Wednesday, March 25, 2015

The Arc of the Moral Universe





“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer with violence. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also."

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."


Matthew 5:38-39, 43-44

Today marks the 50th anniversary of a brilliant speech by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. at the end of the march from Selma to Montgomery.

This is the speech that contains his famous affirmation that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And that section alone would make the speech a classic.

I often think that our Bible should be a continuing canon, and we should add new sacred texts over the years. This is one that belongs in my personal collection of the unfolding witness of our faith. King speaks at times like one of the great Hebrew prophets and at other times he sounds like a modern Apostle Paul writing to Christians in new times of struggle and growth.

As you read the speech, note his economic and political analysis of the enactment of Jim Crow laws and the rise of racism as a means of pitting poor whites and blacks against each other.

In 1965 King was facing enormous pressure from those within the black community who believed that violence was the only way to defeat racism. In this speech he patiently and passionately makes the case for non-violence as both effective and morally right. In the end, King believed, right would triumph.

The speech is transcribed from an audio tape, so the shouts of the crowd are also recorded. In the interchanges we can sense the cadences of black preaching and the spirit of the black church, which was the foundation of the movement.







Our God Is Marching On!

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

March 25, 1965. Montgomery, Ala.

My dear and abiding friends, Ralph Abernathy, and to all of the distinguished Americans seated here on the rostrum, my friends and co-workers of the state of Alabama, and to all of the freedom-loving people who have assembled here this afternoon from all over our nation and from all over the world: Last Sunday, more than eight thousand of us started on a mighty walk from Selma, Alabama. We have walked through desolate valleys and across the trying hills. We have walked on meandering highways and rested our bodies on rocky byways. Some of our faces are burned from the outpourings of the sweltering sun. Some have literally slept in the mud. We have been drenched by the rains. [Audience:] (Speak) Our bodies are tired and our feet are somewhat sore.

But today as I stand before you and think back over that great march, I can say, as Sister Pollard said—a seventy-year-old Negro woman who lived in this community during the bus boycott—and one day, she was asked while walking if she didn’t want to ride. And when she answered, "No," the person said, "Well, aren’t you tired?" And with her ungrammatical profundity, she said, "My feets is tired, but my soul is rested." (Yes, sir. All right) And in a real sense this afternoon, we can say that our feet are tired, (Yes, sir) but our souls are rested.

They told us we wouldn’t get here. And there were those who said that we would get here only over their dead bodies, (Well. Yes, sir. Talk) but all the world today knows that we are here and we are standing before the forces of power in the state of Alabama saying, "We ain’t goin’ let nobody turn us around." (Yes, sir. Speak) [Applause]

Now it is not an accident that one of the great marches of American history should terminate in Montgomery, Alabama. (Yes, sir) Just ten years ago, in this very city, a new philosophy was born of the Negro struggle. Montgomery was the first city in the South in which the entire Negro community united and squarely faced its age-old oppressors. (Yes, sir. Well) Out of this struggle, more than bus [de]segregation was won; a new idea, more powerful than guns or clubs was born. Negroes took it and carried it across the South in epic battles (Yes, sir. Speak) that electrified the nation (Well) and the world.

Yet, strangely, the climactic conflicts always were fought and won on Alabama soil. After Montgomery’s, heroic confrontations loomed up in Mississippi, Arkansas, Georgia, and elsewhere. But not until the colossus of segregation was challenged in Birmingham did the conscience of America begin to bleed. White America was profoundly aroused by Birmingham because it witnessed the whole community of Negroes facing terror and brutality with majestic calm and heroic courage. And from the wells of this democratic spirit, the nation finally forced Congress (Well) to write legislation (Yes, sir) in the hope that it would eradicate the stain of Birmingham. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 gave Negroes some part of their rightful dignity, (Speak, sir) but without the vote it was dignity without strength. (Yes, sir)

Once more the method of nonviolent resistance (Yes) was unsheathed from its scabbard, and once again an entire community was mobilized to confront the adversary. (Yes, sir) And again the brutality of a dying order shrieks across the land. Yet, Selma, Alabama, became a shining moment in the conscience of man. If the worst in American life lurked in its dark streets, the best of American instincts arose passionately from across the nation to overcome it. (Yes, sir. Speak) There never was a moment in American history (Yes, sir) more honorable and more inspiring than the pilgrimage of clergymen and laymen of every race and faith pouring into Selma to face danger (Yes) at the side of its embattled Negroes.

