Staying on Freedom | January 2, 2022 by Dr. Dorsey Blake
Oh, I woke up this Morning with my mind stayed on freedom. I was walking and talking with my mind stayed on freedom. I was singing and praying with my mind stayed on freedom, Hallelu, Hallelu, Halleluia. I was stuck on freedom. I could not free myself from it. I was anchored in it, dedicated, committed to it. I just couldn’t let go of it. Halleluia! All praise to God, freedom.
What a wonderful way to begin any day – in radical amazement as Rabbi Heschel would say. How about waking up tomorrow morning as well with our minds stayed on freedom and the next day? What about waking up at the beginning of this new year with our minds, singing, praying, walking, and talking stayed on freedom? What a new year’s resolution that would be! More importantly, we have no idea of the measure of freedom we would incarnate. Are you willing to so resolve? Is being stayed on freedom equivalent to being stayed on the Divine?
One of the reasons this is so important to me is that it is a high complement to the life of Jesus. It is vastly more important than all the creeds memorized and executed in his name. Recently, I remembered an experience I was privileged to have while in seminary. It was a class taught by Dr. Howard Thurman titled: Spiritual Disciplines and Resources. He began the seminar by reading the entire Gospel of Mark, James Moffatt translation. I had never experienced the vitality, commitment, abundance, sense of being awake, and urgency of Jesus as during the hour and ten minutes of the reading – Dr. Thurman had told us that it would take exactly one hour and ten minutes. You could feel his ministry. You wanted to be part of it. You felt shackles falling, eyes opened, ears unstopped, prayers embodied, what was lame finding the courage to walk, to be. You understood what he meant by being about the business of God, The Great Fashioner of life and the universe (one of the names for God in Islam). You were swept up in the contagion of not only Jesus’ spirit but also his work in the world. And you wanted to be part of it. For you knew that this was your work in the world also. And for those precious moments, the sense of urgency was compelling.
However, urgency can quickly turn to apathy. The feeling that something momentous is on the near horizon vanishes into the precaution “wait.” It was this waiting concept, this nullification of the work of freedom, that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressed in his powerful book, Why We Can’t Wait. His Letter from Birmingham Jail that is included in the book is a must read. If you have read it, read it again, and again. He was in jail for participating in civil rights demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama – often called Bombingham, Alabama, because of the number of Black churches, homes and businesses that were bombed. Eight prominent so – called liberal white clergy wrote him a letter decrying the demonstrations to which he had given leadership. They said that his actions were untimely, unwise, suggesting that Black people wait and give the new administration time.
How contradictory this is to what I was sensing after hearing Dr. Thurman read the Gospel of Mark. I was left with the feeling that each moment is the time to make the Gospel come to earth fully embodied.
Dr. King knew what wait meant and responded:
For years now I have heard the word “Wait!” It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This “Wait” has almost always meant “Never.” It has been a tranquilizing thalidomide, relieving the emotional stress for a moment, only to give birth to an ill-formed infant of frustration. We must come to see with the distinguished jurist of yesterday that “justice too long delayed is justice denied….
He made clear the imperative to move now on the path to freedom and outlined just a few of the effects of segregation on the segregated – the sense of “nobodyness,” Black lives not mattering, having aspirations handcuffed, anchored in poverty in a sea of plenty, being disrespected, unable to provide for your family, having to explain to your children why they could not go to the amusement park advertised on television, having to respond to the question from your child of why white people are so mean to Black people. These are some of the reasons we cannot wait he articulated.
He also addressed the issue of white liberals setting the time for another’s freedom in such a demanding time.
I had also hoped that the white moderate would reject the myth of time. I received a letter this morning from a white brother in Texas which said: “All Christians know that the colored people will receive equal rights eventually, but is it possible that you are in too great of a religious hurry? It has taken Christianity almost 2,000 years to accomplish what it has. The teachings of Christ take time to come to earth.” (a whole lot of time, if ever) All that is said here grows out of a tragic misconception of time. It is the strangely irrational notion that there is something in the very flow of time that will inevitably cure all ills. Actually, time is neutral. It can be used either destructively or constructively. I am coming to feel that the people of ill will have used time much more effectively than the people of good will. We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people. We must come to see that human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation.
