Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther King Jr.’

MLK Day in Swaziland

January 16th, 2012 No comments

Beth and I celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day here in Swaziland, and needless to say, it was much different than experiences in prior years.  We missed bundling up Mikayla (our own little MLK) for a cold march through Bowling Green Streets.  We missed attending the church service at State Street Baptist.  We missed processing through MLK’s legacy with like-minded people.


We missed a lot, but we didn’t miss out on the remembrance.  I listened to King’s "I have a Dream" speech three times today.  The first time was in my office where I found it still causes tears to stream down my face.  The second time was at a staff reflection service, and the third was sitting at home winding down for the evening.

Processing through the day with our Swazi staff was a real treat.  After all, while most of them know of King, none of them really understood the full significance of his life and legacy.  There were 5 Americans there: our family and the two sisters.  Sister Diane is old enough to remember the march and the effect it had on the nation.  Sister Barbara is old enough to have seen many of the effects of the civil rights movement come into fruition.  Beth and I are old enough to realize just how fortunate we are to live in a more enlightened time.  And, Mikayla is old enough to live in MLK’s dream of a world where "little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."

Reflecting on the speech in Swaziland provided a fresh view of King’s vision.  We have experienced a total racial inversion in the last 6 months from a world of white super-majority to white super-minority.  But, we are doing it in a country that has largely been spared the racial tensions of it closest neighbors and the world as a whole (The white and black on the Swazi flag represent racial unity, which is unique in this region).  Also, it was profound to hear Martin Luther King speak about the "blank check" his country had written him since so few of the promises for freedom and equality had been fulfilled.  We heard those words in a country where the new constitution promises freedoms and liberties that few have seen implemented.

Finally, it was significant to celebrate an "American" holiday by delving into a discussion of how Kingdom usurps Empire.  In a nutshell, this was the vision and dream that King shared with the world: things are not the way they are supposed to be, but we are a trajectory of total restoration.

Our celebration was much different than years past, but it was equally as significant.

[By the way, if you haven’t listened to King’s I Have a Dream speech today, please take the time to do so.]

Where do we go from here?

January 17th, 2011 No comments

The following quotes are from Martin Luther King’s book Where do we go from here?  It contains his honest assessment of where the world was in the late 1960s and what it would take to get things on the right track.  It is a book that cannot be reduced to sound bites and must be read cover to cover to be appreciated.  But, until you have the time do that, let these quotes challenge you.

Concerning worldwide brotherhood:

One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of the status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. But today our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change. The large house in which we live demands that we transform this worldwide neighborhood into a worldwide brotherhood.  Together we must learn to live together as brothers or together we will be forced to perish as fools.

Concerning the image of God:

Deeply woven into the fiber of our religious tradition is the conviction that men are made in the image of God, and that they are souls of infinite metaphysical value. If we accept this as a profound moral fact, we cannot be content to see men hungry, to see men victimized with ill-health, when we have the means to help them. In the final analysis, the rich must not ignore the poor because both rich and poor are tied together. They entered the same mysterious gateway of human birth, into the same adventure of life.

Mikayla’s Name

October 28th, 2010 No comments

Today is Mikayla’s 18 month birthday.  A lot has happened in the last year and a half and I could not imagine how we could have been more blessed by her.  Having this mile marker come, coupled with the fact that she is learning her letters and I have been going through my old Hebrew textbooks has me reflecting on the origins of her name.

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[Mikayla Lillian Kickert about to leave the hospital]

Many of you know the subtle nuances we chose to include when naming our daughter Mikayla Lillian Kickert.  First, Lillian is her great grand-mother’s name – a woman my wife greatly respected (Obviously the "Kickert" part came from me and my family).  We chose Mikayla for several reasons.  Most importantly we want to pay tribute to one of my heroes – Martin Luther King Jr. – by  giving her the initials MLK.  (I wonder how many white girls are named after King?).  But the name Mikayla also carries with it special meaning.

Traditionally "Mikayla" is said to mean "a godly woman."  It is a feminine derivative of the name Michael and has its origins in the Hebrew language:


We just happened to be thinking through baby names while I was taking several Hebrew courses at seminary and because of that I was able to recognize there is actually another way to translate "Mikayla."  It can also mean "who is like these":

mikayla-like_these Considering her initials point to a civil rights hero and her other names come from highly regarded family members, this reading carries extra weight.  Whether we use it to refer to a godly woman or to a person who is like "these" influential people, we are projecting a sincere desire that our daughter grow up as a person whom others would want to emulate.