The confrontation of good and evil compressed in the tiny community of Selma (Speak, speak) generated the massive power (Yes, sir. Yes, sir) to turn the whole nation to a new course. A president born in the South (Well) had the sensitivity to feel the will of the country, (Speak, sir) and in an address that will live in history as one of the most passionate pleas for human rights ever made by a president of our nation, he pledged the might of the federal government to cast off the centuries-old blight. President Johnson rightly praised the courage of the Negro for awakening the conscience of the nation. (Yes, sir)

On our part we must pay our profound respects to the white Americans who cherish their democratic traditions over the ugly customs and privileges of generations and come forth boldly to join hands with us. (Yes, sir) From Montgomery to Birmingham, (Yes, sir) from Birmingham to Selma, (Yes, sir) from Selma back to Montgomery, (Yes) a trail wound in a circle long and often bloody, yet it has become a highway up from darkness. (Yes, sir) Alabama has tried to nurture and defend evil, but evil is choking to death in the dusty roads and streets of this state. (Yes, sir. Speak, sir) So I stand before you this afternoon (Speak, sir. Well) with the conviction that segregation is on its deathbed in Alabama, and the only thing uncertain about it is how costly the segregationists and Wallace will make the funeral. (Go ahead. Yes, sir) [Applause]

Our whole campaign in Alabama has been centered around the right to vote. In focusing the attention of the nation and the world today on the flagrant denial of the right to vote, we are exposing the very origin, the root cause, of racial segregation in the Southland. Racial segregation as a way of life did not come about as a natural result of hatred between the races immediately after the Civil War. There were no laws segregating the races then. And as the noted historian, C. Vann Woodward, in his book, The Strange Career of Jim Crow, clearly points out, the segregation of the races was really a political stratagem employed by the emerging Bourbon interests in the South to keep the southern masses divided and southern labor the cheapest in the land. You see, it was a simple thing to keep the poor white masses working for near-starvation wages in the years that followed the Civil War. Why, if the poor white plantation or mill worker became dissatisfied with his low wages, the plantation or mill owner would merely threaten to fire him and hire former Negro slaves and pay him even less. Thus, the southern wage level was kept almost unbearably low.

Toward the end of the Reconstruction era, something very significant happened. (Listen to him) That is what was known as the Populist Movement. (Speak, sir) The leaders of this movement began awakening the poor white masses (Yes, sir) and the former Negro slaves to the fact that they were being fleeced by the emerging Bourbon interests. Not only that, but they began uniting the Negro and white masses (Yeah) into a voting bloc that threatened to drive the Bourbon interests from the command posts of political power in the South.

To meet this threat, the southern aristocracy began immediately to engineer this development of a segregated society. (Right) I want you to follow me through here because this is very important to see the roots of racism and the denial of the right to vote. Through their control of mass media, they revised the doctrine of white supremacy. They saturated the thinking of the poor white masses with it, (Yes) thus clouding their minds to the real issue involved in the Populist Movement. They then directed the placement on the books of the South of laws that made it a crime for Negroes and whites to come together as equals at any level. (Yes, sir) And that did it. That crippled and eventually destroyed the Populist Movement of the nineteenth century.

