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Thoughts on MLK, Jr., Day: The Arc of History (Jan 2017)

In preparation for our national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., one of the truly great and courageous leaders of modern times, I have been reading a collection of his early sermons.  While I, like most people, am quite familiar with his “I have a dream” speech, as well as a few other oft-played speeches of Dr. King, I was not at all familiar with this material.  I have been amazed at the depth and breadth of his wisdom, as he drew from areas such as history and philosophy as well as, of course, religion.  He was a master at taking passages and narratives from scripture (mostly New Testament) and applying them to modern contexts such as war and civil rights. I am in awe as he describes the plight of his fellow African Americans in the very early days of the Civil Rights Movement that he inspired while articulating the hope of a brighter future.

 

Several months ago when I reported about the experience that Carol and I had doing voter registration in North Carolina, I mentioned how discouraging it was that we were fighting the same battles that were being fought back in those early days of the struggle for civil rights, particularly in the area of voter suppression.  North Carolina turned out to be one of the most egregious states in its efforts to limit voting opportunities for minorities.
 

Dr. King was optimistic about the future.  He famously said,  “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”  President Obama has frequently paraphrased King’s statement, which King had paraphrased from the 19th-century abolitionist Theodore Parker.  Things are certainly better than they were in King’s lifetime, but we have a long way to go.  And progress is not linear—it feels like that arc is bending away from justice.  I hope to be proved wrong on this one.

 

Rabbi Mike

Wed, August 23 2017 1 Elul 5777