Sunday, April 04, 2010

Paging Dr. King

"When Jesus says 'Love your enemies,' He is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. Have we not come to such an impasse in the modern world, that we must love our enemies - or else? The chain reaction of evil - hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars - must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation."

-Martin Luther King, Jr.

It's ironic that the forty-second anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King should fall on Easter Sunday. The temptation to compare the the murder of Dr. King to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is almost irresistible. Like Jesus, King, particularly in the last year of his life, had become a prophet of peace. He had moved beyond the perimeters of American Civil Rights and had entered the lion's den of the international anti-war movement. And like Jesus, he incurred the wrath of a lot of powerful people. One year before his death - forty-three years ago today - he gave a sermon at the Riverside Church in New York City:

"A nation that continues, year after year, to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."

Well, what the hey! It appears to me that the good doctor was onto something there! In fact, we're way beyond "approaching spiritual doom", we're there, baby! Take a good look around you. This ain't your father's America. It's not even close. Paging Dr. King indeed.

Here's an even bigger irony: His assassin might have saved himself the inconvenience of a long prison sentence had he just waited a few short years. The sad fact of the matter is that by the spring of 1968, Dr. King was not long for this world. His autopsy revealed heart disease so advanced, it is doubtful he would have lived to see his mid-forties. His lifelong fondness for deep-fried southern cooking notwithstanding, the very fact of just being Martin Luther King must have been a burden that would have killed men a lot younger than he. Perhaps we should consider ourselves fortunate that he walked in our midst for as long as he did.

"If we assume that mankind has the right to exist, then we must find an alternative to war and destruction. In our day of space vehicles and guided ballistic missiles, the choice is either nonviolence or nonexistence."

That's what I love about this guy! American history is littered with "Christian" religious leaders. Try as you might, you can't escape them. The thing that sets the right, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. apart from most of these guys is the fact that he wasn't a hypocrite. He never tried to twist the words of Jesus of Nazareth into anything other than what they were - a call to love one another and for kindness and gentleness. The Trappist monk Thomas Merton is another celebrated American Christian who took the gospel seriously. So was Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker. Give me a week and I might be able to name one or two others, but at the moment none come to mind. Both Merton and King died in 1968. Dorothy Day left this veil of tears in 1980. They're gone and they're not coming back.

There are a lot of people today doing what Dr. King did - in reverse. They are the Anti-Kings - or as I like to call them - the Martin Loony Kings. In his time on earth, King sought to appeal to the nation's conscience - to all that was good and (unfortunately at times) hidden in the American character. Today there are national spokespersons galore who would be happy to undo all the good work he did. Their stated purpose is to appeal to the darker demons of our nature. It's working. The number of people out there who seriously believe that our African American President is a "foreign born, Socialist Muslim" is growing by the day. The gullibility of so many Americans truly astounds. Would you like a little cyanide with your glass of Kool-Aid, ma'am?

"Through the vistas of time a voice still cries to every potential Peter, 'Put up your sword!' The shores of history are white with the bleached bones of nations and communities that failed to follow this command."

Give me some of that old time religion! You know - the stuff that Christ actually taught? I find it revealing that the right wing wants to have the Ten Commandments etched into the walls of every courthouse in the United States - and yet they never even mention the Sermon on the Mount. Why is that, you may ask? Because Christ's words in that sermon are anathema to the agenda of the modern day Conservative movement. Read it sometime if you think I'm lying.

"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven"

Jesus of Nazareth

The aforementioned Dorothy Day once said that if you feed the hungry, they will call you a saint. If you ask why they are hungry, they'll call you a Communist. Martin Luther King was called a Communist (among many other things) during his all-too-short life. They would probably say the same thing about Jesus were He to return to earth on this Easter Sunday 2010. Those who "hunger and thirst for righteousness" will suffer in their quest for Heaven on earth - as did Christ; as did Dr. King.

He was persecuted alright. J. Edgar Hoover once referred to him as "the most notorious liar in America". Somehow, this soft spoken, intellectual and introverted preacher was viewed as a hideous threat to all that was good and decent about America. Go figure. But wasn't that always the case? Think about it: the absolutely coolest people of the last century - Charlie Chaplin, John Lennon, Abbie Hoffman, Joan Baez, Frank Sinatra - even Eleanor Roosevelt - all of them had files in Hoover's FBI. Martin Luther King is in pretty good company.

"Men [and women, Doc!] of all races and nations are today challenged to be neighborly. The call for a worldwide good-neighbor policy is more than an ephemeral shibboleth; it is a call to a way of life which will transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment."

So, here's to Dr. King! His legacy, although secure, is embedded in a shifting foundation that is subject to the whims of a body of halfwits posing as "responsible legislators". We're far away from the kind of country he envisioned, but we're still striving for the mountaintop. His dream did not end on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968 - forty-two years ago today. In fact it was only just beginning.

