Archives For Martin Luther King Jr

On January 18, 2016

Dr. King The Preacher

An actual billboard that is posted in a small town in Arkansas

Just a few weeks ago, I was driving from Branson Missouri to Fayevettville Arkansas to preach, and along the way I saw this sign, posted on the road as if it was a totally normal billboard.

There were other signs as well, saying things like “Loving your own people isn’t a crime” (implying loving only your own people) and I was extremely disappointed in my home state. Thankfully a lot of other Arkansans are too. 

But It does raise the question. Why do we really think this is wrong? Those billboards are statements that a thousand years ago, in pagan cultures would make perfect sense, your people, the people who are like you, are the ones you are supposed to love and protect and privilege above all others.

These days we hear people say that we shouldn’t be racist. But why? We live in a secular age, an age that fiercely resists any kind of overarching storyline and yet we still have these impulses that things should be a certain way. So here’s a question, what do you say to these billboards?

People have been racists for thosands of years, and no one really thought it was a problem. We hear people say that all people should be treated equal, but why? Nobody ever considered that for thousands of years, that ideas was anything but self-evident, it was nonsense.

The problem is that we have these dangerous ideas and we don’t know where we got them from, we don’t know where they came from and so we don’t know how to really live them out.

The truth is, those billboards are right. It’s not a crime to only love your own people.

But it is a sin.

Bus Ride to Justice

This past year I had one of the great privileges of my life in getting to go with 20 other preachers (10 black & 10 white) to tour historic Civil Rights cites across the South. We called it “The Bus Ride to Justice” and I’ve never had an experience like this before. We laughed and cried together, we shared our stories we prayed together and we forgave each other.

It was in a word simply what the church is supposed to be.CY0GK3bUAAAFSG_.jpg-large

So today is Martin Luther King Jr. day, ironically the same Federal government that declared Dr. King to be one of the most dangerous men in America during his life, now celebrates his birth with a Federal holiday. Today Dr. King is recognized as one of the greatest people in history for his commitment to human rights and non-violence while pursuing justice.

And today, Dr. King’s name is used by everyone to endorse a thousand different agendas from conservatives to progressives. He supposedly endorses every new candidate and any new social program but we forget who Dr. King really was. A preacher of the Gospel.

Seriously, that was what he wanted to be known as, Here’s how Dr. King said it:

“Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”

Dr. King was a preacher of the Gospel, the problem is, that for many of us we’ve forgotten how big that really is.

One of the most inspiring things to me about the Civil Rights Movement is watching those videos of the March on Washington. The day that MLK stood up and told everyone about a dream he had, a dream that was bathed in the prophets of yesterday and a hope in a better tomorrow.

Thousands of people came from all over the country, rode buses and drove cars, they planned out their trips for where they could stop and eat or sleep in a segregated country where most restaurants and hotels wouldn’t serve them.

They did all that, just to be there that day.

But the most inspiring part of that day to me, isn’t just the speech, it’s the people, specifically what they were wearing. Go back and watch some of that old grainy black and white footage, you’ll see that the women were wearing their finest dresses and the men are wearing their ties.

You know why? Because they had to be, it was a Sunday morning and they had just left church.

The Dream Comes from Church

They came pouring out of church, worshipping a God who says that in Christ there is no segregation or separation and then they came together and told the world about their dream.

On our Civil Rights tour, we stopped at a few museums and only one political building. The majority of our stops were at Churches. Why? Because this is the vision that Jesus gave the world, a world that didn’t have to be divided by classism or racism or sexism, a community of reconciliation for the good of the world and the Glory of God.
A picture of Dr. King's office I took this August

A picture of Dr. King’s office I took this August

That why Dr. King kept saying he was a preacher first, because he knew what the Gospel was and what it could do.

One of the great ironies of today’s world is that we are so secular, insisting on flattening out all religious distinctions as if they didn’t matter. But we don’t really know what to do with Dr. King. Because in all the social good that he did, Dr. King was deeply Christian and driven by a Christian imagination. He fought for civil rights not in spite of his faith, but because of it.

