The Functional Aspects in King’s Writing: Reflections on ‘Where Do we Go From Here’

Where Do We Go From Here is Dr. Martin Luther King’s existential question, that leaves one to ponder the journey to a materialized space — proposed in his summation: chaos or community. This vehemently registers as obtuse, yet creatively brilliant. Or, it verges, on the notion of a risk, — of just how disenfranchised, Black people are in the United States.[1]King’s deployment of chaos as a descriptive noun relative to community produces a comparative tension that the reader is forced to re-imagine throughout the read. The mere audacity to equate chaos or community as a binary function is an interesting phenomenon to interject from the commencement. Because King uses “or,” he is intending chaos or community to be functionary in its application. There is nothing static, abstract or cerebral; he is writing a strategy to ignite a movement. In Where Do We From Here: Chaos or Community, Dr. King is presenting strategies for navigating through a terrain which may be chaotic or neighborly. [2]

Dr. King details how white fragility is amassing the courage to continually mishandle the humanity of Black people. He carefully, almost to a disheartening reaction, presents how whiteness has managed to misconstrue the difference between equity, equality and justice. Firmly positing that if one can respite or peace within spaces of justice, then equity and equality will become inevitable participants. But, justice wrongly affixed constructs an equality and equity that only benefits the privilege — white racist. King is desperately striving to engage a power structure that is, keenly, destroying, any resemblance of, anything that represents a powerful emblem of Blackness. Thus, King desire to dismantle racist structures and not just un-seed rhetoric, is visible. Interestingly, and yet inexplicable, it appears that he focuses more on un-seeding Black Power rhetoric in comparison to white racist rhetoric. Nevertheless, King’s desire to reconstruct a system that has intentionally allocated Black people as second-class is emerging. King audaciously writes, “Jobs are harder and costlier to create than voting polls.”[3]Here is where we find King in-breaking a designated space. Yes, he understands the voting poll is a valued placed but he is carefully assessing it in comparison to the jobs. This embarks on the notion of chaos or community from a personal connective. Understandably, both voting and jobs have lasting effects but he understands that there is more at stake when one attempts to create jobs. Jay Electronica, the New Orleans’ rapper, has a lyric in the song Renaissance Man, where he says, “my grandmother want leave the fuckin projects, I got to raise the slum up…”[4]In spirit of Dr. King, Jay Electronica (Jay Elect) is attempting to reconstruct chaos in order that it may benefit those who in are locked in its space. King is visualizing people like Jay Elect’s grandmother who will never leave or give up but need access to jobs and the voting booth. So, moving within a Jay Elect-ethic, he is making every effort to raise the conscious of white America as well as trying to restructure the system. Is King successful?: is the fundamental question, and could quite honestly be the simultaneous answer. This is Baldwinian frame of reference, where James Baldwin seems to use questions as answers. Not in the Socratic sense, in order to move the conversation into greater depth but in a way that finites the conversation with the rhetorical question. King is presenting such a frame but does himself a disservice with the subtitle chaos or community. Because he is developing infrastructure—community— in the midst of chaos, the usage of “or” forces the reader to make a choice throughout the text. But, clearly, he is not asking folks to make a choice; he is insisting that community can be developed in the midst of chaos.[5]Thus, we see the Jay Elect- ethic being brought to the foreground of the text.

Early in the text, King makes an integral shift that incorporates race and economic equality to the struggle for freedom in community. He writes, “Negro programs go beyond race and deal with economic inequality, whenever it exists. In the pursuit of this goals, the white poor become involved, and the potentiality emerges for a powerful new alliance.”[6] Though King does not mention much about the connection between the poor whites connecting to the movement this particular point blares out for further explanation. King has just expounded upon the fact that there has been “sluggish progress” but proceeds to denote how poor whites joining the movement becomes a major happening that sparked life into what King was strategizing. [7]What King did by gaining the coalition of poor whites was he solidified the validity of their agenda. This movement could no longer just be labeled simply a movement for Black Power, because poor whites had a valid investment within the movement. This is embarking on the Christian term of koinonia which means to fellowship but there is an investment that is connective with the fellowship. King’s theological underpinnings are vastly coming into play as he is strategically building the movement. He is faithfully trying to construct a movement that considers all of humanity (or at least all the men.) King is embodying this in his speech and praxis which makes it palatable though oftentimes disagreeable in application. I contend that King was wrong when he states that “Black Power was a slogan without a program.”[8]The Black Panthers were on the scene operating within the spectrum of Black Power with the Free Breakfast Program burgeoning on the horizon of January of 1969. And, within its corpus of thought and operating principals, they had white people who worked closely with them. What this depicts is King’s genteel southern Christian roots that radically beckon reconciliation with the hope that Black folk will get a significant piece of the pie to survive. King is pressing for this strategic move to happen but the emergence of Black Power registers with the spirit of the traumatized and beaten Black community. What it also shows is the slight disconnect that King has with the majority of the people who follow him. He cannot in a visceral manner understand why this is connecting with his followers. King’s upbringing is not similar to many of the people who are following him in the movement. So, to encounter such a radical statement like Black Power and a figure like Stokely Carmichael is a pedagogical event that forces him to comes to grip with his lack of street cred. Here is where I ponder the question of whether King is now asking is it chaos or community in an individualistic sense — self-introspection.

