9 self care encouragements for such a time as this

self care for such a time as this

Unless you have been living under a rock, you know the ludicrousness that is our country and the gut wrenching realities many in our world are living. Puerto Rico. The Dreamers. Collin Kaepernick. Las Vegas. Health care. The California wild fires. And the commentary our president offers every day on Twitter.

For those of us with PTSD, anxiety, depression, or the like, these are hard times. Even if you don’t struggle with an actual mental health diagnosis, life can feel overwhelming. Whether it’s the needs of your family or the refugee crisis, your finances or the genocide of the Rohingya, your sick dog or North Korean nuclear weapons, we are all in some stress right now.

Not long after being diagnosed with PTSD, I met with a counselor friend of mine and he explained the importance of taking care of myself preemptively. He used an analogy of glass of water that I found helpful in visualizing my stress levels and need for self/soul care.

He said the water in the glass represents the stress in my life. When I implement the things below, the water level lowers. When I don’t, the level hovers near the top. A traumatic or stressful event is the equivalent of a pitcher emptying itself into my glass. If I have not been caring for myself well, and my glass is already full, it will overflow. If I have been keeping my stress levels low, my glass can receive the extra water (stress) without spilling out all over the place. Make sense?

At first glance the list below may seem overwhelming. I get it. Why not commit to one thing this week, add another the next week, another the next and so on? I don’t implement each of these steps perfectly all the time, but the more of them I do, the better I feel.

Counseling.

Get theeself to counseling AT ANY COST. Literally, charge that session if you need to. It’s worth the interest. I cannot stress this enough. If you have trauma in your background, an EMDR therapist is best.

Evaluate your schedule with a friend with a radar for stress.

Ask someone you trust to take a look at your schedule with you, specifically examining for stressful activities or just too many activities period. Honestly reflect on each commitment you have and ask yourself, Is it stressful. Is it necessary? Will someone die if you stop doing it? Can you take a break? The goal here is to eliminate stressful activities as much as possible and to create white space in your schedule.

Exercise.

I know, I know. You’re busy. See #2. Also, that body, mind, soul connection is real. If you can exercise at the same time every day, even better.

Daily alone/quiet/God time.

When we take the things out of our schedule that cause us stress, we can replace them with things that really matter, really protect our mental and emotional health, and connect us with God. If quiet time is new or difficult for you, start with just five minutes a day and increase from there.

Commit to the thing that gives you life.

What makes you feel alive? Commit to doing that thing at least twice a week, three times if you can swing it. This is especially important for parents and caretakers. It’s easy to lose myself in the roles I fulfill and forget what actually fulfills me. The Lord planned the days for me, not the other way around.

Unplug.

We were not made to hold all the hurts of the world, and in this digital hyper-connected age we live in, we have access to all the hurts all the time. It’s not good. Maybe you need to give up Facebook, implement analogue weekends, or take a longer period of time away from the internet?

Get enough sleep.

Even if you don’t thrive on routine, having a plan for getting enough sleep is critical for most of us if we’re going to make it happen. Rhythms and rituals help us follow through with our best intentions. Set a timer for when you want your bedtime routine to begin. Light a candle, make a cup of tea, use a special lotion or oil, read a good book and commit to lights out at the optimum time for you. This one is critical for me. When the shit hits the fan, I am not capable of responding with grace and patience on not enough sleep.

Plan ahead so there are options.

This step applies specifically to those of us living in traumatic environments. How will you stay safe? How will you keep your kids safe? When will you call the police? Can you trust the police? What friend or neighbor can you call to help? Do you have a prayer team you can text for prayer in the moment? What can you do to diffuse the situation? Where is the safest place in your house? Where is the closest psychiatric hospital?

Again, I realize these questions don’t apply to most people’s situations, but if they apply to you, I invite you to think through them, write them down, and talk with a trusted friend or counselor about them.*

Accept the invitation to deal with past trauma.

If you are dealing with secondary trauma or anxiety, there may be an invitation for you to deal with past trauma. Why are you triggered by a certain situation? If triggered is not a word you’re familiar with, think about how your body feels in XYZ situation. Does your heart begin to pound? Do you feel short of breath? Are your hands shaky? Are you unable to think rationally? Do you feel out of control? If so, there may be unaddressed trauma in your past. The present is an invitation to face it head on, with the help of a qualified counselor.

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I’m typically not a fan of listicle type posts, but given the time on our world clock, I thought these self care encouragements might be helpful to those of us alive right now.

If you have others I’d love to hear them in the comments!

