Monday, January 20, 2014

Letter from a Birmingham Jail

On this Federal Holiday celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday, it’s worth taking a moment to read “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  The letter can be found here:

I first read the letter in a class I took at Carleton College taught by Paul Wellstone.  Reading the letter at that time in my life helped form my commitment to racial and economic justice. 

Martin Luther King Jr. was the greatest prophet of the 20th century.  May the words he wrote in this letter resonate within us and inspire us to live out the dream for which he gave his life. 

If by chance you cannot read the entire letter, enjoy the following excerpts:

“But as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a bit of satisfaction from being considered an extremist. Was not Jesus an extremist in love? -- "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, pray for them that despitefully use you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice? -- "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the gospel of Jesus Christ? -- "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist?  -- "Here I stand; I can do no other so help me God." Was not John Bunyan an extremist? -- "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a mockery of my conscience." Was not Abraham Lincoln an extremist? -- "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." Was not Thomas Jefferson an extremist? -- "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal." So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”

“Never before have I written a letter this long -- or should I say a book? I'm afraid that 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 is there to do when you are alone for days in the dull monotony of a narrow jail cell other than write long letters, think strange thoughts, and pray long prayers?”

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