Category Archives: Martin Luther King Jr.

Learning from Gandhi and Martin Luther King in Response to Kony 2012

Sometimes I keep them close by so I feel less alone in my journey.

This is a follow-up post to my previous thoughts on Kony 2012

It took me a really long time to read through Martin Luther King’s autobiography. I think, all told, it took me two and a half years from start to finish.

The benefit is that I took the long journey of his life into myself, really contemplated and absorbed it, allowing myself the privilege of learning under him as a master teacher of sorts.

I had a similar experience when reading Gandhi’s autobiography. I think it took me about two years to finish his 500-page tome. The effect was a sense of real companionship, of getting to know this strong and honorable man by walking slowly alongside him, observing his choices and his leadership and deeply listening to his philosophy and how he made decisions.

Three things always stand out to me about these two great men and the work of their lives. And over the last few days, as I’ve continued to educate myself and contemplate the events of the Kony 2012 effort, I’m noticing that these three elements can be instructive to us in developing our perspective on the issue the Kony 2012 effort represents and its proposed resolution.

1. The work of both men grew out of their experience and context. 

Pretty early in my nonviolence journey, I heard a story about Mother Teresa. It was shared in the context of how often people sought her permission to come care for the poor in Calcutta alongside her. While she was glad to receive visitors and often told them to “come and see,” she also often told them, “There are Calcuttas everywhere.” The implication I took from that story was to ask myself and God in prayer, “Where is my Calcutta?”

I think about this regarding Gandhi and MLK, too. They were so clearly called to the contexts they served. They knew the people they served and were, in fact, one of them. They had personal knowledge of the plights they served and sought to change. They were fully immersed in and lived among the struggle.

I think resolution to the violence perpetuated by the Lord’s Resistance Army is going to need similar leadership — that it is going to need to come from those just as closely acquainted with it and living among it.

This, in fact, seems to be one of the great messages those living in Uganda, the Congo, Sudan, and the CAR keep sending in response to the Kony 2012 video — and have, in fact, been sending for quite some time. See, as one example, this 6-minute video by Ugandan journalist Rosebell Kagumire recorded in response to the Kony 2012 video.

While it may surprise Americans to hear it, the people of Africa — in whatever country or context where suffering may exist or emerge among them — do not want to be rescued as though they have not the strength to help themselves. The care, compassion, and solidarity of the wider world is valuable to them, yes. But they are not helpless people. They are strong. Vibrant. Creative. Resourceful. And they want to be part of their own solution.

Furthermore, they are the ones who best know the situation and its history and its people. They know what solutions will work or not work in response to their struggles. And their personal knowledge of their own context is perhaps their greatest strength.

All this to say that while I am still so glad the wider world has been educated about the existence of Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army, I’m not so sure that agitating the international community and policymakers to do something to make it stop is the real solution this situation requires. We ought, instead, to be students of those affected by the violence — those who know the situation and its dynamics better than any of us and who can teach us what solutions they believe their situation requires.

2. The efforts of Gandhi and MLK were coordinated and strategic.

When I read Martin Luther King’s autobiography, I was struck over and over again by how organized and carefully planned the efforts of the Civil Rights Movement really were. They had to be.

For instance, when the bus boycott in Montgomery began — which was the first initiative led by MLK in the Civil Rights Movement — they started with 150 volunteers who donated their cars to the effort. Within a few days, the volunteer drivers had swelled to 300 and the group had distributed leaflets to the community that listed 48 dispatch and 42 pickup stations.

That’s pretty impressive and massive coordination in just a few days. Even the white community was impressed by it, Dr. King tells us in his autobiography.

