Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Rest in Peace, Ricardo Staple

I received the sad news that Mr. Ricardo "Ricky" Staple, a dear friend and an incredible percussionist, passed away this morning at Hospital San Fernando en Panamá. He is already missed by all who knew him.

Ricky played with Victor Boa and many famous Panamanian Jazz musicians. I met him when he would visit San Cristóbal and then began to sit in on drums. I always enjoyed playing with him because we never had to discuss anything but could read each other perfectly. He was beloved by everyone in the parish, especially the children. Ricky had a special place in his heart for all young people but especially for the kids at our parish. He gave any child who was interested lessons on the batería between services on Sunday and was amazingly patient with them. He taught Tai Chi for the older members of the parish, and was a member of El Gran Combo de San Cristóbal. He was a dear, gentle, patient, man and his Christian witness was the life he led and the example he was for all who knew him.

Ricky was Father of the Year at Parroquia San Cristóbal last year. It was a wonderful celebration. Unfortunately, he experienced some heart problems the next day and entered the hospital. Within two weeks he was in the ICU and he never left. So many people wanted to visit him that the hospital had to restrict access and even put up a sign outside of the ICU stating that only family could visit (I'm his priest so I was able to visit him). The Lovely Mona and I went to visit him regularly, and the young people at church would ask for him. There were times when he was conscious and able to respond during our visit and other times when he was asleep. He went on to greater life this morning, January 31, 2012.

I feel so blessed to have known him, to have played music with him, and to have him as a friend. May he rest in peace and rise in glory, and may light perpetual shine upon him! Please keep his wife, Marian, and the family in your prayers.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Feast of St. Agnes of Rome, Martyr

Almighty and everlasting God, you choose those whom the world deems powerless to put the powerful to shame: Grant us so to cherish the memory of your youthful martyr Agnes, that we may share her pure and steadfast faith in you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Today is the feast of St. Agnes, Virgin and Martyr in Rome. St. Agnes was one of the really popular saints of the early Church, right up there with Christopher and Lucy. Her story is one of those “I’ll die before I’ll ever marry” stories which were so popular back then. Her dedication to virginity and her heroism under torture was an inspiration to those suffering martyrdom in the fourth century and on. The earliest document containing the story of St. Agnes is the Depositio Martyrum from the year 354. Much of her legend comes from the writings of St. Ambrose and St. Austin, and from Prudentius’ hymn. According to St. Austin, her name in Greek signifies chaste and in Latin, lamb.

According to the story, Agnes was born to a Christian family of the Roman nobility around the year 29I. When she was I3 years old she was considered one of the most beautiful and desirable young women in the city of Rome. All the (hetro) guys wanted her and were lining up at her door, bringing gifts of great price, not just yer flowers and chocolates. However, one young man in particular was obsessed with Agnes: Procupius, the son of Symphronius, the prefect. He outdid all the other suitors with his gifts, and when he came to visit Agnes’ parents to ask for her hand, he promised them even more valuable presents. When Agnes refused his gifts and proposal of marriage, he figured that he just needed to bring even better, more precious jewels to convince the object of his desire, so he returned with even more precious and rare jewels. Our Agnes responded to Procupius and his presents (speaking in a most archaic form of English) thusly: “Begone from me, fuel of sin, nourishment of vice, food of death; begone from me, for already a lover has secured my heart; he has given me ornaments more precious than yours, and has placed his ring upon my finger as a pledge of fidelity. He is incomparably more noble than you, both in origin and dignity. He has been pleased to adorn my right hand with a priceless bracelet, and to encircle my neck with diamonds. He has set in my ears rings of peerless pearl and has girdled me with precious stones dazzling as the light of the sun in spring. My Beloved has placed his sign upon my forehead, that I may recognize no lover bat himself. He has clothed me in golden tissue and adorned me with innumerable ornaments. He has shown me countless treasures, of which he has promised me the possession, if I remain faithful to him. Could I then so wrong my first love as to accept another and abandon him to whom I am united by the most ardent affection!” Procupius couldn’t believe what he was hearing! He was the son of the prefect, for goodness sake! But our little lambykins continued: “Yes, he is far nobler, his power is greater, his aspect more charming in my sight, his love sweeter to my heart, his grace, in a word, more ravishing than anything to which he could possibly be compared. His voice like a melting harmony enchants my ears. Virgins my companions cease not to sound his praise, and such is his beauty, that the sun and the stars behold it amazed- His ministers are angels, who are eager to serve him. At his touch the sick are healed, the dead are awoke by the odor of his virtue. His resources never fail, his riches never decrease. He has already prepared a dwelling for me. I have pledged my faith, I have vowed to be entirely his. Milk and honey flow from his lips. I have felt his chaste embrace. His body was united to mine, and the blood from his stricken cheek has impressed itself on mine. But know that his mother was a virgin that he was begotten by the Father from all eternity. I can love him as I remain chaste, press him to my heart and iest jure, receive him as my Spouse and still be a virgin. And the children of this union will be brought forth without pain; their number will increase and multiply."