If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. (Yes, sir) He gave him Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, (Yes, sir) he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man. (Right sir) And he ate Jim Crow. (Uh huh) And when his undernourished children cried out for the necessities that his low wages could not provide, he showed them the Jim Crow signs on the buses and in the stores, on the streets and in the public buildings. (Yes, sir) And his children, too, learned to feed upon Jim Crow, (Speak) their last outpost of psychological oblivion. (Yes, sir)

Thus, the threat of the free exercise of the ballot by the Negro and the white masses alike (Uh huh) resulted in the establishment of a segregated society. They segregated southern money from the poor whites; they segregated southern mores from the rich whites; (Yes, sir) they segregated southern churches from Christianity (Yes, sir); they segregated southern minds from honest thinking; (Yes, sir) and they segregated the Negro from everything. (Yes, sir) That’s what happened when the Negro and white masses of the South threatened to unite and build a great society: a society of justice where none would pray upon the weakness of others; a society of plenty where greed and poverty would be done away; a society of brotherhood where every man would respect the dignity and worth of human personality. (Yes, sir)

We’ve come a long way since that travesty of justice was perpetrated upon the American mind. James Weldon Johnson put it eloquently. He said:

We have come over a wayThat with tears hath been watered. (Yes, sir)
We have come treading our pathsThrough the blood of the slaughtered. (Yes, sir)
Out of the gloomy past, (Yes, sir)
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam
Of our bright star is cast. (Speak, sir)

Today I want to tell the city of Selma, (Tell them, Doctor) today I want to say to the state of Alabama, (Yes, sir) today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir)

Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. The burning of our churches will not deter us. (Yes, sir) The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) Like an idea whose time has come, (Yes, sir) not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. (Yes, sir) We are moving to the land of freedom. (Yes, sir)

Let us therefore continue our triumphant march (Uh huh) to the realization of the American dream. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated housing (Yes, sir) until every ghetto or social and economic depression dissolves, and Negroes and whites live side by side in decent, safe, and sanitary housing. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated schools (Let us march, Tell it) until every vestige of segregated and inferior education becomes a thing of the past, and Negroes and whites study side-by-side in the socially-healing context of the classroom.

Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. (Yes, sir) March on poverty (Let us march) until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns (Yes, sir) in search of jobs that do not exist. (Yes, sir) Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until wrinkled stomachs in Mississippi are filled, (That's right) and the idle industries of Appalachia are realized and revitalized, and broken lives in sweltering ghettos are mended and remolded.

Let us march on ballot boxes, (Let’s march) march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.

Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs (Yes, sir) will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens. (Speak, Doctor)

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until we send to our city councils (Yes, sir), state legislatures, (Yes, sir) and the United States Congress, (Yes, sir) men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march. March) until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Yes) until all over Alabama God’s children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor.

There is nothing wrong with marching in this sense. (Yes, sir) The Bible tells us that the mighty men of Joshua merely walked about the walled city of Jericho (Yes) and the barriers to freedom came tumbling down. (Yes, sir) I like that old Negro spiritual, (Yes, sir) "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho." In its simple, yet colorful, depiction (Yes, sir) of that great moment in biblical history, it tells us that:

Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, (Tell it)
Joshua fit the battle of Jericho, (Yes, sir)
And the walls come tumbling down. (Yes, sir. Tell it)
Up to the walls of Jericho they marched, spear in hand. (Yes, sir)
"Go blow them ramhorns," Joshua cried,
"‘Cause the battle am in my hand." (Yes, sir)

These words I have given you just as they were given us by the unknown, long-dead, dark-skinned originator. (Yes, sir) Some now long-gone black bard bequeathed to posterity these words in ungrammatical form, (Yes, sir) yet with emphatic pertinence for all of us today. (Uh huh)

The battle is in our hands. And we can answer with creative nonviolence the call to higher ground to which the new directions of our struggle summons us. (Yes, sir) The road ahead is not altogether a smooth one. (No) There are no broad highways that lead us easily and inevitably to quick solutions. But we must keep going.

