Signs of the Times • 17 January 2019 • No. 183
¶ Processional. “Precious Lord,” performed by R&B singer Ledisi Anibade Young. Minutes before the assassin’s bullet found him, King called out, from the Lorraine Motel second floor balcony, to the music leader for that night’s rally, “I want us to sing ‘Precious Lord’ tonight.'”
Above: Photo by pasteursdusahel.org
¶ Invocation. “Most gracious God, before whose face the generations rise and fall; Thou in whom we live, and move, and have our being. We thank thee [for] all of thy good and gracious gifts, for life and for health; for food and for raiment; for the beauties of nature and human nature. We come before thee painfully aware of our inadequacies and shortcomings. We realize that we stand surrounded with the mountains of love and we deliberately dwell in the valley of hate. We stand amid the forces of truth and deliberately lie. For these sins O God forgive. Break the spell of that which blinds our minds.” —Martin Luther King Jr. See more of his prayers in “Prayers of Martin Luther King Jr.”
¶ Call to worship. “The heart that broke for all the broken-hearted / Is whole and Heaven-centred now, and sings, / Sings in the strength that rises out of weakness, / Sings through the clouds / that veil him from our sight, / Whilst we ourselves become his clouds of witness / And sing the waning darkness into light.” — Malcolm Guite, excerpt from “A Sonnet for Ascension Day”
¶ Hymn of praise. “‘Amazing Grace’ (‘Amazing Grace, How Sweet The Sound’) / Is the sweetest song I know / It was the song my momma sang / in sweet and humble voice / Like music from the world above, / it made my soul rejoice / Its soothing words and melody / like rippling waters flow.” —Armor Music Ministry, “Sweetest Song I Know” (Thanks Sondra.)
¶ Facts about Dr. King we are prone to forget.
• “The Martin Luther King You Don’t See on TV.” — Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon, FAIR
• We forget that following his famous “Beyond Vietnam” speech on 4 April 1967—exactly one year before his assassination—King was savaged in the media. Life magazine called it “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.
• The Washington Post said “King has diminished his usefulness to his cause, his country, his people.”
• Reader’s Digest warned it might provoke an “insurrection.”
• The New York Times ran an editorial, “Dr. King’s Error,” chiding him for linking foreign policy (the US war in Vietnam) with domestic policy.
• The Federal Bureau of Investigation privately called King the "most dangerous and effective negro leader in the country."
• “Racial apprehension before [the 1963 March on Washington] drove the federal government to furlough its workers for the day. The Pentagon deployed 20,000 paratroopers. Hospitals stockpiled plasma. Washington banned sales of alcohol, and Major League Baseball canceled not just one but two days of [Washington’s baseball games], just to be sure.” —Taylor Branch, author of Parting the Waters, Pillar of Fire, and At Canaan’s Edge, a three-volume history of the modern civil rights movement, in “Dr. King’s Newest Marcher,” New York Times, 5 September 2010
• According to Roger Mudd, who covered the March on Washington for CBS News, the Kennedy Administration drew up in advance a statement declaring martial law, in case it became necessary.
¶ Two short videos recommended.
•“Death of Martin Luther King,” background of King’s involvement in the sanitation workers’ strike. —PB. (9:16)
• King’s last day in Memphis. —NBC News (3:03)
¶ Highly recommended. “But by 1967, it was becoming clear that progress toward justice and equality would not coast on its own momentum toward true and lasting change.
“Attitudes that had tolerated and defended slavery and Jim Crow changed their racial clothing and put on economic garments, defending a status quo from change that would require adjustments of alignments of privilege and that would be costly in terms of effort and resources.
“A ceasefire is a necessary step in overcoming overt hostility, but it is not itself the establishment of peace.” —continue reading Colin Harris’ short essay, “King’s Perennial Question: Do We Pursue Chaos or Community?” Ethics Daily
¶ Confession. “There is a strange comfortability with black death. Even grief is subjugated by an imagination birthed by race where victims are always culpable for their own demise. Black tears are of no consequence because they come from bodies deemed defective by the myths of racialized thinking. Until all hearts begin to break and mothers of privilege join the funeral procession only then will sorrow cease to be our song.” — Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III
¶ Hymn of supplication. “Turn the other cheek he’d plead, / Love thy neighbor was his creed, / Pain humiliation death, he did not dread / With his Bible at his side, / From his foes he did not hide, / It’s hard to think that this great man is dead. (Oh yes) / Will the murders never cease, / Are thy men or are they beasts? / What do they ever hope, ever hope to gain? / Will my country fall, stand or fall? / Is it too late for us all? / And did Martin Luther King just die in vain?” —Nina Simone, “Why (The King of Love Is Dead).” Nina Simone and her band performed this song three days after Dr. King was murdered, having learned the song, written by her bass player Gene Taylor, that very day. This version (5:41) is abbreviated from the original, was much longer (12:57).