But the oppositional response of the white community to the bus boycott necessitated further strategy and coordinated response on the part of the Negro community. When reading this section of MLK’s autobiography, I noted no less than 10 oppositional efforts the white community undertook to derail the boycott:

  • Opposition #1: Use laws against them.
  • Opposition #2: Negotiate an unsuitable compromise.
  • Opposition #3: Divide the black community against itself.
  • Opposition #4: Spread lies.
  • Opposition #5: Institute a “get tough” policy.
  • Opposition #6: Make threats.
  • Opposition #7: Resort to violence.
  • Opposition #8: Initiate mass arrests.
  • Opposition #9: Refuse car insurance.
  • Opposition #10: Take legal action.
  • Opposition #11: Send in the Ku Klux Klan.

And with each oppositional effort, a savvy and thoughtful response was required and offered in return by the Negro community. Indeed, the full length of MLK’s life and work reflects such coordination and strategy every step of the way. And in learning about Gandhi’s work, we see the same careful planning and execution applied to the particulars of his own time and place.

I believe dismantling the Lord’s Resistance Army will take more than finding, capturing, and bringing to justice Joseph Kony, which is the solution offered by the Kony 2012 video. As I read over and over on blogs by people long acquainted with the situation in the last few days, the issue is greater than just one man. It requires us to consider questions like, “How has a small but vicious group been allowed to thrive for over 25 years?”

In other words, there are bigger issues at play here than the efforts of one single man leading a brutal war — issues like governance in the countries affected by the violence, for one — and smart and careful planning and strategy needs to be applied to the larger issues that get at the root of things here.

Again, as happy as I am that the video has raised awareness in the wider world about this issue, I have come to believe the solution it offers is just altogether too simplistic.

3. Both men were convinced of the efficacy of nonviolent resolution. 

Of all the insights I’ve gained in the last few days as I’ve read and continued to learn about the history and scope of the issue presented by the Kony 2012 campaign, I am most thankful for the perspective that “brought me back to myself,” so to speak.

My nonviolence journey began with a single question: Is it really true that the only truly transformative force in the world to overcome violence is love?

It was a question I asked with no little amount of dubiousness. Though I had observed the transformative power of love in my own life experience, I didn’t see how this could possibly translate on a broader social scale. But the possibility of it gripped me, and that’s why I eventually began my long journey into the study and practice of nonviolence.

Throughout this journey, I’ve continued to learn that the great nonviolent leaders of history insist on the premise that love is the only way to disrupt, uproot, and transform violence. It sows something new, rather than repeating a cycle with switched-up players as victims and perpetrators.

I have this article by Mark Kersten to thank for bringing me back to the perspective that peaceful solutions are the ones that I support. But beyond just “bringing me back to myself,” Mark’s article helped me view the particular conflict raised by the Kony 2012 campaign in a different light.

Invisible Children, the creators of the Kony 2012 video, uphold a military solution to the conflict. They want the US to maintain its existing 100 troops on the ground to provide tactical support and to help the Ugandan army capture Joseph Kony so that he can be brought to trial at the International Criminal Court. As much as this effort is devoted to capturing, rather than killing, Joseph Kony in order to bring him to justice, the reality is that this is a military solution. It involves armies, and gunfire and loss of life will be involved in the process.

Invisible Children proposes this is the only feasible solution since peace talks have failed in the past.

But Mark Kersten says this:

There is much to be learned from the previous talks between the Government of Uganda and the LRA in Juba, from 2006-08. . . . In taking the lessons of past experience , energy can be harnessed to get back to the negotiating table.

I love that Mark asks us not to be so quick to discount the possibility of renewed peace talks. And I’ve decided that, by virtue of the nonviolent path that I have committed to walk, peace talks must be the solution I support in this situation as well.

Lastly, I’ll share that in the process of learning more about the proposed peace talks solution, I have been wholeheartedly heartened by the discovery of a woman living today who has been an integral actor in previous peace talks with Joseph Kony and the LRA. Her name is Betty Bigombe, and you can read about her selfless, savvy, and incredibly brave work here, here, and here. She helps demonstrate to me what nonviolent peacemaking really looks like and has become one of my new modern-day heroes.