Happy Easter, everyone!

Tom Degan
Goshen, NY

"We say that war is a consequence of hate, but close scrutiny reveals this sequence: first fear, then hate, then war, and finally deeper hatred. Were a nightmarish nuclear war to engulf our world, the cause would not be so much that one nation hated another, but that both nations feared each other."


Let The Trumpet Sound:
The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.
by Stephen B. Oates


Everyone remembers "I have a dream" and "I've been to the mountaintop". The sermon he gave at Riverside Church in New York City on April 4, 1967 - one year to the day before he died - is the most important of his life. It marked the moment he came out publicly against the war in Vietnam. Here's a link to listen to it in its entirety:

For more recent postings on this site, please go to the following link:

"The Rant" by Tom Degan

Martin Luther King would have approved!


At 4:47 PM, Anonymous Lisa Cornelius said...

Thank you for your very thoughtful and spiritual piece on Martin Luther King today. Your piece is so wise and heartfelt and I want to thank you for reminding me of one of the wisest men I will ever know in my lifetime. You are so on target with your comments about the conservative right wing's agenda being anti-Christ like. The hypocrisy is everywhere. Thanks for being brave enough to spread the words of truth, morality, and conscience as you did today. Lisa Cornelius

At 5:59 PM, Blogger Darlene said...

What a beautiful tribute to Martin Luther King, Tom. Once in a generation a wise man rises up to appeal to our better selves. Dr. King was our conscience.

It is so sad to think that they are the ones who are cut down. Sadder still is the fact that few remember and fewer learn.

Blessed are the merciful; for they shall inherit the Kingdom of Heaven. If Jesus was right, Martin is there now.

At 7:17 PM, Blogger pitbull friend said...

I'm so humbled by how little society has learned from MLK's example. Thank you for trying to bring his vital words to public attention again.

At 9:11 PM, Anonymous John Sutton said...

Thanks for this post, Tom. For 40 years this man has inspired and reminded me of the standards I should hold for myself. No matter what anyone else does, I am responsible to act in the way he calls me to, even if I stumble and fall, which seems to be more often than not. No matter; I'll just keep trying.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger Ken Riches said...

I agree that we need better balance on military versus social programs. Dr. King continues to inspire.

At 2:05 AM, Blogger Doug Robertson said...

Nothing to add, really, just another "thank you" for a most excellent post and tribute. Could not be better expressed the points made here. Thanks again.

At 4:48 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

Thank you for the nice thoughts on Doctor King, folks'

"The forces of evil may temporarily conquer truth, but truth will ultimately conquer its conqueror."

Martin Luther King

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We as human beings have amassed great intelligence since our neadrathal days. However, the basic necessity of "who gets the meat" is still to this day predicated on who swings the biggest club.

That being said, justice and mercy is left to the conscience of the one holding that club.

I for one, still like the moral conscience of the United States and appreciate her holding and being capable of swinging the bigger club. If we let down our ability to swing the bigger club we would be left to the justice and mercy of China or Russia. That would not be good for America or the world.

At 7:33 PM, Blogger Opinionated Gifts said...

I myself couldn't resist the Jesus/MLK link on my own blog. Easy perhaps, but it was just too clear, plus I was in a foul assed move.

Thanks for the cogent and positive words on this great American Hero.

At 7:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, in addition to a beautiful testament and reminder about where we've been and where we're going (God help us) I was particularly struck by your last reflection on fear, as the global factor for war. Yes, war and hate are the symptom rather than the catalyst. Fear, false evidence appearing real. So we strive to rule out fear, is this simply a function of love and faith?

At 10:10 AM, Anonymous Judith said...

Hi Tom, so you went back to LI?!...not me, in a million years! I love the tropics...anyway, good book-The Hidden Power of Kindness and also Liberalism is a Sin...the second one is at
I do know my Roman Catholic faith very well and am a conservative right down the lines, once was a hippie but knew that was strickly a fun time, not real in any way. A pilgrimage to Medjugorje is such a revelation of the soul. And I am glad that your Anglican/Cathoic married priest is doing so well at your parish but that doesn't mean every priest should have the right to get married. I do believe that the Pope should decide those things as always. Being faithful doesn't mean having your own way in any aspect of life.

At 10:26 AM, Blogger Tom Degan said...


Regarding the married priest, Judith is referring to a comment I made on another site concerning the recent scandal within the Catholic church. For the record, here is that comment in its entirety:

In my parish, St. John the Evangelist in Goshen, NY, the first major pedophile scandal materialized in the early nineties. The priest in question, "Father Ed" had been molesting boys in their early teens. To say that the parishioners were traumatized by this would be an understatement. They were devastated. Then something wondrous happened....

