Martin Luther King Jr

Lesson From Lent: King’s Kitchen Table

Imagine being a young black pastor in the segregated south and you have been called upon to lead a movement against injustice. The demonstration is having some success and the supporters of the evil structure have constantly threatened and denounced what you are doing.  One night, a particular threatening phone call shakes you.  Fear quickly invades your heart and mind as you consider the real possibility of death and the death of your young family.  It is at that point where your fine seminary education cannot help you.  Your saintly parents are too far away to come to your aid and comfort.  At that point, you come to a place where you must know God for yourself not through scholarship nor friends.  The only way to know Him at this point is by a deep, honest, and sincere outpouring of one’s self through prayer.  Then, and only by this knowledge of God, are you able to carry on with your life’s mission.  In a speech given in Chicago about a decade after the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. made this confession to his audience.

MLK_portrait_fi

In the current political and social climate, it is not unusual for us to speak, write, and demonstrate against the injustices we see around us. This is a good thing.  But, imitating Dr. King in seeking justice for the oppressed and mercy for the poor does come with a price that is often overlooked by an American mind frame that wants to forget that he was a Christian minister.  Indeed, this is a price we all must pay if we pursue the will of God from any religious viewpoint.  In particular for we who claim to believe Him who taught us that self-denial and taking up the cross are the prerequisites to follow Him, we especially must make the effort  to tear our homes apart looking for the lost coin that will cover the cost.  We must come to deeply, honestly, and sincerely know God through prayer.

Too often we don’t try to make such an effort. Sure we may go to church practicing some pious ancient ritual, getting caught up in a spontaneous praises, or some variation of these extremes.  We read the Bible and other religious books and magazines to help us on our Christian journey.  On the surface, we know how to show people what religion we practice and how to apply our faith to just about every social concern.  My concern is that too many of us never try to go deeper than the surface show before men and confront the depths of how much we need God until, like Dr. King, circumstances drive us to a place where we can no longer run and hide.  More troubling is that we don’t even try to reach that point because we fail to recognize our real enemy, Satan and his legions, and how he makes war inside of us.  With our unwillingness to grow closer to God in this critical way, the devil is comfortable with us going through our motions.

in thought

Contemplating this new step in my journey

This Great Lenten Fast, I have added King’s Kitchen Table to my rule of prayer. I typically do this right after dinner keeping in mind a sermon from St. John Chrysostom of how donkeys and oxen eat and go to their work while we eat so much we become useless and unable to bend our knees for prayer.  After washing the dishes, which is a form of service, I offer the first prayer of the Trisagion, to the Holy Spirit, before sitting down to the table.  Afterward, I sit and offer one ode of the Canon of St. Andrew of Crete.  I follow this up with a Psalm, the Gospel reading, and a prayer from The Veil from the Agpeya, the Coptic Book of the Hours.  The final offering is A Prayer for the Children of Africa in America written by the black abolitionist, Maria W. Stewart.  I end my time at the kitchen table by writing in my spiritual journal, examining my thoughts in light of the penitential prayers that I had offered.

Those who wish to pray at the kitchen table need not be as elaborate as this. The following elements are more important.  Timing; again, I keep this practice right after dinner.  So that during dinner, I am mindful that I have to pray after eating.  This mindfulness helps me to reduce my temptation for gluttony, a common sin that I have too regularly overlooked.  Thus, I see that if this bad habit can be overcome, by seeking oneness with God my other evils can be overcome as well.  Sacrifice; any nightly prayer activity means cutting away time from entertainment and rest.  Those who are very attached to watching TV can start by going to the table during commercials while that favorite show is on. In time, intentionally increase the time spent at the table vs. that in front of the screen.  Work; dishwashing is not the hardest labor in the world.  But, praying while working is common among monastics.  If not the dishes, folding clean laundry or some other chore can be done.  Uplifting music is a good addition to this routine.  Repentance; prayer is not simply offering God list of request.  Both John the Baptist and Jesus commanded people to repent for the sake of the kingdom.  Adorations, intercessions, praises; these things have their place.  But, repentance and self-examination brings us to struggle against the real enemy in ourselves.  Unless we struggle internally, anything we attempt, even what we succeed against, externally will be meaningless in our goal of salvation.