 

 

*If you are in a abusive relationship call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1−800−799−7233 or TTY 1−800−787−3224.

the intentionality of gentrification (+ an interview with Leroy Barber)

A few years ago, on the block behind us, a low-level developer purchased a quaint two-story yellow wooden house with a perfect-for-Miami-nights screened in front porch. She promptly removed the doors and welcomed the elements and critters of South Florida, creating an intentionally uninhabitable environment. Eventually the city condemned the once perfectly livable home, and approved a permit for demolition. I stood in front of the house last month, weeping as it was knocked to the ground.

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I’ve written previously about the mass evictions that took place last summer (and continue) on the main strip in our neighborhood. Over 200 units owned by a slumlord who intentionally let his buildings fall into disrepair once again prompted the city to deem them uninhabitable – “forcing” him to evict everyone living there. Each of those individuals now bear the unnecessary burden of an eviction on their record, and future landlords care little if it was their fault or (clearly) not.

Overwhelmingly, most landlords simply have a policy not to rent to folks who have been evicted. Application denied.

The same slumlord boarded a few of those buildings while people were still living in them. The tenants previously refused to leave because of the injustice of the situation – they were still paying rent after all – and because frankly they had no where else to go.

Another slumlord in our neighborhood has been raising the rent of his African-American tenants every one to three months for years. He refuses to let them sign leases, then charges an extra $100 a month for not having a lease. He only accepts cash as a from of payment and does not give tenants receipts for the rent paid. The Latino/a tenants are not subject to this same treatment.

It’s important to note, my neighborhood is quite small, encompassing only a 10×10 square block area.

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Two years ago, I was shocked by the intentionality with which my neighbors were being displaced. I have come to learn gentrification is always intentional.

I realize some of you may not be familiar with the term, and unfortunately even the definition offered by Wikipedia falls woefully short, but for the purposes here, I am defining gentrification as the intentional displacement of low-income residents due to government entities and developers catering to and prioritizing housing for and the quality of life of more affluent residents.

In his book How to Kill a City, Peter Moskowitz states, “In every gentrifying city – that is, in every city where there is a combination of new coffee shops and condos, hipsters, and families struggling to hang on – you can usually trace the start of that change not to a few pioneering citysteaders but to a combination of federal, local, and state policies that favor the creation of wealth over the creation of community. Usually the policies come in the form of deregulation and privatization of urban services: transportation, education, and especially housing. By the time the hipsters arrive, the political and economic forces that paved the way for them have been at work for years.”

In my recent Upside Down Podcast interview with Leroy Barber, he says developers receive their green light to begin investing in an under-resourced community from the government itself. Moskowitz obviously agrees. Both men have visited numerous US cities to uncover the causes of gentrification and to hear directly from people who have been displaced by those causes.

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The community services building in our neighborhood is owned by Miami-Dade County. Out of the large, open space built in the late 1970’s, services such as food stamps, energy assistance, and emergency food are offered from makeshift cubicles. On most evenings, it houses meetings where seventh and eighth generation Afro-Bahamians gather in dingy orange chairs around folding tables to discuss the future of their beloved community.

In 2015, the County put out a Request for Proposals “from experienced developers for a mixed-use development.”  This was the signal – one of many – from the government to developers and investors: Drop your dollars here. We are making a way for you.

The fundamental component only discussed behind closed doors and in hushed phone calls is what will become of the people currently inhabiting and utilizing those spaces? As one county employee here said, there is no plan for those people.

In a city where two-thirds of our low-income residents do not have adequate housing, our government has no plan for them. In making a way for developers, whoever is in the way will be displaced. This is not happenstance. It is personal. 

With local government and wealthy developers acting as accomplices, it is incredibly difficult to get in front of gentrification. Often, as Leroy explained, by the time sidewalks are installed and landscaping is “beautified,” ten-year plans are already in place to completely flip the neighborhood.

In other words, by the time the doors come off, it’s usually too late.

As a person of faith, I am compelled to ask where is the Church in all of this; the answers are uncomfortable. The Church has far too often been on the offending end of displacement. While I am ill-equipped to speak deeply on the subject, we only have to do a broad overview of the history of Christianity in our country (Although a much deeper look is necessary and the responsibility of any Christian.) to be reminded it was in the name of God that Native Americans were slaughtered and African-Americans enslaved. We, specifically white Christians, have a dark and deep history of being the oppressor and it continues today.

Many would argue the intention of white Christians is not to oppress our brothers and sisters of color, however, intentions matter little when our complacency in the face of systems of injustice and oppression and the effects of our behavior are completely out of line with Jesus.