This past August, I got to to go to Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, the church that Dr. King pastored for several years, and I got to spend 30 minutes in there just wondering around. It was amazing holy ground.

We walked into an office, and I immediately knew it was Dr. King’s office, there were no plaques, no protective cases or rope preventing you from walking in. But I knew it was is office because I knew it was a preachers office, it felt like a preachers office, and it had his books, but it also had regular preacher books. And it was still used every week. Museums have asked to put Dr. King’s old pulpit on display, and Dexter Avenue has told them “No, we use that every Sunday”

The View from Dr. King's Pulpit

The View from Dr. King’s Pulpit

At one point on our racial reconciliation trip this year, I was overwhelmed with how many times white racists bombed and set fire to and attacked black churches. We all wept at the site where the four little black girls lost their lives when the 16th Ave. Church was bombed in Birmingham, We wept when Dr. King’s eulogy was read ending with him saying “Sleep on, sweet princesses.”

We wept at the evil that human beings are capable of inflicting on each other, but we never asked the question, “Why were they bombing churches? Why were they trying to kill people while they worshipping?” Because we knew the answer.

As dark as it may sound, we all knew that the KKK members had chose the right targets. They knew what they were doing, if you want to stop this vision for equality and dignity for all people, you must go to the source.

This vision for a world where people are not judged by the color of their skin but the content of their character comes from a cave in Bethlehem and seeds of this dream are planted in almost ever street corner of every city across the world.

The Church is the dream, because the Church is the body of Christ.

Thank you Dr. King for being her preacher.

“From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view…Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. -Paul in 2nd Corinthians 5

diverse city screen2


Two weeks ago today, I had the privilege to go with 10 black preachers and 10 white preachers in Churches of Christ on a bus ride all over the South to see where some of the most historical Civil Rights events had happened.

It was one of the highlights of my life.

We worshipped in Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, we spent time in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham (where four little black girls were killed by a KKK bomb). We saw where Rosa Parks got on the bus, we marched over the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma, and we got to spend several hours with Dr. Fred Grey, a life long preacher in Churches of Christ, who also happened to be the lawyer for Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

 We got to see and touch (and pretend to preach behind) the very pulpit Dr. King used. It was the pulpit they used when filming the movie Selma, it was a piece of history and it was just standing out in the open in the church basement Bible Class room.

In one of my favorite moments from the trip, someone asked our tour guide/church member “Why don’t you have Dr. King’s pulpit in a case or behind plastic protection?”

She said ‘Because were going to be using it Sunday at 9:30!”

In other words, “We are a church, we were just doing church work then, were doing it still and we’re going to keep doing just good local church work.”

That’s what impressed me the most about this trip, all these churches were so, well churchy.

Did you know that the Deacons of Dexter Avenue Baptist fired the next preacher after Dr. King? Like any church, they have argued and fought over everything from paying utility bills to what kind of songs they would sing. They are a regular local church, warts and all.

But looking back through history, we know now that weren’t just that.

They were living the dream.

But I’d like to ask who’s dream?

Paul the Prophet

The classically trained scholar Sarah Ruden, tells a story in her great book “Paul Among the People” about being in an ivy league class talking about classical literature when the subject of St. Paul came up. And one of her peers began to rail against Paul for his condemnation of sorcery.

Her classmate said that to her sorcery meant “just the ability to project my power and essence.” And just about everyone in the class nodded their head in agreement. Yes, Paul was such a repressive brute.

Sarah said she would have sighed too, except that suddenly an image flashed into her mind of just what kind of world St. Paul lived in and just what sorcery would’ve meant in his Greco-Roman context.

She remembered reading the Roman poet Horace’s story of a small boy buried up to his neck who had been left to starve to death while staring at food, so that his liver and bone marrow, which must now be filled with his frenzied longing, could serve as a love charm.

They would change the meal out 3 times a day, with the most delicious of foods so that the starving boy would be driven out of his mind with longing as he slowly died from starvation.

