January 21, 2013
Monday, 4:30 p.m.
Letter #260: The Words of a King
Today we welcomed in as President of the United States for a second term, Barack Obama. We also pause as a country to celebrate the life and legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr, a man we revere not just for his accomplishments but also for his beliefs and ideals. Not one to seek the applause of man, he readily chose to highlight unpopular topics, often using his pulpit to advance the radical beliefs he held so dear. It was from this very pulpit that some of his most damning criticisms came. They weren’t directed at poverty, American society, or government but to the church itself. Reading his words makes me wonder if much has changed.
Dr. King commented once on the parable Christ taught about the poor Jewish man who was beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Two religious leaders passed by, yet neither stopped to help the man. A hated Samaritan, however, showed compassion on the wounded man, and King noted, “The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ ” He then stated: “But the Good Samaritan reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’ Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.” This statement made me wonder if I actually hate others …
My prison environment is hardly first-century Israel, but we have our share of self-righteous individuals. Jesus’s story should cause us to examine our hearts for hatred in any form—anything that would cause us to not associate with others who are different from us or who don’t fit our ideals.
Many of my friends—Christian brothers—have a decidedly “us vs. them” attitude toward anyone who doesn’t believe exactly the way they do. This has alienated and fractured much of the church here. Oh, the church services are still full, as fresh faces take the place of those who have been hurt by careless comments (this doesn’t happen in any other church I’m sure), one brother telling another brother he “isn’t allowed to believe that,” and so on. Like a true Pharisee or Levite from the little parable, we hyper-religious shun those who don’t quite measure up.
Then, there’s the issue of the unreached, or “pagans,” as my brothers here sometimes call them. Rules are made that say we’re not to associate with them. Rules by people who forget that these are men whom Jesus loves and wants to reach out to.
Am I the Pharisee who doesn’t care? I think so, sometimes. I don’t want to get involved in their messy, broken lives. (God, change me! Let me see what You see. Let my hands be an extension of Yours.)
So, I reach out. I befriend. I do the kind thing. It doesn’t make sense to the Christian brothers. Why would I let the Community Choir sing for two Christmas celebrations that weren’t Christian-sponsored? What kind of message does that send to the Christian brothers? Hmm. I wasn’t sending a message to the Christians! (If the unreached are to be reached, let it be me, Lord!)
I’m not condoning other religions, and I’m not sponsoring other beliefs. Instead, because our music is so inspiring, others want to hear it—and how can I say no to sharing the clear message of Christ’s birth?
It’s crazy, because I’m not used to be misunderstood by church people! But I know that my tendency to want to appear to be righteous, to set a good example, can get me acting like those Pharisees instead of focusing on what God wants me to do. And right now, whether it be the classes or choir I lead, it seems God is using me to speak truth into guys who normally wouldn’t come to my church. Music is reaching them, loving on them and their lives.
As Dr. King put it: “Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it.” Can I get an “Amen!”