at 4.30 a.m. i woke up and read martin luther king, jr.'s i have been to the mountaintop speech. reading and listening to this speech has become something of a ritual for me every mlk holiday. it's my current favorite, and every time i read it, something new occurs to me. today i honed in on his parsing of the good samaritan story. maybe it was because julie wrote about levinas yesterday, but king's emphasis on empathy as the key to freedom and justice in his retelling of the story really stood out to me in the wee hours of the morning today.
in this speech, king uses martin buber's i and thou construction in discussing the good samaritan, similar to levinas' idea of looking into the face of another. and he tells that this is the difference between the levite preist, who was afraid to help, and the good samaritan:
And so the first question that the priest asked -- the first question that the Levite asked was, "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"
That's the question before you tonight. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to my job. Not, "If I stop to help the sanitation workers what will happen to all of the hours that I usually spend in my office every day and every week as a pastor?" The question is not, "If I stop to help this man in need, what will happen to me?" The question is, "If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers, what will happen to them?" That's the question.
king motivates those who hear him to forsake fear and to cultivate empathy. so what if bull connor turns his fire hoses on you?
Bull Connor didn't know history. He knew a kind of physics that somehow didn't relate to the transphysics that we knew about. And that was the fact that there was a certain kind of fire that no water could put out. And we went before the fire hoses; we had known water. If we were Baptist or some other denominations, we had been immersed. If we were Methodist, and some others, we had been sprinkled, but we knew water. That couldn't stop us.
the courage of righteousness is strong.
the power of empathy to overcome fear is strong.
read this speech. cultivate emphathy and righteousness. that's why we're here, i believe. if not that, then why, pray tell?
i wish i had the vision of the promised land as firmly in mind as dr. king.
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!
wish i could live as righteously as he and so many others have done.
p.s.--one more thing to make you more righteous today is reading langston hughes' poem "the negro speaks of rivers." i don't know if king was consciously echoing hughes here, but it was a nice connection to king's "we had known water" when i read today:
I've known rivers:i find this baptism imagery inspirational in the new year, as we are all working to renew ourselves while the world is working to renew herself. the idea of a cleansing really motivates me to keep trying to be a better person and citizen and sister and mother and human being.
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.