King critical analyzes of capitalism is the worldly problem that goes intentionally overlooked because to address his analyzes is to admit guilt. King was adamant that the world was amply filled with enough resources to care for the people of the world. The problem was that the greed that has humanity trapped has blinded the rich into believing that it has the authority to ration those natural resources to the highest bidder. King states, “There is no deficit in human resources; the deficit is in human will.”[9]When material wealth overshadows the welfare of the hungry evil has become a necessary good. King is viewing capitalism through such a perspective, but is not as bleak as I may be painting the picture to be. King generates a concerted effort to find the good in capitalism but continuously demonstrates how people are corrupted by capitalism’s thrust. Honestly, he admits, that we all live “eternally,” “in the red.”[10]I believe this is King giving capitalism the opportunity to get it right. However, he undoubtedly, comprehends that capitalisms will ultimately fail to see how we all are inextricably connected to others. It is within that theoretical framework where King is trying to find the sweet spot for the movement and the justice of America. The failure of capitalism to see “truth is collectivism” is the crux of why it is hard for King’s ideas of community to flourish in a capitalism. I want to be very clear that I am not saying that it cannot be constructed or started; but, I am referring to flourishing. King’s idea of community thrives on a collective theory of we all make it through whereas capitalism is centered upon the best/chosen/strongest only make it. Therefore, flourishing is not a communal happening but is individualistic. King is strongly and passionately fighting against the notion of capitalistic venture that rescues the privilege one and ostracizes the oppressed many. King understands it this way: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it understands that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”[11]This is the revolutionary stance that King is aiming to ascend toward throughout the movement.

What I am proposing in this reflection is that King is not asking a question but making a statement. Throughout the text he is wrestling with what that statement will ultimate resemble, but, nonetheless, he knows that he is preparing for something in the end. I found King to be a bit to compromising in some places but I understood why he approached it in such a manner. Because, it is one thing to write a text for academic musing but it is another to write a text that will used as revolutionary weaponry. The application is different but how scholarship is appropriated in the given space challenges the writer to creatively construct a sentence that may save a life. Writing with that in mind is something that King had to keep in the forefront of his thinking, I suppose.

I have constantly repeated that King was not really asking a question but making a statement when he asked where do we go from here, chaos or community. In the last sentence of the official pages of the book, King writes, “This may be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos or community.”[12]King has waited to the last sentence of the book to show that his question was his answer. He is still trying to figure out what America is trapped within. There are glimpse of how he is being influenced but the real changes do not bear fruit to a little later in his life. King is unsettled, and, rightly, so.

Concluding Thought

Blackness has always been the ambivalent reality of the American project. King’s brilliance is that he understood Blackness and the how racism handcuffed the humanity of the Black body. Where Do We Go From Hereis King’s attempt to provide a piece of literature that would speak to a generation after him about what the movement had to endure to get “that” point. He is very referential throughout the text and hopeful that people will look back, and remember what was exemplified by his generation. King has a nostalgic appeal that is essential to remembering how Blackness was the center of his reality. Though he is an integrationist, which is centered in his interpretation of Christianity, King is deeply committed to the plight of Black people. For most people, I would consider this a contradictory statement, but for King, it is a testament to his character. He embodied his belief in nonviolence and integration, which made his love for Black people even more viable. He was willing to give his life for the Black community. King was not just about frivolous banter but was action prone. He believed, “Education without social action is a one-sided value because it has no true power potential.”[13]What can be concluded is that King was serious about making functional words and actions. I go back to his usage of “or” rather than “and.” I still believe it was problematic to entitled the book this way but using “or” produces a forthright-ness that engenders movement. And, we when we think of Dr. King we think about movement.