Instead of slapping ol’ Procupy into reality, her words simply worked him up even more, to the point that he was sick in bed, so lovesick that he couldn’t move. Once his dad’s doctors figured out what was going on, the told the prefect, who went to see Agnes and her parents, to ask, once again, for her fair hand. Agnes told the prefect that noting in the world would make her violate the fidelity she had vowed to her first love. Symphronius reminded her and her parents that, being the son of the prefect, Agnes was not going to find a better husband than Our Boy Procopius. She still refused, and, after asking around, Symphronius was overjoyed to learn that Agnes and her family were Christians. Now he really had the power! He knew that nobody, not Agnes’ parents or the other Christians or the members of Agnes’ social class would dare stand up to her in front of the tribunal. He reminded young Agnes that she and her family could lose their social standing and become slaves or even be executed. Agnes didn’t budge; she was married to Christ and would not take another. The prefect had Agnes arrested and let her cool her heels in the dungeon for the night. The next day Agnes was brought before the prefect, who reminded her that his son wanted to marry her and that she couldn’t do any better than Our Boy Procupius. Agnes responded, “I pray you injure not my Spouse by supposing that I could allow myself to be seduced from him by vain promises. My life belongs to him who has chosen me the first." Back to the dank, dark, dungeon for Agnes!

The next morning, Agnes was brought before the prefect, who, realizing that she had not changed her mind, said, “I perceive that you will not have done with your folly, nor will you lend an ear to the counsels of wisdom until your heart is torn from the Christian superstition, whose wicked arts you practice. You are then to be consecrated to the worship of the goddess Vesta, so that if you are determined to preserve your virginity, you may, at least, devote it to watching day and night at her august altars." Agnes responded, "If I have refused a union with your son, who although under the dominion of an insensate passion, is, at least, a living man, endowed with understanding, capable of seeing, feeling, and walking; who enjoys the light of day in common with the good: if, for the love of Jesus Christ, nothing has been able to persuade me to listen to him, how could I vow to serve a deaf and dumb idol, destitute of feeling and of life? How could I so outrage the supreme God as to bow my head before a vain bit of stone?” The prefect said, “Look, I know you’re just a kid, and so your blasphemies against the gods are the result of you being young and not having reached the age of reason, but really, think about what you are saying and how you are exposing yourself to the anger of the gods!” Agnes, responding in more Archaic English, said: "Set aside this pity for my youth, and think not that I wish to make use of such a plea in order to gain your indulgence. Faith resides not in the rears of time, but in the sentiments of the heart, and the all powerful God considers rather the state of our soul than the length of our life. As to your gods, whose anger you fear on my account, leave them to their rage; let them make themselves heard, let them order that they shall be venerated, and command that they shall be adored. But since you will never obtain the object of your desires. carry out your intention without delay." Symphronius responded “ENOUGH! I’m the friggin’ PREFECT!!! What is wrong with you? So, you aren’t afraid of physical pain? Well then, I know what IS important to you: your modesty. Look, for the honor of your noble family, either sacrifice to Vesta and become one of the Holy Virgins serving at her altar, or I will have you dragged to a brothel, where the horny young men of Rome will pay good money to have at you (Symphronius was so upset that he was speaking twentieth-century English)!” Agnes responded, “Not so, Christ forgets not his own; never will he abandon to destruction that modesty so precious in his sight. He is ever present to aid the pure. He will not suffer a blemish to the honor of my virginity. Over this you have no power, although you may stain your sword in my blood. I know the omnipotence of Jesus Christ my Lord; I trust in him and despise your threats, confident that I shall neither sacrifice to your idols, nor suffer any harm. For the Lord has placed his angel near me to be my protector, and the Son of the true God, whom you know not, is my rampart and my defense; he will never fail me. Your gods, on the contrary, are made of brass, fitter for fashioning utensils for the use of man. or of stone, which would better serve to pave the public way. No, the Divinity resides not in a senseless stone, but dwells in heaven; it is not brass or other metal that constitutes a God; it is sovereign power, it is omnipotence. Know then, you and all those who imitate you, that if you forsake not the worship of idols, a fate like unto theirs is reserved for you. For even as they have been molded by tire, so their adorers will burn in flames, not to be cast into form, but to be destroyed and to perish forever." To which the prefect answered, “THAT DOES IT!! STRIP HER NAKED AND DRAG HER OFF TO THE BROTHEL AND LET THE HORNY DOGS OF ROME PAY GOOD MONEY TO HAVE THEIR WAY WITH HER!!! AAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!!!!”

Well, the thugs stripped our Agnes of her robes, but her hair, which had been unbraided to add to her shame, grew and grew and grew until it covered her nakedness. She was brought to the Agonale Circus, where people turned from looking at her. However, an angel of the Lord accompanied her and surrounded her with a brilliant light, which prevented anyone form approaching her or even seeing her. Agnes prayed, and once she finished her prayer, she opened her eyes and saw a robe of brilliant whiteness at her feet. She donned the robe, praying “Thanks be to thee, Jesus Christ, my Lord, who hast received me into the number of thy servants, and hast sent me this garment." Everyone was amazed by what was happening, except one person: the brain-damaged Procupius, who, in an incredibly stupid move, approached the Most Holy Virgin and started talkin’ dirty! But the Angel of the Lord struck him with a bolt of lightening, and he fell to the ground, blinded and half dead. One of his stupid friends, seeing this, cried out to his Less Than Intelligent Companions: “Come on, friends; come on, Romans, come on you who fear the gods! This slut has killed the son of the prefect with her sorceries!” Some of his stupid friends said, “Yeah! Let’s git ‘er!” but others said, “I don’t know; things have been gittin’ a lil’ weird ‘roun here!” Some of the people watching even said, “Hey! She’s an innocent girl! Stop it!!”