UPDATED TO ADD: This morning I found this article by Anywar Ricky Richard, a former child soldier in the LRA who now rehabilitates orphans in Uganda affected by the war. It is a beautiful and honest article that also speaks to how Ugandans would like to see this issue resolved and the value of resuming peace talks toward that end. I also forgot to mention in the original post that Betty Bigombe, one of the key actors in previous peace talks with Joseph Kony and the LRA, is a native Ugandan.

Dr. King: “It Is Well That It’s Within Thine Heart”

Reflections of the sun.

A couple days ago, I wrote a letter to Dr. King asking him how he kept despair at bay when looking out over the vista of all he had worked to bring into existence through the sacrifice of his entire life, only to see humanity had still so very far to go.

I look out over the present reality of this world, and despair can loom so close for me sometimes. I’ve lost an incredible amount of faith in the American political process. I distrust big business and its gimmicks. I don’t believe anything the media tells me, nor do I believe real journalism exists anymore — or, if it does, that it has any meaningful way of finding its way to our eyes and ears.

The darkness at work in this world — through HIV/AIDS, war, greed, oppression, power, slavery, poverty, self-absorption, and the slow deaths we bring upon ourselves through our addiction to amusements — feels so large and overwhelming and impenetrable. What good can the small agents at work around the world really do, when the darkness has more money, influence, and power?

But a much-needed ray of hope broke through the darkness last night as I read the final chapter in MLK’s autobiography. In a chapter fittingly titled “Unfulfilled Dreams,” Martin Luther King speaks the following words of encouragement and hope:

I guess one of the great agonies of life is that we are constantly trying to finish that which is unfinishable. We are commanded to do that. And so we, like David, find ourselves in so many instances having to face the fact that our dreams are not fulfilled.

Life is a continual story of shattered dreams. Mahatma Gandhi labored for years and years for the independence of his people. But Gandhi had to face the fact that he was assassinated and died with a broken heart, because that nation that he wanted to unite ended up being divided between India and Pakistan as a result of the conflict between the Hindus and the Moslems. . . .

And each of you in some way is building some kind of temple. The struggle is always there. It gets discouraging sometimes. It gets very disenchanting sometimes. Some of us are trying to build a temple of peace. We speak out against war, we protest, but it seems that your head is going against a concrete wall. It seems to mean nothing. And so often as you set out to build the temple of peace you are left lonesome; you are left discouraged; you are left bewildered.

Well, that is the story of life. And the thing that makes me happy is that I can hear a voice crying through the vista of time, saying: “It may not come to today or it may not come tomorrow, but it is well that it is within thine heart. It’s well that you are trying.” You may not see it. The dream may not be fulfilled, but it’s just good that you have a desire to bring it into reality. It’s well that it’s in thine heart. 

It is well that it’s within thine heart.

It is well that it’s in my heart. To care for others. To grow in love. To know God. To shed the dignity of all humanity abroad in the world. To learn how peace is found. To believe in hope.

What we do here — in our lives, in this space — matters. It matters what kind of life we live and the people we choose to be. No matter the outcome . . . whether or not the broadest darknesses turn to light in our lifetimes or not . . . whether any other life is touched or changed because of our one life or not . . . how our one life is lived matters.

Who I choose to be matters enough, even in the face of all that darkness, because one singular life choosing life and light and hope and love is at least one victory won.

I want to remember this.

Dear Dr. King: How Did You Not Despair?

Dear Dr. King,

Last night I read the chapter in your autobiography about the Vietnam War. I watched you wrestle through your personal responsibility to speak about it, and I watched how you were scorned for all you did because of it. I watched your friends and colleagues asked you to back down. So many people said you were in over your head and that you should keep your focus on civil rights alone.

What’s more, I saw the slow recognition in your heart that all was not as you thought it was in this country.

After so many years of toil spent turning the tide of this country and swaying the president’s hand toward greater justice and humanity, in the Vietnam War you came to see just how far from justice and humanity’s heart the powers of this country really were. You came to see that might and money mattered more.

How did you not despair, Dr. King? How did you not despair? After working within systems for so long and mapping out strategies that, inch by inch, drew justice nearer the light of day, how did you sustain hope when you saw the brilliant daylight was still so far from drawing near?