Words are powerful and names (usually) last a lifetime.  18 months ago we were intentional about choosing our daughter’s name so that she would always be reminded of godly people who are willing and able to change the world.

Happy half-birthday Mikayla.

MLK’s Discontentment (Letter from a Birmingham Jail)

January 18th, 2010 No comments


I fear the legacy of Martin Luther King has been lost in popular society.  We have acknowledged his role in bringing about racial equality, but have failed to remember his poignant words concerning peace and systemic injustice.  He not only fought (non-violently) for equal rights, he stood firmly for the cause of universal peace and justice regardless of who it was standing against it.

King was notably critical of the inaction and complacency of the church.  I am reminded of this as I reread his Letter from a Birmingham Jail.  He does not mince words in calling out those who stand by in the face of hatred and oppression.  Many of his words perfectly mimic the juxtaposition of hope and pain that I feel concerning the church.  I have included a few segments from the end of his letter (emphasis mine).

I must honestly reiterate that I have been disappointed with the church. I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church; who was nurtured in its bosom; who ‘has been sustained by its spiritual blessings and who will remain true to it as long as the cord of Rio shall lengthen.

In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: "Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern." And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely other worldly religion which makes a strange, on Biblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular.

Yes, these questions are still in my mind. In deep disappointment I have wept over the laxity of the church. But be assured that my tears have been tears of love. There can be no deep disappointment where there is not deep love. Yes, I love the church. How could I do otherwise? l am in the rather unique position of being the son, the grandson and the great-grandson of preachers. Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being nonconformists.

There was a time when the church was very powerful in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society. Whenever the early Christians entered a town, the people in power became disturbed and immediately sought to convict the Christians for being "disturbers of the peace" and "outside agitators"’ But the Christians pressed on, in the conviction that they were "a colony of heaven," called to obey God rather than man. Small in number, they were big in commitment. They were too God intoxicated to be "astronomically intimidated." By their effort and example they brought an end to such ancient evils as infanticide and gladiatorial contests.

Things are different now. So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo. Par from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent and often even vocal sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

Perhaps I have once again been too optimistic. Is organized religion too inextricably bound to the status quo to save our nation and the world? Perhaps I must turn my faith to the inner spiritual church, the church within the church, as the true ekklesia and the hope of the world. But again I am thankful to God that some noble souls from the ranks of organized religion have broken loose from the paralyzing chains of conformity and joined us as active partners in the struggle for freedom, They have left their secure congregations and walked the streets of Albany, Georgia, with us. They have gone down the highways of the South on tortuous rides for freedom. Yes, they have gone to jail with us. Some have been dismissed from their churches, have lost the support of their bishops and fellow ministers. But they have acted in the faith that right defeated is stronger than evil triumphant. Their witness has been the spiritual salt that has preserved the true meaning of the gospel in these troubled times. They have carved a tunnel of hope through the dark mountain of disappointment.

I hope this letter finds you strong in the faith. I also hope that circumstances will soon make it possible for me to meet each of you, not as an integrationist or a civil rights leader but as a fellow clergyman and a Christian brother. Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities, and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood,

Martin Luther King, Jr.

The Descending Spiral of Violence

January 18th, 2010 No comments


The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.


MLK Day Remembrance

January 18th, 2010 No comments

I am not a very sentimental person and rarely get caught up in traditions or holidays, but today represents a significant day of remembrance as we honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.  This man was so influential in my life and my understanding of the world that we named our daughter after him (Mikayla Lillian Kickert).  It was an honor this morning to march along side my brothers and sisters and to have my daughter join us.  Here is a picture of me and little MLK from this morning and a shot from the march:

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If you haven’t already done it, please take the time to listen to MLK’s prophetic “I have a dream” speech.  I still cannot listen to it without tearing up.  I have included it below for your convenience

Finally, I want to share with you a prayer that I wrote several years ago to commemorate the day.  The following is an invocation written in 2008 for the annual MLK remembrance service in Bowling Green.  It is inspired by the UMC Book of Worship prayer for such occasion.

God of all creation, we stand together today and acknowledge your presence among us as we seek to be your people united in love.  As we worship today, we pray that you grant us a glimpse of your Kingdom. A kingdom where everything is made new and all nations walk together in the light of your Glory.