When I asked Leroy about this, specifically why the Church in America is not doing more to prevent to displacement of people of color, he said at the end of the day, we still don’t see African-Americans as human, as actual people. I wish I could say everything I have seen and heard in the last two years of living among people of color invalidates his point of view, but I cannot.

How else do we explain tolerating policies and economics that permit people to be boarded up inside molding apartment buildings just blocks from our clean, safe, dry church buildings where we sit sipping gourmet coffee?

The American Church at large seems to be just as liable as the political system for it’s complicity in valuing the creation of wealth over the creation of community and it is costing our low income neighbors their lives. If we believe they deserve better, what are we doing about it?

If we are to resemble Jesus, we must listen to voices from the margins. We must acknowledge and repent of our complacency and contribution to their dehumanization. We must not settle for Americhristianity. We must not conform to the systems of this world – we must resist them and renew our minds with the transforming power of Jesus. Because the good, pleasing and perfect will of God is surely safe housing for all.

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I do not know what your individual context is – I am still learning mine – but as Leroy points out in our interview, we are unfortunately, for many, still in the awareness phase of gentrification and displacement of communities of color. As equally unfortunate, there are very few adequate resources on the topic, particularly from a Biblical worldview. Three I can recommend today are Peter Moskowitz’s book already mentioned, my interview with Leroy on the Upside Down Podcast, and D.L. Mayfield’s article “Church Planting and the Gospel of Gentrification” in recent issue of Sojourner’s magazine. I would also recommend listening to any interviews by Propaganda you can find on iTunes and listening to his new song “Gentrify.”

As I said in the closing of the podcast, you will not trip into this work of creating a more liveable planet – you will need to be intentional. But it is never too late to start. 

 

 

autism scares me

It was a “dog day of summer” and NPR was pumping through the speakers of my sky blue minivan. Michael Brown was shot and killed just a couple weeks earlier, and the fractured race relations of our country were coming into light for many previously in the dark. I drove the tree-lined streets of my midwestern town as I listened to a woman speak of the fear she held for her son – a black, autistic teenager. She was being interviewed at a seminar designed to teach kids on the autism spectrum and their parents how to interact with police.

I passed the two-story, red brick apartment building where my sons lived for a short time with their birth mother. I thought of their stories of lights not working and the refrigerator being bare. I thought about how they were a short five blocks from our home, how we possibly passed them on walks or played at the same park without even realizing it. I thought about how the color of their skin would affect every interaction they have with authority figures, particularly the police, as they grew.

In 2014, my black and brown sons were three and four but I knew police officers (and I think we can safely assume everyone else) overestimate the age of black felony-suspected children by close to five years. I felt sympathy for the mother whose voice filled my ears.

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He had been gone for about fifteen minutes, twenty tops. He left something in the condo – a ball, his goggles – I don’t remember what. It’s not until I see my husband walking back to the pool alone I realize something is wrong.

There are moments in motherhood when I hesitate – something in my gut forces a pause. This was not one of those moments. My son asked to go back to the condo to locate his forgotten something-or-other, and I said yes.

“Where’s Malachi?” I shout across the pool. “I thought he was with you,” is the response that floats back over the water. It takes a few more sentences to explain, but I knew immediately: Malachi was missing.

This is another motherhood moment, the one where fear strikes your heart like an ice pick and your insides go hollow. One of my children is missing.

I quickly usher the other kids out of the pool and send them inside with my brother and sister. I run around to the front of our condo building: the eleventh of thirteen completely identical buildings. Of course he got lost. Of course he couldn’t remember which one was ours.

“Have you seen a little boy, he’s wearing swimming trunks and a white towel around his neck?”
“Is he black?”
“Yes.”
“Yeah, he was up around building nine.”

I run to building nine and shout his name several times. I ask a women walking by if she has seen a little boy and she tells me no. William is shouting his name. Malachi is nowhere to be found. My phone has 1% battery left. I tell William we need to call condo security.

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I am back in my van on that stifling summer day of 2014. I hear the words of those mothers in my head, “It’s my worst nightmare,” she says. “I have the issue with him not understanding, possibly, a command to put your hands up or to get on the ground. So, yes, it’s scary.”

The 2017 me has watched black teenagers chased through the streets by police, complete with helicopters and police dogs, with my own eyes. The 2017 me is no longer in the dark. The 2017 me is the mother of a black, autistic little boy who looks five years older than he actually is. A little boy who will often not make eye contact, who may not process a command the first time it is given, who may flee instead of freeze or fight.

The 2017 me is terrified to call unarmed security officers to help locate my lost son. 

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I have friends and online acquaintances who have written beautiful words about autism and their appreciation for it. Autism has made them better mothers, they say. Autism has given them gifts, they say.