As I’m nearing the end of your book, I know your assassination looms close, just a few turns of the pages away, and despair creeps into my heart as I anticipate that fateful moment.

I have spent two and a half years with your autobiography, and such an immersion into the fullness of your life has taught me that you were not a man who gave a few speeches and, through the strength those speeches alone, rallied masses of people to walk and assemble and demonstrate and protest. You were not a figurehead. You did not simply have a dream.

Rather, the fullness of your life has taught me what it truly takes to turn the tide of history. It takes stamina. It takes fearlessness. It takes conviction, yes.

But it also takes strategy. It takes knowing the limits and allowances of the law. It takes long-range planning. It takes creativity. It takes tiny but well-planned, incremental steps. It takes getting down and dirty in the trenches with everyone else. It takes the strength and education of communities.

And it takes an enormity of character and integrity. It takes counting your life as not your own.

Having learned the fullness of your life and how you embodied all these things makes me feel deeply the loss of your life — that all that strength and courage and leadership and truth and wisdom and action built into the fullness of one man’s life could be snuffed out in an instant.

How do you not despair this, Dr. King? How do you not despair?

I know you would say to me that the light of Christ shines brighter still, even as the darkness gets darker. I know you would say that the depth of one’s conviction can erase the care for one’s own life. I know you would say that the spiritual infection at work in the world does not relent, but neither does Christ relent and nor should we.

But when I awoke this morning, it was with a heaviness of heart I could not shake. I thought about your life snuffed out in an instant. I thought about your disappointment in the powers of your country through the Vietnam War. I thought about Gandhi’s assassination. I thought about the crucifixion of Jesus. I thought about all the ways the depravity of this world encroaches and leaves me feeling helpless and so small.

Thankfully, the weight of my grief and discouragement propelled me to the noonday eucharist service at my church. I sat in the pew before the service and tried to pray, but all I could do was feel my sadness. My heart felt weak, and soon the tears began rolling down my cheeks. I gave thanks for a shared liturgy that allowed the prayers of the people to sustain my weakened hope, for I was too weak to pray.

And then, through the liturgy and eucharist, I was reminded of what likely gave you hope and sustained you through the darknesses you faced — and I found a measure of my own hope again.

In the reading of Psalm 67 — “Let your ways be known upon the earth, your saving health among all nations. . . . May all the ends of the earth stand in awe of God” — I was reminded that one day, all the nations of the earth will stream toward God in praise. Eventually all will see and acknowledge his glory and beauty. One day all truth will be known and honestly received.

In the epistle reading, which concerned St. Paul’s conversion, I was reminded that even a most-hated man who persecuted and killed the early believers of the church can be set apart and called through grace and receive Christ in an instant. I was reminded that even in the most hopeless circumstances, God can make all things — even the unthinkable and seemingly impossible — possible.

And finally, in the gospel reading for the day, we were told by Jesus that we would be sent out as sheep among wolves. We were told to be wise yet innocent. We were foretold the fate of some to be handed over to the authorities, flogged, and persecuted because of Jesus and his teachings.

It was such a fitting word for what I’ve been thinking and feeling today. For you know these words of Christ to be true more than most, don’t you, Mr. King? You were a sheep among wolves most of your life. You brought wisdom and innocence to bear on your life at one and the same time. You were dragged before the authorities on many occasions and pressed against in so many ways — eventually, of course, you were killed — and all of this because of the conviction of Christ you carried that would not be silenced or put down.

I needed to be reminded of these things today, Dr. King. I needed to be reminded that a power and hope greater than us lives in us and works through us and is drawing all things to a conclusion that results in celebration and joy. I needed to be reminded of the companionship of Christ through all these things.

Thank you for the life you lived that drove me, even as I despaired over it, back into the presence and arms of our Christ. Thank you for all you have taught me so far.

