Tag Archives: martin luther king

letter TO a Birmingham prison: on MLK Day

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Of course the classy, enlightened thing to do on Martin Luther King Jr. Day every January remains to brighten the cold and often gray mornings by posting quotes, images and videos about having dreams, taking the first steps, and valuing love over hate. We pontificate on justice and look toward the one day when the dream he had becomes a reality, and we feel a little less xenophobic and a little more pious about ourselves.

And then we go to work, or take a day off by relaxing. And that day is often filled with complicit participation in the systems that oppress others and therefore ourselves. We participate in the dreams of power and anxiety and scarcity and fear and clamoring for the top. We participate in tempered and reasoned arguments why Yes, of course these are important issues, but this is the wrong way to go about it. We join in faceless, human-interaction-less debates about getting back to some unreal era when things were better or moving toward some unwon future when the best of humanity is realized.

But on this Monday, every year, we read a letter from a Birmingham prison, a letter in response to 8 clergy’s written request to MLK to calm down and play by the known rules, and we celebrate. We imagine ourselves in the cell with King, supporting his words and thinking his thoughts. After several years of scribbling An injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere on pieces of paper and taping them to mirrors and computer monitors, I wondered what the letter written TO a Birmingham prison actually said, and if I might actually, ashamedly find myself supporting their words and thinking their thoughts.

For the causes and the groups of people in the margins those causes are iconic of, we owe our own futures as well as the legacy of King the task of identifying with how much we still speak with the words of these clergy in all their good intentions, whether we want to or not, because in all our tweets and posts about freedom and justice and oppression, we are terrified that if we don’t support the status quo we might end up on the bottom, being treated and imprisoned the way we have been treating and imprisoning others.

April 12, 1963

We clergymen are among those who, in January, issued “an Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense,” in dealing with racial problems in Alabama. We expressed understanding that honest convictions in racial matters could properly be pursued in the courts, but urged that decisions of those courts should in the meantime be peacefully obeyed.

Since that time there has been some evidence of increased forbearance and a willingness to face facts. Responsible citizens have undertaken to work on various problems which cause racial friction and unrest. In Birmingham, recent public events have given indication that we all have opportunity for a new constructive and realistic approach to racial problems.

However, we are now confronted by a series of demonstrations by some of our Negro citizens, directed and led in part by outsiders. We recognize the natural impatience of people who feel that their hopes are slow in being realized. But we are convinced that these demonstrations are unwise and untimely.

We agree rather with certain local Negro leadership which has called for honest and open negotiation of racial issues in our area. And we believe this kind of facing of issues can best be accomplished by citizens of our own metropolitan area, white and Negro, meeting with their knowledge and experiences of the local situation. All of us need to face that responsibility and find proper channels for its accomplishment.

Just as we formerly pointed out that “hatred and violence have no sanction in our religious and political traditions,” we also point out that such actions as incite to hatred and violence, however technically peaceful those actions may be, have not contributed to the resolution of our local problems. We do not believe that these days of new hope are days when extreme measures are justified in Birmingham.

We commend the community as a whole, and the local news media and law enforcement officials in particular, on the calm manner in which these demonstrations have been handled. We urge the public to continue to show restraint should the demonstrations continue, and the law enforcement officials to remain calm and continue to protect our city from violence.

We further strongly urge our own Negro community to withdraw support from these demonstrations, and to unite locally in working peacefully for a better Birmingham. When rights are consistently denied, a cause should be pressed in the courts and in negotiations among local leaders, and not in the streets. We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense.

Signed by:
C.C.J. CARPENTER, D.D., LL.D., Bishop of Alabama
JOSEPH A. DURICK, D.D., Auxiliary Bishop, Diocese of Mobile-Birmingham
Rabbi MILTON L. GRAFMAN, Temple Emanu-El, Birmingham, Alabama
Bishop PAUL HARDIN, Bishop of the Alabama-West Florida Conference of the Methodist Church
Bishop NOLAN B. HARMON, Bishop of the North Alabama Conference of the Methodist Church
GEORGE M. MURRAY, D.D., LL.D., Bishop Coadjutor, Episcopal Diocese of Alabama
EDWARD V. RAMAGE, Moderator, Synod of the Alabama Presbyterian Church in the United States

And THEN, the letter from that prison:

Letter from a Birmingham Jail Cell from Bradley Williams on Vimeo.

