by Noel Bouché
On MLK day, we remember the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is being read and reflected upon across the country. It’s place in and importance to American history is well established, and particularly for followers of Jesus it is a source of courage, conviction, and critical self-examination.
It certainly is for me as I meditate on its message again today.
That message is, of course, firmly rooted in the contextual soil of the civil rights movement and the “stinging darts” of segregation, racial discrimination, apathy and inaction, and the legacy of the “inexpressible cruelties” of American chattel slavery and the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
As I ponder it today, I see several principles that still have (possibly even more) application to our day-to-day lives, and to the mission of pureHOPE and the pursuit of God’s love, purity, and justice in our everyday walk.
Seek, and Speak, Truth
“We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.”
King spoke of the tension in the work of exposing the injustice of the “evil system of segregation.” It was a tension he helped heroically bring to the surface of American society, at the cost of his life.
Speaking truth almost always creates tension. The life of our Master—”the Way, the Truth, and the Life”—dramatically demonstrates this for us, His followers.
We experience this tension in big and small ways every day. We avoid truthful communication because it will be “awkward” or make us or someone else “uncomfortable.” We avoid confessing a wrong and we keep secrets to avoid the unpleasantness of the consequences we expect. We avoid addressing important topics with our children because we anxiously believe the consequences of knowledge will outweigh the power of understanding.
But in our relationships—from the societal level all the way down to the relationships in our homes—the immediate tension created by truthfulness eases toward the healing and intimacy that grace nurtures over time.
Our King’s willingness to step into the tension of truth, brings about freedom in the hearts of His followers. Dr. King’s willingness to bring tension to the surface, promotes and inspires the resolve of many who want to see and deal and pursue racial, relational reconciliation.
Do, Don’t Delay
“This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.'”
The context here is a response to the voice of white moderates who counseled delay, not direct action; to which King replied with the famous phrase “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
Yet often our own counsel to ourselves to “wait” becomes a “never.” Perhaps we never end up doing that thing we know is right. Perhaps we never look inward to acknowledge any preconceptions that might need changing. Perhaps we never look out upon the tough issues facing our community or our world, because we don’t want to engage. Perhaps we never end up having that important conversation. Perhaps we never open up or seek the help we need, or the help we need to give.
Now is the day of salvation,” scripture tells us (2 Corinthians 6:2), and now is the moment to love, to forgive, to show kindness, to engage lovingly, to express compassion, to break the power of the secret. There is not a “more convenient season” for truth and love than the present. To delay what is right is to deny goodness to ourselves and others.
Underneath Pain Is Love and Desire
“In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love.”
We often fear addressing wounds and estrangement, and avoid taking steps toward reconciliation in our relationships because we view disappointment, anger, and pain as marks of rejection and contempt, when in reality they are rooted in love and longing for relationship.
Sadly in this fallen age, deep desire for tenderness and affection often manifests as bitterness and resentment—because what is longed for has been withheld, or taken away. But we see the harshness as rejection. Only with courage and eyes that, like God, “look on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7) can we step out of self-protection and into the sweet serenity and splendor of shalom, both societally and in our most sacred relationships.
Maybe your deep disappointment is deeply personal. Maybe your deep disappointment is, like Dr. King, with complicity—of yourself, your community, or the church—as ugly injustices continue to pervade. With deep love, we may weep as we face those hard places.
And as we seek to do justice in our everyday, we can cast our every care upon the God of deep love, because as another imprisoned minister said from a jail cell nineteen centuries earlier: “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).