 

St. Anthony, King, Obama: The Time Is Now

The confluence of the days is no coincidence.  Martin Luther King Jr’s Birthday will be celebrated on January 21st.  This is also the same date of the Second Inauguration of President Barak Obama.  Every American, in particular African-Americans, understand the importance and prophetic like significance of these events.  King was the voice for a better America and helped lead the country out of the satanic state of segregation.  Obama is a symbol of what anyone can achieve if they strive to do their best.  There is no way I could nor would want to dispel these two great men.  But, I do believe it is important for we as Protestant Christians, and especially African-American Christians to also regard Saint Anthony of Egypt.  Today is his feast day.

St. Anthony the Great

St. Anthony the Great inherited great wealth from his parents and could have lived a life of great splendor.  Yet hearing the Gospel message, he left his worldly possessions behind and took up a life of prayer in the desert.  His devotion to prayer was a great influence on Bishop Athanasius of Alexandria who gave the church its first creed and was the first to compile the list of books that became our New Testament.  Another Egyptian, Macarius, to write prayers that are still prayed by Orthodox believers around the world.  Anthony’s defence of Jesus Christ as the incarnate Son of God during the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea helped the early church reject the heresy of Arianism.  Yet, rather than bask in the glories of his achievements, Anthony kept returning to his cave.  His followers followed his instructions and buried him in a secret grave so that he would not become the object of veneration.

The importance of Anthony is no less than that of MLK and Mr. Obama.  As we celebrate these to great men, now is the time for us to open our hearts and minds to learn about and celebrate our African-Christian heroes (and the saints of other lands as well).  Had there been no Anthony, the correct doctrines supported by Athanasius, Basil, Nicholas (yes, THAT St. Nicholas), and others may not have been as convincing to Emperor Constantine and the Council.  The rich prayer tradition of Orthodox and Catholic monks and nuns would not have developed in such meaningful ways.  Indeed, where would King have received his Holy Bible from?  What sort of Bible would Mr. Obama take the oath of office on? The “Desert Fathers” of Africa should and must be a part of who we African-American Christians honor during Black History Month as without them, we (and the world) might not be here and not have a true idea of who Jesus Christ is.

Archbishop Iakovos with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

During the era of Dr. King, we were too busy with fighting for our Civil Rights to learn much about our Christian history.  Now, it is possible that an African-American President who struggled during his first term could win a second.  Nothing is stopping us from reading the books of the early church fathers and talking to Eastern and Oriental Orthodox clergy.  Instead of choking our people on a diet of a modern Christian market, we can introduce them to the solid doctrines, prayers, and practices of our African ancestors.  Even if we choose not to convert to Orthodoxy (and I think some of us should), we should know our history.  We have no excuses not to learn.

Songs That Moved Me: New Year’s Day

I will be with you again

“New Year’s Day” by U2

I still remember the moment I heard it.  I was in the hallway on my way to the kitchen back in my teens.  Turning on the radio, expecting to hear the Duran-Duran sort of pop stuff or the newly emerging (or should I say expanding) sound of hip-hop when something very different hit my ears as I was tuning into various stations.  Piano?  Who the heck plays that in a song?  And an off-tone, flat piano at that.  The riff was haunting.  Not quite like Black Sabbath’s “devil’s third.”  But it rang with a melancholy that sincerely begged me to listen.  So, I did.

The voice of the singer gave words of hope and bemoaning.  Things should change.  I want them to do so badly.  But, “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.”  Lyrically, he took my hand through a rapturous possibility of the anticipated newness.  An ecstatic union girded with a pledge, “I will begin again.”  The obligatory “bridge” was established with that same haunting tone of the piano now laced with the muted wail of a guitar echoing in tear like unison.  Another guitar overlays yet intertwines with its predecessor with an apex that brought me back to the vocalist yearning for the possibility to come true.  Alas, conditions won’t allow for the desire to be met.  “Nothing changes on New Year’s Day.”

And the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis

“Where Do We Go From Here?”  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nothing Changes on New Year’s Day

Campaign 2012: Can’t We All Get Along?

What I’m saying to you this morning is that communism forgets that life is individual.  Capitalism forgets that life is social, and the kingdom of brotherhood is found neither in the thesis of communism nor the antithesis of capitalism but in a higher synthesis.

