Posts Tagged With: service

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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How can you rejoice at a time like this?

One minute I’m celebrating the joy of my mum’s 70th birthday the next minute I’m overwhelmed by all the tragedy in the world. Plane crash in Egypt; concert fire in Romania; war torn Iraq, Syria, and Libya; drunk drivers crashing into trick-a-treaters; refugees fleeing war-ravaged cities and arriving in Europe in the thousands, many drowning enroute from Northern Africa; disease-plagued countries; poverty, malnutrition; violent extremists; and a general lack of tolerance for humanity. It’s all overwhelmingly depressing. With all this going on around us, what is there to rejoice about?

Usually we respond with gratitude for being spared from these atrocities. I don’t want to believe that a loving God would spare some and just say “screw-it” to others.
Some Christians will even say things like “God must be punishing them for their sins.” I can’t even fathom the logic and the venomous judgement in this statement. It paints God as an egotistical maniac who goes around ignoring His own promises simply to place “some” sinners in His crosshairs and to then “take them out” with a tornado or earthquake.

Some direct their anger towards God, blaming Him for the state of the world and at the same time denying He even exists because a loving God wouldn’t let any of this happen. These same people will also find someone to blame. It must be the U.S. President’s fault because leadership (the one you don’t like or support) is always responsible.

Honestly, if you have a heartbeat, you can’t help but be moved to some sort of reaction and then…?

Exactly. What happens next? 

I have noticed an acute focus on God’s priorities following disaster or tragedy. We may not be outright accepting of a specific dogma, but we tend to value love over hate, tolerance over intolerance, service over self, giving over taking, fraternity over factions, solutions over blame, forgiveness over resentment, and of course, grace and mercy. 

We live in a very imperfect world filled with imperfect people. With this inherent imperfection, we simply lack the capability to create perfection. We easily try to talk in terms of goodness but goodness wasn’t the plan to begin with. “Good” people have bombed abortion clinics. “Good” people traded slaves and hung them on trees. “Good” people have stood by and watched others prey upon the weakened (notice I didn’t say weak). “Good” people troll the Internet daily and “kill” people with their vilifying comments and then blame them for “putting themselves out there” as to say, “well they deserve it”.

I wish there was a utopia where we could all just rejoice 24/7. A place without pain or sorrow. A place with clean air, green grass, blue waters, no famine or disease, no family drama. A place where birds chirped, lions roared, and people sang all in one rhythmic chorus. 

Wait! Such a place has already been described…by the One who envisioned it to begin with. He also promised that in this world, we would have trouble but in Him, there’d be peace. He didn’t just leave an image for us to be transfixed while staring longingly into space for that utopia. He offered and indeed freed us from mental and spiritual slavery while here. He left instructions on how to treat others in the midst of the storm. He acknowledged that our attempts at goodness would never hit the mark but then offered to bridge the gap between our fallen nature and perfection.

How can you rejoice at a time like this? You don’t rejoice in what is…you rejoice in the hopefulness of what is to come. That hope leads to a peace that passes all understanding. That peace is hard to contain and drives us to serve others with our time, talent, and treasures.  That service, is how humanity bounces back from tragedy. All this is done, not for praise or recognition, but with a deep sense that “we are all beggars, telling other beggars where to find bread.”

What if you don’t believe any of this? Then the obvious question is, what do you believe and how does what you believe inform your reaction to the world around you. I remember a conversation I had with my son a few years ago. It was about value. What we do either adds value to people’s lives or doesn’t. Thus, the purpose of this post isn’t to advocate a certain dogma, but to encourage a perspective that results in added-value in spite of crises or calamity.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” — John 16:33

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