¶ Words of assurance. “Careless seems the great Avenger; history's pages but record / One death-grapple in the darkness 'twixt old systems and the Word; / Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne, / Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown, / Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own." —James Russell Lowell, “The Present Crisis”
¶ Professing our faith. “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today—my own government. For the sake of those [soldiers], for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence.” —Martin Luther King Jr., “Beyond Vietnam,” The Riverside Church, New York City, 4 April 1967
¶ This day in history. On January 17, 1893, American sugar planters overthrew the queen of Hawaii, Lili’uokalani (1838-1917), with the tacit support of the U.S. government. Sanford Dole was made president while queen was forced into house arrest. Years earlier, perhaps with a sense of foreboding, she had composed her famous song of farewell, “Aloha ‘Oe.” (see below) Thanks to Pam McAlister, “Global Nonviolence Stories of Creative Action”
¶ Hymn of lament and hope. “Farewell to thee, farewell to thee / The charming one who dwells in the shaded bowers / One fond embrace, / Ere I depart / Until we meet again.” —English translation of "Nā Mele Hawai'i,” by Lili’uokalani, queen of the Kingdom of Hawaii, performed by The Rose Ensemble
¶ Short story. “On April 4, 1968, I was spending several weeks working as a volunteer during the sugar cane harvest when I first heard the shocking news of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. As we sat eating our lunch, sitting on bundles of harvested cane and listening to a loud speaker providing music and occasional news, we heard the announcement that King had been assassinated.
“I lowered my head in consternation when I heard several comments being made around me, “Look at that. They have killed him even though he is one of them.” I took the opportunity to explain to those around me that King was a martyr, a fighter for racial justice and for the rights of the most humble of people.
“Quickly a circle of workers gathered around me, interested to learn of a type of Christianity which was new to them.” —continue reading Rev. Francisco Rodés’ “Martin Luther King Jr. in Cuba: A Cuban pastor’s story of King’s influence"
¶ Call to prayer. “Precious Lord,” performed by 12 year-old Joshua King at a New York State tribute event for Dr. King.
¶ Word. “All people dream: but not equally. / Those who dream by night / in the dusty recesses of their minds / wake in the day to find that it was vanity. / But the dreamers of the day / are dangerous people, / for they may act their dream with open eyes / to make it possible.” —T.E. Lawrence
¶ Of particular interest. Tom Peterson of Thunderhead Works writes about “Dismantling Confederate symbols” and includes a fascinating map of such produced by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Right: art by Brian Andreas, Storypeople.
¶ Preach it. “What is to be done? First we must try to tell the truth and a condition of truth is to allow suffering to speak. For 40 years, neoliberals lived in a world of denial and indifference to the suffering of poor and working people and obsessed with the spectacle of success. Second we must bear witness to justice. We must ground our truth-telling in a willingness to suffer and sacrifice as we resist domination. Third we must remember courageous exemplars like Martin Luther King Jr, who provide moral and spiritual inspiration as we build multiracial alliances to combat poverty and xenophobia, Wall Street crimes and war crimes, global warming and police.” —Cornel West, “Goodbye, American neoliberalism. A new era is here,” Guardian
¶ Hymn of intercession. “Eyes on the Prize” performed by Mavis Staples.
¶ “5 Things Written by Martin Luther King Jr. That Everyone Should Read.” —compiled by Lily Rothman, Time
¶ We have not yet learned this. “White people assume niceness is the answer to racial inequality. It's not.” —Robin diAngelo, Guardian
¶ Can’t makes this sh*t up. In the category of Who Would’a Thought It? comes this extraordinary commercial video addressing toxic masculinity from Gillette razor company: “Is This the Best a Man Can Get?” (1:45.) Yet the ad has drawn considerable criticism (from all sides of the political spectrum). —Jill Filipovice, CNN
¶ Call to the table. “MLK,” Darrell Adams’ cover of the U2 song, with quotes from Dr. King scrolling in the background.
¶ The state of our disunion. “No Park Rangers or Food Inspections – But Government Reopens for Oil and Gas,” US News; and “Government restaffs wildlife refuges during shutdown to allow hunters access,” NPR.
¶ Best one-liner. “Just a reminder that lightning and lettuce killed more people in 2018 than illegal immigrants.” —from the internet
¶ For the beauty of the earth. “Nudibranchs are slow-moving hermaphroditic predators related to snails. These wild weirdos dwell on the ocean floor where they creep around munching on corals, sponges, barnacles, other nudis and sometimes jellyfish. There are more than 3,000 species of nudis globally.” —Center for Biological Diversity (3:05 video. Thanks Jaroslav.
¶ Altar call. My favorite short story is the one Martin Luther King Jr. tells about his “kitchen table conversion” in his book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story. (I’ve posted it at bottom.)
¶ Benediction. “Ignite in us again the Word that stirs insurrection against every imperial reign, against every forecloser’s claim, against every slaver’s chain, until the Faith which death could not contain, the Hope which doubt could not constrain, and the Love which fear could not arraign lifts every voice to sing ’til earth and heaven ring!” —continue reading Ken Sehested’s "Martin Luther King’s birthday commemoration: A litany for worship”
¶ Recessional. Steel drum rendition of “Precious Lord,” Neal & Massy Trinidad Allstars.
¶ Just for fun. Bowling ally faux pas: Those crazy balls have a mind of their own. (Thanks Angela.)
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Resources from prayer&politiks for celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday
• “Martin Luther King's birthday commemoration,” a litany for worship
• “We, too, have a dream,” a litany for worship commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday
• “When the dream gets a bit dreamy,” on the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s ‘Beyond Vietnam’ speech
• “Prayers of Martin Luther King Jr.,” a short collection
• “Dr. King didn’t do everything.” We miss the significance of the Civil Rights Movement if we attribute everything to Dr. King.
• “Hear this, O People of the Dream,” a litany for worship commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
• “Write the vision, make it plain,” a sermon on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday
• “Hold Fast to Dreams: Defaulting on the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” a theological conference lecture
• “Martin Luther King Jr. in Cuba,” Rev. Francisco Rodés
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