A good Martin Luther King, Jr. Day to us all. (a reprise from Oct. 21, 2011)
When I listen to Martin Luther King, Jr. speak, I can believe in God. There may be other times I have, but I can’t remember them specifically. In discussions about belief or not, I’ve heard people say that their personal stories have been determinant. A lot of them include hitting some emotional or spiritual bottom, and hearing a message from God, then being reborn in some state that exemplifies grace, along with which comes both a knowledge of, and a belief in, God; sort of a personal relationship.
I don’t know this place; this sort of state. Throughout the many dark nights of the soul I’ve experienced, I’ve never found that comfort or profound communication they describe. And yet I like to say prayers. The time spent in gratitude for my life, or mindful intentionality about my place and behavior in the universe can be nourishing, and requires no belief. It’s more an acknowledgement that it feels good to be part of something larger, to be connected, even if it’s just to all the best thought-energy sailing around in my local branch of the universe. You know; a hippie version of spirituality. What I mean to say is: Whether or not I believe in God isn’t a problem for me.
Last week I watched God on my teevee. Well, okay; it was part of a PBS series called God in America, which said America is the most religious nation on earth. Yeah; I blinked, too. I’d think if such a huge majority of us believe in God, and call ourselves religious, we’d be a hell of a lot kinder to one another, and hold far more just values. I guess it doesn’t work that way. . . .
When the MLK portion of American religious history had high-lighted MLK, I paid closer attention. I do love the man, and his speeches; his vision of a Better America and a Better World. I love hearing his anti-Viet Nam War rhetoric, and his concepts of love and justice and true brotherhood among all humans, and how that needs to inform our politics. His story, of course, is not my story. But often when I hear him speak: his story makes me believe in God while I listen. In one speech he told about a night that one particular “Nigger, get out of town, or I will shoot you dead, and bomb your house” phone call brought his body and his soul to their respective knees. He considered leaving town, then heard God’s voice inside him telling him to keep up his righteous fight, and claiming that he would never leave him.
This is an excerpt from his final speech to sanitation workers at Mason Temple in Memphis:
Some people say that he went off-script here, that The Voice of God came channeling right through him. And I can believe it while I’m watching or listening. He knew right then that he would be dead soon, and he was letting us know that it was all right. As it turned out, the following day he would be shot and killed on the balcony of the Lorraine Hotel, exactly a year after his ‘Why I am opposed to the war in Viet Nam speech. The man’s story knocks me out. Listen to some things he said about war:
Are we living his prophecy concerning American arrogance in his anti-Viet Nam speech?
“I call on the young men of America who must make a choice today to take a stand on this issue. Tomorrow may be too late. The book may close. And don’t let anybody make you think that God chose America as his divine, messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with judgment, and it seems that I can hear God saying to America, “You’re too arrogant! And if you don’t change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I’ll place it in the hands of a nation that doesn’t even know my name. Be still and know that I’m God.”
More from the April 4, 1967 speech:
“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. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.
A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies.
“A genuine revolution of values means in the final analysis that our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.
Let us hope that this spirit will become the order of the day. We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. History is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate. As Arnold Toynbee says : “Love is the ultimate force that makes for the saving choice of life and good against the damning choice of death and evil. Therefore the first hope in our inventory must be the hope that love is going to have the last word.
We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked and dejected with a lost opportunity. The “tide in the affairs of men” does not remain at the flood; it ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is deaf to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words: “Too late.” There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our neglect. “The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on…” We still have a choice today; nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.
As that noble bard of yesterday, James Russell Lowell, had stated so eloquently:
Once to every man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, God’s new Messiah,
Off’ring 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 portion 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.
As we begin to consider advocating for principles that seem lost in the Democratic Party, and America as a whole, I’d like us all to consider how the Social Gospel of the ‘50s and ‘60s was embodied by Dr. King. And if you’re not a believer, at least try to suspend your disbelief for even short times in order to wonder if his visions and admonitions might not have been inspired by God. We can easily pose other theories of his revelations, but in this case Occam’s Razor theory seems easiest: believe that King knew, or believed, from whence the voice came.