I do not feel this way about autism. 

I am afraid of losing my son. To autism. To medications that numb his personality. To one of the other diagnosis that trails behind his name and his person. To a fidgety police officer who takes his cognitive delays as non-compliance. I am not a better mother because of autism. I am scared.

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I turn the corner around building ten and see my brother walking towards me, nodding. They found him. He is safe.

Out of breath, I climb the steps to the porch and see him standing there, eyes wide, towel still draped around his shoulders. “Are you ok?” I ask. He nods. “Were you scared?” He nods. “I’m sorry,” I say, “that was my fault. All the buildings look the same, I should not have sent you back by yourself.” “I got confused,” he says. “Of course you did buddy, of course you did.”

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The complexity of who this little person is – male, black, autistic, image bearer, adopted, bi-racial – and the intersectionality of these identities, is heavy. There is no bow that ties them neatly in the midst of a fallen world. There is only doing the best we can and prayer. But the honest truth is, some days it does not feel like enough.

Some days the weight is heavier than I think I can bear. Some days the air feels thicker-than-August-in-Miami thick and the judging eyes penetrate my flesh. Some days prayers feel unanswered. Some days are hard. Not all days are this way, of course, but some of them are.

Maybe some day I will write my own beautiful words about autism.

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Images via

thoughts on housing, scarcity + roots

patio

This morning I sat on the driveway-turned-patio of our new house and tried to read a few Psalms. The Bahamian immigrants who settled the street over one hundred years ago originally named it Evangelist Street. As more and more Bahamians put down roots and homes and gardens here, they requested the city put in an actual road. The city declined, so they built the road themselves. Now here I sit, getting bitten by bugs and confused by the words of David.

Evangelist Street, now known as Charles Avenue, connects the affluent neighborhoods on the west and east of us. Red BMWs, white Mercedes, and black Maseratis speed down our block, from one stop sign to the next. I grow angrier with each passing car. I have noticed there are no speed limit signs on our street, five blocks long. I have noticed just around the corner, where the rich people live, there are speed bumps what feels like every twenty feet. I have noticed my disdain for the rich growing like the anger in my chest, racing like fancy cars down the street.

evangelist street

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We moved in last weekend and I am still not sure what to think of it. Wise people I trusted told me God knew we stood in solidarity with our neighbors in their struggle for safe housing, he needn’t put us through it ourselves. But then he did. (Of course we experienced a pasteled version of the struggle.)

We were told the house we lived in for the last year and a half and planned to buy was no longer available to us. We became the ones with not enough money and not enough power to obtain the house we’d made our home. We became the ones in need of safe housing. 

Despite Miami being one of the nation’s toughest housing markets, we quickly found a new place that was a great fit for our family. Large living space for meals and meetings, large yard for kids and dog, large garage-like room for building furniture. We signed a lease and put down a deposit because even though we have committed to living life among the poor, we are not poor ourselves and deposits are something we can do.

Weeks went by and the great fit house underwent renovations. Then one day they stopped. We learned through our housing advocate friends permits had not been applied for. The renovations would not be complete for our move in. Our move that was supposed to take place five days later.

We found another house. It was not great for a family of seven. But we could make it work for twelve months. It was rich in mangos and my kids are troopers and we could walk to the park when the space inside felt too small.

We were in the process of securing the house rich in mangos when my husband ran into our neighbor Seven. Seven was evicted in January. The slumlord who owns his building let it fall into disrepair, at which point the city condemned the building, forcing the slumlord to evict his tenants. This is known as a “constructive eviction,” meaning the cause was at the fault of the slumlord, but future landlords do not care about this. They see “eviction” on a potential tenant’s record and deny them housing.

The owner of the house rich in mangos does not run background checks or credit checks or any kind of check as long as you can produce the rent check. Seven was also in the process of securing the house rich in mangos.

This is the intersection of incarnational living and gentrification. Our family can pass a background check and a credit check and we can write a first, last and deposit check to secure safe housing. A lifetime of privilege allows for those things. While our housing options are severely limited due to our neighborhood choice and family size, Seven’s are nearly nonexistent.  

We passed on the house rich in mangos. Seven didn’t get it either. Now we live on Evangelist Street/Charles Avenue and Seven is between housing. I am tempted to think there is not enough housing for all but this is a lie.

The famous Ghandi quote about there being enough for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed is palpable here. It burns my nostrils and threatens to choke out hope. The vacant lots, fields as my neighbors call them, number over 200 in our small 10 square block neighborhood. Developers are sitting on them, waiting for the Bahamian descendants to be displaced completely so they can sell off to wealthier developers or build luxury condos only the richest of the rich can afford. While developers wait for this, our neighbors are forced to leave the streets built by their ancestors.

