Letter from Birmingham Jail

Sam Mahlstadt —  January 21, 2013 — 1 Comment

If we are to join God in bringing forth renewal in our time, we can’t just believe in justice, we must act for justice courageously. We must make sacrifice as much a part of our lives as the concern for our own wellbeing. I am deeply grateful for the model of what it means to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with the God.

A few pieces from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s letter from a Birmingham jail cell, written to eight clergymen from Alabama.

While confined here in the Birmingham city jail, I came across your recent statement calling my present activities “unwise and untimely.” Seldom do I pause to answer criticism of my work and ideas. If I sought to answer all the criticisms that cross my desk, my secretaries would have little time for anything other than such correspondence in the course of the day, and I would have no time for constructive work. But since I feel that you are men of genuine good will and that your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I want to try to answer your statements in what I hope will be patient and reasonable terms.

We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God-given rights. The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we stiff creep at horse-and-buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter. Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging dark of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five-year-old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross-country drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you go forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness” then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. I hope, sirs, you can understand our legitimate and unavoidable impatience.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

I wasn’t kidding when I said my friend Sam is brilliant.. Check out this Advent piece he wrote.

You can also buy the poster version of the written piece here.

May you have peace that passes all understanding.

May you be grounded in the hope of a child King.

May you, like Simeon, feel the assurance that all will be set right.

Jesus has come.

Glory to God in the highest.


Creativity Spawns Creativity

Sam Mahlstadt —  December 20, 2012 — 3 Comments

This is a guest post by my brilliant friend, Sam DuRegger

Fertile creativity is a creative product or process that has the ability to propagate further creativity into perpetuity, that is to say – creativity spawns creativity.

I came upon this concept in Eugene Peterson’s book, “Working the Angles” in which he states…”The variants of error are finite. The ‘deadly sins’ can be numbered; it is virtue that exhibits the endless fertility of creation.”

I really like the idea of sin being finite. It makes sense when you think about it, as sin cannot lead to life, as it only leads to death and/or destruction.

Wrath begets murder.
Greed begets taking.
Sloth begets nothing.
Pride begets stumbling.
Lust begets wanting.
Envy begets resenting.
Gluttony begets devouring.

But, what about virtue?

Temperance begets enjoyment.
Prudence begets wisdom.
Fortitude begets courage.
Justice begets equity.

Faith begets conviction.
Hope begets expectation.
Love begets love in return.

My hope is in your creative endeavors. That each of the projects you pour your heart into will overflow with fertile creativity. A virtuous creativity that will propagate your artistic legacy as one of hope, love, and strong conviction — positive and long-lasting impressions meant to give life in a world driven towards destruction.

I had the honor of speaking to my former youth pastor’s church a couple weeks ago. I spoke about one of the main themes in Creative Theology, ekphrasis art. Ekphrasis art is, simply, art in response to art. Great art begs for a response. The same is true in our lives. God’s great work begs a response, and we are all responding with our lives. In the end, we will each have a body of work created from our highs, lows, and the our mundane actions. All life is a response to the giver of life. And like, as Pope John Paul II says about great art, well-lived lives make others nostalgic for God.

May we live lives that make others nostalgic for God.

You can listen to the sermon dated 11/25/12 on Cedar Rapids Family Church’s website here.