Martin Luther King, Jr.  “Where Do We Go From Here?”

And so while all Christians agree that helping the poor is a Christian
responsibility, it is not a self-evident truth that the best way to accomplish
that is more government welfare, or universal health coverage. I certainly would
not suggest that those Christians who disagree with my take on that are not
Christians because they don’t see it my way, but they should return the favor,
since the Church has no clear teachings on how government should handle public
charity.

Father John Whiteford “Hypocrisy of the ‘Christian Left'”

With it (the tongue) we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been mad in the similitude of God.  Out of the same mouth we proceed blessing and cursing.  My brethren, these things ought not be so.

James 2:9, 10 (emphasis mine)

Both Wings Extended (© John Gresham)

Politics bring out the worst in people, especially in election years.  Most of us like to think of ourselves as independents and moderates.  But, we are often swayed one way or the other by hardcore left and right-wing propaganda and their very vocal adherents.  Finding non-biased sources of polices and statistics is ever more difficult as well-financed media and online friends loudly and frequently spew out the “facts” that support their position.  And while it is tempting to talk about how there was so much civility in politics years ago, one only needs to open a history book and read where South Carolina Congressman Preston Brooks severely beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner with a cane over the issue of slavery.

What is most disturbing is that the meanest and nastiest attitudes among political supporters of both sides of the coin are Christians.  The Apostle James was so right when he noted the hypocrisy of our words.  This is not to say that every Christian ought to agree or disagree with either political party.  But we, of all people, ought to have sense enough to see the value of both of their platforms and seek to combine the best of both to improve ourselves, the nation, and the world.  Rather than respectfully give and take as humble people as God called us to be, we tear each other to pieces with our words and attitudes like pit bulls and fighting cocks.   Dog and cock fights are cruel illegal forms of entertainment ran by ring masters.  And when we children of God fail to keep our words and attitudes in check, we reduce ourselves to being animals controlled by the whims of this world.

The real question is not Obama or Romney, big or small government, or more or less taxes.  The real question is how to state your position.  Shall it be said with insults and rancor that only stir up angry opposition or with simple and humble words that may still stir up angry opposition?  The real question is how to respond to those who are against your position.  Shall we use bitter name calling  and hate that will only make a bad situation worse or with respect and meekness that may still offend those who want to make a bad situation worse?

America is like a burning house.  We who belive in Jesus Christ can either add fuel to the fire or try to slow the flames down.  In some cases, we may even extinguish them for a time.  Deliverance can only come from our Lord himself.  Support and vote for the candidates of your conscience.  But, do so in the spirit of mercy and humility Christ called us to live by.

Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one can see the Lord.

Hebrews 12:14

What We Bring To The Table: Howard Thurman

I do read books, watch You Tube videos, and listen to podcast from the Orthodox Church.  Chances are that I may eventually become a convert, though no time soon.  But, there are some people and things about the African-American Protestant faith that I am not willing to easily discard.  In fact, I believe that we have some important offerings that can enhance the cause of Orthodoxy in America.  Every now and then, I will promote the best of what we bring to the table of the ancient faith.

Howard Thurman was a mystic and theologian who led believers to search for the root of bonding with God.  While many preachers were content to “Whoop” and holler.  Thurman called on his congregants, students, and listeners to think and concentrate on matters of the spirit.  It is easy to see emotionalism as a part of our church practice.  But, Thurman saw something more meaningful through our experience of slavery and segregation.  That we have to reach a point of silence and reflection.  From this point, what he calls the “centering moment,” we can then yield ourselves to the spirit higher than our own and be directed by it.  True faith has little to do with external expressions of religious acts.  But, it has everything to do with our internal pursuit of something more meaningful.

With such spiritual insight, Dr. Thurman was one of the most influential theologians of our faith.  It is said that Dr. Martin Luther King often traveled with a well-worn copy of one of his books.  The church he founded, Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, still exist as do many of his books.  For those unfamiliar with this man, I suggest his book “Disciplines of the Spirit” as a good introduction to his thought and theology.

 

A Diary of the Apostles Fast (Second Wednesday): The Mind

For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.