And then a rich man would buy his bones as a love potion because he thought some girl was cute.

Reading that probably bothers you, but I want you to see the world that Paul was actually planting churches in, so you can see that Paul isn’t just railing against Harry Potter. He was taking on something that we can see clearly now as evil. But only because we have been given his Christian imagination.

Paul spent his life taking on some of history’s most institutionalized systemic evils. He was taking the truly good news of the Gospel to the entire known world, and changing people’s imagination for how things ought to be.

He was giving the world his dream about the Kingdom of God.

The problem we have when we talk about Paul is that we take cruise ships to see the cities that he walked months to get to. We watch videos or look at pictures to see where he, as a middle aged man, backpacked and bled to be at.

The problem we have with Paul is that we aren’t bleeding for these truths, we are bored with them. And we forgot just how deep, radical and beautiful they really are.

You may see Paul as some oppressive, sexist, pro-slavery and anti-freedom guy who talks too much about sex because he’s single and doesn’t get to have any.

But every category that I just mentioned is one that Paul gave you, and spent his life fighting against.

Before MLK had a dream, Paul had a vision and it’s one that we need more than ever today.

Racism and the Kingdom of God

These days we talk a lot about racism. We say things that sound so obvious, like “You shouldn’t be racist.’ But I’d like to ask why? Because for thousands of years no one really thought that was a problem. Of course, you would consider your race to be better than others, it was your race after all.

20 Church of Christ Preachers with Preacher and Civil Rights Leader Dr. Fred Grey

20 Church of Christ Preachers with Dr. Fred Grey (Preacher and Civil Rights Leader)

We say things like all people are created equal like it’s the most obvious thing in the world. But why would anyone think that? It’s not obvious, in fact, the exact opposite it true. The equality of human beings is actually anything but self-evident.

The senior in the wheelchair doesn’t strike anyone as equal to the virile young man. The boy with Down Syndrome is anything but equal to the young winner of the recent beauty pageant. Unless…

You have in someway been shaped by the story of the Bible, a story where the image of God is in everyone, no matter their age, gender, appearance or status in life.

The problem with today’s world is that we have these revolutionary ideas but we don’t know where we got them. It’s not just a part of being a good human being to be kind to the people you disagree with, mercy isn’t the default nature of mankind, and justice isn’t the default state of the universe.

The problem with the Western world is that we have just enough Christian roots to know the problem, but we’ve forgotten the solution.

Did you know that the word kindness comes from the word kin, as in your family. This is because we tend to like people who are like us.

But Jesus had a different vision.

His people were, His family would be a family of a thousand different backgrounds, races, statuses nationalities and kinds.

Jesus had this radical idea that because of His work on the Cross we wouldn’t try to build their identity on who they were better than, but by the overwhelming, overpowering love of God.

This is what Jesus started and Paul planted. The Church is a city within a city, a church of different’s that can make a difference.

A Diverse city of people.

A Church of a Different Kind.

If you are in Abilene, we’d love to invite you to join us at Highland on Sunday mornings at 8:30 (a capella) or 11 (instrumental) this fall for this series, if you don’t live in West Texas you can check out the podcast here.

It’s all right to talk about “streets flowing with milk and honey,” but God has commanded us to be concerned about the slums down here, and his children who can’t eat three square meals a day. It’s all right to talk about the new Jerusalem, but one day, God’s preacher must talk about the new New York, the new Atlanta, the new Philadelphia, the new Los Angeles, the new Memphis, Tennessee. This is what we have to do.

– Martin Luther King Jr. 

Photo from Miami Herald

Photo from Miami Herald

On the night before he was assassinated, Dr. King stood up and preached the Gospel.

It might sound strange to Americans living in 2015 that Dr. King didn’t see himself first as a catalyst for political change, but that he thought talking about Jesus and the Kingdom of God was his highest calling.

In his own words:

“Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.”

