Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Letter from a Birmingham Jail 2

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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


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.}


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.


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.


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?


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. 


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.


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.


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.

housing for all


I attend a monthly community meeting. It use to be in a fancy building with glass walls with a clear view of new playground equipment and fake grass. The other half of the building is an upscale restaurant. The waiters wear all black as they serve people sitting at little round tables lining the sidewalk.

The first time I attended this particular meeting last spring, the council discussed a new ordinance preventing coconut trees from being planted near sidewalks. A coconut could fall on someone, you see. They can be dangerous. Some people sitting behind me in the glass room were not happy about this, they wanted to know if coconut trees already planted near their sidewalks would need to be removed.

That same week, there was a drive by on my street. The kids who live here couldn’t play outside because a bullet might land on them.

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.

There can be no gainsaying the fact that racial injustice engulfs this community.

Lamentably, it is an historical fact that privileged groups seldom give up their privileges voluntarily.

A thing you should know about my neighborhood is: it is HIGHLY segregated. As in, a segregation wall still stands. It divides those the world labels the “haves” and the “have nots.” It divides socio-economically, racially, and in just about every other way you can imagine.

The people concerned about coconuts falling on their heads don’t have to worry about bullets.

Another thing you should know is: there is a housing crisis on this side of the wall. My neighbors will tell you there has been for some time, decades even. Developers buy up singe family homes and apartments – some in disrepair, some not – level them, and sit on the land. The vacant lots are referred to as “fields.” Many of them have been sitting empty for a dozen years. There are several on every street.


Currently, landlords are selling their apartment buildings by the block. They refuse to sign leases with their tenants so when the buildings sell, they evict with 15 days notice. Another common practice is to let the buildings run down to unsafe and uninhabitable, at which point the city steps in and condemns them, forcing the tenants to move out with little-to-no warning.

I am doubtful of my ability to communicate the severity of this situation to you in mere black and white, letters on a screen. You, Dear Reader, are likely unable to comprehend the fear and helplessness an eviction notice carries. That’s because 73% of white folks own a home, compared to 45% of black folks. Statistics do not exist for my neighborhood, but I need to look no further than my own block to know hundreds of people are living in buildings being sold right out from under them.

I cannot fully comprehend it either.

The housing crisis is not just that developers are sitting on empty lots OR that people are facing imminent homelessness and displacement with just a few weeks notice; the situation is exacerbated because there is literally no where for people to go. For every 100 extremely low-income renters in Miami, there are only 33 affordable units available.

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.”

Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “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.

Last month at the community meeting we didn’t talk about coconuts. We talked about housing. I would say the issue has finally reached a tipping point, but I suspect the conversation has ebbed and flowed over the years. I suspect those on the other side of the wall have always pushed down the voices of those on this side. I suppose, when men and women, grandmothers and mothers, fathers and sons asked those behind the microphones to do something, they have always been told to “wait.” But really, I don’t just suspect it, it’s fact.

The council responded to my neighbors who came to the meeting with lots of words. As I sat there in my seat I struggled to understand them. There was talk about zoning, and incentives for developers. FEMA and a special housing summit. The housing summit will happen at the end of January, they said.

I left the meeting in tears. I could not sleep. I said a lot of cuss words. I could not get the words of Martin Luther King, Jr out of my mind. I prayed. The problem with this paragraph is every single sentence begins with I.

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.

That was two weeks ago. Since then, the Lord gave one of our neighbors and mentors an idea, a method of direct action that involves setting up camp on these pieces of land. A prophetic act of protest against displacement and for the beauty of community when all are invited in. Starting today, we will physically stand alongside our neighbors as together we demand Housing for All.

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.

We have been meeting for months about the housing crisis, discussing which neighbors had been given eviction notices that week, wondering where they would go… I don’t think any of us really knew what could be done. There are so many powerful people playing this game of displacement. The city and county seem to be complacent at best and complicit at worst.

But we know we cannot sit idly by while our neighbors are treated unjustly, displaced at alarming rates, and the oldest neighborhood in Miami (some historians say all of Florida) becomes extinct. We cannot do nothing while the “haves” tell the “have nots” yet again, to wait.