Word got back to Symphronius that Procupius had been struck blind and half dead and came running to the circus to see ‘sup? He screamed at Agnes, “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE? WHAT KIND OF WITCHCRAFT IS THIS?” To which Agnes replied, “It is the demon, whose inspirations he followed, who has received power over his life. Why have all the others, who had the same intention, escaped a similar fate? It is because they gave honor to God, who sent his angel to my rescue. This angel has clothed me with a robe of mercy, and has protected my person, offered and consecrated to Christ from the cradle. Those, who, seeing the heavenly light, gave honor to God, have been suffered to depart unharmed and uninjured. But he, who, notwithstanding this manifestation, dared to approach me, has been struck by the angel of the Lord and suffers the penalty which you behold." The prefect, thinking “why does she talk so strangely?” said, “Look; I believe you that no witchy-funny-business took place if you’ll bring him back to life!” What kind of logic is that? To which our Girl answered, "Although your faith is not worthy to obtain such a miracle from God, yet as the time has come to manifest the divine power of Jesus Christ, my Lord, let all go away that I may speak to him in prayer." Once everyone stepped back a bit, she threw herself on the body of her cruel suitor and prayed that God would restore his life. All of the sudden, Procupius opened his eyes, took a deep breath, pushed Agnes off of him, stood up and started walking around, shouting "There is but one God in heaven, on earth, in the whole universe; He is the God of the Christians! All our temples are vain all the gods adored in them are vain! And vain as themselves is the aid expected from them." Many of those watching started shouting “THAT DOES IT!!! I’M GETTIN’ SAVED! I’M GONNA BE A CHRISTIAN!!”But others, still unconvinced and joined by the priests of the Temple of Vesta and overcome by the spirit of archaic English (which appears to be a demon of some sort; pay attention, 1928 BCP worshippers!), started shouting, “Seize the sorceress! Away with the worker of enchantments, who troubles the minds of the people, and perverts their souls!"

Now, even though he appeared to promise to release Agnes if she brought his shiftless son back to life, the prefect Symphronius was afraid of the crowd and turned over the punishment of Agnes to his ambitious lieutenant, Aspasius, the task of quelling the sedition taking place. Aspasius, overcome by ambition, became incredibly violent, and, to make the priests and pagans happy, had a great fire to be lit on which he ordered Agnes to be thrown. Agnes was tossed on the fire, but it split into two huge flames, which went left and right, burning all those on either side of the fire. Agnes, standing in the middle of the lames, raised her arms in the orans position and prayed "All powerful God, alone to be adored, alone to be feared, Father of Jesus Christ, our Lord, I bless thee! Because, through thine only Son. Thou hast saved me from the threats of those impious men, and from defilement while treading the foul places of the demon. Behold now, by thy Holy Spirit, I am penetrated as with a celestial dew. The fire is arrested and dies out before me while the flames divide and turn against those who kindled them. I bless thee, Father of love, who hast given me courage to walk intrepidly towards thee even through fire. Behold! What I have believed, I now see! What I have hoped for, I possess what I have desired, I now embrace! My lips and my heart confess thee. For thee my inmost being longs. Behold, now to thee I go, the only and true God, who, with thy Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, and with the Holy Spirit, livest and reignest forever and ever. "

Since the fire didn’t work, it was decided that Agnes would be beheaded. The crowd gathered around her, some crying, some hoping for some entertaining violence (they were Romans, you know!). When the executioner appeared, Agnes, seeing this fearful sight, exclaimed: "Oh! what a happiness! It is a fierce and barbarous man who now approaches me. Draw near I prefer your terrible countenance to that of those impassioned young men who lately threatened me. See, I acknowledge it, behold the suitor whom I love. Come then! I will go myself to meet you, not restraining the ardent desire which draws me towards you. Strike behold my breast; I want your sword to penetrate even to the bottom of my heart. Spouse of Christ, it is thus that I shall escape from the darkness of earth and rise to the abode of light. Open, oh all-powerful God, open the gates of heaven, until lately closed to man! Christ Jesus draw my soul to thyself a victim first to thee by virginal consecration, now to thy Father by martyrdom's immolation!" Then she ran eagerly to the chopping block, like a bride going to her nuptials! She bowed her head to adore her Lord, Jesus Christ, and to receive that final stroke. The executioner was put off by all this, and took a few minutes to prepare himself; he knew that this act would condemn him. He finally worked up the nerve necessary and, with a single stroke, severed Agnes’ head from her body. The stroke was so clean that she felt no pain, and her soul, freed from its prison of flesh, rose towards heaven, where the angels received her on her way, marking her progress with a shining track. According to the hymnist Prudentius, that poet of the martyrs, Agnes, as she rose towards heaven, “in passing the terrestrial globe at her feet, and casts a last look upon the darkness from which she is flying. She thrills with joy, she is in wonder at the sight of the sun moving in his orbit, with the planets revolving round him. She smiles with pity in beholding the turmoil of human existence, and the rapid flight of time, which carries away with it, kings, tyrants, empires, the pageantry of wealth and honours, which swell the heart with vanity. She regards with compassion that thirst for gold and silver, which, like a raging fever, consumes mortals, and pushes them on to every species of crime. She, pitying looks down upon palaces mean abodes they seem, erected at so great a cost; upon the vanity of ‘purple and fine linen.’ She grieves, so to speak, over the hatreds, the fears, the desires, the continual dangers of earth: its sorrows so long enduring, its joys so rapid in their flight; over that dark envy, with its lighted fire-brand, which withers every hope and tarnishes all human glory; and lastly, she sorrowfully considers the dark night of Gentile superstition, which appears to her worse than all other evils. She tramples beneath her feet all these things; she triumphantly places her heel upon the head of that cruel dragon, who sullies with his venom both earth and hell. The foot of a virgin again becomes fatal to him. and plants itself upon his inflamed crest. Vanquished, humbled, he dares no longer raise his head.”

