Monday, September 16, 2013

King's Eulogy for the Birmingham Bombing Victims

Still another little known oration by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the eulogy he delivered at the funeral of, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley three of girls killed in Birmingham, Alabama  at the 16th Street Baptist Church (the parents of Carole Robertson, chose to have a separate service for their daughter).

It captures pathos of that event and the weight of anger and hurt that would transform this tragedy into the springboard which would catapult our country into a nation that would state its commitment to equality in the 1964 Civil Rights Act.


This afternoon we gather in the quiet of this sanctuary to pay our last tribute of respect to these beautiful children of God. They entered the stage of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they were privileged to act on this mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly well. Now the curtain falls; they move through the exit; the drama of their earthly life comes to a close. They are now committed back to that eternity from which they came.

These children—unoffending, innocent, and beautiful—were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.

And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician [Audience:] (Yeah) who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats (Yeah) and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. (Speak) They have something to say to every Negro (Yeah) who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

And so my friends, they did not die in vain. (Yeah) God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. (Oh yes) 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 (Yeah) that will bring new light to this dark city. (Yeah) The holy Scripture says, "A little child shall lead them." (Oh yeah) The death of these little children may lead our whole Southland (Yeah) from the low road of man's inhumanity to man to the high road of peace and brotherhood. (Yeah, Yes) These tragic deaths may lead our nation to substitute an aristocracy of character for an aristocracy of color. The spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham (Yeah) 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. (Yeah)
And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour (Yeah Well), we must not despair. (Yeah, Well) We must not become bitter (Yeah, That’s right), nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. (Yeah, Yes) Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.

May I now say a word to you, the members of the bereaved families? It is almost impossible to say anything that can console you at this difficult hour and remove the deep clouds of disappointment which are floating in your mental skies. But I hope you can find a little consolation from the universality of this experience. Death comes to every individual. There is an amazing democracy about death. It is not aristocracy for some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people. Kings die and beggars die; rich men and poor men die; old people die and young people die. Death comes to the innocent and it comes to the guilty. Death is the irreducible common denominator of all men.

I hope you can find some consolation from Christianity's affirmation that death is not the end. Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance. Death is not a blind alley that leads the human race into a state of nothingness, but an open door which leads man into life eternal. Let this daring faith, this great invincible surmise, be your sustaining power during these trying days.

Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. (Yeah, Yes) Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. (Yeah) And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him (Yeah, Well), and that God is able (Yeah, Yes) to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.

And so today, you do not walk alone. You gave to this world wonderful children. [moans] They didn’t live long lives, but they lived meaningful lives. (Well) Their lives were distressingly small in quantity, but glowingly large in quality. (Yeah) And no greater tribute can be paid to you as parents, and no greater epitaph can come to them as children, than where they died and what they were doing when they died. (Yeah) They did not die in the dives and dens of Birmingham (Yeah, Well), nor did they die discussing and listening to filthy jokes. (Yeah) They died between the sacred walls of the church of God (Yeah, Yes), and they were discussing the eternal meaning (Yes) of love. This stands out as a beautiful, beautiful thing for all generations. (Yes) Shakespeare had Horatio to say some beautiful words as he stood over the dead body of Hamlet. And today, as I stand over the remains of these beautiful, darling girls, I paraphrase the words of Shakespeare: (Yeah, Well): Good night, sweet princesses. Good night, those who symbolize a new day. (Yeah, Yes) And may the flight of angels (That’s right) take thee to thy eternal rest. God bless you.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Legacy of Four Little Girls

On this day 50 years ago, four little girls were killed in Birmingham, Alabama's 16th Street Baptist Church, as they prepared to for worship. They were killed by three white men in response to the demonstrations in that city which protested segregation. Those protests and this heinous act of violence, along with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November of that same year, would be the catalysts for the landmark Civil Rights Act legislation of 1964. 

When people ask why we can't simply 'get over race', or why we are so sensitive to issues of racism. We should remember the names of four little girls: Carole Robertson, Denise McNair, Addie Mae Collins and Cynthia Wesley. These are four girls who didn't get to graduate high school. Never became the doctors, teachers, mothers or church leaders they might have become, because of racial hate. We should remind them that these were little girls whose classmates, and church members, still remember them and miss them. They have parents who suffered anguish that most of us will never know, because of that hatred. 

We should remind those who asked the question, that they were killed by men who had safe places where they could use the 'N' word and so objectify people who weren't like them, that they thought nothing of bombing a house of worship. They had friends and family, who didn't stop them when they spewed hatred. They had co-workers, or employers from whom they could express bigotry without consequence because it was 'the norm'. And there were people who knew who that they bombed the church who didn't speak up because of fear of reprisal or because they agreed. 

