299: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere
Day 299: January 9th, 2021
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
- Martin Luther King, Jr. - Letter from a Birmingham Jail
For Tomorrow: Sunday, January 10th
Theme: Anti-racism and Inclusion
JimKeck: Introduction to the Theme:
Tonight as we approach Martin Luther King day, I invite you to recall King’s arrest in 1963 in Birmingham, AL. After 4 days in jail, he issued his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail.” I was not familiar with this work until I started preparing this evening’s liturgy. I find it very rich and topical at this time. It not only reveals MLK’s character, mission and motives, but it also models how we can and should be working against racism and for inclusion and social justice.
This letter, published on April 20, 1963, was written to 7 Christian clergymen and a rabbi in response to their opposing King’s leading direct action and non-violent protest to segregation and discrimination in Birmingham, one of the most racially segregated cities in the country.
We will hear excerpts from this letter in our first reading tonight, but I encourage you all to read the entire letter quietly and thoughtfully at your leisure.
I find a close parallel in King’s rebuking religious leaders of his day, with Jesus rebuking the rabbis of his day. Like Jesus, King focuses on the poor and despised and points out that the law is not just if it discriminates.
In our country today, we still have a lot of work to do to fight racism and exclusion. Many of our religious leaders today are still a long way from caring about victims of racial injustice and inequality. What would Jesus say about our Roman Catholic clergy’s many prejudices?
This very long letter (7000 words, covering 27 pages) has won new resonance lately in our US senate. Starting in June 2019 and continuing in June 2020, it has been read in its entirety by 3 republican and 3 democratic senators. Isn’t that remarkable? Four months after writing this letter, King went on to deliver his “I have a dream” speech in Washington, DC. His death 5 years later reminds me of another likeness to Jesus. Killed for making good trouble.
Dan will lead our shared homily this evening. We can continue our discussion that we began in our Black Lives Matter Zoom meetings during the last few months. But let’s continue now with our opening prayer.
Opening Prayer by Alice Waco
Alice: Loving God, You led your chosen people from slavery in Egypt to the freedom of the Promised Land. We ask you to lead us from any enslavement to hatred, ignorance, fear, racism, injustice or anything else that prevents us from being the community of love and respect that you want us to be.
We remember with gratitude today the witness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and we ask that we have the courage and determination to follow his example in battling injustice and living the Gospel of love.
Help us to become ever more the community you want us to be.
First Reading – A edited recording of the speech made by Jim Keck)
Jim: I found a recording of King reading his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” made a few months after his release from jail. Let’s listen to these excerpts in his own voice.
Play: Audio recording of King reading his letter (4 Minutes)
I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. 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 may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.
My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.
The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
Reflection Song: Day by Day - Dana & Doug recording
Second Reading – Ann Hall: Dancing Standing Still by Richard Rohr
The Gospel is not about being nice; it is about being honest and just, and the world doesn’t like those two things very much. Our job is to learn how to be honest, but with love and respect. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. taught us that before we go out to witness for justice, we have to make sure that we can love and respect those with whom we disagree.
Imagine the surrender necessary for those who have been oppressed for hundreds of years to continue to work peacefully for justice. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone can do it without contemplation. How do we get to that deep place where we do not want to publicly expose, humiliate, or defeat our opponents, but rather work, as King said, for win-win situations? Seeking win-win solutions, not win-lose, takes a high level of spiritual development and demands spiritual conversion.
When we are hurt, we want to hurt back. When we are put down, we want to put down the opponent. This is our ego’s natural defense mechanism. We all move toward the ego, and we even solidify it as we get older if something doesn’t expose it for the lie that it is—not because it is bad, but because it thinks it is the whole and only thing! We change from inside—from the power position to the position of vulnerability and solidarity, which gradually changes everything.
True contemplation is the most subversive of activities because it undercuts the one thing that normally refuses to give way, our natural individualism and narcissism. Once we are freed from our narcissism that thinks we are the center of the world, or that our rights and dignity have to be defended before other people’s rights and dignity, we can finally live and act with justice and truth. People don’t really change by themselves. God changes us, if we can expose ourselves to God at a deep level.
Shared Homily Dan Lambert introduces discussion.
If you had asked me in January 2020 would I become involved in anti-racism or paid more attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, I would have said not likely. Although I certainly had sympathies for the treatment of blacks, indigenous and people of color in America, I was certainly not involved in changing anything. In May, with the murder of George Floyd at the knee of the Minneapolis police, that all changed.
I’m not exactly sure what caused the change in my thinking other than the sheer brutality and callousness of the four Minneapolis police officers on the scene. As the demonstrations went on nationally, in Santa Rosa, and Sonoma County I was appalled at the behavior of the police. I was angry. And each time I went to my weekly Rotary Zoom meeting, nothing was mentioned at all. This made me angrier.
Even though we had seen this time and time again with other young black men such as Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown Jr. in Ferguson Missouri, the brutality of the police and their impunity from reprisal and justice became overwhelming to me. Somehow it finally dawned on me that racism in America is a white problem and if I’m not part of the solution I am part of the problem. This was the mental change that I needed.
