The tune is not very timeless, but the lyrics still communicate. In James Taylor’s 1991 song Shed a Little Light, he wrote
Let us turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther King
And recognize that there are ties between us,
All men and women living on the Earth.
Ties of hope and love, sister and brotherhood, that we are bound together
There is a feeling like the clenching of a fist
There is a hunger in the center of the chest
There is a passage through the darkness and the mist
And though the body sleeps the heart will never rest
Shed a little light, oh Lord, so that we can see, just a little light, oh Lord.
Wanna stand it on up, stand it on up, oh Lord,
Wanna walk it on down, shed a little light, oh Lord.
I don’t know that a nation like ours with a history like ours or a present like ours can turn our thoughts often enough to the otherworldly, redemptive vision of Martin Luther King. Certainly of all the things you might trip into today, be you off work, on work, occupied or otherwise, wouldn’t it be important to spend 10 or 15 minutes swept into the sacredness of King’s vision for justice and equality, but, above all brotherhood and sisterhood? I think so. Don’t neglect to find such a moment during this day. For we forsake those things we forget, even, especially the proverbial first things.
I’m reprinting below the entire text of King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. I reflected on it during Friday’s post and gave a bit of its backstory.
I have a bit of a habit of using Monday’s post as a venue for reflecting on art. Can an open letter extolling the expounding upon the biblical and social urgency of racial justice be considered art? Can it be called beautiful, evocative, important, inspiring? In the case of this epistle, the answer is yes to all and so much more. It has its own animate power and presence, the same as any masterpiece. Like van Gogh or Bach, it can stop you in your tracks. If this is not art, than our definition of art must grow. The same could be said of the way this text belongs in many important categories. If you live in America and have never ventured into this text, you are poorer for it. If you are a Christian and have never annexed King’s vision for justice into your own, you have needlessly retarded your spiritual growth. If both are true of you, I would urge you to make this a matter of sacred responsibility—I mean that.
Canadian aboriginal leader George Erasmus noted,
Where common memory is lacking, where people do not share in the same past, there can be no real community.
Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.
King’s letter offers us a needed path to common memory and, thus, a path to real community—within our society and within the church. How needed this is in these days!
It was King himself who grieved that the most segregated hour in America was 11 am on Sunday morning. How might the American church offer any prophetic energy or insight within our nation if this remains unchanged? It cannot.
And so, without further adieu, I am providing the full text of King’s letter below. May we walk upon its light. Continue reading “MLK | Letter from a Birmingham Jail”