Martin Luther King Jr Anniversary

Today is the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr at a Memphis motel.

It astonishes me that given the recent history here in Northern Ireland of ethnic/religious/political conflict that we Christians here have not made more of his work and his writings. In fact, in all my years in peace and rec work, I don’t think I’ve ever been engaged in any serious consideration of his thought.

Some of us hope to put that right later in the year.

In the meantime, at the moment I’m listening a lot to Anais Mitchell’s album ‘Hymns for the Exiled‘.

The closing song on the album is ‘one good thing’. Now USA is not my country, but I think this song captures in a beautiful way what is both infuriating and captivating about the country. It thrills us with the music of Cash and Elvis, and the soaring rhetoric and action of MLK and the like, yet it can still steal the song from our mouth. I guess the challenge for us all, wherever we live, is to live up to that side of us that can set free what represents Montgomery in our lives and communities.

turn that tv off, now, baby
i’m so low i don’t even sing
tell me something ‘bout my country
tell me one good thing

cash and elvis, cain and abel
down in memphis, trading hands
big girls dancing on the tables
dancing for the band

put that paper down, now, baby
i’m so low, i don’t even sing
tell me something ‘bout my country
tell me one good thing

king and malcolm, lamb and lion
setting alabama free
thirty thousand angels flying
from montgomery

switch that station off, now, baby
i’m so low i don’t even sing
tell me something ‘bout my country
tell me one good thing
tell me one good thing

8 thoughts on “Martin Luther King Jr Anniversary

  1. You’re wrong about Martin Luther King.

    Blacks have used the “civil rights” movement as an excuse to deny responsibility for their own actions and failures for over 40 years now. It’s also their excuse for black-on-White crime. That’s an epidemic in just about every American community with a sizable population of black residents. And it’s a situation you have to live with, not just read about, to fully appreciate.

    Martin Luther King – don’t waste your time thinking about him. Don’t believe the hype. He wasn’t much good to anybody.

  2. Glenn, having just been in Belfast and listened to many passionate and thoughtful people speak about the peace and reconciliation efforts there (yourself included!), I was struck by just how much sense your suggestion makes. And frankly, as a instructor of Religion in America, I’m a little bummed that I hadn’t made the connection myself (!)–all the more so as I remember seeing the “It’s black and white” mural in the Ardoyne. I read a lengthy bio of MLK in my younger years that had a great impact on me. Likewise when I read _Letter from a Birmingham Jail_ in seminary. I think you’re absolutely right that the model of King’s non-violent resistance and his thinking about peace and reconciliation can speak to NI.
    [One question though, . . . given that Catholic (nationalist? republican? not sure what’s the most appropriate term) sentiment tended to identify with the African-American struggle for civil rights (at least judging from the murals), would they have possibly utilized King’s thought more than Protestants (unionist/loyalists? . . . so many questions!)]

    My favorite conservative pundit, David Brooks, had some hopeful insight, from my perspective at least, in today’s NY Times about the survival and influence of King’s model of repairing a broken social fabric. It’s a good start to thinking about possible connections.

  3. glenn – good, thoughtful post. Dr’ King’s legacy continues to echo in communities throughout the United States and the world.

    sorry that your first comment was from a troll. I’ve spent my life working for justice and know that MLK is not merely hype. I’ve also been teaching long enough to know that all you are really looking for is a fight, say something perverse and hateful enough that we will all rise.

    Folks who respond to your post may want to read Dr. King’s letter from a Birmingham Jail, read Taylor Branch’s 3 part trilogy on the Civil Rights movement. Or maybe, take a look at his speeches about Vietnam, or poverty.

    Glenn, you’ve heard comments like the troll’s before, but just in different categories. I was in Stormont in 98 with students from the USA and listened to Paisley’s deputy speak of Catholics in the same way. In that case he spoke of Bloody Sunday as an excuse, he spoke of republican propensity to violence, of the inferiority of the Irish. If you walk around Belfast neighborhoods, you can still hear it, in the voices of those who need to hate, who look for reasons to limit the lives and hopes of others in subjugation to a perverse sense of reality.

    Today, this troll chose to make similar comments about black on white violence – a useful hobgoblin. I lived in downtown Atlanta for several years, lived, worked and worshipped in the supposed ‘bad’ neighborhoods where I was supposed to fear every black man who walked the streets. I wasn’t always comfortable, but the neighborhoods I walked were never the war zones those outside feared. It isn’t reality that matters, it is fear and the cultivation of impotent rage that offer an illusion of power over by naming the imagined and/or exaggerated sins of the ‘other’.

    I prefer to walk with all who are seeking to name the log in their own eye – white and black, republican and unionist, – rather than playing the games of those who huddle inside tiny fear filled rooms, secure in smug illusions about splinters.

  4. Don’t forget that trolls have rights too… Or at least they will have here if the list of those included under our Bill of Rights Forum’s consultation gets any longer…
    In a society where everyone’s rights are protected, that includes the right to be wrong, but doesn’t mean we cannot challenge them. But there is a tension in how we tolerate the intolerant.

  5. Hi Glenn
    As always good to read the blog. For the last number of years the Forthspring Inter Community Group whose building straddles an interface in Belfast has been involved with the Institute for the Study and Practice of Non Violence based in Providence, Rhode Island. The contact was made through David Campton. Martin Luther King’s teaching has heavily influenced their non violence stance. In that part of the States the Institute’s work has had a major impact on violence in the A & E department the local hospital and the fact that the local police chief sits on their Board gives a further indication of the high esteem the Institute is held in. Twice now their trainers have come to Belfast and there are now trainers on this island who I am sure would be delighted to meet with you and share their experiences. The exposure the young people and women in the centre have had to the teaching has been helpful and often challenges our normal reflexes.

  6. I think lyn’s contention that there’s not much to learn from MLK isn’t capable of being sustained and the example that John gives is enough. I wasn’t aware of that connection John so thanks.

    A couple of months ago I tracked down MLK’s Washington ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and though parts are dated, the overall impact was inspirational. We need more of those voices.

    And we need more of his creativity in protest. Some of the stuff Shane Claiborn has been doing is great. More please.

    And then the great task of getting local christians here in saintly NI on the streets in walking for justice and righteousness.

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