And at least while you listen to MLK, then consider a new political statement or manifest that encompasses better lives for all Americans, and all people of the world, pencil into your mind that God may exist, and that people like King may be evidence for it. And since it’s only written in your mind in pencil…it can fade again, but the messages he gave us can remain. We shouldn’t be embarrassed to espouse them. For too long now, the Democratic Party has been trying to couch beneficial policy in economic enlightened self-interest concepts; it’s not working, and it misses the point.
I just stopped by to say hello after many moons, and I like your essay about penciling in God as a possibility. It reminds me of Pascal’s wager,
good to see you, jacob, and thanks for the link. it seems MLK was indeed in touch with many cosmic truths. consider how horrified he’d be this many years later at the bombastic agitprop the US empire (and nato) hurls at other nations: iran, china, and russia/ukraine are in the news and heating up with wwwIII sorts of energetic possibilities.
contra pascal, by now i tend i’m a apathiest, not caring enough to be a believer, and agnostic, nor atheist. but i do not believe in intercessory prayer, nor do i believe in punishment nor benefits from said belief in a christain god. and gawd’s blood: no eternal life for me!
mr. wd believes in god of a sort, but has advised me that the best prayers are in thanks for what one has, and is still able to do. some nights my list is on the short side… ; )
Thanks for this song, Wendy! I love Iris Dement but I never heard this tune before. And while we’re here I may as well link her original classic.
‘our town’ made my cry. i’ve used it in several (?) venues to open the asking Q: “What’s life like in your town?” i’d suggest a few categories, etc., but the results were…fascinating, given all the various demographics at play over the US.
i remember how you love lucinda williams as well; this my favorite.
So maybe it’s time for wendyedavis to post a little something about WWIII which is apparently about to break out in the poorest country in Europe, namely Ukraine, that big fat stupid country that stretches all the way from Poland to the Black Sea! And now those bozos give us WWIII.
(smile) remember when i’d said that some nights my prayers of appreciation are rather short? whooosh; here’s the cliffs note version as to why i really don’t write any longer:
my crazy knees have gotten worse, and one is causing me to writhe in agony most of the time, esp. when trying to sleep. the old protocols, unguents, potions, no longer work. zo…PSA copy/pastes are what i can do, i’d had two vertigo falls, and one must have concussed me, and leaked more grey cell neurons, and gave me double vision in my left eye.
that said, over yonder at c99percent where i cross-post, i’d noted that i’d be unable to answer comments if any, and that i wished i could bring agitprop on ‘putin will nuke ukraine soon’.
a local phone friend believes it all, and i’d ben laboring to even to remember the maidan putch when yanakovich had left the country and victoria nuland and hubbie ugly kagan arranged him to replaced by Yats. mr. wd loved my report ‘Ack! says Yats; I can’t control my nazis!’
what was the Accord he’d failed to sign? then poroshenko, and now the comic Zelenskiy. mr. wd reads me some headlines, but i did read scott ritter on the fact that the Empire (nato, the EU) doesn’t believe that crimea wasn’t stolen, nor that the russians in the SE donbass have any right to declare themselves as Independent Republics.
when i opened my msn homepage to retrieve emails, clear my junk, it was all the German sypymaster honking on about The Coming Russian Invasion, and the fact that the russian bear and the chinese dragon will never be compatible.
as far as i can tell, russia will not be the aggressor if WWWIII breaks out,
but has demands that nato will expand no further east as promised.
MLK: ‘the u.s. is the greatest purveyor of violence on the planet.’
Be well, wendye. You are exactly on target here … no need to force a reply. I know I’m not a good correspondent, and to keep sanity and calm is all we can do. It takes effort.
We are living a full life, are we not? It is perhaps what has been ordained for us. You have always had the strongest knees spiritually speaking, for me. One can only be true to what one truly believes; and that little voice inside is the pencil stroke.
This post is a beautiful writing, beyond beauty to listen to. I’m so grateful to have found it today.
Best wishes, friend.