And we should remind them that dull memories in the face of such hatred and bigotry, is the fertile ground out of which such unimaginably reprehensible acts grow. We should tell them, we've lost too many other girls, men, women and boys to racial hatred and violence. We've don't need anymore sacrifices like this. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

1908 Methodist Social Creed

The Methodist Episcopal Church stands:
For equal rights and complete justice for all men in all stations of life.
For the principles of conciliation and arbitration in industrial dissensions.
For the protection of the worker from dangerous machinery, occupational diseases, injuries and mortality.
For the abolition of child labor.
For such regulation of the conditions of labor for women as shall safeguard the physical and moral health of the community.
For the suppression of the "sweating system."
For the gradual and reasonable reduction of the hours of labor to the lowest practical point, with work for all; and for that degree of leisure for all which is the condition of the highest human life.
For a release for [from] employment one day in seven.
For a living wage in every industry.
For the highest wage that each industry can afford, and for the most equitable division of the products of industry that can ultimately be devised.
For the recognition of the Golden Rule and the mind of Christ as the supreme law of society and the sure remedy for all social ills.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

'The West Wing' - Art Imitating Life...Again

This scene from the 'West Wing' came to mind in light of the proposed resolution in support of military action against Syria. The resolution is in support of President Barack Obama's call for limited missile strikes against Syria because of President Bashar al-Assad use of chemical weapons against his own people. It is indeed, a dilemma. Great Britain's Parliament has refused to support the action with the United States and it's far from a mortal lock - even though expected - that Congress will give the President the support he is requesting. Congress actually probably will, but a lack of strong support for the resolution could weaken the President's hand. 

What's particularly interesting are the role reversals here. Chief of Staff Leo McGarry (played by the late John Spencer), is actually arguing the point of the Administration. President Jed Bartlett (Martin Sheen), gives voice to those who are more cautious position. Instead of a despotic ruler slaughtering his own people, a government harboring suspected terrorists is the target. The President is being urged to take action. He is being much too deliberate in the eyes of the country. The Chief of Staff is strongly urging the President to take action. The tension, drama and passion portrayed by these two extraordinary actors, highlights the conundrum of our own present day dilemma. 

I always tend to lean against anything that smacks of war. I believe all diplomatic and political options should be exhausted before we sacrifice or take human life. I'm sure that sounds naive. But our misadventures in Iraq and the blood spilled and treasure spent in Afghanistan should make us cautious. 

I don't know if limited military strikes are realistic. I don't see how they won't lead to war. I don't understand how we don't have money for education, food stamps, unemployment insurance, jobs programs, health care, housing and social service for the homeless, but we have money to take unilateral action military action. Part of the reason for the deficits that have left these programs vulnerable are the billions of dollars we have spent in wars we have been fighting for ten years. 

As intemperate and inappropriate as Leo McGarry's outburst may be, he has a point, 'We don't always know how it ends!' That's pretty much true regarding the military consequences of the actions being proposed. We know how it ends for some of our most vulnerable citizens if this escalates to war. 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Affordable Care Act & The October 1st Deadline

Whether you know it or not, the Affordable Care Act doesn't determine whether or not taxpayers will pay for health care for the uninsured, but how. Currently, we pay for health care for the through higher taxes and higher insurance premiums. The ACA (I refuse to call it Obama Care), provides expanded coverage for those who are eligible and for those who are already insured as well. 

What's really important is that our healthy young people get in the system. It's the only way it becomes affordable. 

Here's some basic information you need to know about the Affordable Care Act and what you need to do in order to determine your eligibility for federal subsidies for health care:

Starting in October, 2013, you’ll be able to apply for financial assistance (subsidies) from the federal government to help pay for care and coverage in 2014.
  • Help with premiums and out-of-pocket expenses will be available through the Health Insurance Marketplaces.
  • If you qualify for federal financial assistance (subsidies), you can only get it through the Marketplaces.
  • Assistance will be on a sliding scale, based on income and family size. To see if you qualify for help, a calculator will be available on the Marketplaces.
Here are some general income guidelines that might be used by the government to see if you qualify for assistance:
  • If you’re single, the range of income qualifying for assistance could be between $15,282 and $45,960. In Hawaii, it could be between $17,596 and $52,920.
  • For couples, the range of combined income qualifying for assistance could be between $20,628 and $62,040. In Hawaii, it could be between $23,741 and $71,400.
  • For a family of four, the range of combined income qualifying for assistance could be between $31,322 and $94,200. In Hawaii, it could be between $36,030 and $108,360.
You can find more information here and here. If you live in Texas you can find out about enrollment here

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The Critical Common Good

"For Christians, faith is a precious good, the most valuable personal and social resource. When it is left untapped, the common good suffers - not just the particular interests of Christians."
Miroslav Volf

Monday, September 2, 2013

Happy Labor Day - Another Reason to Raise the Minimum Wage

My only argument with Robert Reich is that I think the minimum wage should be higher. Denying low income workers a living wage is simply cutting off our noses to spite our economic face...

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Tim Tebow's Still an Example - Does the Church Still Care?