Dr. King knows what many Christians today have forgotten. The Gospel is the best news the world has ever heard, and the reason someone like Dr. King would devote himself to achieving excellence in Christian ministry is because he knows the Church isn’t just supposed to tell good news, She’s supposed to be good news.

And last week, in the middle of all the tragic, bad news, She was again.

Bullet Proof

Last Wednesday night Dylann Roof walked into the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in

Roof entering the Church

Roof entering the Church

Charleston and murdered 9 devoted disciples of Jesus in cold blood. Roof would later say he was hoping to make a symbolic statement to spread his hate, and bring division. He wanted to start a race war.

In many ways, Roof got what he wanted, but he has no idea how foolish his actions were.

Roof gave the world a symbol, but not the one he was hoping for. He started a war, but not the one he was expecting.

See, in the Bible, murder doesn’t silence the voices of the murdered. In the Bible, their blood cries out to God, in the Bible murder only amplifies the sound to God, and I’ll bet that God’s ears are ringing.

In the Bible, war isn’t murdering people, according to the New Testament God’s kind of war operates at a level of attack on the principalities and powers of our world.

Reverend Goff, a pastor at Emmanuel Church, said that by how the Christians respond to these evil acts will “serve as a witness to every demon in Hell and on earth,” I think he’s exactly right.

For the past few days, every news source has been flooded with stories of family members going to Dylann Roof’s arraignment and confronting him by saying the most radical things, things like “We forgive you”

That’s a holy war according to Jesus.

That’s the war that Dylann Roof started and lost.

In the words of the Charleston Mayor:

“This hateful person came to this community with some crazy idea that he would be able to divide, And all he did was make us more united, and love each other even more.”

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the Church shines in moments like these. This is when we put the Gospel on display. And so the Emmanuel Church  re-opened it doors on Sunday with both tears and laughter. They began their service with a standing ovation as the pastor read “This is the day the LORD has made let us Rejoice and be glad in it.’

They clapped and celebrated as a way of protest in the face of death… because that’s what Jesus people do.

A Baptized People

On the night before he was assassinated, Dr King said that the one mistake Bull Conner made when he released the water hoses on those unarmed church members marching in Selma was that he forgot that he was spraying people who had been baptized.

“We were people who weren’t afraid of water, because we know water is something you pass through…we know that there is a certain kind of fire that no water hoses can put out.”

There is a certain kind of love, a Gospel kind of love, that no hate can put out. There is a certain kind of person who you just can’t kill, because they’ve already died. There is a certain kind of community that you can’t divide with a race war because they belong to a New Humanity.

And on some days we forget that, to be sure there are days that the Church forgets the Gospel.

But not today and not now.

Today we are reminded that we are a baptized people, and so there is neither Jew nor Gentile, Slave or free, Male or Female, Black or White, Southern or Northern, we are all a part of the body of Christ.

And when one part of the body is hurting, we all hurt with them.

You know what I find so inspiring about all this? Last Wednesday night, when these Christians were gunned down, they had gathered around to study Mark 4:16-20, the parable of the Sower. The story where Jesus talks about the God the Farmer, who generously is planting seeds everywhere.

And some of those seeds fall on concrete, some of them fall on shallow soil, and some of them fall on ground that produces a harvest of 30, or 60, or 100 times.

The Garden of Flowers Outside the Church (courtesy of Ron Allen)

The Garden of Flowers Outside the Church (courtesy of Ron Allen)

I wonder if as these faithful Christians were dying, if it crossed their mind  how much they were acting like the God they had just read about?

I wonder if they realized that by inviting this disturbed young man into their fellowship and praying and spending time with him they were being exactly what Jesus pictures God like…throwing seed carelessly even on the concrete, even in places that look hopeless.

I wonder if as these faithful Christians were dying, if it crossed their mind that they were the seed? That what Satan would use for evil, God was going to use for good.

I wonder if they had any idea that people all over the world were going to revisit the Gospel because of them. I wonder if they had any idea how many people would be blessed by their faithful lives, and deaths?

I wonder if they knew that their blood, like the martyr’s before them would be once again the seed of Christianity.