Agnes martyrdom was a powerful image to the people of Late Antiquity, and her witness brought many to decide that change of mind and heart in which one follows God’s way instead of one’s own way. And that’s why we remember St. Agnes, holy virgin and martyr of Rome, today.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Feast of Fabian of Rome, Bishop and Martyr

O God, in your providence you singled out the holy martyr Fabian as worthy to be chief pastor of your people, and guided him so to strengthen your Church that it stood fast in the day of persecution: Grant that those whom you call to any ministry in the Church may be obedient to your call in all humility, and be enabled to carry out their tasks with diligence and faithfulness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

One day around the year 236, the Christians in Rome were getting ready to elect a new bishop (Pope Anterus had died after only being on the Episcopal Throne for a mere month and ten days). While waiting for things to get started, a man was carting dung outside of the chamber, and many saw a dove land on the head of the dung-guy, one Fabian, layman, pop singer and stranger to the city. Those being more simple times, everyone was so amazed at this sight that Mr. Fabian was at once proclaimed bishop by acclamation and wisked-off for a weekend of ordinations.

As Pope, Fabian was very interested in honoring the martyrs, and it is claimed that he did some building in the catacombs and brought the remains of Hippolytus and Pope Pontian back to Rome from Sardinia.

He was also big on organization and organized the church in Rome and also appointed seven deacons to do the administration in that church.

Pope Fabian supposedly baptized emperor Marcus Julius Philippus and his son, but since Eusebius doesn't mention this, yet DOES mention the dove incident, I find the claim to be suspect (of course, Eusebius was more interested in the idea that Constantine was the first Christian emperor, and this business with Philip would complicate that story). Baptizing the emperor ended the persecutions of that time, as one would expect. However, upon the death of the emperor, the new guy, Decius, started up the persecutions again and Fabian was one of the first to be martyred, on January 20, 250. We do not have an account of his martyrdom. According to differing traditions, Fabian was either tied to a cross and beaten with torches until he died (!) or beheaded.

When Cyprian of Carthage heard about Fabian's martyrdom, he sent the following letter to the clergy in Rome: When the report of the departure of the excellent man, my colleague, was still uncertain among us, my beloved brethren, and I was wavering doubtfully in my opinion on the matter, I received a letter sent to me from you by Crementius the sub-deacon, in which I was fully informed of his glorious end; and I rejoiced greatly that the integrity of his administration had been matched by the nobility of his end.

I greatly congratulate you that you honor his memory with so public and illustrious a testimony, through which you have made known to me not only the memory of your bishop, which confers glory upon you, but also an example of faith and strength that I should follow.

For just as the fall of a bishop tends to bring about the ruinous fall of his followers, so it is a useful and helpful thing when, by the firmness of his faith, a bishop becomes manifest to his brethren as an object of imitation.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Feast of St. Anthony of Egypt

O God, by your Holy Spirit you enabled your servant Antony to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil: Give us grace, with pure hearts and minds, to follow you, the only God; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

This is my St. Anthony sermon, edited for the Dance Party

Today is the feast of St. Anthony of Egypt. He was one of the first Christian monks and developed the monastic tradition in Christianity. What we know about him comes from “The Life of St. Anthony” by Athanasius, the Patriarch of Alexandria.

Anthony was born in the middle of the second century. around the year 251 to wealthy Christian parents. He had a younger sister. When he was twenty years-old his parents died and he and his sister inherited quite a lot of land. Anthony was a little troubled by this wealth and had been thinking about the Apostles and how they gave up everything to follow Jesus. Six months after his parents’ deaths he went to church and arrived as the gospel was being read. It was the story of the Rich Young Man, and he heard Jesus tell the young man “If you would be perfect, go sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Anthony took this gospel message seriously and actually went and gave most of his land to the villagers and sold his possessions, giving the money to the poor. Not long later, he heard the passage: “Do not be anxious about tomorrow” and sold the rest of his possessions, put his sister into a Christian Community of Dedicated Virgins, and went to the edge of the village to live the life of an anchorite. Anchorites were people who withdrew from the world to live solitary lives of silence, prayer, meditation and mortification. In those days anchorites lived along on the edges of towns. Much later, anchorites were closed into cells to spend their lives in prayer, and many times the cells were attached to churches. To live alone on the edge of the village was unusual, but Anthony later moved farther away from the village and lived in a tomb away from everyone. It was here that he had his first encounters with demons who would appear as wild beasts and beat him, at times leaving him near death. After fifteen years living on the edge of town in the tomb, he decided to withdraw completely, crossing the Nile and into the mountains where he found an abandoned fort. To live in the wilderness away from everyone, leaving civilization behind was like moving to the moon would be nowadays. He lived away from humanity, in the fort, for some twenty years. Pilgrims would come to see him but he avoided them. Some hermits came and lived in the caves around the fort, and eventually a community of hermits had developed, and they requested Anthony to come guide them in the spiritual life. He finally came out of seclusion around the year 305 and according to Athanasius, people were amazed that he didn’t look any different than he had when he had left the village twenty years earlier, “vigorous in body and mind.” He worked with this colony which had formed around him, developing a spiritual community and developing a rule of life. He did this for about six years and then decided to withdraw again. This became a kind of cycle for Anthony; he would live in community for a few years, then withdraw to the wilderness deeper and deeper each time, and, after several years of seclusion, return to civilization for a few years, eventually withdrawing once again. He withdrew to a mountain between the Red Sea and the Nile where a monastery in his name still stands. In the year 321 he came out of the desert and into Alexandria to help encourage and strengthen the martyrs of Maximinus’ persecution, and once again around the year 350 to preach against the Arians. According to Athanasius, Anthony was 105 years old when he died, and Jerome places his death around the year 357.