I sit in front of our new house and beg God to show me the Kingdom coming here.  I jot down thoughts about scarcity being a lie. I pray for Seven to find safe housing. I try to figure out what it looks like to put our roots down into people and not houses, relationships not places, eternity not temporary.

I have more questions than answers.

 

white privilege, prophetic resistance + the moment we find ourselves in

I regularly tell my kids their choices for communication with other human beings are to be kind or quiet.

Now you know why I’ve been quiet since January 20th.

I don’t have much in the way of complete thoughts or organized action steps or well researched plans. I have only this keen sense in the deepest part of my spirit that the marginalized will be the ones to lead us all to a more livable planet. It will not be us, white folks, to lead the resistance against the assault of the imago dei. The last are becoming first before our very eyes. Do you see them? Are you paying attention?

The prophet Isaiah tells us “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.” As Lisa Sharon Harper says in The Very Good Gospel, Isaiah was referring to the oppressed, the brokenhearted, the captives, and the prisoners. They will repair and restore the ruins.

If we follow a brown-skinned Jesus, why would we not be willing to follow the brown and black-skinned image bearers among us?

source unknown

source unknown

To be very, very clear, this does not mean we sit back, kick up our heals and beg for pictures of puppies on Facebook. While I believe marginalized people will be and are our leaders, they are also targets of the American empire.

In the Executive Order Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States, section Five allows for immigrants to be deported if they protest the atrocities being committed against them. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, those among us who have arguably been most brave and given up the most for their freedom will be deported for standing up for it.

As journalist Yonatan Zunger puts it in his article What Things “Going Wrong” Can Look Like, “Any protest, no matter how peaceful, will be declared a “riot” and a reason for sharply increased police presence, not just then, but going forward; we should expect to see a lot of very visible marching of cops through the streets, arrests of anyone for insubservience, and so on.”

This means we white citizens must be ready to put our bodies on the line for our brothers and sisters who cannot do so without risk of losing their lives. Those of us most at risk need those of us who aren’t. God wasn’t playing: we truly are our brothers and sisters keeper. Come for one of us, come for all of us. 

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Which brings me to this: not everyone’s actions will be the same. That is ok. There’s a part for everyone to play. It’s how God works. Writers, activists, lawyers, mothers, protestors, prophets, priests, taxi drivers, artists, fathers, NFL stars, teachers, and the rest. It will take all of us but know this: your part will not be handed to you. You will not trip into this movement of prophetic resistance.

You will have to do your own research, reading, listening, learning, engaging and following. You will have to show up when it’s hard and admit to not having answers. You will have to be humble. You will have to pray before you speak. You will have to get to the back of the line.

Many of us are asking What is happening? How did it come to this? If you’re asking those questions, you have the privilege of being surprised. (No judgement, I did too.) Our brothers and sisters of color have been experiencing similar atrocities for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Don’t believe me? Watch this. 

What does prophetic resistance look like for you? Maybe it looks like signing petitions or calling your representatives. Maybe it looks like joining a protest or feeding some attorneys. Maybe it looks like donating to the ACLU and to the smaller, local frontline agencies as well. It will take big acts of resistance – the Bree Newsomes among us – to scale the walls of white supremacy, and it will take the small foolish things that confuse the watching world. It will take baking cookies for our refugee neighbors and poems. It will take protests that shut down airports and walking our hijab wearing neighbor to the post office so she does not walk alone.

Never again is now friends. Speak the truth of the Bible to power even if your voice shakes. Walk in solidarity even if your knees buckle. Pay attention. Stay alert. And be ready to follow our brown-skinned Savior who laid down his life that we may all have life in abundance. Be ready to follow his lead.

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Letter from a Birmingham Jail 2

Image via CNN

I shared Letter from a Birmingham Jail last year on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and could think of no better way to honor his legacy today. Letter from a Birmingham Jail is an open letter written by Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1963 after being imprisoned for coordinating and participating in nonviolent marches and sit-ins against racism and racial segregation in Birmingham, Alabama. One of the most powerful letters ever written, it is a response to the local white clergymen calling for “patience” and suggesting King should trust them to move the civil rights movement forward. This letter is far longer than a traditional blog post, but, not only could I not bring myself to pick and choose the words from it I felt you should read, I assure you it is worth your time in its entirety.

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.

oreos + doing the best we can

moon

He asked for two Oreos.