I did not understand the enormity of what I was taking on. I had a lot of ideas of what needed to be done. I’ve had to scale those back as I realized the effort required
and difficulties to be overcome.
I’ve come to believe at this time the following tenets as my most important personal work:
Continue to educate myself about racism and white supremacy
Continue to examine my personal beliefs regarding self-superiority, a.k.a. ego, particularly as it regards other racial and ethnic groups
Advise friends, family, and acquaintances of my beliefs and activities of anti-racism.
Encourage others to engage in their own self-discovery
Create a list of resource materials and make it available to others.
Continue to look for opportunities to spread the word about anti-racism and Black Lives Matter
In order to open this up to our shared homily, I ask what you can, should or want to do to defeat the myth of white supremacy, to fight anti-racism, and to make all lives matter equally.
Jim: What do we bring to the table this evening?
Jim: For our human community, our common past and future hope, our oneness transcending all separation, our capacity to work for peace and justice in the midst of hostility and oppression.
All: We give thanks this day.
Dan: For high hope and noble causes, for faith without fanaticism, for understanding of views not shared.
All: We give thanks this day.
Jim: For all who have labored and suffered for a fairer world, who have lived so that others might live in dignity and freedom.
All: We give thanks this day.
Dan: For human liberty and sacred rites, for opportunities to change and grow, to affirm and choose.
All: We give thanks this day.
Open My Eyes Lord: Song by Dana and Doug
Jim: Blessed are You, compassionate God, for your loving trust in humankind. When we doubted your love, you sent Jesus to be our brother. He has come to our table and eaten our bread. He walked in the cool of the evening with those he called his friends. His tears were real; his joys intense; his prayer – that we might learn to love one another.
For this reason on the night before he died Jesus gave the greatest proof of his love. He took bread into his hands, blessed and broke the bread, and gave it to his friends with the words:
All: (Extend hands) This is my body which is being given up for you.
Dan: When supper was ended, he took the cup, gave thanks, and shared it with them, saying:
All: (Extend hands) This is the cup of my blood, poured out for all humankind to end the cycle of violence. Do this in memory of me.
Jim: Let us proclaim this mystery of faith.
Dying you destroyed our death.
Rising you restored our life
Lord Jesus come! Come in glory!
Dan: We remember now the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus whereby he passed to the reign of God. We recall the Sending of the Spirit whereby we are called to continue Christ’s prophetic mission – to establish the reign of God on earth.
Jim: Since we in the Christian community, O God, are those who have not seen and yet are called to believe, send over us, we pray, your Holy Spirit – the Spirit who brings us life, the Spirit who helps us love, the Spirit who makes all that we do – not easy, but full of meaning. May we grow in the good things of life, minds to learn hearts to reach out to others, hands to help – to build on Earth, God’s reign of love.
Dan: We now commemorate those courageous persons and prophetic organizations still among us, who like the fresh breath of the Spirit, breathe new life into the People of God and our suffering world.
Jim: For all of these we pray, knowing that your reign will come. For all things are possible: Through Christ, with Christ, in Christ in union with the Spirit to the honor and glory of God.
All: Forever Amen!
Dan Lambert: Prayer: Mother and Father of us all:
We reach out our hearts and our hands across continents and oceans. We gather together in solidarity, all are welcome, no one is left out. And as one family, we pray:
All: O God, Mother and Father of us all.
Like your son, Jesus of Nazareth, who blessed a variety of human relationships rooted in love, may we have the wisdom and grace to foster, strengthen, and support all loving relationships and all families.
May your command to love one another as you have loved us, O God, cause us to pay heed to the movement of your Holy Spirit, who calls us in the here and now to embrace the rainbow of loving human relationships that reflect your love for all of humanity in its wonderful diversity.
May we speak out courageously when others try to pass laws that exclude, diminish, or demonize other persons and their families because of who they are and whom they love.
May we take to heart what we know to be true: that where love and charity prevail, you are to be found.
We ask this, as always, through your many Holy Names.
- Bernard Schlager
Kiss of Peace
Dan: Let us offer each other a sign of peace.
Jim: Communion Prayer
This evening we pray that we will allow the life and teaching of Jesus to motivate all that we do so that what we profess to have seen in his life and heard in his teaching might be evident in our living and loving. And in that spirit of a Beloved community, we extend the invitation of Jesus to each and every one of you to take and eat, to take and drink. Come, come, whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving. It doesn’t matter. Ours is a caravan of love and Jesus is offering us his table.
The Servant Song - Dana & Doug recording
Closing Prayer: Marcie
Loving God, see how oppression and violence are our sad inheritance, one generation to the next.
We look for you where the lowly are raised up, where the mighty are brought down.
We find you there in your servants, and we give you thanks this day for your preacher and witness, Martin Luther King Jr.
Fill us with your spirit: where our human community is divided by racism, torn by repression, saddened by fear and ignorance, may we give ourselves to your work of healing.