We thank you for your servant Martin Luther King Jr. who lived out the principles of your kingdom, and through his prophetic voice, offered the vision of what could be.  May we be challenged by his courage, emboldened by his passion, and inspired by his actions.  But heavenly father, may we not rest of the laurels of his godly work, but instead strive together to bring deeper love and greater unity as we all seek to live out your calling on our lives.  May we, even today, experience the same divine discontent that spurred Dr. King to be a voice for justice and an advocate for love.

Today we remember the conviction of Dr. King, who said:

Freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.

Therefore, let us pray for courage and determination for those who are oppressed.  And at the same time, may we not be blind to the oppression we bring, nor deaf to the voices crying against it.
Today we remember Dr. King’s words that

True peace is not the absence of tension, but the presence of justice.

Therefore let us pray not only for relief from tensions and conflicts, but for a just and compassionate world.  May those who work for peace in our world be those crying loudest for justice and may we find peace not in the comforts of life, but in the tension that comes from standing in the gap.
Today we remember Dr. King’s insight that:

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, because we are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny,

Therefore, let us pray that we may see nothing in isolation, but instead find ourselves unified in love and perfected in peace.  May we rejoice with those rejoicing, and mourn with those morning.  And today father, may we join the struggles of those bothers and sisters throughout the world who are striving for peace and justice.
Today we remember Dr King’s lament that:

The contemporary church is often a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound, often the arch-supporter of the status quo. 

Therefore, let us pray that neither those gathered here today nor any congregation of Christ’s people may be silent in the face of wrong, but that we may be disturbers of the status quo when it comes into conflict with God’s Kingdom.

Finally, we remember Dr. King’s prophetic words that:

The dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all their scintillating beauty.

Therefore, in faith, let us contend against evil and make no peace with oppression so that we join in the legacy of Dr. Martin King Jr. and work together to fulfill the vision he shared of your Kingdom come. 

Lord, while we still hear jangling discords in our nations, may we be beautiful notes in the symphony of brotherhood. 

In the name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace we pray, Amen.

What is an evangelist?

October 15th, 2009 No comments

Don’t you hate it when a good word gets so loaded with baggage as to render it unhelpful.  My friend Terry is like this with the word soviets, which refer to small local governing bodies which care for themselves (like sustainable communities); you can’t really refer to soviets without spending a few minutes explaining the idea first.

I feel the same way with words like evangelical/evangelist/evangelism/etc.  These words are based on the greek word euaggelion which literally means “good news.”  In the contemporary American context we have narrowly defined this concept so that it describes “sharing your faith” or something similar. An Evangelist is someone who preaches about sin and salvation and evangelism means you invite someone to accept Jesus as their savior.

The problem with these narrow definitions is that they ignore the breadth of what the Good News (of the Kingdom of God) really encompasses.  The good news is not just about being forgiven of your sins so that you can go to heaven.  Instead, the good news is that complete redemption and restoration that has been initiated and one day will full come.  Through Christ:

  • Our relationship with creation, humanity, ourselves, and our God will be restored.
  • A corrupt earth will be redeemed and set right.
  • Pain and sorrow and death will be wiped away.
  • The poor will eat, the blind will see, the lame will walk, and the prisoners will be set free.
  • Those on the outside will invited in.

And that is just the start of it.  The Good News is holistic and encompasses all things being set right.  Our sin being forgiven so we can go heaven is just one small part of it.  How many tracts have you seen that take all this into consideration?

What bothers me more than the truncation of the concept is the understanding that the Good News is all about a message.  Even if you preach a holistic understanding of the gospel (which by the way is how euaggelion is most often translated) but consider it only a message, then you are missing the point entirely.

The Good News is about embodiment.  It is about being caught up in the story.  It is about being transformed, but also about being an agent of transformation.

Just consider these passages from the ministry of Jesus:

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.  News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. ~Matthew 4:23-24

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. ~Matthew 9:35-36

You see, the proclamation of the Good News is followed by, and confirmed with, the demonstration of Good News.

This brings me back to my original point about words that have lost their full meaning because of baggage.  We should not understand evangelists as simply those who proclaim the good news, but rather, an evangelist should be one who practices the good news as well.

I would be a lot more willing to openly declare myself an evangelical if people understood the entirety of what that word means.  Likewise, I wish when people think of evangelists they didn’t stop with the great proclaimers like Billy Graham, but would also include the great practitioners like Martin Luther King Jr.