We must use time creatively, and forever realize that the time is always ripe to do right. Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy and transform our pending national elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. Now is the time to lift our national policy from the quicksand of racial injustice to the solid rock of human dignity.
At one of the civil rights demonstrations there was a sign that read: We march for first citizenship now. King also says: There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair.
Dr. Howard Thurman declared that the true purpose of all spiritual discipline is to clear away whatever may block our awareness of that which is God in us. That is what happened to me in that course with him. I was awakened to an awareness of a natural and personal relationship to the evolving and necessary work of Christmas, to the trusting of the Cosmic Christ in its insistence upon and persistence in freeing those encountered, those entrusted into my care. And who are those entrusted into our care? And what is our commitment to their and our freedom? Waking each morning with our minds loyal to and living in freedom displaces those things – complacency, cowardness, lethargy, fear, isolation, deception, frailty, hatred, the waiting – that block our consciousness and reality of the God within us that seeks to be fulfilled.
There is something in us, a lot to us, that wants to be enlarged, to expand, that wants to be tapped for some work, great or small, all-encompassing or one-on-one loving. That something wants and seeks to be of use, to explore its possibilities and embrace its responsibilities. We have duties as creators. Gandhi said that it was just as important to have a Bill of Duties as to have a Bill of Rights. Freedom is connected to community. And in community we must be responsible for and to each other. What is in us? Let’s mention some possibilities: intellect, resourcefulness, charity, compassion, love, heart, longing for connection with the All Life, resolve, unknown and unleashed potential. Isn’t it true that in the beginning God created community, freedom? What else do we have within us? We have the future!
We have the choice of chaos or community within us. We have the ability to be great, that is, the ability to serve. Historian, Dr. T. R. Glover stated of Marcus Aurelius: He does not believe enough to be great. The inability to believe enough obstructs what seeks to come alive in us. Consequently, we resort to blaming others for what is wrong rather than being hooked on freedom, speaking and acting ourselves. The local, state, federal legislative, executive, judicial bodies are betraying us or not doing enough, true. Nobody is speaking out. Nobody is doing anything. Does nobody include us?
Let us remember that the criticism of Dr. King and the Civil Rights Movement came from clergy. They purportedly represented binding with God, were incubators of abundant life, messengers of a new day and way of being in the world. King indicted the church for its silence in support of the Movement for Freedom and its sanctioning of the status quo. But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If the church of today does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authentic ring, forfeit the loyalty of missions, and be dismisses as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.
Near the end of Letter from Birmingham Jail, Dr. King lifts up people who became awake with their minds and lives stayed on freedom. Many of them are anonymous to us, but not to the call of freedom.
“One day the South will recognize its real heroes. They will be the James Merediths, courageously and with a majestic sense of purpose facing jeering and hostile mobs and the agonizing loneliness that characterizes the life of the pioneer. They will be the young high school and college students, young ministers of the gospel and a host of their elders courageously and nonviolently sitting-in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience’s sake. One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for the best in the American dream and the most sacred values in our Judeo-Christian heritage, thusly, carrying our whole nation back to those great wells of democracy which were dug deep by the Founding Fathers in the formulation of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence…. They will be old, oppressed, battered Negro women, symbolized in a seventy-two-year-old woman of Montgomery, Alabama, who rose up with a sense of dignity and with her people decided not to ride the segregated buses, and responded to one who inquired about her tiredness with ungrammatical profundity: “my feet is tired, but my soul is rested.”
Now is the accepted time, not to-morrow,
not some more convenient season.
It is today that our best work can be
Done and not some future day or
It is today that we fit ourselves for
the greater usefulness of tomorrow.
Today us the seed time, now are the
hours of work, and tomorrow
comes the harvest and the playtime.
- W.E.B. DuBois