I knew better, but in a cowardly Hail Mary, I reached into the half eaten package and pulled them out. Internally wincing, I said a silent prayer. Crumbs fell to the floor as I placed them in his hands. The others each got two. Two by two by two by two by two, I held my breath, hoping just this once, things could be “normal.”

They weren’t. Or maybe they were. It’s been so long since our days were strung together with something other than fits of rage and gusts of feelings too big for his growing frame. His once chubby arms now nearly overpower mine. This is the moment in time every mother of a dysregulated child dreads. It is the moment when therapists start to talk about “making plans” for keeping everyone safe. The bone-crushing downside to these plans is there is no felt safety for the one who lacks it most.

{This is the kind of thing sensible people don’t write on the internet.
This is the kind of thing I don’t know how to process otherwise.}

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When I was a little girl I would pick scabs off my wounds. I knew better and I winced as the newly formed skin broke loose from the flesh beneath and blood ran down my leg. Being laid bare before the sun and moon and stars exposes what civil people suggest we keep behind close doors. But maybe there is something cathartic about getting our insides out into the open air.

I think this is the inner turmoil of everyone who embraces both their creativity and their humanity; which is to say they embrace who they were made to be.

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I gave him two Oreos and it is nights like this one that end in fits of rage over things like making a bed or using walking feet. (instead of running ones) For the sake of the other kids we have taken to carrying the raging child out to our mini-van for a ride. Secondary trauma always lingers around the corner.

I think all parents second guess their every move, but there is a unique questioning that comes when you are parenting a child who has previously been parented by someone else and the wounds left by that someone else are so primal and so deep that they have now wounded your own soul and the souls of everyone in your household. There is a heavy weight, a special kind of guilt, the enemy seeks to heap on our souls. 

We become convinced we’re just screwing them all up.

Once in the van I put our blue Honda Odyssey into reverse and begin praying for Jesus to take the literal and figurative wheel. We have three radio stations programmed: NPR, Christian radio and 80’s. Since more talking would only serve to split my brain right down the middle and I’m not a fan of 80’s music, I opt for Christian radio. It is horrible. Occasionally there is a Lauren Daigle song and I know God loves me, but mostly it’s just really bad.

We drive under rows and rows of banyan trees as I fumble prayers, occasionally singing along because I don’t know why. The trees are magnificent and calming.

In my head I prepare a script of what I would say to a police officer who wants to know more about our situation. I check to make sure I have my wallet with extra business cards for the psychiatrist and pray that, should I need to prove the invisible special needs that have vomited us out into the night, the doctor will pick up his cell phone and verify my words.

Eventually the screaming stops. Words begin to form. I turn down the radio. We discuss a plan. There is more screaming. He is not ready. I turn the radio back up. We ride this cycle round and round like a scrambler at the state fair. It is jarring and unpleasant and everything in me screams GET OFF THE RIDE.

At some point later we try again. This time he is ready. We come up with a plan for what will happen when we reenter the house. He will use words. He will complete tasks. He will take his medicine. He will go to bed.

Sometimes we get inside and the plan falls apart. Sometimes we repeat our drive a few times. But usually the plan works. He crawls into bed and I sit at the end, both of us exhausted in every way. A really bad Christian radio song runs through my mind and I realize, most of us are just doing the best we can. 

when one word doesn’t feel like enough

 

I wish I could tell you I like words too much to pick just one. I’m pompous enough to think it, but it’s not entirely true.

The one word phenomenon is sweeping the internet. There are dozens of words I like, but none that seem a good fit for all of my life all the days of this year. I’m not anti the one word practice. I just have this growing feeling one word is not enough for 2017.

When one word doesn't feel like enough.Maybe every generation feels this way, has this hunch things are different now. That right now is a unique moment in history and we are about to encounter something unimaginable. Something that needs more than one word.

The post-election reductionist thinking to “trust God” or “pray” first led me down this path. Those are true and good things, but Jesus moved into the neighborhood to dwell among us. He came to know our bad news well decades before he ever started telling people to trust or pray.

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All the words rolling around in my mind need qualifiers.

When one word doesn't feel like enough.

Resistance is not enough for 2017. We need creative resistance. We need the writers and the painters and the dancers among us to lead. It is not enough to be against, we must actively be calling forth a more just, beautiful world and the creatives (which in our bones all of us are) to show us the way. 

Community is a lovely word, but for many it simply means finding more people who think and look and talk and act like us. It’s the way most humans work. But it’s not how the Kingdom is coming down. The upside down Kingdom is scandalously inclusive. Heaven’s gates swing wide. There are prophets and tax collectors and prostitutes and fisherman. Men, women and children. Black, brown, white and every shade in between. Scandalously inclusive community was Jesus’ idea and chasing hard after it will bring the Kingdom come more degrees of glory at a time than we can imagine.