The form of monasticism developed by Anthony was dominant in Northern Egypt, while that of his disciple Pachomius was the form preferred in the South. He wasn’t a great organizer like Pachomius; he concentrated on getting a group of people living in separate caves and cells to work together. Athanasius describes the first monastery there in the mountains as follows: Their cells like tents were filled with singing, fasting, praying, and working that they might give alms, and having love an peace with one another. That’s what was most important to Anthony, that the brothers live together in love and unity, and not be fighting or in spiritual competition.

The Desert Fathers collected many sayings of, and about, Anthony. Here are a few of my favorites: When the holy Abba Anthony lived in the desert he was beset and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?” A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.

He also said, “Our life and our death is with our neighbor. If we gain our brother, we have gained God, but if we scandalize our brother, we have sinned against Christ.”

He also said, “Some have afflicted their bodies by asceticism, but they lack discernment, and so they are far from God.”

A brother renounced the world and gave his goods to the poor, but he kept back a little for his personal expenses. He went to see Abba Anthony. When he told him this, the old man said to him, “If you want to be a monk, go into the village, buy some meat, cover your naked body with it and come here like that.” The brother did so, and the dogs and birds tore at his flesh. When he came back the old man asked him whether he had followed his advice. He showed him his wounded body, and Saint Anthony said, “Those who renounce the world but want to keep something for themselves are torn in this way by the demons who make war on them.”

Abba Anthony said, “A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, ‘You are mad, you are not like us.’”

Abba Anthony said, “I no longer fear God, but I love him. For love casts out fear.”

Anthony took the gospel message seriously and lived a life which is a model for those called to solitary meditation. He didn’t want to draw attention to himself, and he had his burial place kept a secret so that it would not become a place of pilgrimage, remaining solitary in death just as he had in life.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