I wonder if they knew that in the very place where evil would do it’s worst to them, hope would begin it’s good work.

I have no idea how God is going to use the tragic events of last week, but I don’t doubt that He will, I believe He is already using them.

I believe wholeheartedly that God calls us to be people who are not overcome with evil, but who overcome evil with good.

I mourn the victims of evil attack. but I don’t pity them. I greatly admire them. They followed a man who called them to pick up a Cross and they followed Him well.

So this Wednesday night, at the Highland Church of Christ, we, along with the Southern Hills Church of Christ and several other churches in town are hosting a city wide prayer meeting for the Christian brothers and sisters who have suffered loss in Charleston.

We will be praying for the exact opposite of what Dylann Roof was trying to accomplish. We will pray for God to bring racial reconciliation to the world, specifically by bringing it to His Church. We will be praying for the Church to live out the Gospel and to be the good news in the world and for the world.

If you are in Abilene, we invite to join with us, on Wednesday from 7:30-8:30 (the time of the attack last week) as we stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across this city, country and world.

Because their story is our story. And it’s a good story.

On March 11, 2015

Uncool: A Work In Progress

“I got myself into trouble, but it was the good kind of trouble, the necessary kind of trouble.” –Congressman John Lewis speaking about being beaten at Selma

“When it feels the road’s too hard, when the torch we’ve been passed feels too heavy, we will remember these early travelers, and draw strength from their example, and hold firmly the words of the prophet Isaiah:’Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not be faint.” –President Obama this weekend honoring the 50th anniversary of Selma

Un-Cool Desktop


In 1968, there was a rebellion in France that came closer than any other to overthrowing the government. College students were rebelling against the stringent education system and there was several riots in the street which exposed, on national television, police brutality. The people of France turned against their government and Europe turned into a tinder-box, waiting for the revolution.

But it never happened…Why?

Because summer came. The students took off for vacation. The revolution went no where, because it had no where to go. The French students were bored and had seen the anti-war protesters on television, and thought that was something that looked cool to do. In the words of Paul Grant,

“Cool makes for great street theater but doesn’t lend itself to serious activism.”

Most Revolutions go nowhere because they have nowhere to go.

Over the past few decades we’ve talked more about changing the world than ever before, but this begs the question…change it to what?

it is so much easier to be against something than it is to be for anything, and I’m starting to believe that most of the rhetoric that I see online these days is image management, that is we want to be seen as rebelling against the status quo, but not enough to skip summer vacation,

The Best Religions Don’t Need Batteries

A couple of days ago, Ross Dothat, a thoughtful, conservative Catholic columnist at the New York Times wrote an article called “The Case for Old Ideas” where he disagreed with the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari who is airing a sentiment that seems to be growing more common these days. Here’s what Harari said:

It was only when people “came up with new ideas, not from the Shariah, and not from the Bible, and not from some vision,” but from studying science and technology, that answers to the industrial age’s dislocations emerged… “In terms of ideas, in terms of religions,,,the most interesting place today in the world is Silicon Valley, not the Middle East.” It’s in Silicon Valley that people are “creating new religions….that will take over the world.”

Ross Douthat points out that Silicon Valley is certainly changing the world, but in ways that are leading to a whole new set of rich/poor divides, a whole new slate of dehumanizing some people for the profit of others, and that this is not a new development with our relationship to progress. Here is Douthat’s point in rebuttal to Harari:

When technological progress helped entrench slavery, the religious radicalism of abolitionists helped destroy it. When industrial development rent the fabric of everyday life, religious awakenings helped reknit it. When history’s arc bent toward eugenics, religious humanists helped keep the idea of equality alive.


Image from

It’s unfortunate timing for Harari to say that people coming up with new technological ideas, and not the Bible or some vision are the solution to the world.

Because it was precisely a vision from a Baptist pastor that had saints marching out of their churches and over the bridge 50 years ago this week. It was a dream that was drenched in the spirit of the Prophets, and it was the Isaiah of the Bible that no less than the POTUS quoted in closing his speech in Selma this weekend.

