Was He Only Dreaming?: Hoosier Perspectives on Martin Luther King, Jr.

In the fall of 1975, I opened my fresh new Language Arts textbook and found that some pages had been cut out.  I walked up to my teacher’s desk and his response was,

 ”I did that.  It was a story about Martin Luther King.  I don’t want you reading about some nigger who went around stirring up trouble.”

Yesterday, I was talking with an elderly woman who didn’t realize today was a holiday.

“What holiday is it?”

“Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday,” I replied.

“I swear.  What do you have to do to get a day named after you?  He didn’t do nothing.”

This morning, I was talking to a man in his 70s about King’s legacy.

“I know he preached non-violence,” he said, “but as soon as he’d finish his speeches, blacks would go around breaking into stores and stealing stuff.  I don’t care what the history books say.  I saw it on TV.”

While King is celebrated as a saint by nearly all African Americans and a vast majority of white Americans as well, there is still a pervasive racial attitude among some – perhaps those who find themselves on the wrong side of history – that King was anything but heroic.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”   ―  Martin Luther King Jr.

day 154  Martin Luther King jr. Day by ms.Tea

 from ms.Tea, some rights reserved

{I first posted this on MLK day last year and received a tremendous response. This year, I will be sharing it with my reading and writing classes as I also feature King’s classic book Strength to Love.}

Be More Like a Child at Christmas (and beyond)

smiling children

… Christmas is not only the mile-mark of another year, moving us to thoughts of self-examination: it is a season, from all its associations, whether domestic or religious, suggesting thoughts of joy. A man dissatisfied with his endeavours is a man tempted to sadness. And in the midst of the winter, when his life runs lowest and he is reminded of the empty chairs of his beloved, it is well he should be condemned to this fashion of the smiling face. Noble disappointment, noble self-denial are not to be admired, not even to be pardoned, if they bring bitterness. It is one thing to enter the kingdom of heaven maim; another to maim yourself and stay without. And the kingdom of heaven is of the childlike, of those who are easy to please, who love and who give pleasure.  (from “A Christmas Sermon” by Robert Louis Stevenson)

Sometimes we think we are doing good when we are our own worst critiques.  We count ourselves “noble” to set unattainable goals then feel miserable when we fall short (and repeat the cycle, or do even worse the next time).  We see this a lot this time of year, with new year’s resolutions, promises we make to ourselves or vows we make to others that this year things are going to be different.

I have a number of regrets in my life.

– I regret I’ve not been a more loving father.

– I regret I’ve not been a more attentive husband.

– I regret I’ve not been a more effective pastor.

I have so many regrets and now, perhaps foremost among them, I regret most that I have so many regrets.

In his “A Christmas Sermon”, Stevenson shows that this human instinct to become embittered with ourselves when we fail only leads us to be even more critical of others.  This was precisely the thing Jesus accused the Pharisees (the religious leaders of his day) of doing.  Trying to live not only by the letter but by the brush strokes of each letter of the law, they wound up enforcing it on others and overlooking ways they could improve themselves.

So what do we do instead?  Does this mean we set no goals, have low standards or no standards at all.  I don’t think so.  It means we re-direct our focus away from ourselves and to… children.  Children, says Stevenson, are easy to please.  They love.  And they give pleasure.  (I would only add that children properly raised display these “natural” qualities.  When you see a child whining about getting clothes for Christmas instead of electronic toys, you have to wonder what’s going on.)

But children can be good teachers.  Not that they are innocent, but they are more at ease being in a dependent relationship, being grateful for what they are given, sharing love freely instead of trying to bargain for something at a price, being pleased and giving pleasure.  Laughing for the sheer joy of laughing.

As I celebrate this Christmas season and look forward to a new year, I’m still going to set some goals, but I’ll base them on the right models.

Goal #1:   I’m going to be more grateful for what I’ve been given.

Goal #2:  I’m going to love more freely.

Goal #3:  I’m going to be pleased – in God, in others, and in myself.

