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Monday, January 16, 2006

A Time Comes When Silence Is Betrayal

On those days when my anger outweighs my sense of hope and my sense of fairness, there are a number of writings that I reach for to soothe my mind and my heart. In some cases, it's a matter of philosophy. In some, its factual background. But with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I reach for him because his soaring rhetoric heals the soul.

And his rise from humble circumstances to be one of the genuine heroes of the civil rights movement is a source of inspiration to me on my darkest days. One voice raised in the cause of justice can be a beacon to all those living in darkness, and Dr. King was such a voice.

Such a mighty voice, ringing out over the mountaintops in the cause of freedom and justice, and reaching into the valleys of despair to lift those living in the darkness onto the wings of angels so that they might soar up, up, into the light of freedom that was promised to them in our nation's founding. A promise that was given to all of us -- and an obligation to every citizen in this nation to live up to the possibility that America truly be a shining city on a hill. Every citizen. Every one of us has that obligation every single day.

For me, one of the greatest legacies of Dr. King is that anything is possible if you pour all that you have into it, and do your work with the intent of lifting your fellow man into the light. On this day that we celebrate the legacy of Dr. King, I wanted to share some of my favorite passages, so that you might use them to lead yourselves out of your darkest days as well.

Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963:
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.
From Strength to Love, 1963:
Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
I Have a Dream speech, Aug. 28, 1963: (includes audio)
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
Strength to Love, 1963:
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.
Letter from Birmingham Jail, April 16, 1963:
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
Beyond Vietnam -- A Time to Break Silence speech, April 4, 1967: (includes audio)
"A time comes when silence is betrayal...."

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government's policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one's own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexed as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak. And we must rejoice as well, for surely this is the first time in our nation's history that a significant number of its religious leaders have chosen to move beyond the prophesying of smooth patriotism to the high grounds of a firm dissent based upon the mandates of conscience and the reading of history. Perhaps a new spirit is rising among us. If it is, let us trace its movements and pray that our own inner being may be sensitive to its guidance, for we are deeply in need of a new way beyond the darkness that seems so close around us.
I'm often asked why I started blogging. One reason is that I want my child to grow up in a nation that matches its actions to the soaring hopes of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The time came when my silence seemed a betrayal. No longer.