Changing the Future Lies in the Past

I’m pushing back on progressive Christianity with this series not because I don’t believe in progress but because I do. I just don’t believe that there has been a better vision of progress that has come along in the past couple of thousand years than the one that has got us this far. Every Church in every age has to figure out how to embody it in their time and place, every generation God’s people have to reinvent how to change the world, but they don’t have to reinvent what the changed world looks like.

I don’t know of a better manifesto for the future than the prophets and apostles of the past.

And even though it may often appear that Churches and Christians are too slow to move for our own good (sometimes we are), even when it appears that we are stumbling in from one spirit of the age to another and not the Gospel (a charge sadly often true) even when it appears that we are stuck in days gone by. Please remember, on our best days we’re not primarily concerned with how we appear.

And if we are not useful to the world with criticism, than let us be useful to the world as a specimen. We may be seen as a throwback to age without wi-fi and common sense but I believe whole heartedly that we are more than that.

I believe that God’s good world is headed somewhere, and that what seems quaint and farfetched today just might be celebrated tomorrow. Because somedays those church doors swing open and we walk across bridges when it’s not cool to walk across because we have a dream from yesterday about how tomorrow ought to be.

We don’t rebel because it’s cool, that never lasts, we rebel because we hope. Not a hope in politics, not a hope in human greatness or that things are just slowly getting better with each invention, that’s not just hubris, it’s foolish. No, we are prisoners of hope in God.

Somedays we fail, somedays we are the white clergy urging patience not the Baptist Pastor in the jail cell, and on those days it’s tempting to disavow the people who share this common dream, but remember…

We are a work in progress.

On January 19, 2015

There is a Promised Land

“Before I was a civil rights leader, I was a preacher of the Gospel. This was my first calling and it still remains my greatest commitment. You know, actually all that I do in civil rights I do because I consider it a part of my ministry. I have no other ambitions in life but to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. I don’t plan to run for any political office. I don’t plan to do anything but remain a preacher. And what I’m doing in this struggle, along with many others, grows out of my feeling that the preacher must be concerned about the whole man.” —Martin Luther King Jr.


On the Thursday morning that Dr. King was assassinated he also was attacked by one of his own friends….with a pillow. On the day of his death, Martin Luther King Jr. got in a pillow fight in his own hotel room.

I don’t know about you, but that fact makes me smile in some deeper parts of my soul. The realization that even though hate might kill this good man, it couldn’t kill the goodness and joy in the man. I smile at the realization that during Dr. King’s final moments alive he was able to smile.

And then I wonder…how did he do that?

Standing on Promises

This past summer I went to Israel with a group of people For the most part, we were your usual group of Christians touring the Holy Lands, retired doctors and lawyers and teachers on a pilgrimage to see where all the stories that had saturated their imagination had happened.

For the most part we were white and southern. But that doesn’t quite account for all of us. There were several African-American women from Memphis, and I spent the majority of the first few days seeing the Holy Lands with them. Mainly because they were so nice and kind, but also because I didn’t want to just see the Holy Lands, I wanted to see it through their eyes.

See, I’ve learned just enough about the Bible to remember that the Bible is harder for me to read than others. The Bible is hard for me to read, not because of a lack of training or my ability to never quite get above a B in Greek. It’s hard for me to read because or where I read the Bible from, and where I don’t.

People who have known systematic oppression and marginalization were the ones who wrote the Bible, it is as it were, a history written by the losers. And so when my new friends were seeing these stories of the land of liberated slaves I wanted to know how they saw it.

And that brings me to Mrs. Shirley.

Mrs. Shirley was a senior saint who also happened to be African American. She had lived her entire life in Memphis and she had seen a lot. She told me about her family’s struggle to rise out of poverty and her concern for her children and grandchildren to do well in a system that seemed stacked against them
And then she told me a story that became one of my favorite memories from the trip.