How about you?  What are your goals this Christmas season (and beyond)?

(photo “Smile” from  Literally Photographysome rights reserved)

Rude Dogma Presents: Letters to Santa with Comments from Leading Theologians

Once upon a time, in a land not far away, I and a companion in doctrinal crime composed a theological rag known as Rude Dogma. One professor hailed it as “Better than the book of Leviticus.” (Funny, I don’t think he taught long after that.)

While only a handful of issues actually made it to press, we did put out a “Christmas Spectacular” which contained the following letters to Santa (and responses).

Dear Santa,

My brother says you are not real, that you are just a story and that I am stupid to believe in you. I believe in you anyways. Am I wrong?

Confused, Lonnie, age 8

Dear Lonnie,

Follow your heart, young man. As long as you believe, I am real. Don’t worry about what your brother says.

Love, Santa

Rudolf Bultmann comments: “Man [sic, Ed.] acknowledges as reality only such phenomena or events as are comprehensible within the framework of the rational order of the universe. Such events are always ascribed to natural powers, or to good or bad on the part of men [sic again, geez, Ed.] or to human wisdom or stupidity.

Dear Santa,

I want a G.I. Joe Action set and a new bike and a Ninetendo. How can I reconcile these desires with a need to reach out to the poor? Can I somehow get my toys and simultaneously create a new cultural milieu, a world where there are no rich and no poor, only loving, caring humans living in peace?

Your friend,

Shellie. age 9

Dear Shellie,

I’ll do my best to make this the best Christmas ever.

Love, Santa

Leonardo Boff comments:  In a certain sense it is unrealistic to struggle for a classless society — a society without any conflict at all. Realistically, one can only struggle for a type of sociability in which love will be less difficult, and where power and participation will have better distribution.

Dear Santa Claus,

What’s the big idea with this “naughty” and “nice” stuff? I mean this is the twentieth century, fella. Wake up! We live in an age of cultural relativism. Who can really say who’s naughty and nice? How is one to judge? I can feel the existential angst welling up within me even as I ponder such a ludicrous pre-Kantian dialectic. Why, Santa Claus? Why?

Love Joey, age 10

Dear Joey,

Santa Claus is too busy loading toys for good girls and boys to respond to your letter. I’m sorry to hear about your “angst.” Perhaps you could ask your mother to pour some Epsom salt in a hot tub of water. It works for Santa.

Love, Mrs Claus

Soren Kirkegaard comments: The paradoxical character of the truth is its objective uncertainty; this uncertainty is an expression for the passionate inwardness, and this passion is the truth.

Editorial Comment: We were uncertain how this Kierkegaard quote related to Joey’s letter or Mrs. Claus’ response, but we felt passionately that it would look good on the page and upgrade our publication. Thus it is so.

Yes, Virgina! there is a Santa Clause

Was He Only Dreaming?: Hoosier Perspectives on Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1975, I opened my fresh new Language Arts textbook and found that some pages had been cut out.  I walked up to my teacher’s desk and his response was,

 “I did that.  It was a story about Martin Luther King.  I don’t want you reading about some nigger who went around stirring up trouble.”

Yesterday, I was talking with an elderly woman who didn’t realize today was a holiday.

“What holiday is it?”

“Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday,” I replied.

“I swear.  What do you have to do to get a day named after you?  He didn’t do nothing.”

This morning, I was talking to a man in his 70s about King’s legacy.

“I know he preached non-violence,” he said, “but as soon as he’d finish his speeches, blacks would go around breaking into stores and stealing stuff.  I don’t care what the history books say.  I saw it on TV.”

While King is celebrated as a saint by nearly all African Americans and a vast majority of white Americans as well, there is still a pervasive racial attitude among some – perhaps those who find themselves on the wrong side of history – that King was anything but heroic.

“Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”   ―  Martin Luther King Jr.

day 154  Martin Luther King jr. Day by ms.Tea

day 154  Martin Luther King jr. Day
from ms.Tea, some rights reserved