The Lord has brought together attorneys, activists, government officials, neighbors, and police officers as we have planned in the last couple weeks. We are grateful and humbled our neighbors trust us to stand alongside them in their efforts to seek Housing for All.

There are several ways you can get involved and stand with us from afar:

FIRST, you can pray. As there will be protestors on the lots 24/7, we want to cover them in prayer 24/7. You can sign up to pray here.

SECOND, you can donate. We are in ongoing need of supplies such as fliers, signs, tents, water, snacks, etc. to make this happen well. You can give to our CRM Grove Team Fund here or through GoFundMe here. (Giving via CRM is tax-deductible, giving via GoFundMe is not but gets the funds to our team quicker.)

THIRD, you can spread the word on social media. Please follow and share on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. The power of social media could allow our campaign to gain national media coverage with the help of people like you!

LASTLY, you can buy a Housing for All t-shirt! These are unisex small – XL shirts. $20 + $7 shipping. To purchase a shirt, please Paypal your money, size(s) and address to wallacemastiff@yahoo.com.

Please be praying for our neighbors. Some are ready to fight for their right to safe housing, and some are very very tired. As we have been researching the unjust housing practices in our neighborhood, we are deeply saddened for the way they have been treated for the last 100 years. Pray for God to move on their behalf, to make his love for them known, and for us to affirm the dignity he has placed in each of them.

[The quotes in this post are from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From a Birmingham jail. The letter is King’s response to the white clergy who call on him to “wait,” suggesting King should trust them to move the civil rights movement forward. You can read it in it’s entirety here.]

one year ::: here and everywhere

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”
― Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Today is the one year anniversary of our family arriving in Miami, and if I had to say one thing about this first year, I would say it was a year that asked questions.

Where are you God?
How do I use my privilege?
Is one enough?
What is the goal?
What can we do?
What in the heck are we doing here?
Are we too late?

Over and over, I asked questions. Big questions, small questions, hard questions, flippant questions. 2015 was a year that answered, and I had grown comfortable with God responding in tangible ways. 2016 was uncanny in its contrast. It caught me by surprise and took my breath away. Transition and culture shock hooked up and threatened to take me down. PTSD crept in, then spilled out all over the place.

On day 365, here’s what I know: Jesus is here and God is everywhere. Here on streets where bullets fly. Here where our neighbors are displaced at alarming rates. Here where children raise themselves. Everywhere His image bearers reside. Everywhere His breath gives life. Everywhere Light shines. Everywhere Love wins. Everywhere.

At the end of this first year, I am sure of little else, but I am learning that here and everywhere is enough.

[If you’ve been following along, cheering us on, praying us up, and/or supporting us financially THANK YOU. Truly we could not be here were it not for the support of hundreds of people around the globe. The Kingdom of God is on display through this incredible tribe of people who have loved us well.]


Being committed to the truth is easy to brag about when you can edit your words 572 times before hitting publish. But start recording your actual voice and have over 500 people listen to it in less than two weeks time? Well, then you start to feel just a tad bit insecure about the truth you’re tellin’.

And you start askin’, WHOSE truth is it I’m telling?

If I say it’s hard to live here (and I did, just listen) what does that communicate to the people who only know here? To the people whose families settled this land? To the people who have called it home for generations? What am I saying about them? Maybe nothing really, or maybe insinuating something I don’t quite understand. And that’s the problem, I’m not sure. 

Is it hard to live here? You know it is. Hard in ways I can’t explain and in ways I can. (HELLO parking spots designed for Playmobile cars at no less than $4 an hour.)

But what I neglected to say in 57 minutes and 29 seconds is this: It’s also beautiful. In ways I can’t explain and in ways I can.


Blue + gold macaws nesting in my backyard.
Seeing Jesus in the eyes of the people I meet on the street.
Watching women speak up for themselves at city council meetings.
Teenagers gathering around my dining room table for card games and sundaes.


I can easily get jammed up in my head, paralyzed into saying nothing of substance. Overthinking, avoiding, pretending not to have deep lingering thoughts in every nook and cranny of my mind… But that’d be a lie and I’ve committed to truth-tellin’, no matter the cost, no matter the cost.

So I keep on keepin’ on. Keep saying words, keep tap-tap-tapping the keyboard with my boney fingers, keep figuring out what I think in front of the whole-wide-world… And for what?

