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Intro: How I learned about MLK

January 17, 2011

First and foremost, I lead others to Fr Robert Barron’s remarkable comments regarding this very important, very American holiday.  He echoes what I think many citizens feel in their hearts – and does so much better than I could!  Please, if you have a Holiday day off, take time to find meaning behind it by reading his Blog before mine: 

 http://www.wordonfire.org/WoF-Blog/WoF-Blog/January-2011/Culture-Why-Dr-King-Still-Matters.aspx

For me, it seems more complicated than it was.  My dad was an Airman serving in Germany, my mom a local.  That means I was a citizen before I ever touched foot in America.  We moved to Los Angeles – “City of Angels” – when I was still a baby. In the 3rd grade we moved north to Fresno.  We were only there for one year, but I met my first best friend, Chris L, there. Though we lost contact as many friends do when they move away, it was thanks to him and his family that I had my first church experience, when they invited us to their Lutheran Church.  Since I enjoyed that experience, my dad decided to move us north to Oregon. (Actually, I came to think he was kind of run out of town by angry husbands, but that is another story).  Bye bye church. 

While in California, even I heard of Cesar Chavez, but at 9 didn’t understand what the deal was. When we moved to a rural suburb of Portland, we had plenty of berry farms around us.  Cabbage fields galore, and Koreans who owned them.  My dad wasn’t necessarily a racist, he just didn’t find anyone more important than himself.  My mom was a genteel German, an only child who had survived WWII living with her widowed mom, and grandmother.  In spite of that Hitler-guy, she was far too polite for that kind of attitude, and to this day I really don’t think she could feel animosity toward anyone simply because of the color of their skin.  I thank her for that.  Our school wasn’t particularly diverse in its population, but I learned to accept people as people.  In the Navy, I used to joke with my friend and roommate Kelvin, that we were a White Bread school, but we usually bought the store-brand instead of the Wonder.  (My mom usually bought the German bread).

So why the personal history?  I didn’t get the whole we-shall-overcome thing.  It wasn’t that I didn’t get it: my black friends would tell me some stories. Inner city.  Deep South.  I wasn’t naïve, just not taught.  We didn’t learn about this stuff in school.  I wasn’t prejudiced, and so I thought that was good enough. 

In 1990, I picked up a book to help me grow my faith and spiritual life. It was edited by Dr. Jaroslav Pelikan, from Yale, titled The World Treasury of Modern Religious Thought.   66 writings from a giant spectrum of thought: Kierkegaard to Newman, Solzhenitsyn to Chesterton, Marx to Gandhi, … and Martin Luther King, Jr.  Oh sure, we had television, and I had heard “I Have a Dream,” but I had never read anything he had written.  In 1990, at the age of thirty, I read the Letter from Birmingham City Jail – and got it.  This is a remarkable response to a letter sent to him by clergymen in Alabama, trying to get him to stop rocking the boat.  (I posted that letter in my blog yesterday).   I can’t recommend this letter enough.  All Americans need to understand where he was coming from.  I think that it should be mandatory reading in school, until the day comes when people, as Dr. King put it,

one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

Don’t just enjoy your day off, if you have it off.  Educate yourself to the “Why.”  Educate your children and grandchildren.  Learn to look at our nation’s Declaration of Independence and say, “All men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights” and mean it.

I will be posting Letter from Birmingham City Jail in my blog today.  To some it will be annoyingly long and tedious.  But if one person reads it, and has an a-ha moment like I did, well, then that is a good thing.

Peace & Brotherhood,

Papa

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