I want to share with you a blog my son wrote on Martin Luther King Day a year ago, a reflection on his favorite King quote:
“Let us be Christian in all our actions. But I want to tell you this evening that it is not enough for us to talk about love, love is one of the pivotal points of the Christian faith. There is another side called justice. And justice is really love in calculation. Justice is love correcting that which revolts against love.”
Chris, reflecting on King’s quote, writes, “The only way to bring justice to an unjust situation is to hold love as the benchmark for the movement forward.”
My Spirituality Book Club just finished reading a book by Parker Palmer: Healing the Heart of Democracy. It was a difficult book, not so much in the reading of it but in the challenge of applying its principles. King talks about the tension between love and justice. Palmer offers a number of other tensions that exist in our efforts to live in this democratic society. He talks about the gap between our aspirations and reality, what we as Americans claim as our principles and what is actually happening in the streets of our cities. He talks about trying to find a balance between chutzpah, speaking out about what we believe to be true, and humility, understanding that we don’t know everything and the “other” may be speaking truth to which we need to pay attention.
There is the tension between individualism and collectivism. Individualism, he says, is “a calm and considered feeling which disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the circle of family and friends; with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look after itself…The greater the tendency toward individualism, the weaker the communal fabric.” Only when we associate with others outside our circles can we learn the complexities of creating a democracy. There are so many factors to consider as we move forward. The more voices we hear, the more inclusive the solution. Innumerable laws have been written that benefit one group while they increase the oppression of others. These are laws written as reaction, in haste, in anger, without serious consideration, or for self-serving purposes.
Palmer says that we need to learn the art of “tending and befriending” which he offers as a third response to fear besides fight and flight. He quotes Abraham Lincoln’s words on the eve of the Civil War. Referring to the pending issues of slavery and succession, the president said: “My countrymen….think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking time. If there be an object to hurry any of you, in hot haste, to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it.” Tending is the opposite of ignoring. It is recognizing the need that requires attention. Befriending is the act of drawing close to those who will be impacted by our actions so that we can know how various actions might impact them.
Tending and befriending is a slower and messier process in democracy than the rush to legislation but it creates the kind of legislation that can lift the whole society as the Civil Rights Act which was the outcome of King’s work. On this day as we commemorate him, let us hold justice and love in tension together. Let us listen to all who are in pain and move into the work of finding solutions that both heal the broken hearted and move the country toward that which we aspire to be.
Here is Chris’ blog post for your inspiration today: