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Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther King Jr’

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I photographed this tree today. It stands in an adjacent property that has been purchased for development. Given the type of development taking place around me and across Boston, I don’t think the tree is part of the developer’s plan. Its roots may be strong but the tree will be cut down and those roots dug up. Change happens.

DSCN9552Near the tree there is a wild tangle of forsythia branches. For years I’ve watched the brown turn to green and then gold when it fully flowers. A bright sign of spring. I’ve always wanted to sneak onto the property, cut some branches and place them in a vase, like bringing the sunshine indoors. I think they will have the opportunity to bloom one more time before they too are dug up and tossed away. Part of the change.

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I think a lot about change and how change happens. I’m not happy about the changes around me. I am at times near paralyzed by the scale of idiocy and inhumanity in the world right now and especially in my own country under what should be an insignificant presidency. I’m not always sure what to do except donate money where I can, give my time when that makes more sense, and send notes of gratitude (and occasionally of protest). One of my greatest regrets during Obama’s tenure is that I never sent a note of thank you. Not because he was a perfect president but because he was (and remains) a good man, an inspirational figure for the ages. Speaking of inspirational figures … I was looking for some words and came across a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. that seemed relevant.

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In a 1965 commencement address, Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution, King spoke to Oberlin graduates about the strides that had been made in this country.  “We have come a long, long way since the Negro was first brought to this nation as a slave in 1619. In the last decade we have seen significant developments – the Supreme Court’s decision outlawing segregation in the public schools, a comprehensive Civil Rights Bill in 1964, and, in a few weeks, a new voting bill to guarantee the right to vote. All of these are significant developments, but I would be dishonest with you this morning if I gave you the impression that we have come to the point where the problem is almost solved.”

“Let nobody give you the impression that the problem of racial injustice will work itself out. Let nobody give you the impression that only time will solve the problem. That is a myth, and it is a myth because time is neutral. It can be used either constructively or destructively. And I’m absolutely convinced that the people of ill will in our nation – the extreme rightists – the forces committed to negative ends – have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. It may well be that we will have to repent in this generation, not merely for the vitriolic works and violent actions of the bad people who bomb a church in Birmingham, Alabama, or shoot down a civil rights worker in Selma, but for the appalling silence and indifference of the good people who sit around and say, “Wait on time.”

Well, I do not feel I am silent, nor do I like to wait around, but I do feel a bit stalled at this moment. Stalled and appalled.  Appalled at what is taking place in this nation with regard to immigrants. Appalled, when I can stomach it, to view the websites of anti-immigration organizations and to see on their staff and boards people who look like me. And so darned appalled at the petty political games being played with “immigration deals” that leave hundreds of thousands of people in limbo. How are people expected to live with such constant anxiety in their lives? They just do. They live. And they act.

People taking action. That is the key, isn’t?

Today even as I grappled with the overwhelming amount of bad news in the headlines, I found uplift in a little video that was heartbreaking but ultimately so inspiring because it featured two people taking action, in two very different ways, and how those actions galvanized the people around them. Its worth a view when you have the time.

 

 

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Hope by George Frederick Watts

In 1959, Martin Luther King Jr would open a sermon with these words about shattered dreams, “Our sermon today brings us face to face with one of the most agonizing problems of human experience. Very few, if any, of us are able to see all of our hopes fulfilled. So many of the hopes and promises of our mortal days are unrealized. Each of us, like Shubert, begins composing a symphony that is never finished. There is much truth in George Frederick Watts’ imaginative portrayal of Hope in his picture entitled Hope. He depicts Hope as seated atop our planet, but her head is sadly bowed and her fingers are plucking one unbroken harp string. Who has not had to face the agony of blasted hopes and shattered dreams’?

English painter George Frederick Watts (1817-1904) would paint the first of several versions of Hope in 1885. Its symbolism would prove very popular and over time it would be massively reproduced. I read that by the 1930s however his work fell out of fashion and major galleries like The Tate removed his work from permanent display. So I do wonder when, where and how Martin Luther King first saw Hope. I do know when a young Barack Obama learned of the painting. It was in 1990. Pastor Jeremiah Wright would deliver a sermon, The Audacity to Hope. Wright’s words would move the young student who would eventually rouse a whole nation (mostly) with a notion that he would call, The Audacity of Hope.

So where is hope these days? In part its a personal question that we each have to grapple with on any given day depending on what’s happening in our lives.

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Hope by Edward Burne-Jones, 1896

Watts and later his friend Edward Burne-Jones each painted variations of Hope during dark periods in their lives. For Watts that period included the death of his adopted daughter’s child. Burne-Jones had been commissioned by a wealthy American to paint a dancing figure but as he dealt with the death of his friend and colleague William Morris he asked if instead he might paint Hope. I think of hope as something you hold on to or reach out for. And sometimes it even settles around you like a warm blanket when you least expect it. Or, as Emily Dickinson wrote,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all –
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard –
And sore must be the storm –
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm –
I’ve heard it in the chillest land –
And on the strangest Sea –
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.

Sources & Additional Reading

http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/shattered-dreams

http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/Vol06Scans/July1962-March1963DraftofChapterX,ShatteredDreams.pdf

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/victorian-painting-g-f-watts-inspired-obama-harp-hope-article-1.358686

Watts Magazine, p.14+

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/42889

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Lazarus and the Rich Man by Gustave Dore

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Gustave Dore

“No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood. … Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools.”