In the glow of the lamplight on my desk a few nights ago, I gazed again upon the wondrous sign of our times, full of hope and promise of the future. (Uh huh) And I smiled to see in the newspaper photographs of many a decade ago, the faces so bright, so solemn, of our valiant heroes, the people of Montgomery. To this list may be added the names of all those (Yes) who have fought and, yes, died in the nonviolent army of our day: Medgar Evers, (Speak) three civil rights workers in Mississippi last summer, (Uh huh) William Moore, as has already been mentioned, (Yes, sir) the Reverend James Reeb, (Yes, sir) Jimmy Lee Jackson, (Yes, sir) and four little girls in the church of God in Birmingham on Sunday morning. (Yes, sir) But in spite of this, we must go on and be sure that they did not die in vain. (Yes, sir) The pattern of their feet as they walked through Jim Crow barriers in the great stride toward freedom is the thunder of the marching men of Joshua, (Yes, sir) and the world rocks beneath their tread. (Yes, sir)

My people, my people, listen. (Yes, sir) The battle is in our hands. (Yes, sir) The battle is in our hands in Mississippi and Alabama and all over the United States. (Yes, sir) I know there is a cry today in Alabama, (Uh huh) we see it in numerous editorials: "When will Martin Luther King, SCLC, SNCC, and all of these civil rights agitators and all of the white clergymen and labor leaders and students and others get out of our community and let Alabama return to normalcy?"

But I have a message that I would like to leave with Alabama this evening. (Tell it) That is exactly what we don’t want, and we will not allow it to happen, (Yes, sir) for we know that it was normalcy in Marion (Yes, sir) that led to the brutal murder of Jimmy Lee Jackson. (Speak) It was normalcy in Birmingham (Yes) that led to the murder on Sunday morning of four beautiful, unoffending, innocent girls. It was normalcy on Highway 80 (Yes, sir) that led state troopers to use tear gas and horses and billy clubs against unarmed human beings who were simply marching for justice. (Speak, sir) It was normalcy by a cafe in Selma, Alabama, that led to the brutal beating of Reverend James Reeb.

It is normalcy all over our country (Yes, sir) which leaves the Negro perishing on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of vast ocean of material prosperity. It is normalcy all over Alabama (Yeah) that prevents the Negro from becoming a registered voter. (Yes) No, we will not allow Alabama (Go ahead) to return to normalcy. [Applause]

The only normalcy that we will settle for (Yes, sir) is the normalcy that recognizes the dignity and worth of all of God’s children. The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy that allows judgment to run down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. (Yes, sir) The only normalcy that we will settle for is the normalcy of brotherhood, the normalcy of true peace, the normalcy of justice.

And so as we go away this afternoon, let us go away more than ever before committed to this struggle and committed to nonviolence. I must admit to you that there are still some difficult days ahead. We are still in for a season of suffering in many of the black belt counties of Alabama, many areas of Mississippi, many areas of Louisiana. I must admit to you that there are still jail cells waiting for us, and dark and difficult moments. But if we will go on with the faith that nonviolence and its power can transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows, we will be able to change all of these conditions.

And so I plead with you this afternoon as we go ahead: remain committed to nonviolence. Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding. We must come to see that the end we seek is a society at peace with itself, a society that can live with its conscience. And that will be a day not of the white man, not of the black man. That will be the day of man as man. (Yes)

I know you are asking today, "How long will it take?" (Speak, sir) Somebody’s asking, "How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?" Somebody’s asking, "When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?" Somebody’s asking, "When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, (Speak, speak, speak) plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?" (Yes, sir)

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, (Yes, sir) however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, (No sir) because "truth crushed to earth will rise again." (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Yes, sir) because "no lie can live forever." (Yes, sir)
How long? Not long, (All right. How long) because "you shall reap what you sow." (Yes, sir)
How long? (How long?) Not long: (Not long)
Truth forever on the scaffold, (Speak)
Wrong forever on the throne, (Yes, sir)
Yet that scaffold sways the future, (Yes, sir)
And, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow,
Keeping watch above his own.


How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Not long) because:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; (Yes, sir)

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; (Yes)

He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; (Yes, sir)

His truth is marching on. (Yes, sir)

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; (Speak, sir)

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. (That’s right)

O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!

(Yeah)

Glory, hallelujah! (Yes, sir) Glory, hallelujah! (All right)

Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on!

Monday, March 23, 2015

I Want Daffodils

When anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation. The old has passed away. Everything has become new.

