But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. ~ Matthew 5:44-45
This past Monday Jennifer and I slept in late since both of us had the day off, a little bit of heaven on earth for us. “What do you want to do today?” I asked Jennifer. “Let’s go to the MLK Jr. breakfast at The Grange,” she said. We quickly got ready and drove to the community hall.
The streets surrounding The Grange were full of cars and trucks of people attending the breakfast. “It’s a big turnout. That’s good,” I said. We found a place to park and walked into the hall. Friendly volunteers from the LDS church welcomed us, took our winter coats, and hung them up on a coat rack. We said hello to our neighbors and friends from our community.
Little children played with toys in the corner of the hall. Young mothers and fathers fed their babies, changed dirty diapers, and caught up on the local news all at once. The elderly rested on their walkers and spun yarns from yesteryear.
Fahrenheit Coffee Roasters provided several pots of coffee, so I fixed myself a cup loaded with cream and sugar and took a long drink of the smooth coffee. Is anything better than a good free cup of coffee? From across the room, Jennifer pointed at the donation jar and mouthed, “Make a donation.”
Someone had put a few pictures of Reverand King up on the wall and set a table up with a few quotes from King. My favorite, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” King’s words, “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17), offer hope, peace, unity, an alternative way of life anchored in God’s wisdom.
“Let’s eat,” Jennifer said, “before they shut this place down.” Young, idealistic AmeriCorps volunteers served us pancakes, scrambled eggs, and sausage. “Have a good day and thanks for coming,” they said. Oh, to be young and ready to change the world for the better. Richard Rohr says the challenge of growing older is to not become cynical with age. Do we live with hope or are we just negative, old curmudgeons?
The breakfast was a glimmer of community, the kingdom of heaven. “Beloved community is the will of God being influenced by love. King argued that love is the only force capable of turning an enemy into a friend, and that hate was too much of a burden to carry.”
What do we carry? Do we believe in the power of God’s love to change our lives and the world? Or do we believe in the power of hate and violence?
Critics of the Civil Rights Movement wrote M.L. King Jr. a letter in 1963 while he was in jail in Birmingham, Alabama, for leading a peaceful protest march in defiance of a court injunction banning demonstrations. The critics, eight white clergymen, said, “they were opposed to segregation but called his actions unwise and untimely, and they objected to outsiders stirring up trouble” (The Sun, February 2015).
The clergymen labeled the non-violent Civil Rights Movement and King extremists. What comes to mind when we think of extremists?
The dictionary says, “Extremism is the holding of extreme political or religious views, fanaticism.” Synonyms include zealotry, zeal, fundamentalism, dogmatism, bigotry, and militancy.
When I think of extremists, images of terrorists, suicide bombers, mass shooters, lynch mobs, Charlottsville, the KKK, January 6, 9-11, and white nationalists come to mind. Yet fellow clergy accused King and the movement of extremism.
King, a beloved child of God, rooted in the way of Christ, responded with a now famous “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” He wrote, “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… And Thomas Jefferson: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (women) 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? Jesus was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps, the South (and Mancos, Colorado), the nation, and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”
The King breakfast was a wonderful community gathering. Others and I added a little salt, pepper, and salsa to our eggs and sausage. And we must ask ourselves, how much extreme love, grace, and non-violent peace will we add to our daily lives? Will we be “fools for Christ,” extremists for the radical love of Jesus which “rains down on the righteous and the unrighteous” (see Matthew 5:45)? Will we be extremists for love or for hate?
Blessings and peace,