Words spoken not today but nearly fifty years ago by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr during  this talk at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on March 31, 1968.  In this day and age of soundbites and tweets, it might be a challenge to read in entirety but I hope you have the opportunity to do so.  I chanced upon it while researching Dives and Lazarus.  I was curious about the parable that inspired one of my favorite pieces of music.

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus by Ralph Vaughn Williams I play to help me unlock a part of my brain when I am stuck on a writing project.  The music moved me long before I truly understood the story at its core.  A friend explained the story of the rich man, Dives, and the poor man, Lazarus, a parable appearing in the Gospel of Luke.  He recently summed it up as a story of inequality and early trickle down economics.

The Rich Man and the Poor Lazarus by Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1625

The Rich Man and the Poor Lazarus by Hendrick ter Brugghen, 1625

I was curious who else may have used or been inspired by such a perspective of that parable.  Thus, I found Dr. King’s talk from 1968.  During the talk, of Dives and Lazarus he wrote:

“… Because our expressways carry us from the ghetto, we don’t see the poor. … Jesus told a parable one day, and he reminded us that a man went to hell because he didn’t see the poor. His name was Dives. He was a rich man. And there was a man by the name of Lazarus who was a poor man, but not only was he poor, he was sick. Sores were all over his body, and he was so weak that he could hardly move. But he managed to get to the gate of Dives every day, wanting just to have the crumbs that would fall from his table. And Dives did nothing about it. And the parable ends saying, “Dives went to hell, and there were a fixed gulf now between Lazarus and Dives.”

There is nothing in that parable that said Dives went to hell because he was rich. Jesus never made a universal indictment against all wealth. …  Dives didn’t realize that his wealth was his opportunity. It was his opportunity to bridge the gulf that separated him from his brother Lazarus. Dives went to hell because he was passed by Lazarus every day and he never really saw him. He went to hell because he allowed his brother to become invisible. …”

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Fyodor Bronnikov

Lazarus and the Rich Man by Fyodor Bronnikov

Regardless of one’s religious beliefs, throughout the talk there is a sad timelessness to King’s words about racism, injustice, economic inequality, and silence.  But there is also a beautiful timelessness about the power and potential of people to make a difference. Near the end of his talk, he says:

“There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will.  In a few weeks some of us are coming to Washington to see if the will is still alive or if it is alive in this nation. We are coming to Washington in a Poor People’s Campaign. Yes, we are going to bring the tired, the poor, the huddled masses. We are going to bring those who have known long years of hurt and neglect.  … We are not coming to engage in any histrionic gesture. We are not coming to tear up Washington. We are coming to demand that the government address itself to the problem of poverty. … We are coming to ask America to be true to the huge promissory note that it signed years ago. And we are coming to engage in dramatic nonviolent action, to call attention to the gulf between promise and fulfillment; to make the invisible visible.”

 

 Sources/Additional Reading

Rich Man and Lazarus

Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution by Martin Luther King Jr, 1968

More on the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 1968

More about Ralph Vaughn Williams and his composition

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus on Youtube

 

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I received an unexpected gift today.  A package from a family member who has been dealing with great tragedy.  Yet she’d taken the time to send me something out of the blue.  On the back of the package she had written that she had found the enclosed item in her father’s effects and thought that I might like it.  I opened the package to discover a magazine celebrating African American history.  The words quoted on the cover struck me, and made me want to share (and pair) with an image I took of a dusty toy.  Old words but still quite fitting in these times.  Have a good day, folks.

“We may have all come in different ships but we’re in the same boat now.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

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Two men climbing into the back of a garbage truck to escape the rain are crushed, and so set into motion a strike that will paralyze a city, empower a people, and bring into their midsts one of the great orators in U.S. history, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  The city is Memphis, the year is 1968, and it is the place where Dr. King will die at the hands of escaped convict, James Earl Ray.  But before he dies his words will once more stir the hearts and minds of a downtrodden people.   I encourage you to watch the documentary Roads to Memphis to hear Dr. King’s words and indeed the words of the Memphis garbage workers who kept a city clean but could not ride the buses and who felt the need to walk the streets wearing a placard stating clearly, “I am a man.”  I’ve read mixed reviews of the documentary, with negative comments ranging from “it’s not riveting” or “it’s weak and filled with potholes.”  Apparently it brings to light nothing new about the assassination.

Well … perhaps the lens through which I watched the film was different than the reviewers.  What stood out to me were the stories told, and reflected in those stories were the choices people made.  Like the choice the little boy made to participate in the peaceful march through Memphis streets after King’s death.  “Well,” he says when asked why he’s in the march, “I took part in this march today because of Martin Luther King and for what he stood for, because this march is what he died for, and I think that if he died for it, I could carry out what he started.”

Irena Sendler made a choice.  A young Polish Catholic, she and her young friends chose to help the Jewish children dying on the streets in Warsaw during the early 1940’s.  They smuggled the children out of the ghetto and into the homes of individuals as well as into convents and orphanages.  The children were taught Catholic prayers and how to behave in a Christian church so that if they were ever stopped by Gestapo they would know what to do.  And, in 1942,  “as conditions worsened and thousands of Jews were rounded up daily and sent to die at the Treblinka death camp, less than hour outside Warsaw, Sendler and her cohorts began to appeal to Jewish parents to let their children go. ”  They kept careful record of the children’s Jewish names so that they could be reunited with their parents.  Of the 2,500 or so children they saved most had no parents or family members to return to, but some did.  You can see the stories of both the horror and the beauty that people chose to do to and for each other in the documentary, Irena Sendler: In the Name of Their Mothers.

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