II Corinthians 5:17

One of the recurring themes of my life is that things seem to sneak up on me. Birthdays and anniversaries always arrive sooner than I expect them to. Events, meetings and reporting deadlines all seem to fly into my life without so much as a warning blip on my radar screen. It is not a calendar problem or a schedule problem. My planner is always up to date and I review it compulsively. But somehow, sometimes overnight it seems, events that were months away are suddenly piled up right in front of me.

This year, however, I find myself waiting impatiently for Easter. Let’s be honest, for me this year it’s more about spring than Easter. I want winter to be over. Technically, winter ended last weekend. But as I write this (Monday morning, March 23), the ground is still frozen and there are huge piles of snow.

I want flowers and sunshine and warm breezes. I want to see buds on the trees. I want daffodils. Aesthetically, it is wonderful to have the approach of Easter and the spring-time renewal of the earth running parallel to one another. But I need to remind myself that our celebration as Christians is quite different from the universal enjoyment of spring flowers and new leaves on the trees.

Heaven knows, it looks like a Good Friday world. And that appearance is never more evident than in the bleak days of late winter. The bare trees and the brown fields are appropriate reminders of a world in which there is often too much suffering and too little comfort. We know that personally, and we know that globally. From the strife in the Middle East to the soup kitchens around our state, the evidence of Good Friday is all around us.

We can tell ourselves that in a few weeks we will feel better. It will be less depressing when there are flowers and leaves and warm sunshine. But Easter is not about forgetting the world or feeling happier. It happens (impossibly and unbelievably) at the very center of our Good Friday world. Love overcomes hatred, reconciliation overcomes alienation, liberation overcomes oppression, joy overcomes pain, and life overcomes death-- even in the deepest winter of our souls.

I hope Easter will be an amazing gift for you this year. I hope it will stop you short and take your breath away. I know I need that, and I suspect that you do, too.

Easter is more than daffodils.

But if we only had the daffodils; it would be enough.



Thursday, March 12, 2015

Ana Marie Cox and Fanny Crosby: Love and Mercy Found Me

Fanny Crosby in 1872

Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
Mark 1:14-15

Longtime blogger and political commentator Ana Marie Cox recently wrote a column called, “Why I’m Coming Out as a Christian.” In her introduction she said that she was not worried that non-believers would want to disown her, she was worried about what Christians would say if she publicly embraced “the punk-rockness of being a progressive, feminist, tattooed, pro-choice, graduate-educated believer.”

Turns out she was worried about the wrong group.

The response from self-identified Christians was generally characterized by a warm acceptance. Many noted that the still disagreed with her views on public policy, but they were generally pleased to embrace her as a sister in Christ. On the other hand, the response from self-identified atheists was overwhelmingly judgmental and condemning. A short summary would be, “That’s just stupid.” Some hoped she would be happy with her imaginary friend.

Cox says that she has made her life over. She is happier, healthier and freer. And, she says, it shows:

“When people ask me, ‘What changed?’ or, ‘How did you do it?’ or, sometimes, with nervous humor, ‘Tell me your secret!’ I have a litany of concrete lifestyle changes I can give them—simply leaving Washington is near the top of the list—but the honest answer would be this: I try, every day, to give my will and my life over to God. I try to be like Christ. I get down on my knees and pray.”

Just to make sure we know she has not completely given up the persona we have come to know and love, she followed her testimony by recalling that the last time she gave that answer, “it stopped conversation as surely as a fart, and generated the same kind of throat-clearing discomfort.”

To be fair, self-righteousness and judgmentalism never seem to be in short supply on all sides of any Internet commentary. Sometimes it seems like no one has any filter at all. And they do all of their thinking out loud in CAPITAL LETTERS. It is also apparent that lots of folks comment on articles without actually reading them first.

One of the complaints about the column is that the reasons Cox gave for her new-found Christian faith were not really reasons at all. And they quoted the offending paragraph:

“Here is why I believe I am a Christian: I believe I have a personal relationship with my Lord and Savior. I believe in the grace offered by the Resurrection. I believe that whatever spiritual rewards I may reap come directly from trying to live the example set by Christ. Whether or not I succeed in living up to that example is primarily between Him and me.”

