be able to sing as loud as they can while another section might especially have to sing louder to be heard? Similarly, we cannot live harmoniously as a nation if all we do is compete for our own interests.

Ah, if only becoming the “beloved community” were as simple a thing as singing in a choral group! Perhaps the best evidence of our flawed human nature is the disparity between our high ideals and the realities of our society. Perhaps the most difficult part is where to find the power to return love for hate and forgiveness for injustice. At the staff conference for our organization, we heard the account of Ben Campbell, the African-American captain of the track team at UNC-Wilmington, threatened by a truck full of whites.  Instead of pressing for their prosecution, he wrote a letter defending them and saying at most, they should be made to sit down to dinner with Ben and get to know him. Asked why he protected them, he said, “it is because I love them, and you protect the ones you love… Being loved by Jesus makes you love like Jesus.”

That is the faith of Dr King who likewise returned love for violence and hatred. I think that alone can turn “jangling discords” to “beautiful symphonies.”