I suppose I really do believe we need each other. That we’re better together. That something about a triune God speaks to my need and your need and everybody’s need for community.

I suppose I’d rather ask for forgiveness than keep my mouth shut. I’d rather cut my teeth on the hard, gnawing conversations that come from honesty than swallow watered down junk, microwaved over and over and over again, served up by the Prince of Lies.

If we seek hard after the truth, we’ll discover sometimes the truth is hard. And divisive. And controversial. But always necessary. Always necessary. And on days like today, when the internet feels suffocating, let me remind us, Jesus knows the end from the beginning.


Today Episode Two of the Upside Down Podcast goes live. We’re talking about Safety + Fear. I promise someday soon I’ll write about something else.

Safety, Hurricane Matthew, + the Upside Down Podcast

God tends to teach me lessons in gentle, albeit smack-in-the-face-humbling, sort of ways.



You may’ve seen on social media, four of my closest-internet-friends and I have started a podcast. It came to be the way most magically mundane things do. Someone suggested it, half-jokingly I think, and we jumped on the idea one at a time, like a pile of kids on the floor.

I didn’t expect to actually join them. Words like “margin” and “busy” and “no extra time” were on the tip of my tongue. I expected to be their biggest cheerleader, but as the conversations continued, I found myself unable to say no. Spending time talking with these ladies is nothing short of life-giving. And life-giving is what I’m seeking these days.

Tonight we’re recording an episode on Safety + Fear. I have lots of thoughts on these topics, particularly as they relate to Christian excuses for not following the Jesus of the Bible. I know it’s a complex, highly emotional topic, and I look forward to engaging it with these women and our listeners in the coming weeks.

If you know where we live and how we got here, you know I have wrestled with safety and fear, and that my thoughts have evolved in the last four yeas. As we walk the road of downward mobility, I find the tension between solidarity and privilege harder and harder to navigate.


You might’ve heard about a little storm, Hurricane Matthew, currently making its way toward Miami. Because of Matthew, we decided to head west for a couple days. To some, this obviously makes sense. A category four hurricane is headed your way, you have the ability to evacuate, you evacuate. But this is a privilege many of our neighbors do not have. They cannot provide their children with felt safety. They cannot shield them from Hurricane Matthew or the daily storms that pound marginalized communities around the world. The swells of systemic injustice, oppression, and generational poverty leave them in survival mode, a place where, as the name suggest, one cannot thrive, but merely stays alive.

We’re swimming in a pool at our Airbnb while our neighbors survive and it induces an anxiety in me my heart cannot hold.

Tonight my co-hosts and I will record an episode about Safety + Fear. And I’ll do it from the safety of the west coast of Florida, not my at-risk neighborhood. We’ll talk about a savior who told us to pick up our instruments of torture and follow Him. We’ll share experiences and they won’t all be the same and some of us will disagree. We hope to encourage. We hope to provoke thoughtful conversations. We hope to invite others into this upside down Kingdom where Jesus says stand in the margins with those the world has declared “unsafe.”

It’ll be messy and fun and hard and life-giving. And I hope you’ll follow along. Here’s a lovely little video that shares more of the heart behind the Upside Down Podcast.

You can subscribe to the Podcast on iTunes or listen directly from our beautiful website. You can follow us on Instagram and Facebook where we’d love to hear what upside down topics you’re mulling over. (Also leave some in the comments here!)

AND, we have a fun book basket giveaway going on over on Instagram this weekend! 

We’ve each picked a beloved book that uniquely expresses the truth of the Upside Down kingdom of God to give away to one lucky listener/bookworm! It’s like hitting the subversive Christian jackpot, you guys. Head over to Instagram to enter! book_giveaway

for the angsty one

For the Angsty One

Somewhere between Philando Castile and the shooting of an unarmed therapist lying on the ground with his hands up, I grew angsty. I used the word “despair” when discussing the state of our country. I was frustrated and lost. I laid in bed at night unable to sleep. I started emailing friends my own stupid white people questions. I desperately wanted to know what to “do.”

In the past, I have followed the guidance given me by people of color. The marching orders go something like this:

Step One: Sit down and listen.
Step Two: Educate yourself, yourself.
Step Three: Diversify your social circles.
Step Four: Acknowledge your own implicit bias and talk to other white people about racism, systemic injustice, mass incarceration, redlining, etc.

