Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meditation: “Peace on Earth” is a call to action

Happy Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. day to all of you! What are you doing to honor the legacy of Dr. King today?

Please, let us allow ourselves to be disturbed and transformed on this national holiday. This is not a day for sentimental history lessons. It is not a day to rest nor enjoy the comforts of privilege. We cannot afford to rot in complacency.

Rather, we must become students of nonviolence and courageous change makers. Today is a day for contemplation and action; for meditation and community building. Let us effectively scrutinize these times and organize our resistance. Let us lean in to the Spirit to be transformed into true Gospel people. These are the ways we can truly honor Dr. King–and all those who gave up their lives nonviolently for the sake of equality.

Today would be an excellent day to pray with Pope Francis’ World Day of Peace message “Nonviolence: a Style of Politics for Peace.”

Or, I’d like to invite you to do as I did this morning: listen to Dr. King’s Christmas sermon “Peace on Earth.” As you do, I think you’ll be amazed at how timely his speech is, even though it is from 50 years ago. The sermon remains a call to action!

If you click on the video, you can listen to a recording of Dr. King preaching while you read the text pasted below it. I have bolded particular phrases in the sermon because I believe the words can be instructive to us as we resist the current oppression in the world.

 

Plus, let us pray for each other and for peace for all.

God, transform us and create us anew. Help us be the nonviolent peacemakers your world needs. We rely on you to fill us with strength, grace, and guidance as we struggle in brave love, as we suffer willingly for the day when all people will know your true peace and justice. Work through us, Holy Spirit, and help us to be vibrant in our faith and hope in you. We pray this through Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. Amen!

 

 

A Christmas Sermon: Peace on Earth

By Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

December 24, 1967

This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian hope. If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power. Wisdom born of experience should tell us that war is obsolete. There may have been a time when war served as a negative good by preventing the spread and growth of an evil force, but the very destructive power of modern weapons of warfare eliminates even the possibility that war may any longer serve as a negative good. And so, if we assume that life is worth living, if we assume that mankind has a right to survive, then we must find an alternative to war and so let us this morning explore the conditions for peace. Let us this morning think anew on the meaning of that Christmas hope: “Peace on Earth, Good Will toward Men.” And as we explore these conditions, I would like to suggest that modern man really go all out to study the meaning of nonviolence, its philosophy and its strategy.

We have experimented with the meaning of nonviolence in our struggle for racial justice in the United States, but now the time has come for man to experiment with nonviolence in all areas of human conflict, and that means nonviolence on an international scale.

Now let me suggest first that if we are to have peace on earth, our loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone, and as long as we try, the more we are going to have war in this world. Now the judgment of God is upon us, and we must either learn to live together as brothers or we are all going to perish together as fools.

Yes, as nations and individuals, we are interdependent. I have spoken to you before of our visit to India some years ago. It was a marvelous experience; but I say to you this morning that there were those depressing moments. How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with one’s own eyes evidences of millions of people going to bed hungry at night? How can one avoid being depressed when one sees with ones own eyes thousands of people sleeping on the sidewalks at night? More than a million people sleep on the sidewalks of Bombay every night; more than half a million sleep on the sidewalks of Calcutta every night. They have no houses to go into. They have no beds to sleep in. As I beheld these conditions, something within me cried out: “Can we in America stand idly by and not be concerned?” And an answer came: “Oh, no!” And I started thinking about the fact that right here in our country we spend millions of dollars every day to store surplus food; and I said to myself: “I know where we can store that food free of charge? in the wrinkled stomachs of the millions of God’s children in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and even in our own nation, who go to bed hungry at night.”

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.

Now let me say, secondly, that if we are to have peace in the world, men and nations must embrace the nonviolent affirmation that ends and means must cohere. One of the great philosophical debates of history has been over the whole question of means and ends. And there have always been those who argued that the end justifies the means, that the means really aren’t important. The important thing is to get to the end, you see.

So, if you’re seeking to develop a just society, they say, the important thing is to get there, and the means are really unimportant; any means will do so long as they get you there? they may be violent, they may be untruthful means; they may even be unjust means to a just end. There have been those who have argued this throughout history. But we will never have peace in the world until men everywhere recognize that ends are not cut off from means, because the means represent the ideal in the making, and the end in process, and ultimately you can’t reach good ends through evil means, because the means represent the seed and the end represents the tree.