Sincerely,
Christianne

Happy Birthday, Dr. King

Dear Dr. King,

Every year, when the public observance of your birthday rolls around, it makes me smile. It reminds me of the many school years I shared my birthday week with you, sometimes with my special day falling on the very same day as yours, resulting in a holiday from school.

I felt a kinship with you from a young age because of this. In my mind, we always belonged together. Our lives were intertwined.

Only two years ago did your life began to make an impression on me for its own sake, though. I read a book and stumbled unsuspectingly on an idea that changed the whole course of my life. It’s an idea you know very well — that only love has the power to truly transform violence — and the book hailed you as one of its major proponents. Now, two years later, I know you weren’t merely its proponent. You were also its incarnation.

In that first year I encountered this new idea, I began to read your autobiography. There, I learned about the measure of a man required to embody such a hard and difficult truth. I learned about the bombings. The arrests. The attempts to subvert requests for justice. The cryptic phone calls. The fears. The brushes with death. And the masses of people you led through so many long and determined demonstrations of dignity.

So many aspects of your life mark me deeply now, but your faith is the brightest of them all. There is a moment in your autobiography that is forever sealed in my memory. I revisit it often in my mind. It was a turning-point moment for you, the bedrock foundation that forever sustained you in the long years of labor, conviction, promise, and hope ahead.

You know what moment I’m talking about, no doubt. Here it is in your own words:

One night toward the end of January I settled into bed late, after a strenuous day. Coretta had already fallen asleep and just as I was about to doze off the telephone rang. An angry voice said, “Listen, nigger, we’ve taken all we want from you; before next week you’ll be sorry you ever came to Montgomery.” I hung up, but I couldn’t sleep. It seemed that all of my fears had come down on me at once. I had reached the saturation point.

I got out of bed and began to walk the floor. I had heard these things before, but for some reason that night it got to me. I turned over and I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t sleep. I was frustrated, bewildered, and then I got up.

Finally I went to the kitchen and heated a pot of coffee. I was ready to give up. With my cup of coffee sitting untouched before me I tried to think of a way to move out of the picture without appearing a coward.

I sat there and thought about a beautiful little daughter who had just been born. I’d come in night after night and see that little gentle smile. I started thinking about a dedicated and loyal wife, who was over there asleep. And she could be taken from me, or I could be taken from her.

And I got to the point that I couldn’t take it any longer. I was weak. Something said to me, “You can’t call on Daddy now, you can’t even call on Mama. You’ve got to call on that somethinng in that person that your Daddy used to tell you about, that power that can make a way out of no way.”

With my head in my hands, I bowed over the kitchen table and prayed aloud. The words I spoke to God that midnight are still vivid in my memory: “Lord, I’m down here trying to do what’s right. I think I’m right. I am here taking a stand for what I believe is right. But Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now, I’m faltering. I’m losing my courage. Now, I am afraid. And I can’t let the people see me like this becaue if they see me weak and losing my courage, they will begin to get weak. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.”

It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you. Even until the end of the world.”

I tell you I’ve seen the lightning flash. I’ve heard the thunder roar. I’ve felt sin breakers dashing trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me alone. At that moment I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. Almost at once my fears began to go. My uncertainty disappeeared. I was ready to face anything.

Dr. King, there is a short list of people I name as personal heroes in my life, and it’s because of the entry above that you are on that list. You did so many remarkable things with your life. You paved a way where there had been no way before. And yet because of this moment you detailed above, you and I both know that it’s only because of Christ that those things ever happened through your life.

You remind me, Dr. King, that Christ is our strength and sustainer through all the dark moments, hours, and years that will meet someone walking this nonviolent path. You remind me that Christ is the light shed abroad in this world’s darkness, that Christ is the love radiating out from the center of our lives.

Christ is the reason I ever chose to walk this path in the first place, and your life reminds me of that. Thank you, Dr. King, for living your life in such a way that it challenges and teaches me, nearly 50 years later, how to live my own.

Happy birthday to you.

With great admiration, respect, and renewed kinship,

Christianne