 

[1]I am not quite sure how to verbally commit to how risky I believe King is moving within the title. But, my usage of a comma to then a dash is an intentional indicator that signal that something I happening with speech that must be attended to. This is very Baldwin-like when words escape his grasp he tends to use punctuation as points of contention.

[2]Martin Luther King, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Beacon Press: Boston, 1968.

[3]King, 6.

[4]Jay Electronica, Renaissance Man, Style Wars EP

[5]This is something that is not noticeable from a service read or from an initial perusing of the text. It is only after close reading that it become visible that King is not asking the reader to choose but actually declaring such to be.

[6]King, 17.

[7]King, 17.

[8]King, 18

[9]King, 187.

[10]King, 191.

[11]King, 193.

[12]King, 202.

[13]King, 164.

Advertisements

Meeting God at the Table (Luke 8:26-39)

It was a Friday night January 27, 1956, that changed the life of Martin Luther King. It was this prophetic moment that would give Dr. King the strength to carry on his march for justice. King slumped home after another day of meetings and tension over racist practices. He walked around the house thinking and pacing about the events of the day. Then the phone rang, a sneering voice on the other end: “Leave Montgomery immediately if you have no wish to die.” King’s fear surged; he hung up the phone, walked to his kitchen, and with trembling hands, put on a pot of coffee and sank into a chair at his kitchen table.

Here was the prelude to King’s most profound spiritual experience. He describes it in his book Stride Towards Freedom.

I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me, I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward. In this state of exhaustion, when my courage had all but gone, I decided to take my problem to God. With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud.

The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory. “I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But now I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

At that moment, I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced God before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Stand up for justice, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeared. I was ready to face anything.”

While sitting at the table, King had an experience with God. It was this seminal moment that would forever fuel him in his fight for justice. Just days later his house was bombed and his family nearly killed. He would state, “Strangely enough, I accepted the work of the bombing calmly,…My religious experience from a few nights before had given me the strength to make it.” As crowds of angry people appeared in the streets, he spoke of the need to love those who hate you even more now. One year later King would awake to find twelve sticks of dynamite on his porch. It had not exploded and his family was not killed. But as he stood on the porch he recalled the moment when God meet him at the table.

In the Gospel of Luke, we encounter a similar situation of meeting God at the table. Jesus has been invited to the house of Simon who is a Pharisee.  Even though some religious leaders did not agree with him, Jesus do not cut them off. While at the house of the Simon, a “women of the city” comes in the house. This would strike some of us as odd. Here you are having a special dinner with God and in walks a woman who has been marked as an outsider. Now, the scriptures does not mention what her particular indiscretion was but she was considered a sinner. Some have labeled her a prostitute but that is not situated in the text. The only thing that is detailed is that she “was a sinner.” It specifically says in verse 37, “ behold, a women who was a sinner.” Though Simon sees her as a sinner in verse 39 (presently), the scriptures proclaims this was not her present condition. Because of her past, whatever that may or may not be, Simon continues to hold her captive to those sinful events.

It is unjust to be simply known by your past.

After hearing that Jesus was at Simon’s house, she crashes the party and begins to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and wipe them off with her hair. She then begins to anoint his feet with the oil. Usually, people would anoint people’s head and not their feet. This woman’s appreciation of meeting God at the table gave her the courage to make a bold act of worship to Jesus. She is in intruding in a space where she was not invited, with a possession that a woman like her should not have had in the alabaster box ointment, and to top it off, she is, at least in the customs of that time -fondling the Christ. She also has her hair down, an action that theologian Joel Green denotes is similar to being topless in public. It would appear that this nameless woman is breaking all the rules in order to get a moment of forgiveness and love from the Lord Jesus Christ. She is willing to relinquish her valuable possession of self-worth for a moment at the table with Christ. I don’t know her desperation, needs, wants or desires but we do see in the scriptures that she was willing to be ridiculed and to break tradition in order to worship Christ.