Almighty God, by the hand of Moses your servant you led your people out of slavery, and made them free at last: Grant that your Church, following the example of your prophet Martin Luther King, may resist oppression in the name of your love, and may secure for all your children the blessed liberty of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
16 April 1963
My Dear Fellow Clergymen:
While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities "unwise and untimely." Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statement in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.
I think I should indicate why I am here in Birmingham, since you have been influenced by the view which argues against "outsiders coming in." I have the honor of serving as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, an organization operating in every southern state, with headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia. We have some eighty five affiliated organizations across the South, and one of them is the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights. Frequently we share staff, educational and financial resources with our affiliates. Several months ago the affiliate here in Birmingham asked us to be on call to engage in a nonviolent direct action program if such were deemed necessary. We readily consented, and when the hour came we lived up to our promise. So I, along with several members of my staff, am here because I was invited here. I am here because I have organizational ties here.
But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here. Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid.
Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial "outside agitator" idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.
You deplore the demonstrations taking place in Birmingham. But your statement, I am sorry to say, fails to express a similar concern for the conditions that brought about the demonstrations. I am sure that none of you would want to rest content with the superficial kind of social analysis that deals merely with effects and does not grapple with underlying causes. It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city's white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.
In any nonviolent campaign there are four basic steps: collection of the facts to determine whether injustices exist; negotiation; self purification; and direct action. We have gone through all these steps in Birmingham. There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community. Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States. Its ugly record of brutality is widely known. Negroes have experienced grossly unjust treatment in the courts. There have been more unsolved bombings of Negro homes and churches in Birmingham than in any other city in the nation. These are the hard, brutal facts of the case. On the basis of these conditions, Negro leaders sought to negotiate with the city fathers. But the latter consistently refused to engage in good faith negotiation.
Then, last September, came the opportunity to talk with leaders of Birmingham's economic community. In the course of the negotiations, certain promises were made by the merchants--for example, to remove the stores' humiliating racial signs. On the basis of these promises, the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth and the leaders of the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights agreed to a moratorium on all demonstrations. As the weeks and months went by, we realized that we were the victims of a broken promise. A few signs, briefly removed, returned; the others remained. As in so many past experiences, our hopes had been blasted, and the shadow of deep disappointment settled upon us. We had no alternative except to prepare for direct action, whereby we would present our very bodies as a means of laying our case before the conscience of the local and the national community. Mindful of the difficulties involved, we decided to undertake a process of self purification. We began a series of workshops on nonviolence, and we repeatedly asked ourselves: "Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?" "Are you able to endure the ordeal of jail?" We decided to schedule our direct action program for the Easter season, realizing that except for Christmas, this is the main shopping period of the year. Knowing that a strong economic-withdrawal program would be the by product of direct action, we felt that this would be the best time to bring pressure to bear on the merchants for the needed change.
Then it occurred to us that Birmingham's mayoral election was coming up in March, and we speedily decided to postpone action until after election day. When we discovered that the Commissioner of Public Safety, Eugene "Bull" Connor, had piled up enough votes to be in the run off, we decided again to postpone action until the day after the run off so that the demonstrations could not be used to cloud the issues. Like many others, we waited to see Mr. Connor defeated, and to this end we endured postponement after postponement. Having aided in this community need, we felt that our direct action program could be delayed no longer.
You may well ask: "Why direct action? Why sit ins, marches and so forth? Isn't negotiation a better path?" You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word "tension." I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth. Just as Socrates felt that it was necessary to create a tension in the mind so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myths and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal, so must we see the need for nonviolent gadflies to create the kind of tension in society that will help men rise from the dark depths of prejudice and racism to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood. The purpose of our direct action program is to create a situation so crisis packed that it will inevitably open the door to negotiation. I therefore concur with you in your call for negotiation. Too long has our beloved Southland been bogged down in a tragic effort to live in monologue rather than dialogue.
One of the basic points in your statement is that the action that I and my associates have taken in Birmingham is untimely. Some have asked: "Why didn't you give the new city administration time to act?" The only answer that I can give to this query is that the new Birmingham administration must be prodded about as much as the outgoing one, before it will act. We are sadly mistaken if we feel that the election of Albert Boutwell as mayor will bring the millennium to Birmingham. While Mr. Boutwell is a much more gentle person than Mr. Connor, they are both segregationists, dedicated to maintenance of the status quo. I have hope that Mr. Boutwell will be reasonable enough to see the futility of massive resistance to desegregation. But he will not see this without pressure from devotees of civil rights. My friends, I must say to you that we have not made a single gain in civil rights without determined legal and nonviolent pressure. Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily. Individuals may see the moral light and voluntarily give up their unjust posture; but, as Reinhold Niebuhr has reminded us, groups tend to be more immoral than individuals.
We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed. Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct action campaign that was "well timed" in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word "Wait!" It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This "Wait" has almost always meant "Never." We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that "justice too long delayed is justice denied."
We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, "Wait." But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can't go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: "Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?"; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading "white" and "colored"; when your first name becomes "nigger," your middle name becomes "boy" (however old you are) and your last name becomes "John," and your wife and mother are never given the respected title "Mrs."; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of "nobodiness"--then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience. You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, at first glance it may seem rather paradoxical for us consciously to break laws. One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."
Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority. Segregation, to use the terminology of the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber, substitutes an "I it" relationship for an "I thou" relationship and ends up relegating persons to the status of things. Hence segregation is not only politically, economically and sociologically unsound, it is morally wrong and sinful. Paul Tillich has said that sin is separation. Is not segregation an existential expression of man's tragic separation, his awful estrangement, his terrible sinfulness? Thus it is that I can urge men to obey the 1954 decision of the Supreme Court, for it is morally right; and I can urge them to disobey segregation ordinances, for they are morally wrong.
Let us consider a more concrete example of just and unjust laws. An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law. Who can say that the legislature of Alabama which set up that state's segregation laws was democratically elected? Throughout Alabama all sorts of devious methods are used to prevent Negroes from becoming registered voters, and there are some counties in which, even though Negroes constitute a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered. Can any law enacted under such circumstances be considered democratically structured?
Sometimes a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I have been arrested on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong in having an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade. But such an ordinance becomes unjust when it is used to maintain segregation and to deny citizens the First-Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and protest.
I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out. In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist. That would lead to anarchy. One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty. I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.
Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was evidenced sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar, on the ground that a higher moral law was at stake. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks rather than submit to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience. In our own nation, the Boston Tea Party represented a massive act of civil disobedience.
We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers. If today I lived in a Communist country where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I would openly advocate disobeying that country's antireligious laws.
I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." 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.
I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and that when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress. I had hoped that the white moderate would understand that the present tension in the South is a necessary phase of the transition from an obnoxious negative peace, in which the Negro passively accepted his unjust plight, to a substantive and positive peace, in which all men will respect the dignity and worth of human personality. Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
