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On Tuesday of last week, April 16, a significant anniversary was marked in our nation’s history.  The observance was largely (and understandably) overshadowed by tragic events that occurred the day before and the day after.  On Monday, April 15, two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and injuring nearly three hundred.  This cowardly act of hatred and domestic terrorism dominated the week’s news with a massive manhunt in the city of Boston, culminating in the death of one suspect and the dramatic capture of the other on Friday.  On Wednesday, April 17, a massive explosion at a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, inflicted unbelievable destruction and shattered the tranquility of this tight-knit community.  At present, the death toll stands at fifteen, with others still unaccounted for and over two hundred injured.

Sandwiched in between these two devastating events last week was the 50th anniversary of the penning of a letter by Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 16, 1963, from inside the Birmingham City Jail.  King and others had been arrested four days earlier for defying an injunction against “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing.”  King and his fellow demonstrators had continued their non-violent acts of civil disobedience in protesting racial inequality, Jim Crow laws, violence against black Americans, and institutionalized segregation in the South.  While in jail, King was given a copy of a local newspaper that contained a statement written by eight white Alabama clergymen, entitled “A Call for Unity,” which criticized King and other civil rights activists for their “unwise and untimely” activities in Birmingham.  King was moved to right an open letter in response their criticisms and mischaracterizations of his efforts.

I was five and a half months old when Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote what came to be known as the “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  My family would soon move to Warrior, Alabama, just twenty-five miles north of Birmingham.  It is still hard for me to fathom that such racial injustice existed in my lifetime and that, just a few miles down the road from where I was sleeping safely and soundly in my bed, other Americans were being beaten, mauled by attack dogs, and pummeled by water cannons.  Just three months before King’s arrest in Birmingham, George Wallace, the newly elected governor of Alabama, defiantly stated in his inaugural address on January 14, “In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.”

And where were the leaders of many white churches?  Either shamefully and fearfully silent, or, like the authors of “A Call for Unity,” inexplicably seeking to make a “Christian case” against the civil rights movement.

King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” is truthful, touching, convicting, poignant, wise, and masterfully crafted.  You can read it in its entirety by clicking here, but I have included some especially powerful excerpts below.

But more basically, I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.  Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their “thus saith the Lord” far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco-Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town.  Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid!

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.  We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.  Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.

You may well ask:  “Why direct action?  Why sit-ins, marches, and so forth?  Isn’t negotiation a better path?”  You are quite right in calling for negotiation.  Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action.  Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue.  It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.

Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.  For years now I have heard the word “Wait!”  It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity.  This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.”  We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that “justice too long delayed is justice denied.”

One may ask:  “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?”  The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust.  I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws.  One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws.  Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.  I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

I hope you are able to see the distinction I am trying to point out.  In no sense do I advocate evading or defying the law, as would the rabid segregationist.  That would lead to anarchy.  One who breaks an unjust law must do so openly, lovingly, and with a willingness to accept the penalty.  I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law.

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating that absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will.  Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering that outright rejection.

But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.  Was not Jesus an extremist for love:  “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”  Was not Amos an extremist for justice:  “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”  Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel:  “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”  Was not Martin Luther an extremist:  “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.”  And John Bunyan:  “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.”  And Abraham Lincoln:  “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.”  And Thomas Jefferson:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal…”

So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be.  Will we be extremists for hate or for love?  Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?

Never before have I written so long a letter.  I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time.  I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts, and pray long prayers?

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.

Three years ago on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, I posted “He Had A Dream” as a tribute to King’s influence and legacy.  It is noteworthy that 50 years after King wrote his letter from a Birmingham jail, an African-American is serving his second term as the President of the United States.  There are certainly those within our nation who oppose President Obama, but I sincerely pray that they choose to do so on the basis of his politics and policies and not the pigmentation of his skin.

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.

It was about this time last year that I saw my first bald eagle in the wild while driving Coleman out to his horseback riding session at American Therapeutic Riding Center between Sand Springs and Keystone Lake.  I was ecstatic!  Since then, just in the past year, I have seen seven.  About six weeks ago, Kim, Coleman, and I took a scenic drive one Saturday afternoon.  We drove nearly to the Arkansas line and then wound our way down Highway 10 to Tahlequah.  Between Tahlequah and Fort Gibson, we pulled off on the roadside for about 30 minutes and watched three bald eagles as they fed on something in a pasture.  A three-fer!!!