Of course, if you read it closely, you can see that she isn’t trying to give reasons for her faith. She is only explaining to those who might not think that she is a “real” Christian, why she believes she is. She is stating what she believes. She isn’t making an argument for it.

For the most part the article is a warm and inviting witness to her faith.

Two things bother me.

First, the theology seems fresh out of Fanny Crosby. And maybe that has a certain poetic logic to it, since Crosby was a fiercely committed abolitionist. Cox seems to espouse an essentially personal faith. It’s all about her connection to Jesus, and her personal salvation.

That’s not an uncommon view.

When I read that passage from Mark’s Gospel as a young person, I assumed that the “Gospel” or “good news” that Jesus announced was about himself. Even when I developed a much broader and deeper understanding of salvation as wholeness and healing and new life, I still thought that Jesus was announcing the good news about himself and the New Life we might have in and through him. In spite of my commitment to social justice (thank you, Dr. King!), I did not really connect that to the announcement Jesus was making.

When I read the passage more carefully and realized that the good news he was announcing was about the Kingdom of God on earth, I was initially baffled by it. It took me a long time to grow into an acceptance that maybe (in spite of what I had learned) Jesus meant exactly what he said.

And second, she seems to assume an implicit dissonance between progressive politics and Christianity. This reflects a very common historical misunderstanding.

Today most commentators in the media seem to assume that progressive Christianity is an oxymoron. At the very least, it is something that needs to be explained. But a century ago it was a tautology. Progressives were overwhelmingly Christian (and Protestant) and the strongest Christian voices were also progressives.

The word and the movement had a religious connotation. Of course, a century ago the Progressives were also mostly Republicans.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Curt Schilling Confronts the Rape Culture


For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so.
James 3:7-10

I am a huge fan of Curt Schilling. As a pitcher for the Red Sox he was spectacular. He was dependable in the regular season and came up big, very big, in the post season.

I think he belongs in the Hall of Fame. On the other hand, I also think Jim Kaat belongs in the Hall of Fame.

But Curt Schilling the political commentator and pontificator, not so much. He doesn’t believe in evolution or global warming, for starters. And I think he sometimes seems to have a martyr complex about that. I don’t think he was kept out of the Hall of Fame because of his political views.

That is a somewhat long way of saying that when it comes to Curt Schilling, as much as I admire his baseball skills, I am not a true believer. So when a friend posted a link to his blog site, I approached it with some skepticism.

The short version is that he tweeted a congratulatory note to his daughter, Gabby, on her acceptance to Salve Regina University to play softball for the Seahawks, and the response included some vile remarks from young guys. Curt did a little internet research, tracked down the guys, exposed them, and there were consequences. A couple of them lost their jobs and several were suspended from their college sports teams.

Of course, it didn’t end there.

Perhaps it is not surprising that some of the response has been that Schilling should have known better than to say anything about his daughter. He’s the one who opened the door in the first place.

On sports talk radio, Jim Murray went even farther. Commenting on the Felger and Massarotti show, he went hard at Schilling:

“To be all high and mighty about this, like Curt Schilling has kind of been, I think he’s almost as bad as some of the guys tweeting at him. It was a poor joke what some of those guys were doing. It was a dumb joke in bad taste, but for these guys to lose their job and for him to sit there and be like, ‘Ha-ha-ha gotcha!’, I think that’s just as gross. He just seems a little bit pompous about the whole thing, but then again I don’t have kids.”

If you read Schilling’s blog, I think you will agree that what was tweeted about his daughter was a lot worse than “a dumb joke in bad taste.” But before you look at the blog, please be warned that his pictures of the twitter feed really are incredibly vile. In their tweets, they talk about wanting to rape his daughter. And although a normal person would not believe that it could be worse than that, they don’t just talk about raping his daughter, they do so in gross and graphic ways. If you read what they wrote and what they threatened to do, I don’t think you will feel sorry that they lost their jobs or got kicked off of their teams or maybe expelled from school.

In this, as in many other instances, Curt Schilling did get “all high and mighty.” But in this case it is more than justified.