It’s one of the strangest things that all the great military geniuses of the world have talked about peace. The conquerors of old who came killing in pursuit of peace, Alexander, Julius Caesar, Charlemagne, and Napoleon, were akin in seeking a peaceful world order. If you will read Mein Kampf closely enough, you will discover that Hitler contended that everything he did in Germany was for peace. And the leaders of the world today talk eloquently about peace. Every time we drop our bombs in North Vietnam, President Johnson talks eloquently about peace. What is the problem? They are talking about peace as a distant goal, as an end we seek, but one day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but that it is a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means. All of this is saying that, in the final analysis, means and ends must cohere because the end is preexistent in the means, and ultimately destructive means cannot bring about constructive ends.

Now let me say that the next thing we must be concerned about if we are to have peace on earth and good will toward men is the nonviolent affirmation of the sacredness of all human life. Every man is somebody because he is a child of God. And so when we say “Thou shalt not kill,” we’re really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world. Man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering. Man is a child of God, made in His image, and therefore must be respected as such. Until men see this everywhere, until nations see this everywhere, we will be fighting wars. One day somebody should remind us that, even though there may be political and ideological differences between us, the Vietnamese are our brothers, the Russians are our brothers, the Chinese are our brothers; and one day we’ve got to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. But in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. In Christ there is neither male nor female. In Christ there is neither Communist nor capitalist. In Christ, somehow, there is neither bound nor free. We are all one in Christ Jesus. And when we truly believe in the sacredness of human personality, we won’t exploit people, we won’t trample over people with the iron feet of oppression, we won’t kill anybody.

There are three words for “love” in the Greek New Testament; one is the word “eros.” Eros is a sort of esthetic, romantic love. Plato used to talk about it a great deal in his dialogues, the yearning of the soul for the realm of the divine. And there is and can always be something beautiful about eros, even in its expressions of romance. Some of the most beautiful love in all of the world has been expressed this way.

Then the Greek language talks about “philia,” which is another word for love, and philia is a kind of intimate love between personal friends. This is the kind of love you have for those people that you get along with well, and those whom you like on this level you love because you are loved.

Then the Greek language has another word for love, and that is the word “agape.” Agape is more than romantic love, it is more than friendship. Agape is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. Agape is an overflowing love which seeks nothing in return. Theologians would say that it is the love of God operating in the human heart. When you rise to love on this level, you love all men not because you like them, not because their ways appeal to you, but you love them because God loves them. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Love your enemies.” And I’m happy that he didn’t say, “Like your enemies,” because there are some people that I find it pretty difficult to like. Liking is an affectionate emotion, and I can’t like anybody who would bomb my home. I can’t like anybody who would exploit me. I can’t like anybody who would trample over me with injustices. I can’t like them. I can’t like anybody who threatens to kill me day in and day out. But Jesus reminds us that love is greater than liking. Love is understanding, creative, redemptive good will toward all men. And I think this is where we are, as a people, in our struggle for racial justice. We can’t ever give up. We must work passionately and unrelentingly for first-class citizenship. We must never let up in our determination to remove every vestige of segregation and discrimination from our nation, but we shall not in the process relinquish our privilege to love.

I’ve seen too much hate to want to hate, myself, and I’ve seen hate on the faces of too many sheriffs, too many white citizens’ councilors, and too many Klansmen of the South to want to hate, myself; and every time I see it, I say to myself, hate is too great a burden to bear. Somehow we must be able to stand up before our most bitter opponents and say: “We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you. We cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws and abide by the unjust system, because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good, and so throw us in jail and we will still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our communities at the midnight hour and drag us out on some wayside road and leave us half-dead as you beat us, and we will still love you. Send your propaganda agents around the country, and make it appear that we are not fit, culturally and otherwise, for integration, and we’ll still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

If there is to be peace on earth and good will toward men, we must finally believe in the ultimate morality of the universe, and believe that all reality hinges on moral foundations. Something must remind us of this as we once again stand in the Christmas season and think of the Easter season simultaneously, for the two somehow go together. Christ came to show us the way. Men love darkness rather than the light, and they crucified him, and there on Good Friday on the cross it was still dark, but then Easter came, and Easter is an eternal reminder of the fact that the truth-crushed earth will rise again. Easter justifies Carlyle in saying, “No lie can live forever.” And so this is our faith, as we continue to hope for peace on earth and good will toward men: let us know that in the process we have cosmic companionship.