When one word doesn't feel like enough.

We need hope. Oh how we need hope. Not just any hope will do in 2017. We need sweaty, gritty, dirt-beneath-our-nails hope. We need the kind of hope that leaves Heaven for the ghettos of our country and our own sinful hearts. We need audacious hope, rebellious hope, whimsical hope. 

I want to model the reckless kind of hope others call foolish. I want to be the first and most insubordinate when the least, last, lost and most marginalized are pushed farther outside the city gates. I want to be peculiar. I want to imagine a world that does not exist and work towards it with all the strange people I can bring along with me. I want to be among the odds ones, the ones who beyond reason, dream of the Kingdom coming on earth as it is in heaven.

And I want to protestify. I want to earnestly stand against evil while bearing witness to the third way. I want to tear down metaphoric and physical walls keeping people out and with them build tables and housing for all. I want the courage to say to both the oppressed and the oppressor; All are welcome here. I want my life to be a visible objection to the exclusion of image bearers. I want the both/and of God and I call BS on the either/or of this world.

And I want to use words.

following the light

This is our first true Christmas here and we are reaching for new traditions like a four-year old reaches for the star atop a tree. Last year our belongings, including Christmas stockings and chipped, hand-me-down decorations, were neatly tucked away in storage while we lived in someone else’s large and lizard infested farm-house. We did our best to celebrate joy coming down to the world but mostly it just felt like any other day.

This year we had a real tree. Juxtaposed with our annual jaunt to the tree farm where the kids and I traipsed through rows and rows of needly trees in the crisp November air, driving around the block to the Home Depot parking lot felt anticlimactic to say the least. There wasn’t the usual back and forth about which tree to get: fat or skinny, fir or pine or spruce, how tall is too tall. We just picked the first one we saw and all seven of us agreed.

But it was a real tree and we brought it home the day after Thanksgiving like we always do and William dropped down the dusty Rubbermaid containers from the attic and we began pulling out lights and ornaments and a Rudolph made of a small log and some twigs. It turns out most of the lights hadn’t survived the 1,100 mile migration south and several months in storage, but they would do.

I sweat as I wove strands of lights under and over the dry, prickly branches while the kids drank hot chocolate with their shirts off.

I thought about baby Jesus and man Jesus and wondered where is the thread that strings together this tree we are hanging ornaments on to the tree his divine yet wholly human frame hung on to die?

house

So Advent came and we celebrated Jesus’ coming and it all felt much too shallow and commercial, like it always does.

At the last minute on Christmas Day we decided to drive around and look at lights. We loaded the kids up in their pajamas, with hot chocolate for good measure, and headed toward a more affluent neighborhood.

There weren’t any lights. Any is my melancholy way of saying there weren’t as many lights as we were anticipating. There were a few houses with ropes of lights starting at the ground, coiling around the tropical trunks and climbing up the palm trees in their front yards. They were pretty, but they were still palm trees.

On one corner stood an impressive house with several large inflatable characters in the small patch of grass between their massive gate and the road. I think maybe there was a Snoopy, and probably a Santa.

We tried another row of streets known for their wealth a little closer to our house with no luck.

I mumbled something to my husband about heading back to the ‘hood to look for lights. I bet there are Christmas lights in the ghetto, I joked.

I turned left behind the failing elementary school, the one where bullets entered a classroom earlier this year, passed the simple playground tucked behind an old chain link fence and made our way to “the projects.”

And there they were. Lights. Bright white ones and colored ones. Flashing lights and dancing lights. There were people outside enjoying each other and there was not-too-loud music.

Of course the lights are here ,I thought, here on the margins, here with those facing homelessness, here where windows and families are broken by the weight of oppression and systemic injustice. Here, where Jesus would be if he were to walk among us today.

After all this time I’m still looking for Jesus among the wealthy and powerful, the rich and the clean, in all the wrong places. 

tree2

Scholars believe the Magi in Matthew’s telling of the Christmas story had likely heard the prophetic writings of Daniel and they ended up on King Herod’s doorstep just the same. They heard the coming glorious King had been born and they went to the Kingdom. Of course they did. The world had yet to see a subversive King like Jesus. A King who is really and also God, leaving Heaven to come down into our ghettos. The magi, like everyone else, had no category for Jesus as King.

