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Friday, June 5, 2009

  • Posted on Jun 5, 2009

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. 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. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds. From Letter from a Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dated April 16, 1963

It’s been a while since I’ve read Dr. King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Just recently, someone mentioned to me how much that letter had become a foundational document in his life. When our Wednesday morning Bible Study group arrived at Peter Gomes’ chapter on the Bible and Slavery and Gomes mentioned the Letter, I thought it was time to take another look. So, this past Wednesday morning, we read A Letter from a Birmingham Jail.

First, I had forgotten what a long letter King wrote. As we read aloud his words, I imagine King in prison. I imagine that the solitude of prison life allowed King to stop for some time and collect his thoughts. His life was lived in active passion. Now, all his thoughts and feelings start pouring out. He writes to a group of clergymen who have asked him to take the segregation issue a bit more slowly. Perhaps more politely. To wait for the right time. Perhaps to stay in Atlanta and do his rabble rousing there.

Second, I remembered why I spent part of my time in seminary studying and writing about Dr. King. The Gospel is a prophetic document. The church is about being prophetic. When we become afraid to live out the Gospel imperatives in our lives through words and actions, we diminish ourselves. We diminish the church. And sometimes, we begin to think that the Body of Christ is composed of insiders and outsiders. King speak to this issue with strength and grace.

I am so very proud that the Memorial church community is a place that we can speak to our prophetic calling. We can live into that prophetic calling through words. However, Memorial is a place that embraces St Francis of Assisi’s suggestion: Preach the Gospel and if necessary, use words! Thanks be to God for the Memorial community.

Question: Have you ever felt like an outsider when you bring up an issue of social change? Maybe just plain old change? Have you felt like an outsider in Christ’s Body, the Church? What does Dr. King’s message say to you?