In 1963, on a sweltering August afternoon, we stood in Washington, D.C., and talked to the nation about many things. Toward the end of that afternoon, I tried to talk to the nation about a dream that I had had, and I must confess to you today that not long after talking about that dream I started seeing it turn into a nightmare. I remember the first time I saw that dream turn into a nightmare, just a few weeks after I had talked about it. It was when four beautiful, unoffending, innocent Negro girls were murdered in a church in Birmingham, Alabama. I watched that dream turn into a nightmare as I moved through the ghettos of the nation and saw my black brothers and sisters perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity, and saw the nation doing nothing to grapple with the Negroes’ problem of poverty. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched my black brothers and sisters in the midst of anger and understandable outrage, in the midst of their hurt, in the midst of their disappointment, turn to misguided riots to try to solve that problem. I saw that dream turn into a nightmare as I watched the war in Vietnam escalating, and as I saw so-called military advisors, sixteen thousand strong, turn into fighting soldiers until today over five hundred thousand American boys are fighting on Asian soil. Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of.

And so today I still have a dream that one day men will rise up and come to see that they are made to live together as brothers. I still have a dream this morning that one day every Negro in this country, every colored person in the world, will be judged on the basis of the content of his character rather than the color of his skin, and every man will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. I still have a dream that one day the idle industries of Appalachia will be revitalized, and the empty stomachs of Mississippi will be filled, and brotherhood will be more than a few words at the end of a prayer, but rather the first order of business on every legislative agenda. I still have a dream today that one day justice will roll down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream. I still have a dream today that in all of our state houses and city halls men will be elected to go there who will do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with their God. I still have a dream today that one day war will come to an end, that men will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, that nations will no longer rise up against nations, neither will they study war any more. I still have a dream today that one day the lamb and the lion will lie down together and every man will sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid. I still have a dream today that one day every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill will be made low, the rough places will be made plain and the crooked places straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together. I still have a dream that with this faith we will be able to adjourn the councils of despair and bring new light into the dark chambers of pessimism. With this faith we will be able to speed up the day when there will be peace on earth and good will toward men. It will be a glorious day, the morning stars will sing together, and the sons of God will shout for joy.

Beyond bombing: Better options for transformation

The president’s speech made me feel awful last night.

Of course, all the news about the terror that ISIS is causing in Iraq and surrounding areas is making me feel very awful too.

Still, my gut told me the solutions proposed were not right. Similarly, no justification for the U.S. military’s current air strikes have made sense to me. Responding to violence with more violence is never an effective solution.

Today my heart has felt heavy and my prayers like déjà vu. Even though we’re years beyond the tragedies of September 11, 2001, has humanity gotten any better?

How many more times must I pray for peace?

In addition to offering prayers and love, how else does the Gospel invite us to respond? What are the nonviolent and loving solutions that we can advocate for?

I couldn’t come up with any better ideas. Frankly, I totally felt stumped.

At a loss, I turned to a mentor and friend, Kathy Kelly, at Voices for Creative Non-Violence, for insight about possible non-violent solutions to the problems surrounding ISIS. As a woman who has been in the region and Afghanistan as a nonviolent advocate for peace countless times and who works tirelessly “to prevent the next war by telling the truth about the current one,” I knew Kathy would have some good input for me.

Kathy Kelly (R) and me at an event in La Crosse, WI; Novemeber, 2013.
Kathy Kelly (R) and me at an event in La Crosse, WI; November, 2013.

Me: What is your sense about how much power ISIS really has?

Kathy Kelly: I don’t know how much staying power they have. Would they really want the headaches of trying to govern Baghdad, for instance? In Afghanistan, the Taliban are controlling perhaps 70 percent of the country, but we wonder if they’d prefer not to be stuck with governing Kabul with so many headaches and refugees and water shortages and unemployment.

Me: What sort of responsibility, if any, does the U.S. presently have in Iraq?

Kathy Kelly: The U.S. could campaign to completely relieve Iraq of paying any more debt incurred by Saddam Hussein’s regime. The U.S. could pay reparations for suffering caused by past bombing and invasions. The U.S. could begin now to withdraw people at their embassy and decide not to send any more military contractors. If lives are at risk, they probably shouldn’t be there any longer. If pacifists wish to risk their lives by being there, that’s another story, but no one who needs weapons and weapon carrying people to protect them should. The U.S. should encourage the government of Iraq to be inclusive but should never meddle in Iraqi elections. The U.S. has no right to interfere in the sovereign affairs of other countries, but extending a helping hand and paying reparations through payments made to the UN and other organizations that have some credibility, e.g., the International Commission of the Red Cross, could be acceptable.

Me: What sort of non-violent solutions exist for the ISIS problem?

