Power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love.
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words – any of his words, all of them – feel especially precious to me this year, as we seem to be lacking in meaningful words on the national stage.
And I especially like to return to his coupling of love and power (quoted above), which has long been one of my favorite basic lessons from him. Conventional “wisdom” too often would have us deride power as purely evil and promote sentimentality as if it were true love. But we need both power and love, and much of the work of the faith community is about using our collective power to cultivate love – true, divine love – in the world.
As we honor Dr. King’s birthday this weekend, I urge you to read at least one of his writings or speeches in full – and not just the popularly excerpted quotes. Especially relevant to Unitarian Universalists are his explicit messages to persons of (progressive) faith, such as his Letter from Birmingham Jail to fellow clergy, and his Ware Lecture at the 1966 UUA General Assembly, Don’t Sleep Through the Revolution, in which he said, “Certainly the church has a great responsibility because when the church is true to its nature, it stands as a moral guardian of the community and of society.” And this:
[A myth] that we must deal with is that of exaggerated progress. Certainly we have made progress in race relations. And I think we can all glory that things are better today than they were ten years ago or even three years ago. We should be proud of the steps we’ve made to rid our nation of this great evil of racial segregation and discrimination. On the other hand, we must realize the plant of freedom is only a bud and not yet a flower.
Fifty years later, in 2018, that plant still has not fully bloomed.
What is your favorite of Dr. King’s writings? Share names and links in the comment section at the bottom of this post!
I’m reminded of the wise words of another long-ago religious leader, Clinton Lee Scott, who admonished, “Always it is easier to pay homage to prophets than to heed the direction of their vision. … Great leaders are honored, not by adulation, but by sharing their insights and values.”
On this MLK weekend, let’s offer more than adulation.
In love and power,