Letter from a Birmingham Jail: A Call to Service

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” -Martin Luther King, Jr.

In April 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. was imprisoned in Birmingham Alabama for participating in a nonviolent demonstration against segregation. As we all took time to ponder his work, message, and dream yesterday, I also took time to read one of his writings (something I’ve tried to do every year). 

At the time of his imprisonement, religious leaders in the south penned a public statement expressing concern and caution that his nonviolent protests would lead to violence and that instead, he should let the courts handle the issues. His letter from Birmingham jail was his response to those religious leaders and is a must read for us today. As I read it again and again, some quotes really jumped out at me; quotes we’ve all heard time and time again and are apropo today.

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

“I am sure that each of you would want to go beyond the superficial social analyst who looks merely at effects and does not grapple with underlying causes.”

“History is the long tragic story of the fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.”

“…freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.”

“…justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.  Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

“We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people but for the appealing silence of the good people.”

So many of us struggle with the balance between “doing something of value to the world outside our comfort zones” or remaining armchair quarterbacks and limiting our contribution to a “like” button. MLK’s letter is yet another charge to all of us to be open-eyed about issues affecting our fellow man and doing something.

This weekend I listened to a friend of mine relay his story to an audience of men about how he gave up a career in the army as a surgeon to serve as a medical missionary in South America. The call on his heart to do missions came when he was 17! It took another 17 years for God to prepare him and arm him with all the tools he would need to carry out his calling. 

We all have a gift; endowed upon us by our creator with a specific mission to serve. Read MLK’s letter this week, then go out and do something.

Let’s go.

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