But the much larger point has absolutely nothing to do with Curt Schilling.

Question: Is this episode an outlier, or is it evidence of a larger problem? Specifically, is this evidence of what some have called a “culture of rape”?

How else do we explain it?

This goes way beyond the general observation that “guys are pigs” because we are always thinking about sex. There was nothing even remotely erotic about the tweets.

Admittedly, all of the vile tweets were sent by a small handful of young men. Thankfully, this is not how most young men think about women.

But it has caused me to look again at the problem of campus rape. When activists talk about a “rape culture” on campus, others dismiss it as hyperbole. The Schilling experience may be more indicative than we might hope.

Clearly, it is something that needs to be addressed. It is real. We cannot excuse it or ignore it. This is not just guys saying dumb things. It is misogyny in one of its most brutal forms.

In his blog post, Schilling says that those who don’t have children and more specifically, those who don’t have daughters, will not understand. I think he is wrong. I know plenty of men who do not have children and yet understand this issue.

We can’t wait for young men to grow up and have daughters before they understand that threatening to rape someone is wrong.

Monday, March 2, 2015

If It’s March, then It Must Be Lent


My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.

Song of Solomon 2:10-13

In his hymn to love and to spring, the writer of the Song of Solomon announces joyfully that the winter is past and the rain is over and gone.

Sadly, our winter is not past.

Easter is in April this year, as it most often is. And that is a good thing. Easter belongs in April. April has daffodils. And warm sunshine. And green grass. In this winter of  unending cold, we can’t wait for April and Easter.

In March, most of the time, the wind is still cold. The branches on the trees are bare. We gain more sunlight in March and in any other month, but it does not really warm up until it is nearly April.

This year especially, March is the time when we are almost ready to give up, and resign ourselves to endless winter. March is the time when we can hardly believe that spring is possible.

Lent is always in March. Lent belongs in March. The stark themes of repentance and suffering fit the landscape. Bleak and barren. A time of sharp contrasts. It is too cold to spend much time outside. But in the few days when the sun is warm and it feels like spring, it is a gift. Something unexpected.

I am not sure whether we really need another cold month, but we need Lent. We need some time to sing our songs in a minor key. We need reflection and the renewal that comes with it. I love that time in late April or early May, when in the space of a week the buds turn into leaves. I love it when the daffodils burst into bloom.

But the changes of March are largely unseen. Beneath the surface bulbs are turning into flowers. Without the unseen changes of March, the visible beauty of April and May would be impossible. Our spirits need that same time for unseen growth and change. In the cold darkness, God is at work. Frozen spirits are opening. New life begins.

Monday, February 16, 2015

MG's, Mystical Visions, and Marcus Borg

MG TF

Suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear.
Matthew 17:5-6

In his book, “Convictions,” the late Marcus Borg describes a series of mystical experiences that convinced him of the reality and the mystery of God.

None of his experiences were as dramatic as the disciples’ experience at the Transfiguration. The Bible does not describe many visions or mystical experiences, and when they are described, a lot of them are negative. There are many instances of “false visions,” in which a false prophet tries to convince the people of Israel that what he wants them to do is really “from the Lord.” Not surprisingly, those episodes tend to end badly for the false prophets. And when the narrative speaks of an authentic vision, as at the Transfiguration, most of the time the response is overwhelming fear.

Marcus Borg’s mystical experiences are reassuring rather than fearful.

Remembering the first of these, he writes, “It happened as I was driving through a sunlit rural Minnesota winter landscape alone in a nine-year old MG two-seater roadster. The only sounds were the drone of the car and the wind through the thin canvas top. I had been on the road for about three hours when I entered a series of S-curves.” Then suddenly everything glowed and looked wondrous and he was amazed.

As you might guess, this brought a lot of questions to my mind.

What model of MG was it?

Was it an MGA?

Or an MGB?

Or (it takes my breath away even to think about it) could it have been an MG TF?

If it was an MG TF, then it would have been mystical, but hardly surprising. The TF’s were the last of the classical MG’s. One of the most beautiful cars ever made. How could anyone drive a TF and not have a mystical experience? Richard Dawkins would have had a mystical experience in a TF.

