Tag Archives: Martin Luther King

Heaven Bound?

AmtrakBlackMan2

Amtrak Rider

photography by D. Plasman

Is this man headed for heaven? If Chicago’s Union Station is considered heaven then the answer is “Yes.” On another level, however, I imagine most people who consider themselves religiously orthodox would give an answer along the lines of: “Well, that depends. Does he believe that Jesus died for his sins? Does he believe Jesus is God’s son? Does he believe that Jesus is the only way to eternal life?”

I discovered a different answer while spending much of the last two years writing Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke. Here’s an excerpt:

A leader in the community asked Jesus, “Good teacher, how do I get eternal life?” Jesus replied, “Why do you call me good? Only God is good. You know the commandments: Don’t commit adultery. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. Honor your father and mother.” The questioner replied, “I’ve lived that way my whole life.” (Luke 18:18-21)

Let’s give the questioner a ton of credit. He prefers the direct approach and wants Jesus to know what’s on his mind. Let’s also applaud him for an apparent lack of sinister motives. He’s not trying to trap Jesus into saying something that later can be used against him.

The question on his mind is a universal one for all who believe or have a hunch that something exists beyond this life. He asks the question which millions of people have thought: “If there’s something beyond this life, how do I get it?”

However he understands eternal life, the afterlife, the next life, or the good life here and now, he supposes that getting it involves something he must do. Surely, there exists a list of boxes he can check off.

Just the opening Jesus needs! What an opportunity to dispel every misconception about obtaining eternal life! We might expect Jesus to say with evangelistic fervor, “Believe in me and the God who sent me.” Or, “Worship me as the only way, the only truth, and the only life; then you’ll be saved.”

Jesus doesn’t go that route. There’s no “Come to Jesus” sermon here—no emotional altar call either. Instead, Jesus honors his own tradition and that of the inquirer and says, “Live a noble life. Keep the commandments. Be good and do good.” Confidently comes the reply: “Amen, Good Teacher, that’s what I’ve been doing my whole life.”

I like where Jesus starts with this one. He acknowledges and respects what the inquirer already knows. Jesus doesn’t discredit or dismantle the beliefs dearly held. The lesson? We could do worse than honor the traditions of others who seek, as we do, answers to life’s most important questions.

[Jesus ends this encounter by telling the inquirer that he lacks only one thing, and if he can do this one thing, then he will be heaven bound and obtain eternal life. That one thing is to sell all he has, give the proceeds to the poor, then follow Jesus on the way. I wonder if we should take Jesus at his word? Let’s at least put a moratorium in our churches on telling people what they need to believe and, instead, encourage each other to live moral lives, regardless of the name with which we address God.]

In honor and in memory of M. L. King who urged, prodded, and challenged us to pursue a more just and equitable society — the stock market is closed today.

Jesus, a Life – Daily Reflections on the Gospel of Luke is available in print and as an ebook from Amazon.com.

 

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The News

 

MLK tomb_edited-1Photography by D. Plasman

Graveside. Martin. Tomb. Coretta. Luther. Scott. Preacher. King. Husband. Jr. Wife. Prophet. Atlanta. Children. Black. Sister. Brother. Somber. Beautiful. Dream.

Ferguson. Death. Michael. Brown. Eighteen. College. Hopeful. Dead. Body. Bleeding. Unarmed. Canfield. Drive. Lifeless. Face. Shot. Body. Riddled. Blood. Spilled. Tape. Crime Scene.

Police. Order. Disorder. Videos. CNN. Fox. Smart Phones. YouTube. Tweets. Bottles. Tear Gas. Marches. Signs. Protest. Unrest. America. Race. Separate. Segregated. Unequal.

Funeral. Dignitaries. Peace. Anger. Music. Message. Resurrection. Life. Change—One Day? Some Day? Ever?

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Note to Atheists at www.ffrf.org

Gideon ExposedPhotography by D. Plasman

Hi folks! I recently stayed at a hotel near Detroit’s airport. When I opened the drawer of the night stand, I found, as expected, a hardcover Bible placed there by Gideons International. When I opened the front cover, I was surprised to find a sticker, nearly the size of the entire page, entitled GIDEON EXPOSED!

I read your 150-word summary of the biblical character Gideon and your subsequent thrashing of all things religious. I applaud you for actually having read that portion of the Bible that deals with this Hebrew judge. Everything you pointed out regarding his flawed, at times horrific, behavior is true according to the biblical record. Gideon was a ruthless warrior who, if alive today, would be tried for war crimes at The Hague Court.

You go on to conclude that Gideons International and all religious organizations and clergy are pretty much in the business of “hoodwinking” gullible people. You suggest that the world would be better off if we simply bagged religion and stopped believing in this childish notion of a supreme being. Hence the name of your organization: Freedom From Religion Foundation (www.ffrf.org)

In full disclosure, I’ve been a member of the Christian clergy since 1980. Some of my dearest friends are avowed atheists. I love and respect them. More to the point, if I were embarking on a week-long road trip, I’d much prefer the company of an atheist than that of a Fundamentalist Christian who might try to convince me that the creation story of Genesis 1 disproves the theory of evolution.

I’m pretty sure a fair number of atheists were members of every congregation I served. I’m also compelled to admit that in any given month, the number of hours I spend never thinking about God can total anywhere between 5-25 days.

So, here’s why I’m writing you. Do you really want to be known as the organization that sneaks around hotel rooms, slapping full page stickers on Bibles placed there free of charge by the Gideons? That’s just not cool!

When I was in Junior High gym class, some buddies and I would sneak up behind unsuspecting male peers and pull down their shorts. It started out as a cool thing to do, but “cool” soon wore off. What you’re doing isn’t cool either.

