Further thoughts on “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (Part 3)

I began my meditations here. Some further thoughts as I keep working my way through this classic piece.

What is extreme? When the comfortable are disturbed by the actions of others to the point it causes a break in the routine of the comfortable, that is what generally gets labeled “extreme.”

The white moderates of Birmingham were uncomfortable with Dr. King and labeled his actions of nonviolence “extreme.” It’s always nice to have categories so we can so quickly label others then hopefully get back to our comfort. We do the same today with labels like “woke.”

From the letter:

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.

At some point, this breaks out. Those in positions of comfort get uncomfortable. Yet, even if we still want to label others “extremists” … or as we like to label them today, “woke,” Dr. King still has words for that thought.

Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Was not Martin Luther an extremist: “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.”

“Of course Jesus wasn’t an extremist!” we would counter. But that’s because WE didn’t have to deal with him. We don’t think Dr. King was an extremist today, but my money is on us being labeled “white moderates” in his day, which means we would indeed be pretty uncomfortable. We would label Dr. King “woke.” And accuse him of spouting “CRT.”

Dr. King goes on to voice his disappointment with the white church in his day. I share that disappointment with the white church in my day. On this day, 59 years removed from that day… we still have much more to do.

The Voting Rights Act Dr. King would help shepherd to reality a few years later has been gutted by a foolish Supreme Court and heartily supported by far too many white churches in our day thinking that “Voter ID makes sense” without having any idea how that mechanism is so haphazardly delivered in many states.

The brutality Dr. King suffered for “marching peacefully” is too often hidden in our day and we, as whites, still foolishly demand video proof and continue to refuse to believe the words of our Black brothers and sisters to be enough.

How long? WHY is that still able to be asked? Can we not end this in our time? Is it not time we truly let freedom ring? For everyone?

King in county jail, St. Augustine, FL, 1964

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