Martin Luther King Jr: The Great Stumbling Block again
“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council-er 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 can’t agree with your methods of direct action;” who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until 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.” Martin Luther King Jr, “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” April 16, 1963
I repeat part of the message from MLK this morning, for this letter from jail still speaks so profoundly to us in another century. We live in a constant time of paradox of “be patient” and “time to act”. How do we know which to do? I think part of MLK’s message is that what is a “more convenient season” for one is not for another. Most of us have no idea what it has been like to walk in the shoes of those who have been oppressed for years, centuries. I also know that in my life if I wait for the “most convenient time,” that time will never be, never happen.
When is the most convenient time to get married, have children, tell the truth, visit the sick, go to church, write, read, go on vacation, retire? I remember what a friend early in recovery said at a 12-step meeting many, many years ago. “I am all right as long as I have all my ducks in a row.” Well, my experience is that those ducks never get in a row! There is always some inconvenience that will keep us and our ducks from getting all lined up so that we can start doing any of these things we know are right and what we are called to do.
We try to find “the most convenient time” to pray, meditate, be silent. There is always some reason that something else should be done instead, especially marking off the things on our to do list for the day.
We are called to “make time” for these things by deciding on priorities. We know this, but the doing is the hard part. We thank MLK today for putting us in our place, reminding us to listen more carefully to the cries of those who are oppressed, the parts of us that are oppressed, the parts of those who come for spiritual direction who are oppressed, and listen, listen and reach out at a most inconvenient time.