When when she was only 14 years old, and she got to walk with Dr. King when the Civil Rights movement came to Memphis. In order to go on one of these marches she had to go through all the training about how to keep the protest non-violent in the face of other people’s great anger, she was trained how to respond if people spit on her, or how to react if she or someone she cared about were beaten.

But the advice that really stuck with her was when the civil right protest organizers told her that if that the police released the dogs that they should try to remain calm and keep walking hand in hand. As she was telling me this story, Mrs. Shirley remained calm, as if she was still following the instructions, but she had a fire in her eyes as she was remembering.

I didn’t know how to respond to her story so I asked her if she was scared during all of this and she said, “No, not really.” Then a few minutes later she came back and said, “I can’t lie. I’m embarrassed now, but I was scared. What I really afraid of was the idea that those dogs might bite me.”1183155006_08b1215aeb

Protests and Pillow Fights

I don’t know what you did over this holiday weekend, but I joined the crowds watching Selma. The movie about Dr. King and the civil rights stand off that ultimately past sweeping Federal Voting reform. During that movie I wept on more than one occasion. But the scene that touched me the deepest was watching little African-American girls march with dignity into the angry crowd armed with billy clubs and attack dogs.

I wept because I now knew who that little girl was, and I knew that even thought she might not look it, she was afraid.

But Mrs. Shirley, like so many of my black brothers and sisters who lived through the civil rights movement, wasn’t angry. She wasn’t angry at other white people, and incredibly enough she wasn’t angry even at the people who had unleashed the dogs on her. She had every right to be furious but she had chosen another path.

So eventually I asked Mrs. Shirley how she did it. I wondered what could move someone to refuse to harbor bitterness against those who wish you evil. And that’s when Mrs. Shirley told me the most profound gospel-like things. She said something to me that made me realize how Dr. King could get into a pillow fight on the day of his assignation, even after saying the night before that he knew his life was in danger.

Mrs. Shirley said she wasn’t angry because, “There is a Promised Land”

And suddenly it all clicked for me. Mrs. Shirley wasn’t just there to see the Holy Lands, Mrs. Shirley was there because her entire life had been oriented around a God who makes promises that the future will be better than the past.

There is a Promised Land.

The civil rights movement succeeded because tens of thousands of men and women trusted that what God had promised would one day become a reality, and they were able to refrain from violence or anger because that God would one day keep his promises.

If we want justice, if we want to keep from getting angry in the face of injustice, we must remember this. There is such a thing as a perfect justice and one day it will roll down like a river. There is such a thing as a perfect righteousness and one day it will flow like a never-ending stream. If we want mercy than we must remember that there is such a thing as a good and compassionate God.

That’s how you do it. There is a Promised Land, it’s not quite here yet but it is coming and it changes everything.

The final public words of Dr. King were spoken in a church in Memphis and as we look back on a year of racial tension, injustice and peace, his words are just as hopeful and calming as they were on the day he spoke them:

Well, I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. And I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land. So I’m happy, tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.

I’m happy tonight.

I’ll die tomorrow.

I think I’ll have a pillow fight in between.

Because there is a promised land.

On January 20, 2014

Civil Religion: Civil Fights

We risk engaging in idolatry, not only when we worship false gods but also when we set up false devils! God is not honored when we are unfair to people with whom we disagree” -G.K. Chesterton


I posted this video (below) last year, but in light of what we’re talking through I wanted to show it again.

I think it exemplifies the heart of what I’m trying to get at with this blog series. I’ve been asking the question, Can a religion be civil, without being a civil religion? Can we hold convictions strongly but with kindness?

And I think that’s exactly what Dr. King does in this video.

The Dream on Tape

You’ll notice Dr. King is taking quite a bit of flack, he’s being asked some hard questions by some white reporters who seem to be feeling some anxiety associated with the spirit of that age (not to mention some poor fashion sense). And Dr. King never loses his calm, he never responds belittling or with anger.

Heck, he never even mentions that thing that the woman reporter is trying to pass off as a hat.