I fear this paragraph coming off as self-congratulatory. I have not arrived, but I have taken these steps seriously. I listen and attempt to educate myself, myself. I have friends of color, I live in an all black neighborhood – I see racial injustice every day. I acknowledge my implicit bias and family members have blocked me on Facebook for saying #blacklivesmatter… and yet, it does not feel like enough. Because it’s not.

The reason it’s not enough is partly because it’s actually just not enough, and partly because it’s not about me.

As it turns out, my desire to “fix” it (fix racism? systemic injustice? hundreds of years of oppression?) is central to my own privilege. I unknowingly made the “fixing” about me, and – NEWSFLASH – it’s not about me. At all.

In case you’re not seeing it – because, you know, privilege – the privilege I’m referring to is exactly what makes me think I can fix things to begin with. I’ve experienced hardship, but overall my position in society  – social networks, education, access to financial capital – has allowed me to bring forth changes when and where I’ve desired them. That’s privilege.

I got over myself and started asking God what my actual role is. I have one.  So do you. We all have a role to play in dismantling racial injustice at a macro-level AND at a micro-level. (Isaiah 58 anyone?)

And I have repeatedly found myself face-to-face with Jeremiah 29:1 – 7.
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”


God tells the people to live their lives. “Do your thang! Build new houses and grow tomatoes and get some chickens! Get married and make more image bearers!  AND, seek the shalom of your city. Pray for your city and in it’s wholeness, you will find peace.


The Hebrew word for welfare is shalom. Shalom covers all aspects of peace and wholeness, manifested most clearly in times of persecution and trial. Lisa Sharon Harper, in her book The Very Good Gospel, says it like this;


“Shalom is the stuff of the Kingdom. It’s what the Kingdom of God looks like in context. It’s what citizenship in the Kingdom of God requires and what the Kingdom promises to those who choose God and God’s ways to peace.”


Practically speaking, what does this look like? This is where I get stuck. I’ve started and stopped writing this post several times. I want you to think me a credible source, but the truth is I don’t know. I’m still figuring out what it looks like for me – I sure as heck don’t know what it looks like for you.
But, us white church folk, we like formulas. Action steps. Meetings and checklists and committees and more meetings. But God says in Isaiah (58 again) he is sick of all our meetings. He says get out there and break chains.


I’m not a chain breaking expert; my God is. He is in the business of setting people free and for some crazy reason, his method is us. But here’s the thing – it’s messy. You’ll start and you’ll stop, jump on a bandwagon and fall off. You’ll make mistakes and say the wrong thing. You’ll make mistakes and say the wrong thing. Again. You’ll show up with answers and walk away with questions. Your heart will knit together with people you have but one thing in common – your humanity. And it will be the most glorious display of redemption and beauty you have ever experienced.


The list of injustices and wrongs to right is a mile long and we need not all be in the same lane. Maybe you heart bleeds for sex trafficking survivors or the homeless or addicted or mentally ill or the incarcerated or abandoned children or elderly or immigrants. They exist in your city. They do. And what you post about them on social media does not hold a candle to what you do or don’t do for them in your everyday life.

Are you pro-life? Great. What are you doing about that every day of the year that is not Election Day? Are you volunteering at a pregnancy crisis center? Are you resettling refugees? Are you a foster parent? Do you volunteer as a hospice worker? How are you not just being against abortion, but for the actual lives around you?

Do you know any public school teachers? Social workers? Principals? Judges? Who is the police commander overseeing your neighborhood? Who is your city council member? County commissioner? State representative? Do you know what they believe, how they conduct themselves, what their needs are?

For the Angsty One

I want a five step program, and I want to give one to you too. But that is not our God.

We muck all this up when oftentimes, I think it’s just really simple. Who around you is hurting? Who around you is oppressed? Who around you is being displaced? Who around you is dying in the streets? Who around you is neglected? Who around you is hungry? Who around you is homeless? Who around you is blind to injustice or oppression? Who around you is full of fear? Who around you is missing the fullness of Isaiah 58? Who around you is angsty and doesn’t know what to “do?” {raises hand}


Seek their welfare. Ask the Lord to break our chains. And together we will find peace.
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