We honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr—advocate for social justice, racial harmony and equality, civil rights and non-violent resistance. In his 1964 Nobel Lecture titled “The quest for peace and justice” he states
“Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem: it merely creates new and more complicated ones. Violence is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. It is immoral because it seeks to humiliate the opponent rather than win his understanding: it seeks to annihilate rather than convert. Violence is immoral because it thrives on hatred rather than love. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It leaves society in monologue rather than dialogue. Violence ends up defeating itself. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers.”Martin Luther King Jr., Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1964
Over five decades later, this week of the inauguration of our 46th President, the United States of America is reeling from the insurrection of January 6, 2021. It is also the date of Epiphany, celebrated in Christianity as the date Magi visit the Christ Child, recognizing that Divine Light has become incarnate in our world.
Americans are experiencing an epiphany of their own. Deep divisions that exist in our country have been made clear, brought from the darkness into the light—no doubt, as King stated, “a descending spiral ending in destruction.” How did we end up here? Surely most of us desire the “permanent peace” King spoke of, and yet here we are. I have no answers so I read and re-read the words of MLK and look to my faith for understanding.
I reflect on the opportunity I had last year to attend a concert of The American Spiritual Ensemble (ASE) at a local church—a concert to honor Martin Luther King Jr. with African American spirituals. MLK wrote that spirituals “give the people new courage and a sense of unity. I think they keep alive a faith, a radiant hope, in the future, particularly in our most trying hours.” In his 1964 book Why We Can’t Wait, he wrote that civil rights activists “sing the freedom songs today for the same reason the slaves sang them, because we too are in bondage and the songs add hope to our determination that ‘We shall overcome, Black and white together, We shall overcome someday’.”
The King Center, a living memorial to MLK, envisions a world where global brotherhood and sisterhood are not a dream but the state of humankind.
Let this be our prayer today—
May we walk together as children of God, that we ease the suffering of those near and far from us, that we stand up for the oppressed—the poor, the marginalized, the downtrodden, the suffering. Let us pray, that through our efforts and the grace of God, that we shall overcome. May this week of Inauguration be peaceful and all involved be protected from harm. Amen.
I write more HERE about the American Spiritual Ensemble, the importance of Negro spirituals and their impact on American music.