In your statement you assert that our actions, even though peaceful, must be condemned because they precipitate violence. But is this a logical assertion? Isn't this like condemning a robbed man because his possession of money precipitated the evil act of robbery? Isn't this like condemning Socrates because his unswerving commitment to truth and his philosophical inquiries precipitated the act by the misguided populace in which they made him drink hemlock? Isn't this like condemning Jesus because his unique God consciousness and never ceasing devotion to God's will precipitated the evil act of crucifixion? We must come to see that, as the federal courts have consistently affirmed, it is wrong to urge an individual to cease his efforts to gain his basic constitutional rights because the quest may precipitate violence. Society must protect the robbed and punish the robber. I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth concerning time in relation to the struggle for freedom. I have just received a letter from a white brother in Texas. He writes: "All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but it is possible that you are in too great a religious hurry. It has taken Christianity almost two thousand years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth." Such an attitude stems from a tragic misconception of time, from the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time itself is neutral; it can be used either destructively or constructively. More and more I feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than have the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
You speak of our activity in Birmingham as extreme. At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. I began thinking about the fact that I stand in the middle of two opposing forces in the Negro community. One is a force of complacency, made up in part of Negroes who, as a result of long years of oppression, are so drained of self respect and a sense of "somebodiness" that they have adjusted to segregation; and in part of a few middle-class Negroes who, because of a degree of academic and economic security and because in some ways they profit by segregation, have become insensitive to the problems of the masses. The other force is one of bitterness and hatred, and it comes perilously close to advocating violence. It is expressed in the various black nationalist groups that are springing up across the nation, the largest and best known being Elijah Muhammad's Muslim movement. Nourished by the Negro's frustration over the continued existence of racial discrimination, this movement is made up of people who have lost faith in America, who have absolutely repudiated Christianity, and who have concluded that the white man is an incorrigible "devil."
I have tried to stand between these two forces, saying that we need emulate neither the "do nothingism" of the complacent nor the hatred and despair of the black nationalist. For there is the more excellent way of love and nonviolent protest. I am grateful to God that, through the influence of the Negro church, the way of nonviolence became an integral part of our struggle. If this philosophy had not emerged, by now many streets of the South would, I am convinced, be flowing with blood. And I am further convinced that if our white brothers dismiss as "rabble rousers" and "outside agitators" those of us who employ nonviolent direct action, and if they refuse to support our nonviolent efforts, millions of Negroes will, out of frustration and despair, seek solace and security in black nationalist ideologies--a development that would inevitably lead to a frightening racial nightmare.
Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself, and that is what has happened to the American Negro. Something within has reminded him of his birthright of freedom, and something without has reminded him that it can be gained. Consciously or unconsciously, he has been caught up by the Zeitgeist, and with his black brothers of Africa and his brown and yellow brothers of Asia, South America and the Caribbean, the United States Negro is moving with a sense of great urgency toward the promised land of racial justice. If one recognizes this vital urge that has engulfed the Negro community, one should readily understand why public demonstrations are taking place. The Negro has many pent up resentments and latent frustrations, and he must release them. So let him march; let him make prayer pilgrimages to the city hall; let him go on freedom rides -and try to understand why he must do so. If his repressed emotions are not released in nonviolent ways, they will seek expression through violence; this is not a threat but a fact of history. So I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. 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." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
I had hoped that the white moderate would see this need. Perhaps I was too optimistic; perhaps I expected too much. I suppose I should have realized that few members of the oppressor race can understand the deep groans and passionate yearnings of the oppressed race, and still fewer have the vision to see that injustice must be rooted out by strong, persistent and determined action. I am thankful, however, that some of our white brothers in the South have grasped the meaning of this social revolution and committed themselves to it. They are still all too few in quantity, but they are big in quality. Some -such as Ralph McGill, Lillian Smith, Harry Golden, James McBride Dabbs, Ann Braden and Sarah Patton Boyle--have written about our struggle in eloquent and prophetic terms. Others have marched with us down nameless streets of the South. They have languished in filthy, roach infested jails, suffering the abuse and brutality of policemen who view them as "dirty nigger-lovers." Unlike so many of their moderate brothers and sisters, they have recognized the urgency of the moment and sensed the need for powerful "action" antidotes to combat the disease of segregation. Let me take note of my other major disappointment. I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership. Of course, there are some notable exceptions. I am not unmindful of the fact that each of you has taken some significant stands on this issue. I commend you, Reverend Stallings, for your Christian stand on this past Sunday, in welcoming Negroes to your worship service on a nonsegregated basis. I commend the Catholic leaders of this state for integrating Spring Hill College several years ago.
But despite these notable exceptions, I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of life shall lengthen.
When I was suddenly catapulted into the leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the white ministers, priests and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.
In spite of my shattered dreams, I came to Birmingham with the hope that the white religious leadership of this community would see the justice of our cause and, with deep moral concern, would serve as the channel through which our just grievances could reach the power structure. I had hoped that each of you would understand. But again I have been disappointed.
I have heard numerous southern religious leaders admonish their worshipers to comply with a desegregation decision because it is the law, but I have longed to hear white ministers declare: "Follow this decree because integration is morally right and because the Negro is your brother." In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, un-Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.
I have traveled the length and breadth of Alabama, Mississippi and all the other southern states. On sweltering summer days and crisp autumn mornings I have looked at the South's beautiful churches with their lofty spires pointing heavenward. I have beheld the impressive outlines of her massive religious education buildings. Over and over I have found myself asking: "What kind of people worship here? Who is their God? Where were their voices when the lips of Governor Barnett dripped with words of interposition and nullification? Where were they when Governor Wallace gave a clarion call for defiance and hatred? Where were their voices of support when bruised and weary Negro men and women decided to rise from the dark dungeons of complacency to the bright hills of creative protest?"
Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? I am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.
There was a time when the church was very powerful--in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators."' But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God-intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests. Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church's silent--and often even vocal--sanction of things as they are.
But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today's church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.
Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom. They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment. I hope the church as a whole will meet the challenge of this decisive hour. But even if the church does not come to the aid of justice, I have no despair about the future. I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are at present misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with America's destiny. Before the pilgrims landed at Plymouth, we were here. Before the pen of Jefferson etched the majestic words of the Declaration of Independence across the pages of history, we were here. For more than two centuries our forebears labored in this country without wages; they made cotton king; they built the homes of their masters while suffering gross injustice and shameful humiliation -and yet out of a bottomless vitality they continued to thrive and develop. If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail. We will win our freedom because the sacred heritage of our nation and the eternal will of God are embodied in our echoing demands. Before closing I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.
It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."
I wish you had commended the Negro sit inners and demonstrators of Birmingham for their sublime courage, their willingness to suffer and their amazing discipline in the midst of great provocation. One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, with the noble sense of purpose that enables them to face jeering and hostile mobs, and with the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy two year old woman in Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride segregated buses, and who responded with ungrammatical profundity to one who inquired about her weariness: "My feets is tired, but my soul is at rest." They will be the young high school and college students, the young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders, courageously and nonviolently sitting in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience' sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream and for the most sacred values in our Judaeo Christian heritage, thereby bringing our nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the founding fathers in their formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Never before have I written so long a letter. I'm afraid it is much too long to take your precious time. I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?
If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.
I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil-rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.
Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood, Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Día de los Martires

