A Letter, Better Late than Never

I am ashamed to say that in my more than three decades of existence, I have not read Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s letter from the Birmingham jail.

The shame doesn’t end there.

As a privileged, educated Christian who is a minority but often treated like the majority, I cringe at knowing the injustice that existed less than a century ago – and the fact that injustice still exists now.

I cringe because there are still Christians who “stand on the sidelines” and while they mouth the right words when facing inhumane circumstances or possibilities for sacrifice, the hands stay closed and the eyes are dull.

I cringe when recognizing the disgust with the church has not diminished; in fact, the faith I believe in is frequently dismissed by outsiders because we are no longer extremists as Jesus Christ was. Were we ever? Could we be?

I know myself, and I see the potential for such standoffishness in me. Yes, me who graduated from an Ivy League university and chose to work part-time at a news station, dreamy about telling the stories of the voiceless. Yes, me who has grown up ‘churched’ and reciting Bible verses her entire life. Yes, me who left a provocative career for one that seems less ‘glamorous’ in order to ‘do good.’

We’re all frighteningly capable of indifference. Today I saw a man ahead of me who appeared to be mentally unstable based on his loud ranting and stumbling gait. I set my teeth, determined to walk straight past him as a sign that he was a human being and not a ‘body’ to avoid.

Then a well-dressed gentleman stranger walking from that direction passed me and suggested kindly, “Hey, you should cross the street.”

I crossed.

When the lesser-dressed man caught my eye from over the hood of a car, I gave a weak smile. He grinned and kept on singing and leaning against a pole, and I walked the remaining block to work, wondering if I had given into irrational fear by creating a distance of 10 feet rather than 10 inches between us.

 

This letter is to me. This letter is to you.

“The question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate, or will we be extremists for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of justice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?”

– Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., August 1963

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