Now, a couple of observations here. For all the reporters logic, and sense, they seemed to be unaware that they were speaking squarely with the voice of the status quo. Their imaginations have been captured by the spirit of the age, and they could not see it.

It’s always a danger that when God sends a prophet people won’t be able to even consider the possibility that they could be wrong and he or she could be right. We build monuments and bridges for Dr. King today, but in his day, in the very circles that celebrate him now, he was about as popular as a turd in a punchbowl.

And I think that should help give all of us a bit more humility for how we talk to each other.

If we never let the question “Could we be wrong on this?” enter our mind, there’s a good chance we might persecute a prophet only so our grandchildren can celebrate their life. This kind of perspective can give us, what Randy Harris calls “epistemological humility.”

There is a real danger of not doing a fearless self-inventory when we hear someone who disagrees with us, or calls us to something beyond what we currently think.

The second thing that stands out about Dr. King in this video is how he treated these people, and how he responded to the face of some pretty insidious seeming questions. He was extremely civil. In our day, these kinds of conversations would have been filled with graphics, sound bytes taken out of context, and lots of yelling and red-faced name calling. It makes for some great entertainment and some horrible people.

But you probably don’t need me to tell you that do you?

If you’ve been around for any time, and you’ve been paying attention you’ve noticed that our culture has gotten less and less civil and our conversations have gotten more and more shrill and angry.

Imagination and Empathy

Dr. King’s life made such an impact in the world because he had the two things that the world is sorely missing right now. Imagination and empathy. He knew that the ends never justifies the means, because invariably the ends are tied up with the means. So if change is going to happen it cannot be brought about without changing how we fight for change.

This is why Dr. King’s dream was for more than justice, it was for reconciliation. And Dr. King knew what Christians today have seemingly forgotten. You can’t have one without the other.

I think Christians today have got to move past celebrating Martin Luther King, we’ve got learn something from his strategy.

The reason I’m doing this series, is because I think we have to be able to employ imagination and empathy about how we engage the culture about all the hot button topics of our day, from reproductive rights to gun control to our talk of war (or rumors of wars) on Christmas.

I have met people (most of whom I agree with) who are passionate about issues of the day. Often they are people pursuing justice in the world, they care about serving God, and have dedicated their lives to affecting some change in their pocket of the universe.

But I don’t want to be anything like them.

Because justice, by itself, can be quite ugly.

It can fail to recognize the humanity in the people that you are opposing, and our pursuits of justice often fail to force us to take an inventory of the brokenness in our own heart. In fact, it can be a way of hiding it.

Imagination and Empathy were the two things that fueled Dr. King’s dream.

It was a dream shaped by the Scriptures, and carried about a church that cared about the reconciliation of all people to one another, a dream about the reversal of the tower of Babel, about brothers who set down their stones and decide to enter the party. It was about people who finally realized, because they shared the breath of God, they weren’t that different after all.

And the Civil Rights movement became one of the greatest success stories for social change and Christian involvement toward creating shalom in the world because it recognized that If the end goal was to love each other, than the means couldn’t be different.

You can’t yell and out-argue someone into loving you.

You can’t force or legislate someone to recognize your humanity,

You can only sit down at a table and love them with the severity that cannot be discounted in the face of hard questions and silly hats.

On January 16, 2012

More Than Civil

What stands out about Dr. King in this video is how he treated these people, and how he responded to the face of some pretty insidious seeming questions. He was extremely civil. In our day, these kinds of conversations would have been filled with lots of yelling and red-faced name calling. But that wasn’t what Dr. King’s dream was.

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On January 18, 2011

Living the Dream

It’s easy to relegate Dr. King’s vision for a more just world to a time of historic importance. But his was a vision without an expiration date, and it’s one that makes important demands of Jesus followers for all time.

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On January 19, 2010

Prophets and Heroes

Sometime during college I went through a pretty significant transition about how I considered the gospel. I began to see it as good news for the world, not only in the age to come, but also in this time and place.

And that transition, was due in large part, to a dead preacher from Alabama, named Martin Luther King Jr.

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