Nobody can fault you for exposing all the bad shit that’s been done in the name of religion. Organizations like yours prompt me to examine and, if need be, let go of those religious handles that aren’t worth holding.

Without trying to convert you, I offer a few suggestions. Read something from The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Anything! He’s just one of countless God-believers who made the world a better place because he believed in a supreme being. Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Prophets might influence you as profoundly as it did me. Currently, I’m reading Jimmy Carter’s new book: A Call to Action – Women, Religion, Violence, and Power. It’s a serious critique of misguided religion. I commend it to your reading.

One more thing. I tried to remove your full-page sticker from the hotel Bible, but it made a mess of the inside cover. That got me even more ticked off at your organization, and that’s not cool either.

Blessings!    

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I Bought A Crumbling House

 715 Paris © Daniel Plasman

Even though I thought about it for a long time, I made what could prove to be a rash decision.  I bought a crumbling house, the worst one on the block.  Though this house is a mere three blocks from where we currently live, in the core of most American cities, neighborhoods and the homes in those neighborhoods, change quickly.

I should at least be honest how I use the word “change.”  The neighborhood where this house is located is predominantly black and hispanic.  I currently live in a neighborhood that is “desirable” and “stable,” meaning, of course, predominantly white.

As real estate goes, the house was not a sizable investment.  To put it in perspective, the final selling price (subject to a probate court judge’s approval) was pretty close to the cost of a 2014 Honda Civic Hybrid ($24,000 if you don’t feel like doing the research).

I hope I didn’t overpay.  From basement to roof, everything needs work.  The kitchen is virtually non-existent and the bathroom, well, you don’t want to know.  A lot of birds have found a home through a hole in the eave, and I have good reason to believe something between the size of a squirrel and a raccoon has taken up residence in the attic.

In my optimistic moments I say to myself, “It’s not so bad, this place has character and tons of potential.”  Other times, which is most of the time, I think, “Why the heck didn’t I buy a 2014 Honda Civic Hybrid?”

Here’s the truth of the matter.  I don’t know what else to do?  Over a year ago, I marched with hundreds of people in Benton Harbor, Michigan’s poorest city, to protest the way the black community has been overlooked.  Not much has changed.  When George Zimmerman got a “not guilty” verdict in the death of black teenager Trayvon Martin, my stomach was tied in knots for days – not weeks, but days.  Not much has changed.  The 50th Anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech was the news story for a day, but now it’s Syria.  We continue to buy into the national myth that violence solves problems.  Not much has changed.   Lindsay Lohan still needs rehab.  The Kardashians still think they’re interesting.  And America’s prisons are disproportionately populated by black males.  Not much has changed.

I don’t know what else to do.  A minister for over thirty years, I’ve always been involved with white congregations.  I stood behind pulpits and preached about loving all people – “red, yellow, black and white, they are precious in God’s sight.”  But for the most part, I live as though I don’t believe it, at least not enough to make any measurable difference in my life.  Not much has changed. Talk alone doesn’t change a thing.  I’m tired of talking, and I imagine God is tired of listening.

So, believing as I do in restorations and resurrections of all kinds, I bought a crumbling house, on a downtrodden city block, knowing that when my wife Jody and I move in — and the critters have been evicted — we will be the racial minority.

 

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3-Day Weekend

Exterior of Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli, Rome, Italy  

As the calendar gods orchestrated it, the upcoming 3-day weekend will witness the convergence of three unique events.

Next Monday is the holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King.  Banks will be closed.  Mail will not get delivered.  Every major city in the U.S. has a Martin Luther King Boulevard or a Martin Luther King Drive.  In a domesticated way, we tend to honor fiery prophets once they’re dead.  If King were alive, he would have harsh words for fiscal cliffs and the way we accuse the poor and underserved for being takers from the system.  King would also have much to say about corporate creed, the tax system, our fondness for wars, and our violent culture.  King sounds a lot like Jesus.

This weekend is also the inauguration of President Obama.  On Sunday at noon, in a private ceremony, he will be sworn into office for a second term.  On Monday, the public inauguration will take place on the steps of the U. S. Capital.  The president will place his hand on Bibles once belonging to Martin Luther King and Abraham Lincoln.

The third event of the weekend is less known but gaining momentum.  On Saturday, the first National Gun Appreciation Day observance will take place.  The call to the faithful is found at www.gunappreciationday.com:  “On 01.19.13 go to your local gun store, gun range, or gun show with your Constitution, American flags and your ‘Hands off my Guns’ sign to send a loud and clear message to Congress and President Obama.”

It’s an attractive, well-designed web site.  Lots of red, white and blue.  The home page has a great shot (pun intended) of three females and one male enjoying a day at a local firing range.  A fair-skinned blonde is smiling as she grips her bright red (or is that a shade of cranberry?) pistol.  You just know she feels safe and secure in every situation.  I don’t see anywhere on the site that it’s supported by the NRA, but I imagine the folks at the National Rifle Association give their full support and plan to participate on Saturday.

What an amazing convergence this weekend!  Honoring the memory of a prophetic African-American.  Inaugurating the first African-American president to his second term.  Calling upon patriotic Americans to sharpen their shooting skills.

Is it fear that lurks in the DNA of some organizations?  The KKK was birthed in 1865 for the purpose of re-asserting the dominance of the white race.  The NRA was founded in 1871 for the purpose of teaching folks how to be better marksmen.  That the Civil War was over and more than 3 million former slaves roamed free must have made a lot of people nervous.

I have a dream that my four children will 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 . . . I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together – Martin Luther King, Jr.

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