So much so that her actions began to change how Simon saw Jesus. Simon replied to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” Simon is now questioning rather Jesus really who he says he is because he is attending to this outsider. Ironically, Simon invited Jesus because of who he thought he was but then changes his mind because Jesus was actually being the Christ. Jesus then asks Simon a parable: “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” I think it is fair to surmise that this is a picture of salvation. We being sinners are forgiving of our sin debt by Christ’s death on the cross. We are justified–brought into right standing with God—by the love of Christ and his work on the cross. Jesus is highlighting a valuable point that we have a debt that no sinners will ever be able to pay… but he took it upon himself to pay the sin debt and became the sacrifice for our sins. Is that not a special Love!!!

He concludes the parable by saying that those who have much to be forgiving for never miss the opportunity to show that appreciation for that forgiveness. But, you Simon never offered to clean my feet, did not offer me sign of hospitality with a kiss, nor did you anoint my feet… but this women, this stranger, outsider did all of that and more. He says that her sins are forgiving and that her faith had saved her. Jesus did not mean that she had earned great forgiveness with her great love. But, that her love was the result of, not the reason for, her forgiveness- it was an expressive response to an inner joy.

This women having such appreciation for God that she broke the norms of society in order to meet God at the table. Dr. King was in the midst of trying times and meet God at the table. Every Sunday we get the opportunity to meet God at the table. We get to meet God at the table where the bread represent his Body that was beaten and broken on our behalf. Where his blood was shed for the remission of our sins. We get to meet God at the table where race, gender, age, sexual orientation, disabilities or denominations all take a back seat to the majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ. At the table we get to meet the Lord and Savior, who looked past our faults and say our needs. The table, the place where God in Psalms 23 prepares for us in the presence of our enemies.

It was at the table of my Great Grandmother where I meet God many days….  It was at this table as often as we meet, we entered into sacred places of peace with each other and had a meal.

A Theology in Flux

Does God make mistakes? My grandmother would declare that he doesn’t, and I may agree, but he is surely above my thought level. I like many others who have been bless with carmel skin waited for a verdict that would serve justice for the black people.( In all honesty we knew what the deal was…) We gazed at the television, listened to the radio, peeped out twitter and Facebook, to once again find out that we are BLACK.

It is quite obvious that america has no concern or care for black bodies. The black body represents a trope that refashions atrocities as complaints in what Maya Angelou called “ these yet to be united states of america.” The sufferings of a community of people have been lost in media hype as the church sits idle making attempts to evangelize without addressing justice. The Gospel disconnected from justice is a consumeristic explanation of suffering that minimizes the value of people in pain. Many want the Gospel, but, they want a Gospel that is denuded from justice. They want a God that abides in the Eucharist and dwells in the water of baptism but not a God who stands on the side of the oppressed and marginalized –the Blacks in america.

Maybe the imago dei is represented in the rioting…–Is God not outraged at injustice?

Riots are the voice of the unheard? – Dr. Martin Luther King

still wrestling…

Reading King, Reflecting on Teams

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to read one of the great letters/essays ever written, Letter from the Birmingham Jail by Dr. Martin Luther King. Now this was not my first time ever reading this letter but as usual it had a lasting effect upon me. The stark reality that engulfed my thoughts was the seriousness and devotion from which King writes-the tension between sacred calling and civil disobedience vs. human respectability. King denotes how different perspectives has a major impact upon how you see society in general and at-large.

What we find with King’s letter is also a connectedness to a theology that’s usable. He uses his theology to define a movement that changed the landscape of America. Through a Letter from the Birmingham Jail we have the chance to see the in some aspects how the Apostle Paul viewed his surroundings from jail.  Though the audience and occasions may have been a bit different the intensity and mood were similar. As we bring it in to the new millennium, we see Public Enemy give us a another perspective as Chuck D shares his letter  in Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos. Entrenched in all of this presentations is a look into the lives of folks who were devoted to a call but put in places that tried to stifle their voices. But with tenacity and a fight for justice, they prevailed to freedom and implementation of change.

Dr. King and others in the Civil Rights Movement did not balk at the challenge to change a country. They stayed the course for change and wrestled with their own inequalities. But it was only through the help of others that they were able to attend to the challenges that were before them.  It was Bayard Rustin that held the Civil Rights Movement together. He was the glue, he was the great organizer behind the great speeches of King. It was a great Barnabas and Timothy that walked with the Apostle Paul. It was the S1W’s that would come to the aid of a wrongly imprisoned Chuck D. (watched the video Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos)It was a team of folks that would enable great leaders to initiate change.

I do not liken myself to Dr. King but I do see a need to surround myself with great people. It is with the help of others that we build and change societies, communities and cities.

Just my thoughts of the moment…