I'm not a nationalist, and I think that flag worship is idolatry. I'm not one to get all excited about flags, although I will admit that I get upset when I see the Confederate flag. However, I do understand the importance of the nation's flag to nationalists.

The Canal Zone in Panama was a stretch of land which was considered U.S. property in perpetuity according to the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty. It split the nation of Panama in two and it was like separate country with its own police force, courts, post office and radio stations. Panamanians could only enter the Canal Zone with permission. In 1963, President of the U.S., John F. Kennedy, ordered that the Panamanian flag be flown next to the U.S. flag at all non-military sites in the Zone. He was assassinated before the order was carried out. The governor of the Canal Zone, Robert J. Fleming, Jr., decided to limit Kennedy's order by not flying either flag in front of civilian locations such as schools and post offices in the Zone. This upset many Zonians (U.S. citizens living in the Canal Zone) who saw this as an attempt to deny U.S. sovereignty over the Canal Zone. Some Zonians began demonstrating with the U.S. flag. Some students from Balboa High School in the Zone raised a U.S flag on the pole in front of the school. School authorities removed it and the students walked out of class and raised another flag and posted guards to protect it. On January 9, 1964, students at the Instituto Nacionál, just outside of the Canal Zone, heard about the actions of the Balboa High students and decided to make a statement regarding Panamanian sovereignty over the Canal Zone and, after informing their school principal and the Canal Zone authorities of their plans, about 150 to 200 students, led by Guillermo Guevara Paz, marched to Balboa High where they planned to hoist the Panamanian flag on the same pole as the Zonian students had hoisted the U.S. flag. At Balboa High, the Panamanian students were met by the Canal Zone police and Zonian adults and students. After negotiations with the police, a small group were allowed to approach the flag pole. The Zonians surrounded the students and the flag pole, started singing The Star Spangled Banner, rejected the deal made with the police and a scuffle broke out. The flag the Panamanian students were carrying (which had historical significance, having been carried in anti-U.S. protests in 1947) was torn in the scuffle. The police escorted the students back to where the rest of their group was standing.

Word of the incident spread through the city, and crowds began forming along the fence which separated the Canal Zone from Panama City. Some people ran into the Zone and planted Panamanian flags. Some people threw rocks and the police responded with tear gas and bullets. The Canal Zone authorities requested help from la Guardia Nacionál (Panama's Armed Forces) but the Guardia stayed away from the fighting. Some protesters began to tear down the fence between the Zone and Panama and the police responded with more tear gas and more gun fire. Soon Panamanians were shooting back. Riots broke out and U.S. owned businesses were torched. Ascanio Arosemena, a 20 year-old student, was the first to be martyred. He was helping evacuate wounded protesters when he was shot. A six-month-old girl, Maritza Avila Alabarca, died of respiratory problems when her neighborhood was gassed. All in all, 22 Panamanians died in the incident and are considered martyrs. They are: Ascanio Arosemena, Luis Bonilla, Josi Del Cid Cobos, Teofilo Belisario De La Torre, Gonzalo A. France, Victor M. Garibaldo, Josi Enrique Gil, Ezequiel Meneses Gonzalez, Victor M. Iglesias, Rosa Elena Landecho, Carlos Renato Lara, Evilio Lara, Gustavo Lara, Ricardo Murgas Villamonte, Alberto Nichols Constance, Estanislao Orobio W., Jacinto Palacios Cobos, Ovidio L. Saldana, Rodolfo Sanchez Benitez, Alberto Oriol Tejada and Celestino Villareta. This incident led to the end of the idea of the Canal Zone being U.S. property in perpetuity and led to the eventual closing of U.S. bases and the transfer of control of the Canal to Panamá.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

The Baptism of Our Lord

Father in heaven, who at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan proclaimed him your beloved Son and anointed him with the Holy Spirit: Grant that all who are baptized into his Name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess him as Lord and Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Friday, January 06, 2012

It's Epiphany, Everbuddy!

Oh Dios, que por la guía de una estrella manifestaste tu único Hijo a los pueblos de la tierra: Guía a tu presencia a los que ahora te conocemos por fe, para que veamos tu gloria cara a cara; mediante Jesucristo nuestro Señor, que vive y reina contigo y el Espíritu Santo, un solo Dios, ahora y por siempre. Amén.

Wow! It's the Feast of the Epiphany and this is the first time in twelve years that I'm not playing the music for the yoots' Epifanía pageant, which feels quite strange. So, no photos of cute kiddles dressed as the Holy Fambly this year. Sorry.

I See You!

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