Romans 8:6

My Icon Corner (© John Gresham)

How many clichés and quotes are there that teach that a man will wind up where his mind is?  My late grandfather-in-law and mentor, Rev. Carter Wicks, used to say that “A Man Is His Mind.”  If his and other similar words are true, I think it pays for us to do more than periodical reality checks.  We need daily monitoring and adjusting.  Because there are so many strong temptations to keep us thinking about the things of the world rather than the things of God.  This is not to say that we should all become strict monastics and leave everything we have to live in a cave the rest of our lives for the sake of prayer and contemplation.  But, unless prayer throughout the day becomes a part of our lives, we risk our faith eroding into spiritual uselessness.

I am not simply talking about the obvious sins that hold us down such as lust, anger, hate, greed, and the like.  Anything that separates us from the love of God and love for our fellow-man is carnal.  Take politics (and throw it in a cesspool where it belongs), conservatism and liberalism are two sides of the same coin of our need for earthly government.  We will all take a different stance from one another for various reasons.  But, in order for a coin to have any value, it has to have both a head and tail.  Both sides must work in cooperation with each other.  Due to the presence of wealth and winner-take-all power hyped up by the likes of Fox and MSNBC, we have harsher polarizing arguments than constructive agreements.

What saddens me is that Christianity is buying into this earthly coin and the argument that we must staunchly defend one side or the other.  As people of this nation, of course we will have opinions of which direction this nation should take.  But, we who have been given the Gospel of God’s redeeming love should never give into vilifying those whose political opinions do not match our own.  If anything, we should be a mediating force between (no, above) the right and left and seek Godly solutions to our national, state, and local problems.  As Martin Luther King Jr noted in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” rather than being a thermostat that controls the temperature in a house, the church has become a thermometer that only measures and reflects the temperature.  And when we spend more time reflecting our chosen sides rather than seek after something of far greater value, we make ourselves useless (and sometimes harmful) to the Gospel.

So, to my brothers and sisters to the left and right, I make this suggestion.  For every minute you spend watching Fox News or MSNBC, spend a minute and a half in honest and sincere contemplative prayer.  For every moment listening to Beck or Maddow, spend a moment and a half in self-reflection in light of the Lord who created and loves both equally.  Most of us who are in our 40’s have, perhaps, another 30 to 40 years to call ourselves Americans.  Where we go after that depends on where we have put our minds.  If we have set our minds on earthly divisiveness and strife based on one side or the other of a political coin that will eventually be destroyed, that is where we can expect to spend eternity.  If we have set our minds on seeking spiritual purity and loving others, we will be in that place of eternal wholeness.

 

Two Paths: African-American Christianity and the Orthodox Church

Forgive me for not coming up with a better title for this.  But, I have an interest in both of these expressions of faith.  I am a product of the old slave religion that grew into the preaching power of Gardner Taylor and the leadership of Martin Luther King Jr.  Yet, I can’t escape the fact that there is an unbroken line of the Apostle’s faith and teaching that still exist today.  Is there a dialogue between these two paths?  Surely there are differences as well as some similarities.  What does my church have to teach the ancient ones?  What can their fathers teach this son?  This is a topic I will work with for a few years, if not a lifetime.

http://orthodoxhistory.org/2011/06/22/abp-iakovos-opposed-civil-rights-demonstrations-in-1963/

I ran across this article earlier this morning concerning the Greek Archbishop Iakovos and why he earlier opposed public Civil Rights demonstrations.  In no way did he support the bigotry and segregation in America (not just the South).  But, he was opposed to the empty participation in marches without people making a true change of heart and mind.

 “Too often the demonstrators go home and say, ‘I did my part,’ but refuse to carry through. How many of them are willing to live with Negroes as neighbors, or give them a job or train them for a skill? In those areas lie the long-range benefits.”

I found the archbishop’s point not much different from that of Malcolm X as he also noted that people would march for the sake of grand performance rather than having the guts to search within themselves to make equality and justice a reality.  Both Iakovos and Malcolm would be in Selma, Alabama to give their support to the demonstration there.  Perhaps both men realized what was written in Ecclesiastes 3:1, There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven.  The 1960’s were the time to march.  Iakovos did.  Malcolm perhaps would have been in a later march had his life not been cut short.

