Mediation Monday (on Tuesday) - Remembering the Witness of 4 Little Girls

A few days ago on September 15 was the 55th anniversary of one of the great tragedies of the modern civil rights movement. On that Sunday morning in 1963, a bomb planted by KKK members exploded beneath a stairway in the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL killing four girls - Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Carol Denise McNair. These precious children were preparing for to go to a worship service where the sermon was to be titled “A Love That Forgives.” Three days later on September 18 (55 years ago today), Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the eulogy at the funeral service for three of the girls. In that eulogy, Dr. King emphasized that God can redeem the most evil acts in ways that transform people’s hearts and minds:

And so my friends, they did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force  that will bring new light to this dark city. 

The spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future. Indeed this tragic event may cause the white South to come to terms with its conscience. 

 

Dr. King went on to challenge those suffering from that violent evil act not to respond in kind but to dare to believe that even those white people who perpetuated racism could be changed:

And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour we must not despair.  We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.

In the face that great tragedy and suffering 55 years ago, Dr. King called those people to actually believe and practice the way of Jesus. As we face division, racism, and acts of hatred in our time, Dr. King’s words and the lives of those four little girls still call us not only to believe in Jesus but to dare to live the way of Jesus. Posted below are some pictures from the park located across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church. The witness and legacy of the four little girls continues to touch the lives of thousands of people reminding us that hate can never defeat love.

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Birmingham -16th St. Baptist and 4 Girls.jpg

Meditation Monday - Reflecting on the Tragedy of 911

Seventeen years ago tomorrow, our nation suffered one of the greatest tragedies in our history - the 911 attacks. Shortly after the initial horror of those days, I purchased a book titled From the Ashes: A Spiritual Response to the Attack on America. It contained a series of essays by writers from a variety of spiritual traditions. One that was especially difficult yet meaningful and helpful was by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. This veteran writer and peace maker was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by Martin Luther King, Jr. Decades later, he wrote the following words to all of us who were suffering from the violence and tremendous loss of life on September 11, 2001:

For the American people, I would suggest that we do everything we can to restore our calm and lucidity before responding to the situation. To respond too quickly before we have much understanding of the situation may be very dangerous...When we react out of fear and hatred, we do not yet have a deep understanding of the situation. Our action will only be a very quick and superficial way of responding to the situation and not much true benefit and healing will occur...All violence is injustice. The fire of hatred and violence cannot be extinguished by adding more hatred and violence to the fire...America is burning with hatred. That is why we have to tell our Christian friends, "You are children of Christ."

At this annual time of national reflection, remembrance, and mourning seventeen years after the 911 attacks, may we take these words to heart. The best way we can honor the victims of that terrible day and build a better future for our nation and the world is to heed the words that call us to the way of true peace  and justice, "You are children of Christ."

Meditation Monday - A Prayer for the New School Year

As this new school year begins, I want to share a prayer by Marian Wright Edelman, the founder and president of the Children's Defense Fund. In the 1960's, she was a young lawyer and civil rights leader who led Robert Kennedy on a tour through rural Mississippi. The extreme poverty and horrific living conditions that Kennedy saw had a profound impact on him that changed the course of his life. In her present position,Marian Wright Edelman continues her life long advocacy for children. The following prayer lifts up the need for all children to receive an education that is not limited to ever increasing information but that also includes moral and spiritual formation. Let us make this prayer our own on behalf children in our families, in our localities, and in our nation.

God, help us not to raise a new generation of children
with high intellectual quotients and low caring and compassion quotients;
with sharp competitive edges but dull cooperative instincts;
with highly developed computer skills but poorly developed consciences;
with a gigantic commitment to the big “I” but little sense of responsibility to the bigger “we”;
with mounds of disconnected information without a moral context to determine its worth;
with more and more knowledge and less and less imagination and appreciation for the magic of life that cannot be quantified or computerized;
and with more and more worldliness and less and less wonder and awe for the sacred and everyday miracles of life.
God, help us to raise children who care.

Marian Wright Edelman and Robert Kennedy.jpg
Marian Wright Edelman.jpg

 

 

Meditation Monday: August 28 - Two Momentous Events

Tomorrow is August 28, a date that holds deep significance in the history of the modern civil rights movement. On that date in 1955, fourteen year old Emmett Till of Chicago was lynched in Money, MS. An all white jury failed to convict the men accused of his murder. Later the men confessed to the murder but were never brought to justice. Emmett's mother Mamie made the courageous decision to have an open casket viewing of her son's mutilated body. Photos were published in Jet magazine, and the subsequent shock and outrage helped to spark the emerging modern civil rights movement. The casket in which he was buried is now part of the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC.

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Mamie Till at Emmett's Casket.jpg

Eight years later on August 28, 1963 the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom took place on the National Mall. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered what is now known as his "I Have a Dream" speech. Yet the speech did not originally include those iconic words. Most historians think that the famous final section was a spontaneous addition at the prompting of the great gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. The dream articulated by Dr. King came at the conclusion of a speech emphasizing the lack of justice for black people and the urgency of making changes that would lead to greater levels of justice. Here are some of the less familiar words from that speech:

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice. 

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.  Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

Fifty five years after Dr. King delivered his most famous speech, we are still facing "the fierce urgency of now" to make justice a reality for all God's children. There is still urgent work to be done to bridge the widening racial gaps in education, health care, housing, and employment. While most people will remember this speech as "I Have a Dream," it is just as important for us to be called back to "the fierce urgency of now." That's the only way we will truly live into the dream of justice for all.

March for Jobs and Freedom - MLK 1.jpg
March for Jobs and Freedom - Crowd.jpg