Nonviolence or Nonexistence?

Martin Luther King Jr.
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr speaks at the National Cathedral, March 31, 1968

I made myself a promise when I entered ministry that I would not preach on MLK Sunday.  I did this for several reasons, the most important of which is that I don’t believe that it is right for a black minister in a predominantly white denomination to have to do race work and the emotional labor that comes with it on a day meant to honor the work of a great black leader.  I believe it should be a time of reverence and reflection.

That said…I have preached every MLK Sunday since arriving at First Parish in Cambridge.  I have done this willingly.  This past Sunday in particular was very important for me.  I felt that I needed to put a message out in the world that spoke to the idea of belonging and there are elements of Dr. King’s final Sunday sermon (Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, March 31, 1968) and the way that he addresses war and poverty that resonate deeply with me on this topic.

This sermon isn’t perfect, yet it received a very strong response from the congregation.  I suspect it is because like many of us, my congregation is desperately trying to understand how we belong in this conflicted time.  Despite its flaws, I am proud of this sermon, proud of the context in which I was able to preach it and proud of being a black pastor warmed by the the vast light and legacy of someone like Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. May it be so.

Nonviolence or Nonexistence, MLK Sunday, January 19, 2019 – ALD

Old Dreams and New Realities

Listening to the politicians and advisers orbiting Trump as they enable, justify and excuse his “policies” reminds me of the fact that there is nothing broken or dysfunctional in our government. What we are seeing is the way our government has worked since the beginning. What the white, rich and powerful don’t want to address, they de-prioritize or ignore completely. The best example of this is how language that expressly addressed the barbaric practice of slavery was removed from the original draft of the Declaration of Independence before it was finalized.[1] The idea that Jefferson, one of Virginia’s primary slave holders, wrote a passage decrying the practice of slavery was bizarre enough.  But the irony of a document that would be foundational to declaring political freedom for one group of people would intentionally omit the physical freedom of another group of people speaks volumes about how de-humanization and the violence of passive acquiescence to marginalization is built into the fabric of the American way of life we live today.

I find myself focusing on this because throughout this week of commemorating the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. every public statement (with the exception of our current “commander in chief”) makes it clear that Civil Rights based on race have not yet been achieved despite the lives given by King and so many others. In truth, we live in a Leaning Tower of Pisa. The United States, like the tower, is beautiful, but also like the tower, the foundation is unsound. We continue to prop it up and attempt to find solutions to keep its imbalanced and unstable structure reaching toward the sky. The tower was designed as a bell tower and although they are able to ring thanks to modern technical machinery, the bells do not swing free for fear of toppling the structure. We are in a similar dilemma in the United States; the bells of freedom cannot ring in this nation as long as we are so desperately out of balance.

The human, industrial and technological makeup of this country was unimaginable to the European colonizers who settled on this land and established what would become the United States. Rather than continuing to build on our lopsided foundation, we could actually take the last 200+ years of learning to restructure and completely rebuild a fully enfranchised method of governance that is truly representative of the kaleidoscope of humanity present in the modern United States. What arrogance we have to believe that we should never need to revise. We must look at the failings, create space to keep those failings in our consciousness while taking the modern genius that has gestated for a couple of centuries in an increasingly diverse and global community and aspire to even greater futures than the “founding fathers” could have even conceived of. The only place that Jefferson, Adams, Hamilton and others have in our present is as characters in our collective memory; they belong in a museum. These long dead men should not continue to stand in the way of equal pay for equal work, they should not be holding a gun to the heads of innocent people and their limited vocabulary should not hinder our ability to abolish the ignorance of racist intolerance.

Government reform requires a bold willingness to evolve and actually create something new; government reform does not mean putting band-aids on a bloated and sickly status quo and it definitely doesn’t mean a “return” to some narrow, bigoted, sexist and isolationist version of “greatness” that spilled forth from the gouty guts of an overfed empire.

MLK had a dream, but we need a new Constitution in order to make it a reality.


[1] – Declaration of Independence Slavery Passage Removed

A MUST READ from Michael Harriot of The RootAmerica Did This: An Open Letter to Memphis, Tennessee