But, it is still time for us to have true racial harmony in this nation.  This is where Archbishop Iakovos’s words underscore the real problem with public demonstrations.  King made some similar observations in his works as well.  Participating in a public demonstration is too easily used as a cover for one not changing their hearts and minds.  Take the horrible events in Sanford, Florida for example.  How many people who are expressing sympathy for the cause and yet look on black youth with suspicion?  Indeed, how many blacks look at black youth with suspicion?

Black Protestantism and Orthodoxy have this point of agreement.  True change cannot be made by mass demonstrations, no matter how righteous the cause.  Such protest may be useful for a time.  But, unless people are willing to live as spiritual creatures that truly accept the value of one another, racism will be with us even when the “Whites Only” signs are taken down.

John Gresham

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Second Friday)

… “Who are my mother and my brothers?”  Mark 3:33

We have a very narrow definition of who we are related to.  For people who live on this great sphere of earth, the circle of those whom we care about is limited to the circumference of a dime.  If one is not of our household, ideology, nationality, race, denomination, or religion; we consider such as unworthy of not only care and compassion (except in times of ritual or emergency charity).  We don’t count them among our equals though God also created them in his likeness and breathed his breath in them and made them living souls as well.

Song in Fellowship (© John Gresham)

One’s bloodline has nothing to do with belonging to the family of Jesus Christ.  There was a crowd sitting around him.  Mostly Jews like himself.  But, in other stories, we see him interacting with Romans, Canaanites, and Samaritans.  And none of the Jews seemed to clam him as a relative.  Doing the will of God, Jesus says, is the standard of our relationship to one another.

This is why Gandhi told the Christian who sought to convert to Hinduism to go back home and learn to be a good Christian and then come and learn to be a good Hindu.  This is why Malcolm X no longer taught Nation of Islam bigotry after sharing the great pilgrimage with Muslims from around the world.  This is why Dr. Martin Luther King bemoaned the fact that eleven o’clock Sunday morning was (and remains today) the most segregated hour in America.  These men of faith recognized and accepted all who sought true faith and betterment for all humanity as the thread that binds us all together.  God is the final judge of all who will dwell eternity.  Thus, let us be cautious about closing our circles of the holy family too closely.  We may find we are shutting ourselves out of it.

Yours in Christ,

Brother Cyprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene

A Lenten Journal: A Pursuit of the Doctrine of Christ (Second Wednesday)

… “Is it permitted on the Sabbath day to do good, or to do evil, to save life, or to kill?”  Mark 3:4

Tradition and law help to define human culture.  These practices and principles allow mankind to live in order by defining rules of behavior.  Breaking these for the purpose of selfish gain or pleasure violates the spirit of humanity in the whole community.  Such rebels should and must be corrected and, if need be, duly punished.

Croaker Pier (© John Gresham)

But, what happens when tradition and law are broken for better purposes?  Should fasting be universally mandated to all in the same way, or is it a practice of individual conscience as long as he or she is on a path to spiritual truth?  Must people be denied the things they need for the sake of maintaining a certain ideology?  Shall people be left broken because to heal them would break a certain law?  Jesus broke the tradition and law of his people.  But, he did these things not to feed his greed or lust, which he didn’t have in him.  No, he rebelled for the sake of spirit and humanity.  The pursuit of holiness is more than self-denial of necessary nourishment.  The needs of people should be met no matter what day it is.  It is never the wrong day to do good, heal, and save.

Some misguided blacks as well as racist whites thought that Dr. Martin Luther King should have been patient and waited for the day of integration and racial reconciliation to come.  But, from the Birmingham City Jail, he made us quite aware of the fact that no one should wait to bring about the goodness of God.   It was illegal for Maximilian Kobe to give aid to persecuted Jews during the Nazi occupation of Poland.  This man with a German name could have easily avoided death at Auschwitz.  But, he offered his life in the place of another.  These and many others didn’t break the law for their own personal benefit.  But, they did so in pursuit of spirit to give freedom and life to a suffering humanity.

Let us obey tradition and law that does maintain proper order for a functioning society.  But, when they prevent people from receiving the fullness of spirit and life, God calls us to rebel and do so in the holy love of Jesus.

Your Brother in Christ our Lord,

Cyrprian Bluemood

Order of Saint-Simon of Cyrene