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National Day of Remembrance

I find I have little to add, this Martin Luther King Day to what I said three years ago. If you, Gentle Reader, have a thought to share about Martin Luther King, Jr. and his remembrance, please feel free to share it.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,
-Vardibidian.

Edited to add: as usual, a browse through the words of the Reverend King yields new (to me) food for thought.

Every true Christian is a fighting pacifist.

In a very profound passage which has been often misunderstood, Jesus utters this: He says, "Think not that I am come to bring peace. I come not to bring peace but a sword." Certainly, He is not saying that he comes not to bring peace in the higher sense. What He is saying is: "I come not to bring this peace of escapism, this peace that fails to confront the real issues of life, the peace that makes for stagnant complacency." Then He says, "I come to bring a sword" not a physical sword. Whenever I come, a conflict is precipitated between the old and the new, between justice and injustice, between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. I come to declare war over injustice. I come to declare war on evil. Peace is not merely the absence of some negative force--war, tension, confusion, but it is the presence of some positive force--justice, goodwill, the power of the kingdom of God.

29 March 1956


He returns to the theme in A Realistic Look at the Question of Progress in the Area of Race Relations:
For you see, true peace is not merely the absence of some negative force, but it is a presence of some positive force. I think that is what Jesus meant when one day his disciples stood before him with their glittering eyes, wanting to hear something good, and Jesus looked at them and said, in no uncertain terms, "Brethren, I come not to bring peace, but a sword." He didn’t mean, "I come to bring a physical sword." He didn’t mean, "I come not to bring positive peace." What Jesus is saying, "I come not to bring this old negative peace which makes for deadening passivity and stagnant complacently. And whenever I come a conflict is precipitated between the old and the new. Whenever I come, there is a lashing out between justice and injustice. Whenever I come, there is a division between the forces of light and the forces of darkness." Peace is not merely the absence of tension, but it is the presence of justice.

10 April 1957


Comments

Ah, the presence of justice. Wouldn't that be nice, if Jesus had actually brought it?

peace
Matt


In "One God Clapping," Rabbi Alan Lew's autobiography, he writes about going to see Martin Luther King Jr speak at the National Mall in D.C. At the time, he was suddenly struck with the awareness that he was in the living presence of a modern prophet, and by prophet he meant an Old Testament type prophet. I was curious what you thought of this characterization. Do you think it appropriate?


Well, the Reverend Dr. King didn't (as far as I know) claim prophetic visions. You could argue that the vocabulary of the time demanded prophetic visions, and that in our times, similar prophecies could be couched as having a dream. I can't go that far. I wasn't convinced by Spinoza's argument that essentially widens prophecy to include inspiration and then widens inspiration to include any kind of thought or creativity.

Still, you could have a sort of halfway definition that insists on a Message, transmitted through the Prophet, such message deriving not from any ordinary thought or creativity of the Prophet but from the Divine for the purpose of transmitting it to the people. I am a trifle reluctant to go even that far, but it is somewhat appealing.

For me, I think I would be happier keeping the Reverend Dr. King in a category of inspired leader, able to do many of the things Prophets do. On the other hand, the only reason I know that the Prophets are, in fact, Prophets is that the Bible tells me so; the Scripture being closed, my definition is closed also, which makes it simple but less than helpful.

What is prophecy, anyway? I think I asked that in this Tohu Bohu five years ago, and I don't think I got a satisfactory answer. I suppose the good news is that in the last five years, I've learned not only not to expect a satisfactory answer, but to value the unsatisfactory answers and the inevitable questions they will provoke.

Thanks,
-V.


As for what's a Prophet, I tend to go with Someone Who Prophecies, and I don't see MLK, Jr. in that category, myself. Since my conception of The Divine is somewhat different from yours, and I'd imagine yours is probably different from Rabbi Alan Lew's, and his, in turn, is probably different from the Rev Dr K's, and isn't life so interesting and fun, I don't require Divine Inspiration (or, more accurately, I make no distinction between Divine Inspiration and anything else) to make a Prophet. On the other hand, if the insightful Rabbi was thinking Prophet = Bona Fide Holy Man - a Prophet in the Islamic sense, where Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammed are all Prophets, along with all those Old Testament types, you know, I can get behind that.

peace
Matt


i wonder if the retainment of "poet", on the other hand, and its loss of power -- hmm. can i blame the greco-roman clinical approach to rhetoric?


Go for it. Let us know how that works out.

peace
Matt


yeah it's probably got more to do with having nowhere new to go as a promised land, inside or outside yourself. i think that's a prerequisite for people to distinguish between revolutionary and divinely-inspired ideas. although mass culture is a pretty new thing, so, smaller groups of people maybe find their own guides and signs, within the context.

me i'd say einstein was the major candidate for prophet of the 20th century. a whole new cosmology out of thin air. think of the reverence on his name, now. baby einstein. there's almost a taboo on using the name.


(easy to argue that E=mc^2 is a new golden rule. this has little to do with anything, except maybe wondering if the industrial revolution wrecked the sense of social leaders as inventors.)


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