Theoretically, it could have been an MG Midget. They were the MG version of the Austin Healey Sprite (the later ones, not the “Bug Eye Sprite) and they looked like a miniature version of the MGB. But a mystical experience in an MG Midget would be a true miracle. They were cute and fun, but it’s hard to imagine one experiencing any sort of transcendence in an MG Midget.

Many of my childhood experiences centered on events at the Cape Cod Sports Car Club. Our “Sports Car” was a Volkswagen Beetle, but my dad was a founding member and always very good with all sorts of cars. He spent many hours fixing other peoples’ exotic automobiles.

I was not old enough to drive any of those cars, but I often rode in them, and I remember riding across the Bourne Bridge in an MG TD. The low seating and the low cut doors made it feel like you were in a race car. On that day the sky was clear blue and the sun reflected off of the canal below. I don’t know if I would have called it a mystical experience. But it was close.

A mystical experience in an MG on a sunlit road entering a series of S-curves. I can easily believe that.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Just Do What's Right


Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

Over the years, many of my heroes have disappointed me.

But there are some people for whom my admiration grows with time and I later realize that although I may have thought well of them, maybe even idolized them, I also fundamentally underestimated what they had done.

Dean Smith is in the latter group.

I was always a fan. I admired the way he never got flustered, never seemed to lose his temper. He did not gloat when his teams won. He did not whine when they lost. He was gracious in victory and defeat. He seemed to keep it all in perspective. And when he retired after 36 years of coaching basketball at the University of North Carolina, nobody had won more games. And his players actually graduated.

In a book called, “The Carolina Way,” written with Gerald Bell and John Kilgo, Smith said, “My basketball philosophy boils down to six words. Play hard; play together; play smart.”

But there was a lot more to Dean Smith than basketball.

In an article written for the Washington Post, John Feinstein told of researching a feature on Smith. He writes, “One of the people I interviewed for the story was Rev. Robert Seymour, who had been Smith’s pastor at the Binkley Baptist Church since 1958, when he first arrived in Chapel Hill. Seymour told me a story about how upset Smith was to learn that Chapel Hill’s restaurants were still segregated. He and Seymour came up with an idea: Smith would walk into a restaurant with a black member of the church.”

“You have to remember,” Reverend Seymour told Feinstein, “Back then, he wasn’t Dean Smith. He was an assistant coach. Nothing more.”

So Dean Smith, an assistant coach, not yet 30 years old and a newcomer to Chapel Hill, invited a black member of the church to go to lunch with him at a restaurant where the management knew him because the (all white) basketball team often ate there. They were served without incident, and that was the beginning of desegregation in Chapel Hill.

When Feinstein went back to Smith to ask him for more details on what happened that night, Smith was visibly angry. “Who told you about that?” he demanded.

“Reverend Seymour,” Feinstein answered.

“I wish he hadn’t done that.”

“Why?” asked Feinstein. “You should be proud of doing something like that.”

And then, Feinstein recalled, “He leaned forward in his chair and in a very quiet voice said something I’ve never forgotten: ‘You should never be proud of doing what’s right. You should just do what’s right.’”

In 1988 Smith was part of a delegation of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty in a clemency hearing for a man whom Coach Smith had befriended when he brought members of the UNC basketball team to visit inmates on death row.

Smith led the discussion with the governor. Pointing his finger at him, he said, “You’re a murderer!”

And then, one by one, he pointed to members of the PFADP and the pastors in the delegation and said, “And you’re a murderer! And you’re a murderer! And you’re a murderer!” Then with his finger pointing at himself he said, “The death penalty makes us all murderers.”

In “A Coach’s Life” he wrote: “What do you call the worst human beings you know? Human beings loved by the Creator!”

At the end of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hear these words of mine and do them.” Dean Smith was that kind of Christian.

The Apostle Paul followed his message on truth, justice and excellence with a sentence that Dean Smith would have been too modest to speak, but he is one of the few people who could have said it without exaggerating his values and actions, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”