Pine Tree Dr.

beyond Trayvon
it’s dark in here
let us turn our thoughts today
failure of imagination
rosa parks| on imagining and hoping

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50 years later: on dreams, justice and imagination

Below is a collection of reposts from mosthopeful.com, posted today in honor of 50 years after MLK’s famous dream.
What is your dream today, fifty years later?



It’s no secret that racism is not okay.
Most people know it. A lot of people pretend like they agree with it. Some people fake it. Everyone deals with it.
But we all know that racism is not okay.
And so we think of ourselves as matured. As evolved. As just and honest and good and lovely.
But we are, all of us, racist, of course….



MLK speech

We were sitting around a table spread with pads, pens and leftovers a few feet off of Beale Street in Memphis. We had a two-day staff retreat for Area Relief Ministries, and we were closing up our time together with some overarching reflections on our different ministry areas, what we were seeing and feeling, and where we wanted to go in the days ahead.

Having been through the National Civil Rights Museum together, a staff of half women and half men, half black and half white, we were reflecting on our own experiences and those of the people we serve every day at ARM.  One of our staffers, Vakendall, started talk-praying in a kind of musical tone that he often speaks in; what came out of his mouth has been lingering in my head since then.

In reference to the photos and pictures throughout the Civil Rights Museum of men and women standing up to oppression, racism and violence with a kind of sharp meekness seldom see, Kendall asked, “Who told them they were somebody?”…CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THIS POST FROM OCTOBER 30, 2011.


“…Let us turn our thoughts today
to Martin Luther King.
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood…”

I’ve been grading papers and cleaning up the house today, enjoying an almost-full day at home which is rare and therefore celebrated. I had headphones on listening to James Taylor because the day felt right for it, and I froze the moment I heard the above lyrics…. CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THIS POST FROM MAY 5, 2012. 


I remember the first time I watched Amazing Grace. I felt immediately proud and cowardly, feeling both as I resonated with humanity at its best and worst. Wilberforce looked the status quo in the eyes, evil and injustice and profitable as it was, and challenged it. Of course, he was able to do so because he had the money and the power and the influence to ultimately play hard ball with the good old boys.

But the scene I remember from the film is one where sitting around a table, their inability to imagine how they could continue profitable businesses, orderly communities, and the current status quo made Wilberforce’s audience unable to move forward with the abolition of slavery. They were likely people who sought justice in other ways, but this hit too close to home, and their imaginations could not overshadow their greed and lust for power…. CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE POST FROM APRIL 14 2012.

Pine Tree Dr.

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“it’s dark in here” | reflections on MLK Day


It’s no secret that racism is not okay.

Most people know it. A lot of people pretend like they agree with it. Some people fake it. Everyone deals with it.

But we all know that racism is not okay.

And so we think of ourselves as matured. As evolved. As just and honest and good and lovely.

But we are, all of us, racist, of course.


I was walking through the mall a few weekends ago with a guy who used to be a college student in a small group of mine. We were there for me to run an errand, and this guy, a man who is soon to be a youth pastor in a church, made a comment that has been haunting me since that day.

“It’s dark in here.”

I looked around, looked up at the skylights, around at the stores and back at him.


“It’s dark in here.”

The same again.

I looked around, the sky is blue, the light is shining in through the skylights, the mall is brightly lit, and at the same time as my head is turning back toward him in confusion, I understand what he is saying. I feel my heart break the moment we make eye contact, and I wish I could control anything but in that moment I realize that I can control nothing.

“There are lots of black people,” he whispers.

I have no idea what I said. I’m sure I was a jerk. My memories of that day go back to me as much as they do to him.