Father Ed was eventually replaced by Father Trevor Nichols. Father Trevor had been an Anglican in merrie old England when he converted to Catholicism. On becoming a Catholic he was transferred to Saint John's - WITH HIS WIFE AND TWO DAUGHTERS! A married priest! WITH TWO KIDS!

You want to hear the punch line? Our little parish did not implode. The sun did not fall from the sky. Huge cracks did not appear in the earth's surface. In fact, it was nice having them. They were - and are to this day - deeply beloved by the people of St. John's.

Allowing priests to marry would transform the Catholic Church. Having Father Trevor, his wife Marian and their two lovely daughters in our midst certainly transformed the people of St. John's.

Tom Degan

At 12:54 PM, Blogger Philipa said...

MLK was certainly inspirational.

However, John Lennon was certainly NOT one of the coolest people of the last century. He was simply one of the most famous, for being in a pop group. And getting shot. Perhaps that's what you meant? I always thought he was a bit wet.

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Philipa said...

Incidentally folks the blog on which Tom's comment about the Catholic church resides is here. It is the humble yet fabulous Christopher Hitchens Watch. I have replied. Do pop by. All welcome.

At 2:46 PM, Blogger Kevin Whiteman said...

He was also a heretic. Willfully denying the Real Presence, most of the Sacraments, etc. Invincable Ignorance certainly doesn't apply to this guy. Mr. King fits the very definition of heresy.

No hero worship or kumbayah moment from me for the guy who denies Christ's Church, thank you very much.

That is unless one believes that the English Martyrs (and countless thousands of others) died for nothing.

At 3:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

MLK was a great man, to be sure.

Imagine, for a moment though, if I began to argue against his message, declaring that my ability to enslave another man was a choice. Furthermore, what if I began to justify the practice by asserting (as many did at the time) that the slaves were really somehow less than human. That would have been laughed down as a ridiculous notion – as well it should. That exact argument is alive and well today with regard to abortion. And, the black community is beginning to pick up on that – especially since the practice has been targeted at the black community. The practice of abortion has become an indirect form of racism – one that Dr. MLK would have hated. Thankfully, his legacy lives on.

“The African American community is severely disproportionately affected by abortion, which would not only be expanded under current healthcare proposals, but also be paid for by taxpayers. Planned Parenthood’s informational branch, The Alan Guttmacher Institute, reports that 37 % of all abortions are performed on black women, even though blacks constitute roughly 13% of the U.S. population. Abortion has claimed the lives of about one-third of the black community.”

– quote from a letter to Pres.Obama from Alveda King, niece of Rev. ML King

At 6:44 PM, Blogger Elizabeth said...

Thank you for commenting on my blog today -- you certainly have a wealth of information and much good writing for me to browse through! I look forward to it -- how in the world did you find me, though?

At 6:51 PM, Blogger Tom Degan said...

It was just a happy accident, Elizabeth! Folks, here is a link to her site. It's wonderful:


At 2:03 AM, Blogger Aly said...

, Love and Peace

At 10:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Unfortunately an idiot like Insane Hussein had to be the first black president and not someone like MLK. Where have you gone Condy Rice?

MLK is rolling in his grave, embarrassed that a thug is running this country into the ground.

Harry from Mass

At 5:24 PM, Blogger Cimarron said...

Tom - for me, the most significant aspect of Dr. King's murder was its effect on the multiracial, multi-issue mass movement he was forging around war-racism-poverty, what he called the "inextricably linked" Evil Triplets. the breakup of Resurrection City marked the beginning of a long, slow decline for mass progressive politics, & the rise of the post-civil rights/backlash consciousness of the Silent Majority, the Moral Majority, the "angry White men," & today's TEAbaggers.
as for praising King's name while attacking Obama as a "thug," this tactic has become a favorite among those who vilified King in life but find the selective use of his memory a useful platform for a rhetorical beat-down of anyone who expresses doubts about a "post-racial America."
nevertheless, thank-you, thank-you, thank-you for the thoughtful post.

At 12:54 PM, Blogger W.D. Shirley said...

April 4th was my birthday, 60 yrs old! I began to wonder about my world when they started killing all the good people who spoke up for changes that would support the Bill of Rights. I suppose if I ran for office the Republicrats would have to shoot me too. Bring 'em on. I'm a pretty tough old rooster.

At 12:32 PM, Anonymous Kurt-Rune said...

Thank's for commenting on my blog a while back(7th april), you have some good writing skills i have to say. Guess you have one of the best comments on my blog;)

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

jeez Tom, when you said, "The good doctor" I got excited. I thought you were referring to Dr.Hunter S!
Still, your rant on MLK is spot on.

Have you seen black jesus? if not, check it out...


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