I write this in the week we honor Rev Martin Luther King Jr. You will read it during the course of Black History Month. Each year at this time I re-read King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. In this 1963 letter, he responds to a public statement of concern and caution written by eight white ministers in the South. If you have never read this letter, I urge you to do so as it is a remarkable piece that contains deep, prophetic wisdom and I cannot convey its weight in a simple reflection.
I am fully cognizant that the discussion of racial matters might cause discomfort for some readers. After all, creating tension was one of King’s stated goals when he first penned the letter. He challenged readers then and now to press into this discomfort with the hope that it would motivate us to become agents of change. He unapologetically calls upon moderates to take action and stop living by the myth that time alone will fix everything. In short, he challenges us to pick a side: we are either for justice or we are against it.
It has been more than fifty years since Rev Martin Luther King Jr.’s oppressors confined him in Birmingham for taking action. The landscape of the United States has changed in some ways and remained the same in others. We mustn’t ignore the progress that we have made, but we cannot allow ourselves to become complacent either. As King so elegantly put it, as long as there is injustice anywhere there will be a threat to justice everywhere. This is not a political matter, but a human matter. It goes well beyond a conversation about skin tones and policies. It appears here, as a spiritual reflection because peace is a spiritual ambition.
My hope for us is that February is more than a history month. This implies that we are only looking back, as if everything has been accomplished. We can improve things by looking forward too, but if we stop there we will fall into the trap of compliancy. Therefore, this month let us also look around. May we have eyes to see the work that is left to be done. May we have the courage to act in transformative, loving ways toward our neighbor and be transformed ourselves. And may our colleagues, patients, and communities experience a divine hospitality that can only be recognized as an inclusive Kingdom of grace and peace.