Kathy Kelly: I think the time of the U.S. being an empire that can impose solutions is over. I don’t think the U.S. even has the ability to control forces at work in Iraq, Syria, and the wider region. Air strikes will never be enough. People who are targeted have mobility, and they have information and they have weapons. I don’t think the U.S. will find earnest allies to join them in this fight. So it makes all the sense in the world to seek nonviolent solutions. Such as, trying to create conditions in areas bordering on ISIS held areas that would inspire some ISIS fighters to defect, to leave ISIS. Many wouldn’t be able to without endangering their families or others, but some might think there’s a better way, other than fighting. This means helping to fund the UN and other organizations that are helping refugees. For starters, take the money it would cost to buy one Hellfire missile, or one tank, or any of the other billions worth of weapons.  Encourage states in the region to pursue nonviolent solutions. STOP ALL WEAPON TRANSFERS AND WEAPON SALES. Ask the media to help U.S. people better understand how the U.S. is perceived in countries where the U.S. has waged aerial bombing, drone bombing, economic sanctions, and tensions that contributed to civil wars. The U.S. is perceived, by many, as a menace. This is part of the reason why fine and good U.S. journalists are at risk in this part of the world.  Ask people who are concerned to read Jim Loney’s memoir Captivity, written after he was held hostage for 118 days, and, tragically, our friend Tom Fox was killed. Ask everyone, every pastor, teacher, cleric, bishop, teacher, civil rights leader, …everyone who can influence others…to take time today or tomorrow to reread Martin Luther King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

Kathy’s wisdom and knowledge reminded me I have much to learn. More importantly, I was reminded that there is much I can do to creatively advocate for peace– the type of peace that Jesus gives. The peace I am advocating for is peace that heals, forgives, and imagines another way. It never harms another; it only heals.

Thanks be to God for prophetic voices like Kathy Kelly who help us remember that even when the situations are horrific, complicated or discouraging, love and non-violence are always available to offer another way, a way for peaceful transformation for all humanity.

Pray with me for peace and let us end this war!

 

Peace, as the shepherds knew it

Merry Christmas! Yes, my celebrating continues.

My rejoicing in the coming of God to earth is not about candy canes or toys.

Nope, Christmas Every Day is all about peace and peacemaking and it’s not necessarily cozy and sweet.  Christmas peace is challenging and communal.

My life seems pretty peaceful nowadays, and it is a bit awkward for me to enjoy it. I know others are oppressed, hurting and victims of the injustices of war, violence and poverty.  Yet, my life is full of a lot of calm. At work, my students are pretty well-behaved and cooperative, making things almost easy right now. At home, I live in a really grounding community where I feel very safe and loved. Around the region, there is an abundance of phenomenal natural beauty. Last weekend I went camping and enjoyed some quiet and breathtaking scenery of stars, woods, and overlooks. My life is packed with many moments of quiet and gladness.

When I was hiking and stargazing last weekend, I sure did feel happy and calm.  Yet, in the back of my mind, I kept thinking about those who were suffering because of wars and violence.  It felt a bit unfair that I could enjoy God’s beautiful and natural designs, while others suffered because people don’t cooperate with God’s good order. Maybe what seems peaceful to me isn’t really peaceful, after all because true peace is something a bit more subtle and inclusive.

Night sky_Sept 6
Photo credit: http://mrg.bz/7YvKW7

Martin Luther King, Jr had some good insights about peacemaking in a Christmas sermon in 1967 that are still incredibly relevant today, especially in light of the international debate concerning Syria.  I am reminded why war is always wrong today:

“This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and good will toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have good will toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power.”  -Martin Luther King, Jr., 1967 Christmas sermon

Peacemaking can be haunting as our power is haunting.  All of us are capable of being healers or hurters at any minute. The power of our choices can be dangerous.  Although it might be easy to come up with justifications and excuses for using weapons and reacting to violence with violence, but it doesn’t make sense.

The first Christmas–the birth of Jesus Christ who is the Prince of Peace– was an event that happened during a time of some brutal oppression. With Christ’s coming, the brutality didn’t actually halt. Instead, God transformed and empowered the marginalized of society. In the Christmas story, God chose to tell some poor and humble shepherds about Jesus’ coming, and they got to join in on the party. Here’s how it happened:

Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear.

The angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:

“Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”   Luke 2:8-14

The shepherds were transformed by the good news and then empowered to experience the tough stuff of true peacemaking. As the shepherds showed us, if it’s peace we’re after, we must act in peace.

Great peacemakers of history acted humbly like shepherds. As stated by Mahatma Gandhi, “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”  Gandhi also said “There is no ‘way to peace,’ there is only ‘peace.” 

The Christmas message is a message of peace, a peace for all. Let’s all celebrate and spread that peace in the way that shepherds modeled for us: in obedience to God’s love, with wonder, as communities, and powerlessly.

Loving, powerless, and global peacemaking: this is the type of Christmas celebrating I’m doing and this is the Christmas celebrating to which you’re also invited.

Merry Christmas!!