And today, both Inauguration Day and the day we celebrate the life and work of Martin Luther King Jr., I find myself speechless, still.

I grew up in a world where racism was acceptable, and in a home where it was not. I grew up in a faith where if you are poor and on drugs, it’s because you don’t know Jesus, not because of personal, systemic and global injustice.

More than this, I grew up knowing that it’s not okay to be a racist, but seeing those around me make it okay to be a little racist. At the right time, with the right people, in the right way.

As an upper, middle-class white male, that means that many around me, outside my home and often in a family of faith, think that those who are not any of those things are likely not Christians, so we should pray for them, and that they are both irresponsible and dangerous, so we should be afraid of them.

And whether I admit it or not, that same thought is buried deeply in me somewhere. Thank you, Southern, wealthy, Christian United States.


And today, I show up for work each day with brothers and sisters of faith, both black and white. I show up for work with men and women seen as equally bringing the truth of the faith and the work of the kingdom. I show up to work each day and hash out the difficulty of what it means to work and live and laugh with those who are both the same as well as different from me, and I am a better man for it.

I am still racist. I still make assumptions about others who look like me that I would hope to never be associated with. And I know, in turn, that I am still seen as someone who makes those assumptions.

It is not completely unfair.

So on this day, when I think about the black pastor in the southern US who wrote letters to white pastors in the Southern US saying this must be the time––when I think about a pastor who wrote those letters from a Birmingham Jail–I hear them now in a deeper place than I have heard them before. I see and feel those white pastors listening who are convinced that the calls are untimely. And the challenge is more personal than it has been before. And in the global world, in the polarized world, in the rich and poor world, I hear the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. say “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and I hear my King say, “The kingdom of heaven belongs to them.”


To my buddy in the mall that day, as I felt my jaw drop and my eyes broaden and heart sink, I wish I had told you, “There is so much of the kingdom you are missing.”

Pine Tree Dr.

Other recommended links for MLK DAY

A DREAM THAT CAME TRUE – The Washington Post

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let us turn our thoughts today

“…Let us turn our thoughts today
to Martin Luther King.
And recognize that there are ties between us
All men and women
Living on the earth
Ties of hope and love
Sister and brotherhood…”

I’ve been grading papers and cleaning up the house today, enjoying an almost-full day at home which is rare and therefore celebrated.

I had headphones on listening to James Taylor because the day felt right for it, and I froze the moment I heard the above lyrics.

They are from a song of JT’s, someone whose music I was raised on and therefore have ingrained somewhere deeply in my subconscious, called “Shed a Little Light.”

What made me freeze, I think, was the memory that the song immediately brought to the surface in the ways only music can. Frozen, trash bag in hand, I could see it crisply.

We would drive to the beach every year in the summer as a family, grandparents, cousins, everybody. And whenever the four of us, Dad and Mom up front and Jamey and me in the back seat, I remember when this song would come up on the tape player. We immediately split into parts, and sang the whole song through. Maybe it’s just the beauty of remembering, but I think we were pretty good too.

“…We are bound together
By the task that stands before us
And the road that lies ahead
We are bound, and we are bound…”

In my frozen state today, it became clear to me the power of shared values that make themselves at home somewhere deep within us, and as we grow, they influence all we do for better or for worse, and sometimes without our even knowing what is happening.

I stood frozen, headphones on, dogs staring, singing my part at the top of my lungs. Those lyrics came out from somewhere deep within me, and I was amazed at how they continue to reflect what I value most deeply, or at least what I want to value most deeply on the days where I’m more the person I hope to be.

“…There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest..

Shed a little light, oh Lord.”

Here’s to childhood road trips, to family, and to the things we’ve forgotten we will always remember.

Pine Tree Dr.

RELATED POSTS | In Remembering and In Hoping | Whoever You Are

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rosa parks | in remembering and in hoping

Rosa Parks | February 4, 1913 – October 24, 2005
On thoughts of Black History Month 

Rosa Parks Black History Month

+ “Rosa Parks” from Walter Brueggeman’s Prayers for a Privileged People

Pine Tree

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