More Than A Day Off

School and work are closed today as we commemorate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr. The free time offers us an opportunity to catch up on sleep, watch a movie, or complete projects at home that have been waiting. But we would miss the real purpose of the day off if we did not also take a moment to remember the message of Dr. King. 

As a white American, I have never been racially profiled. My ancestors were never sold into slavery. No one has ever used a racial epithet to describe me or my children. The lenses through which African Americans see the world are not lenses through which I can see. In many ways, our stories are different and today is a chance to remember that. 

Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is by far his most quoted work. Until last year, it was the work with which I was most familiar. When I started teaching as an adjunct at a local university, I assigned Dr. King’s “Letter from the Birmingham Jail” to the students. It was in the book and appeared on the syllabus I inherited. 

You should read it. Everyone should read it. 

It was written after Dr. King was arrested for his leadership of boycotts in Birmingham and in response to white church leaders who were criticizing King’s methods and presence in their community. The other church leaders had published an editorial, calling him an outsider and listing several criticism of his work and his movement. 

You can hear Dr. King’s frustration and despair as he writes on napkins, newspapers, and anything he can get his hands on, trying to scrape together a response to a world that does not understand nonviolence or the plight of his brothers and sisters. 

Perhaps today we can take a few moments and read the letter in its entirety. The words he wrote then are still appropriate today. 

“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.”

You have, no doubt, heard the first part of that quote before. But what about the rest of the paragraph? Do we behave as though the lives of others affect my life? Do we believe in King’s “single garment of destiny”? Am I really affected by what affects another? Or do I watch a 30-second clip of a video on the news or online, instantly form an opinion, and let that opinion shape my reality?

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.”

We are still repenting for the sins of our past – as a society and as a community of faith. Surely part of the healing must include a commitment to be silent no longer when we hear hateful words and actions of bad people. 

“Shallow understanding from people of goodwill is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

How in the world are we silent in the face of hunger, poverty, racism, sexism, and outright ignorance? Why are we quiet when someone from another political party or faith or race is treated with such disdain? When did our winning have to include the humiliating defeat of the opponent? Where are the real leaders today?

And finally:

“Will we be extremists for hate or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice ― or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”

It is time for people who say they believe in Jesus and all He teaches – love of neighbor, forgiveness of others, charity, hope, and peace – to show the world that hatred has no home hear, authority is never abused, everyone is welcome, and salvation is open to all. 

Spend some time studying Dr. King today. Discover his message of peace. Welcome the stranger. Forgive someone. Most of all, live a life of peace and justice so that others might look at us and see straight through to God.

May your week be blessed.

Seventeen Years

This week we commemorate the 17thanniversary of that Tuesday morning when church doors were opened, and people wept openly in the streets. Loved ones were lost and true heroism became the top story on the evening news. Initials like “FDNY” took on new meaning and, for a moment, the world stood still and mourned.

No one who is in grade school or high school can tell you about their experiences of that day. In fact, some of the people teaching those very students were likely in grade school and high school themselves that fateful day. Those old enough to remember can tell you the stories of where they were, what they were doing, and how their lives were interrupted for a few days. They can tell you how quiet the skies were and how filled the churches became. They can tell you about the return of major league sports, prime-time television, and how a president inspired a nation with a bullhorn as he stood atop the rubble.

But as a country, we have forgotten the lessons of that day. We have forgotten how important it is to talk to each other and hold hands once in a while. Patriotism has been replaced by partisanism and no one really has a conversation anymore. Instead, we define people by right or left and we stand on the side we think defines us and we yell at each other. People who dare to cross the proverbial aisle to work with another person are condemned as traitors and are called names by colleagues and friends. Ideologies define us and all that we are sure of is that the other side is wrong.

We are an impatient people, made more impatient but the glut of news and the lack of filters. Where you get your news creates a line of demarcation about where you sit and who you believe and how great you think our country is – or could be.

Seventeen years ago, we stopped fighting for a little while. Politicians stood on the steps of the Capitol and sang, “God Bless America.” Color and race and creed and orientation did not matter – especially if you needed saving or rescuing or defending. We recognized how fragile life had always been when we saw photos of strangers hanging on a fence and commuter lots filled with cars whose owners were not coming back.

This week, maybe we could pause to remember those who died needlessly that day, stolen from their families by a madman. Perhaps we could remember those who ran into the buildings. They ran into the buildings. Perhaps we can remember the thousands who have died since then – and are still dying – combatting the power of evil in the world.

Most of all, we should remember the civility, the calm, and the longing for peace that was so palpable in the days and weeks that followed that awful day. These are the lessons we must teach today’s young people. They did not experience any of those things and if we are not very careful, they never will.

Let there be peace on earth, in our homes, in our classrooms, in our families, in our workplaces, in our country, in our hearts.

And let it begin with me.

~pjd

Except Through Me

When we think of Charlottesville or Orlando or Charleston, may we pay attention to the command to love one another.

When we think of Syria or the Gaza Strip or South Sudan, may we gain some perspective and complain less.

When we hear of immigrants dying in tractor trailers or deportations that defy understanding, may we welcome the strangers in our midst.

When we think of Sandy Hook or Columbine or Paducah or any number of the places where people with guns shoot children, may we hold our little ones close and remind them that we are called to be people of peace.

And when we gather this week for Mass on the Feast of the Assumption, may we be reminded of the words of the late Ruth Mary Fox and the great challenge her words offer to each of us.

Into the hillside country Mary went
Carrying Christ.

And all along the road the Christ she carried
Generously bestowed his grace on those she met.
But she had not meant to tell she carried Christ.
She was content to hide his love for her.
But about her glowed such joy that into stony hearts
Love flowed
And even to the unborn John, Christ’s love was sent.

Christ, in the sacrament of love each day, dwells in my soul
A little space.
And then as I walk life’s crowded highways
Jostling men who seldom think of God
To these, I pray, that I may carry Christ
For it may be
Some may not know of him

Except through me.

As we watch the news and see the violence, bigotry, and unbridled enthusiasm for ignorance and hatred, we are challenged to ask ourselves this important question:

“How will I carry Christ this week?”

~pjd

Signs

In today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, we hear some of the scribes and Pharisees demand of Jesus, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”

Wouldn’t that be nice?

As violence begets more violence and the world seems to go indiscriminately mad around us, wouldn’t it be great to get a sign from God that everything was going to be okay and that if we really try, we can achieve peace?

And yet those signs are here. In the children who resolve differences without fists, in the parents who love their children without hitting them, in the neighbors who learn to get along, in the countries that settle disputes without declaring war. We ask for signs from God while we ignore the presence of God around us. Like the man waiting to be rescued from the flood, we miss the radio announcement, the boat, and the helicopter….you know the story.

Once upon a time, when Gandhi sought to enter a church, he was told he was not welcomed. “I’d be a Christian,” he was reported to have said, “If only the Christians acted like Christians.”

Perhaps this week we can find the signs of God around us. Perhaps this week we could look for opportunities to spread peace instead of violence, joy instead of fear, love instead of anger.

Because I am willing to bet, if you look around, God is here.

Waiting to be recognized.