holy week, letter from a birmingham jail, and the gospel of Justice

There is a deep affinity between Rev. Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and the annual observance of Holy Week.

They are, of course, tied by the coincidence of time. The act of nonviolent resistance that landed Rev. Dr. King in the letter’s eponymous jail occurred on Good Friday. He spent that following Easter Sunday alone in an unlit, unfurnished cell. It was only on Monday that he was transferred to a new cell where he wrote the letter’s 7,000 words on scraps of paper and in the margins of newspapers.

The finished document is nothing short of a gospel tailor-made for our time: called into being by King the prophet, grounded in God by King the theologian, and shaped by King the servant of Justice.

What makes the letter so prescient at Holy Week is not only the calendar date, but also the content. Like the Gospel, it affirms our mutuality and shared fate. It affirms our part, no matter how small, in shaping the Kin-dom of God – the Beloved Community. It asks us to reflect on our motives and our beliefs, and to challenge our blind acceptance of the way things are. And, above all, it is steeped in love – a love that is unconditional, that is sanctioned by God and is the true calling card of the Gospel.

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a proportional response

Love is always the answer…but only when it sits in relationship with truth. 

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a feast of proportionality at the Metropolitan Museum of Art looking on to Central Park

Public discourse at its best is rich with paradox but recently seems mostly littered with misunderstanding. Echo chambers resound wildly amplifying hurt and fear, both of which, I can say personally, are utterly warranted in this new political landscape. But how to hold the hurt and fear with the nearly impossible paradox that brings love and truth together? What is a proportional response?


“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.”
– Warren W. Wiersbe


And there’s the rub. A truth untempered by love is violence, while love without truth is toothless. I’ve seen quite a few white folks floating Dr. King quotes on the internet, especially this one: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” That seems like an enlightened response, but I’m not sure if it’s completely proportional. I think it’s a great sentiment that makes folks feel good. I think in its original context, the quote is a powerful stand for peace and reconciliation. But reconciliation is about first confronting some ugly truths. The light makes all the dark places known, not just the ones we want to see.  Continue reading