It was the shepherds – the lowly, dirty, smelly, outcast shepherds who the angel came to find. And it was they who had the humility to follow the light to the place where the coming glorious King had been born. I imagine the shepherds didn’t feel out-of-place in the manger/stable/cave where Jesus joined the world. And that was exactly the point. Had he showed up in a castle, the story would be an entirely different one. But He came to us on the margins, and is it any wonder we can still and always find him here? 

for the hope-stubborn

I guzzled my iced mostly-vanilla-creamer-coffee through a metal straw as we drove under the tropical tree canopy lining the streets that lead to the building where our church meets on Sunday morning. We were late, as usual, and in my mind I was debating whether a trip to the bathroom would be absolutely necessary before dropping my youngest off in her class.

I told my husband an idea I had for writing about hope, and stumbled upon the realization that my best writing happens on Sundays. I often sit in church, filing pages in my notebook with words indecipherable to most. Later that day or that week or that year, they join together into something that feels like truth.

Today – a Sunday – I’m home with a sick kiddo, drinking the same iced coffee concoction, watching Scooby Doo while our puppy snoozes on the couch beside me. I’m looking at my notebook, barely able to make out words I myself wrote just last week, and I realize, I need the same virtual fist bump I had sketched out for you.

Is it just me, or does the internet feel like an all out ASSAULT on the image of God right now?

Not long ago I read a definition of PTSD describing it as a result of “psychological assault.” That’s kinda how the internet feels doesn’t it? Even for those of us who have never been sexually assaulted, who are not people of color, or undocumented immigrants, or muslim…

Oddly enough, this is where hope comes in. Hope is not void of reality; it’s the opposite of that. The hope-stubborn anthem is born from our broken world and broken hearts. It is written between tears and during lament. It stems not from inattentiveness but from paying close attention to the One who said in this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.

If Jesus has overcome the world, I can hope. If he is both our origin and our destiny, as Pope Benedict said, we can hope. If Jesus said the gates of hell will not overcome his Church, then they won’t, no matter what it feels like down here on Earth. (or on the internet.)

I don’t know about you, but I get overwhelmed and discouraged. I read words from Christians who claim some lives matter more than others. Christians who are willing to get mouthy on the internet about black babies in their mother’s wombs but when those same babies end up in the school to prison pipeline, they become eerily silent. I read pure hate from people who claim to love the same Jesus I do, the one who came into our world a brown-skinned poor refugee – the same kind of person they want to deport or detain or shut out. I see my friends getting attacked for saying they fear for their (black and brown) children’s lives. They couldn’t possibly be accurate in interpreting their own narrative. They couldn’t possibly be correct about what it’s like to be a person of color in this country. Clearly, it’s not really that bad.

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Outside my window, I watch as police officers chase the same teenager they chased last week and the week before. I wonder when his name will become a hashtag. Later, the great-grandmother on the corner sits on my couch and tell us her rent is going up $400 – about $400 more than she has. And CPS and a couple police cars show up across the street. They wanna talk to a single mother doing the best she can to get her kids to school and from where I sit peering out the window, it seems fear tactics are the only way we know how to do things these days.

These are the moments when the gates of Hell seem to BULGE. When darkness feels 42 weeks pregnant and the birth of evil inevitable. When overwhelmedness sets in and dismay clouds my vision. I am tempted to think I am alone. I am tempted to think the world has gone to crap. I forget there are more with us.

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In 2 Kings there is a very real physical war underway. Both kingdoms are far from the Lord and lost in their sin. (Sound familiar?) During one battle, the king of Aram orders his army to surround the people of Israel so he can capture the prophet Elisha, who is ruining all his plans. Aram’s men go in under the cloak of night and surround the Israelites.

behold, an army with horses and chariots was circling the city. And his servant said to him, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” So he (Elisha) answered, “Do not fear, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.  And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.  2 Kings 6:15b – 17

Matthew Henry’s commentary on 2 Kings says, “The opening of our eyes will be the silencing of our fears. In the dark we are most apt to be frightened. The clearer sight we have of the sovereignty and power of heaven the less we shall fear the calamities of this earth.”

THAT is where our hope comes from. It comes from opening our eyes in the direction of Heaven. It comes from believing there are more of us, on Earth and in Heaven, living into the reality of Isaiah 58 than there are spewing hatred on the internet. There are more of us pushing back darkness and drawing swords of the Spirit on behalf of the oppressed. There are more of us breaking chains and guarding the fatherless with our shields of faith. There are more of us letting the Light shine through our broken places.

There are more of us.

“Fear not with that fear which has torment and amazement, for those that are with us, to protect us, are more than those that are against us, to destroy us—angels unspeakably more numerous—God infinitely more powerful.” – Matthew Henry’s Commentary on 2 Kings

We can be stubborn about hope friends. Not because we’re not paying attention, but exactly because we are.

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