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Tossing Pebbles in the Stream

This blog is my place to sit and toss pebbles into the stream. The stream of Life relentlessly passing before us. We can affect it little. For the most part I just watch it passing and follow the flow. Occasionally, I need to comment on its passing, tossing a pebble at it to enjoy the ripple affect upon Life's surface.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Martin Luther King Jr. Day

I have long been a great admirer of Dr. King. I lived in the United States and participated in some of the civil rights activities during the end of his life. I always found what he had to say inspirational..

I am not one to have a lot of iconography in my house but I have had this well worn poster of Dr. King for may years. It is presently on the wall of my computer room.

(click on photo to enlarge)

I was first interested in Dr. King's thoughts about pacifism. It turned out  that their is a direct intellectual path of influence on him from a 19th century minister, Adin Ballou, in my denominational history. . This is a little unusual  for , while there are pacifist within my denomination, we are not one of the peace church. I was interested to find any and all roots in my church for my conviction in this area..

 Dr King's intellectual source of his views were most influence by Gandhi. After studying in Boston he went and spent some time in India to learn more about Gandhi's ideas.  Gandhi was in part inspired in his pacifism by the writing of Tolstoy. Tolstoy was influenced by Adin Ballou, a 19th Century Universalist Unitarian.  Ballou and Tolstoy carried on a correspondence.  Adin Ballou was an activist pacifist in the way that Ghandi and King were.  No doubt Dr. King has also heard of  Adin Ballou, who had been quite influential in his day, particularly among social progressives and abolitionists.  Ballou  founded a perfectionist community in Massachusetts, the Hopedale Community.. The present town at that site is still called Hopedale., with a Unitarian Church in  which I have had the pleasure of preaching..

 ( I would be interested to know if, while in India if Dr. King had learned of the great Muslim pacifist Pastun leader, Badshah Khan who was a contemporary of Gandhi  doing much as he did among the Muslims of India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.)

Adin Ballou was a contemporary with Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Unitarian minister and lecturer and   Henry Thoreau., the eccentric  romantic writer about Nature  who mooched off his friend Emerson who lived not far away in Concord. while "roughing in a couple of miles out of town on Walden Pond.  Emerson had what every contemplative man needs, a wealthy wife., who could support both men.  Thoreau as you may know is quite famous as the author of the essay On Civil Disobedience.. This was my second intellectual interest in Dr. King.   I am sure Dr. King was aware of important piece of American literature, as his method of bringing about social change was civil disobedience when necessary. All a pacifist can count on to be a social force is civil disobedience and the rule of law. When the latter is not effective the former become a moral imperative.

Dr. King got his doctorate from Boston University. I became interested in it when I was registered at the  Boston University School of Theology for one year while I finished my peripatetic studies at several theological school in the Boston area. His dissertation  was based on a comparison of the views of God by Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Weiman, two theologians I have read extensively.  This gave me another window of interest in Dr. King.  It always surprised me that he had an academic liberal theological education and managed to get out of Boston still being able to preach in the emotional  interactive black southern style, sometimes ending dramatically with whooping, rather than the dry bones  preaching more common around Boston.  Sadly, I never could master that southern preaching style that could elicit spontaneous emotional responses from a congregation. I am doomed to cool rationality.(My emotional range is from mellow to depressed. When I get excited I may smile rather than jump up and down) I am sure Dr. King absorbed some of the rational preaching style but basically he remained a southern black preacher.

Dr. King was a far more radical thinker that society  today cares to remember.The very fact that the day of the year when we celebrate his life we are asked to volunteer a little,  demonstrates how limited an understanding we have of his thought. He grew well beyond the civil rights movement, for which he is revered. He came to understand that civil rights are limited if there is no economic development among the poor. He came to believe that social democracy rather than capitalism should be the  way society should be organized..  He was also against militarism and came out strongly against the Vietnam War. He not only believed the poor should organize to get what they needed but that labour should also, He supported Labour Unions. When he died he was in Memphis to help the sanitation workers who were on strike.

It makes me uncomfortable when Dr. King's legacy is sanitized  as just his contribution to civil rights. I hope President Obama does not try to identify too much with Dr. King. for his civil rights efforts.  President Obama for all his admirable qualities is no Dr. King who deserves to be remember for the truly radical nature of his message, for he wanted to transform American society, while President Obama only wants to tinker around the edges.  He is a right of center politician while Dr. King developed into a left wing progressive.. It is interesting how we pick and choose the  ideas of great men and women while often missing the major power of their ideas.  Even if President was a "follower" of Dr. King the reality of politics in America today would limit what he could accomplish to fulfill Dr. Kings dreams.

The next four years in American politics are going to be interesting. I hope President Obama  achieve much of what he wants..his address was a good start. I was most pleased to hear him speak of climate change and the need to tackle this problem. For me it is the only problem we really have and until science shows we have made real progress is needs to take all our efforts and resources. The United States and Canada are lagging behind while being dreadful polluters. If the US makes an effort Canada might be forced to follow.


1. The announcers only every referred  President Obama as  Barack H Obama instead of Barack Hussein Obama. I would not have thought to much of this except Bill Clinton was called William Jefferson  Clinton.Is there something political going on here.  I did see that Judge Roberts used the President's full name. I guess he felt it was more legal.
2. I noticed the poet, Richard Blanco, used some foreign language phrases particularly his mother's tongue, Spanish, in his poem ,  "One Today" and the minister, The Reverend  Luis Leon , who gave the benediction, spoke a couple of sentences at the end in Spanish.. Are these an acknowledgement of the Hispanic population of the United States and its increasingly unique influence even to the de facto bilingual nature of many parts of the country.  Is bilingualism in America's future?.

3. I thought it was significant the in his address President Obama deliberately mentioned the gay community.  This must be the first time the sexual minority community has been so recognized. It seems it's acceptance is the new normal. How times are changing.

4. I found the poem very interesting.,  One Today. I was an epic free form poem in the style of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and  Alan Ginsberg's poems Howl. and America.  The themes seem  similar.: Nature, industry,  migration, common folk, personal experience in the American experience.. All four poems are a deeply personal expression.  Each represent a view of the country at a  different point it its history.


At 8:28 a.m., Blogger Ginnie said...

It's interesting to get your "take" on both the inaugeration and on Dr. King, Philip. It's a fascinating time in which we live and I hope I live long enough to see it actually take hold. (It's also time that the word "liberal", in all it's truest sense, gets back on the top of the pile ... in my humble opinion !)

At 12:29 p.m., Blogger Owen Gray said...

It was significant that the inauguration occurred on the Martin Luther King holiday, Philip.

I can't help but think that King would be pleased.

At 2:42 p.m., OpenID daffy said...

The inauguration had very little media attention here. I was very surprised.

At 9:04 a.m., Blogger troutbirder said...

Most interesting and thoughtful. Thank you....

At 1:50 p.m., Blogger possum said...

AH, my history lesson for the day. Thanks. Now I have to read up on a few people!

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