The Gospel only make sense when the message is lived out and demonstrated by those who have been transformed by it.

10 People

July 15th, 2009 No comments

We continue with day 2 of our 10 lists on 10 days.  Today, Beth and I have listed the 10 people we would most like to sit and have coffee with.  Of course the consumption of coffee is optional — surely it would make more sense to share a beer with a few of these folks, and others, I would rather talk with as we hiked through nature.  As always, these are in no particular order.

  1. Martin Luther King Jr. — Surely no surprise here.  After all, my daughter Mikayla Lillian is named after this civil rights leader.  King is best known for his role in fighting for equal rights for minorities.  However, he was also a passionate pacifist.  He was as opposed to the Vietnam War as he was Jim Crow laws.  I would want to share a drink with him to ask him what issues he saw as most pressing?  Would he concentration on gay rights?  Would he address war and torture?  Would he shift his attention to international issues?For me, MLK embodies the concept of the prophetic imagination (a concept we will explore in a later list).  I still cannot hear his I Have a Dream speech without tearing up.
  2. Desmond Tutu – Since we are talking about baby names, I must mention Desmond Tutu.  If our firstborn had been a male, I was advocating for the name Desmond.  Originally we were going to go with Douglas (my middle name), but I realized I would prefer my child to emulate him than me.  Tutu was instrumental in ending apartheid and symbolizes for me how a pastor can lead social change in the name of Christ.  His work on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission is awe-inspiring.  I want to know from him, how we can apply these concepts to our daily societal fissures.
  3. Bono – I wouldn’t have a string of questions for the lead singer of U2 like I would with many of the others, but in terms of having a good time, hanging out, discussing the ebbs and flows of life, I would think Bono would be the man.  Plus, his lyrics are so deep and harmonize the secular and the sacred.
  4. Peter Abelard – Perhaps the most obscure on my list.  Abelard was a tormented theologians in the 12th century (read about him here).  Theologically he is best known for going toe to toe with Anselm over atonement theory.  Abelard advocated for a Moral influence understanding over a substitutionary understanding.  He was quite eccentric and misunderstood.  Here is a paper I have written on him.
  5. Henry David Thoreau – I love his unfiltered commentary on life and society.  In addition to his emphasis on self reflection and the awe of creation, he is always honest with his understanding of faith.  I also have been influenced by his thoughts on civil disobedience.
  6. Stephen Hawkins – I have been fascinated by theoretical physics since I was in Middle School.  It is only a short jump from physics to philosophy and then to theology.  Hawkins not only provides an entryway into this crazy world, but the way he has approached life’s struggles epitomizes focus and direction.  As you will see in susequent posts, I am convinced quantum physics provides insights into truth.  Here is an approachable clip that will force you to reexamine your understanding of the world.  (Not Hawkins, but he works in the same areas.)
  7. John Howard Yoder – deep down I am a Mennonite, I just have not admitted it yet (well except to Brett).  I have learned more from other theologians, but I have yet to find a person who such consistency in their life, faith, theology and philosophy.  Politics of Jesus should be required reading for… well… everyone.
  8. N.T. Wright – There is not a simple person who has been more influencial in shaping my theology and understanding of the world and scripture than Bishop N.T. Wright.  I have listened to so many of his lectures I can hear him speak when I read his books.  I find so many of the concepts I regularly explain and rely on come from Wright.  I doubt I could keep up with him, but I would love to drink from the fire hydrant of his knowledge.  Plus, he has a that super cool British accent.  Here is a great resource for other lovers of his work.
  9. The Tank Man – Bravery is not something that is planned.  It is not something that is sought out.  It is something that occurs when we stand up for what is just.  I am fascinated by the story of the Tank Man – the young man who stopped a whole line of Chinese tanks through a simply act of resistence.  There are a couple reason he makes my list.  First… I want to know who this person is (to this day, it unknown).  But more importantly, I am drawn to this person because they were able to change the world with simple acts without demanding fame or recognition.
  10. Jesus – rounding out my list is the God-Man Jesus Christ himself.  I almost didn’t list Jesus.  That is not because I don’t think it would make for excellent conversation, or because I don’t have the ultimate respect, love, and devotion to Jesus.  Rather, it is because I realize I am way too like Peter (see below) and rather than sitting down with a whole list of questions, I would love simply follow Jesus as he navigated the world today.