"I would like to thank Mr. Kraft, Coach Belichick, Coach McDaniels and the entire Patriots organization for giving me the opportunity to be a part of such a classy organization. I pray for nothing but the best for you all. I will remain in relentless pursuit of continuing my lifelong dream of being an NFL quarterback." 2 Corinthians 12:9: And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient...

Tim Tebow's Tweet upon release from the New England Patriots

And with these words former NFL Tim Tebow's preseason stint with the New England Patriots comes to an otherwise inglorious end. One more team in the National Football League deemed him inadequate to fulfill their needs, even as a back up quarterback.

And that's a shame.

What's been clear is that what Tebow lacks in skills and talent, he made up in heart and determination. He still has heart and determination...even in adversity.

Tim Tebow came into the NFL, straight from a sterling collegiate football career that included a Heisman Trophy and a national championship. But questions about his ability to translate college success into professional glory abounded. The word was, he was just not good enough.

But Tebow was a man of faith. And as a Denver Bronco his faith appeared to just the thing to help him beat the odds. When given the opportunity, Tebow led the Broncos to a number of improbable victories, including a playoff win. In spite of his deficiencies, he appeared to be a winner. And not surprisingly there were Christians who latched on to him as if he was a metaphor for the eventual triumph of the unsuccesssful.
Pictures, both sincere and taunting, of Tim Tebow kneeling on the sidelines, in the end zone, praying in gratitude, made the pages of magazine covers and articles and the faithful suggested that you don't need to be talented or even competent, all you need is faith in God. Instead, what Tebow proved is something Rick Warren, pastor of the mega church Saddleback church wrote in the little acclaimed 'The Purpose Driven Church', 'Consecrated incompetence is incompetence still.'

Read, for instance, these words written by such an adherent, "Does God care if Tim Tebow wins?  Hello!  God CREATED football, the grass they run, throw, catch and tackle upon, the cow that died so there would be leather for the ball and he CREATED the players and GIFTED them with their talent.  He INSPIRED the coaches so they could create plays.  He BLESSED team owners so they could afford to own stadiums, and employ all the coaches, players, and personnel it takes to fill them.  He PLANNED ALL of this. So yes, for whatever reason, God did something awe inspiring with Tim Tebow.  Yes, He cares if Tebow wins."

This was one of the more tame peons of 'support'.

Look, I too am a man of faith and I believe that God cares about you and me and Tim Tebow. But some 18 months ago, Tebow was held up as almost a verifier of the Christian faith. Christians who seemed to need someone to point to someone and say, 'See, if you only believe, you can do great things. You need talent. You don't need technique, you don't need to follow the rules. All you need to do is believe!" I believe there are some limited circumstances in which those things have some truth. But all Christians aren't the exceptions to the rules.

At CitySquare, we have prospective supporters who ask, 'Where is the ministry?' In other words where is the place or program where you preach the Gospel to the poor and homeless? The facts are, many of the overwhelming surprising number, have faith. They don't have money, or a decent job, or a place to live. But they daily move throughout their lives doing what it takes to survive and in many cases, having accepted their circumstances and becoming a help to others. They will tell you about Jesus. And they will let you know that 'without Him I wouldn't be here.'

What those prospective supporters say, without saying it, is that a sign of 'being born again' is success. Success measured even in the simplest terms: a place to stay; enough food to eat; a job. If 'these people' had faith, they would have these things. And for them, it's antithetical to the faith to believe that you can provide food, healthcare, shelter or a job and not preach to them before, during or after.

Yet here is Tim Tebow, who has now been told by the third team in 18-19 months, you're not good enough to be a NFL quarterback. Up until a few months ago, churches wanted him to speak in worship. They wanted to hold him up as an example to their youth. An encourager to struggling parents: 'See, if you raise your child to be a Christian, he too, she too, can be successful.'

How many invitations will he receive now?

As I said before, it's a shame.

Its a shame because I think Tebow is not only a Christian, but one of the best examples of one. Not because he's an athlete, but because he is showing how to handle disappointment with class, with dignity and maturity. He is neither cursing his fate, nor is he exhibiting a Polyannish everything will be all right attitude. He's determined to pursue his dream, even though it hasn't worked out for him. Should Tebow ever become a professional QB, its this attitude that will make him a winner.And right now, it doesn't appear that Christians really value this lesson. It's unfortunate, because more people will be where he is now, than will ever hoist the equivalent of a Lombardi Trophy.

Tebow was, for awhile, a 'hero' to Christians who believe fame and material success is a sign of God's Favor. They forget that the Love of God isn't dependent upon earthly success, "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:38-39). 

We aren't successful in God's Kingdom because we succeeded, but because He succeeded!
There's a huge difference between what the Bible says about faith and 'success' and what we believe to be based on our 21st Century nationalistic filter. 

 But one thing's for sure, whatever happens to Tim Tebow, we're missing out on a great lesson!