However, my most incredible eagle sighting came just last week as, once again, Coleman and I were traveling along Highway 412, this time on the return trip from his riding session.  In the distance, I saw something that at first I thought must have been a kite (the man-made recreational kind, not the bird of prey) with a long tail extending below it.  As we drove closer, it became apparent that it was an eagle, but I still could not identify what was dangling from its clutched talons.  A huge, writhing snake, maybe?  As the eagle soared over the highway just ahead of us, I could clearly see that it was carrying a tree branch, probably four to five feet in length, with several smaller branches and twigs protruding from it.  It was truly an amazing sight, almost a “run-off-the-road-watching-it” kind of amazing!  The eagle was taking the branch to its nest, perhaps the one that is easily visible on Wekiwa Road that runs close to the Arkansas River.

Eagles’ nests are huge, ranging from five to nine feet in diameter.  Eagles were created with the divinely programmed instincts and abilities necessary to build these homes, but it still takes a massive amount time and effort on their part to construct such sturdy and durable aeries.

We humans, also, have been known to expend substantial amounts of time, effort, and resources on our “nests,” the homes in which we are blessed to live while on this earth.  That is all well, fine, and good (as long we keep it in perspective and within our means), but it would be wise for us to periodically assess how much we are investing, comparatively speaking, in preparation for our eternal home.

Like Abraham, we are “looking for the city which has foundations, whose architect and builder is God,” (Hebrews 11:10).  We are booking eternal accommodations in rooms prepared by Christ Himself in the Father’s house (John 14:2-3).  Our earthly houses can be destroyed by fire, flood, or wind; thieves can break in and steal our worldly possessions.  That is why we store up our treasures and invest our hearts in heaven, beyond the reach of thugs and thieves (Matthew 6:19-21), in a “building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” (II Corinthians 5:1).

“Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.  Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed,” (I Timothy 6:17-19).

Some glad morning I’ll fly away, just like that eagle, to be at home with the Lord.

“The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains,” (James 5:7).

I am only a “raised garden bed” kind of farmer, but patience was in short supply over the last few weeks as I have fretfully looked for signs of life in our potato bed.  I had dutifully planted the potatoes in mid-February, well within the parameters of the planting guidelines recommended for Zone 7, which is the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone in which I live.  Mock me if you will for knowing that, but I’m serious about wanting to eat some homegrown Yukon Gold potatoes again this summer.

Six weeks had passed since planting them on February 16, with no emergence of the potato plants.  Had I planted them too early?  Was it still just too cold?  Was it lack of moisture?  Did I inadvertently plant them at an improper depth?  Had the neighborhood cats dug them up as they have repeatedly scratched around in what they have apparently mistaken for an 8 ft. x 4 ft. litter box?

Relief from my anxiety came last weekend.  Rain arrived in the Tulsa area on Friday evening.  After an exceptionally dry winter and with an ongoing drought in the region, it was wonderful to experience the sights and sounds of a good thunderstorm again: bright flashes of lightning, house-rattling claps of thunder, the clinking of tiny hailstones ricocheting off the windows, and the roar of heavy rain on the roof.

After another steady shower on Saturday morning, the clouds dispersed, a blue sky appeared, and the brilliant afternoon sun warmed the air well into the 70s.  That’s when I noticed that several of the potato plants had breached the earth above them, just barely exposing the tops of their little noggins.  God’s foolproof equation of seed, soil, water, light, and warmth had triumphed again.  Other plants around the lawn symbiotically joined in this Divinely choreographed renewal of life.  The iris blades, evidencing a deeper green, stood more erect and appeared to be several inches taller.  The dwarf Japanese maple sported tiny, but uniform, new growth that wasn’t there the day before; the weeping mulberry followed suit on Sunday morning.

Doubts were removed; faith was restored; hope was renewed.

What a perfect weekend for Easter Sunday!

Just as God’s unfailing promise of “seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter” (Genesis 8:22) brings “life from death” each Spring, so the resurrection of Jesus Christ guarantees for us that “death isn’t terminal.”  “I am the resurrection and the life,” Jesus said.  “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies,” (John 11:25).

I Corinthians 15 declares the centrality and essentiality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ to the Christian faith; everything stands or falls with the empty tomb.  The apostle Paul even used a “seed” analogy in his systematic case for our resurrection.

But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised?  With what kind of body will they come?”  How foolish!  What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.  When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.  But God gives it a body as he has determined, and to each kind of seed he gives its own body…  So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable;  it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. (I Cor. 15:35-38, 42-44)

As surely as Jesus Christ was raised from the dead, so we will be!

“Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.” (James 5:7-8)

Doubts are removed; faith is restored; hope is renewed.

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April 2013