Martin Luther King’s Primary Objective in His “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail”: Peace and Brotherhood
This month of February I have taken a closer look at Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail.” I have read this many times in the past, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts, some of the things that moved me about Dr. King’s work that reveals Heart-energy.
I have not posted all of the shorter articles as blog posts, but I am going to combine with some slight editing the last three I posted today on Instagram, FaceBook, and Twitter. All the quotes are from an actual photocopy of the original 21-page letter. I love looking at that, and if you have a chance, take a peek:
Martin Luther King’s Primary Objective in His “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail”: Peace and Brotherhood
Near the end of his letter, Dr. King continues to sincerely answer the troubling accusations and observations of the letter that the white clergymen wrote, the ones addressed at the beginning. This response required intensive, sensitive thought because, more than anything, he loves others. However, he sheds light on the facts and exposes Ego-energy, energy resulting in hatred.
Some of the last rays of the light of this letter fall on those “keeping ‘order’ and preventing violence,’” the police force. Those officers of the law — a stacked, racist, bigoted, hateful set of laws — were brutal, truly exercising police brutality. That, he will not praise, only show the facts in love.
He points out what oppressed people often experience: when the eyes of the public or media are on unfair, brutal, egocentric authorities, they appear to be in control, put on a show. Dr. King’s main point here is that brutality is never justified in handling others because “it is worn to use immoral means to attain moral ends…they have used the moral means of [apparent] nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of flagrant racial injustice.” Any authority who hides behind unjust laws and carries them out, especially with brutality or inhumanity, should not be allowed to hold their positions.
At the end of this paragraph on page 19, Dr. King quotes T. S. Eliot: “…there is no greater treason than to do the right deed for the wrong reason.” I take that sentiment into the depths of my being. Neither I nor authorities — presidents, cops, legislators, ICE, border patrol, educators — have the right to violate the basic laws of nature, of that which makes up who each human being is at our core.
Treating souls with degradation and inhumanity always marks Ego-energy. Heart loves and finds a way to deal in truth and care for fellow souls.
As Dr. King nears the close of this masterpiece, he takes care to reveal those who did Heart-work, masterpieces themselves. Who were they?
The “real heroes…James Merediths, courageously and with a majestic sense of purpose, facing jeering and hostile mobs…old, oppressed, battered Negro women…who rose up with a sense of dignity…young high school and college students, young ministers…and a host of their elders courageously and non-violently sitting-in at lunch counters and willingly going to jail for conscience sake.”
No money, no power connections, no degrees required. They only lived their Heart-truth. We all can do this in whatever our created purpose is. When we live our core Self in love and light, we know significance, fulfillment, and personal peace. And quite often, we change the world, at least our little piece of it and find ourselves involved in things much larger than us. That’s the way discovering Self and creating and living Purpose works.
Dr. King recognizes this: “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…carrying our whole nation back to…the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.” I would say that living a Heart-truth by sitting down at a lunch counter and finding a connection with the founding documents of this nation is, indeed, something larger than ourselves.
Heart-truth sometimes needs to be lived in oppressive situations and is sometimes, because of that, more powerful. Referring to the length of the letter, he says, “I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk” instead of a jail cell. Our Heart within finds a way when we open ourselves to it. Nothing else could have carried those who engaged in nonviolent protests onward and upward.
When we are unmoved by responses of Ego-energy from within or without, Heart leads us to find a way to express love and light — as a pastor, a police officer, a politician, a teacher, a mechanic, an artist, a writer, a dancer, a jeweler, a clerk, a salesperson, or any of thousands upon thousands of endeavors empowered by Heart.
Then, Dr. King lays out his accountability. If the white clergymen he addresses find offense, he asks forgiveness of them, his fellow creatures. However, his largest accountability is to his own Heart, his own God: “If I have said anything…that is an understatement of the truth and is indicative of my having a patience that makes me patient with anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.” Brotherhood — that’s a greater concept than integration, and Dr. King ends by acknowledging such.
In the final paragraph, he illustrates this unequivocally to those he considers to be his brothers, no matter how they feel about him or their color: “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.”
Brotherhood — a mutuality bound not in gender, Sisterhood being just as integral — is the goal, the hope. This is that which I call the Fellowship of the Heart. Those sold to Ego are in the majority, and they are not to be judged — exposed, yes, but not judged. Those who don’t answer Heart within them will not know the blessing of this fellowship, and perhaps that is the ultimate judgment.
Dr. King ends with an estimation of the value of this: “Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted…and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of their scintillating beauty.” This transcends skin tones, cultures, and social expressions; it doesn’t negate them, just transcends so that we may appreciate one another.
The legal structure had to be corrected. The spiritual structure, as evidenced over the course of the last several years, especially, remains fractured. The only answering action to this is to discover Self, create Purpose, and live it in love and light. Then, no matter if it’s sitting at counters, marching through shopping malls, or sincerely living any Heart-truth, we protest inhumanity, hatred, and reveal our desire to experience the fulness of this creation.
“Yours for the cause of Peace and Brotherhood / Martin Luther King, Jr.” Yes, peace and fellowship, my friend. Thank you for inviting me to the table of your fellowship.
(Mike DePung —Feb. 10, 2018)
When I wrote my “Morning Pages” post today, I was thinking about several ideas, ones I see as connected. Making connections constitutes the ability to analyze, evaluate, and synthesize conclusions, opinions, and all that stems from those. We can use Ego or Heart; if we don’t call on Heart, Ego is the default processor and filter. Awakening to spiritual consciousness brings us to sense and engage Heart — in anything dealing with us as a human mind-body-soul unit.
As I consider living in Heart-energy, walking firm in the Purpose I created with Heart, and doing the work for which there are no promises of anything except my personal happiness, I recall a Bible passage when Jesus spoke to crowds who came to hear him. I’m not going formal religion here, but in Luke 14: 28–33 Jesus says, “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?…“Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?…In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples” (New International Version http://biblehub.com/niv/luke/14.htm). Hence, I have focused today on counting the cost of commitment, commitment to create and follow Heart-based work.
Ego will chime in to fulfill it’s purpose to protect, many times with “common sense” prods and pleas: “Hey, you’re not making enough money; you’re only helping a few; you’re causing problems; you need to quit now.” I wrote that this morning and then added a Heart-message because Heart would simply say something like this: “All in!” This doesn’t mean questions, doubts, fears, ridicule, persecution, or hosts of other challenges won’t appear. They will. Counting the cost means we are all in, we will face challenges, and we will enthusiastically, passionately, and intelligently engage life — on our own terms; no one else’s matters. All in means we move onward and upward.
As I have moved forward with examining Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail,” I wonder how often he was faced with his own Ego-energy to just quit for his own safety, well-being, and peace of mind. None of that can be fully known by those who do not engage Heart. Dr. King did. He counted the cost of living his Heart-truth.
We can and may do the same, whether in the spotlight of the nation and world or simply in the soft, subtle light of our own friends, family, and acquaintances. The end is the same: happiness, fulfillment, significance, and freedom from judgment by our own and others’ Ego. Dr. King knows the value of freedom which he experienced in his soul but lacked in an Ego-soaked society of white-controlled power, wealth, and superiority over minorities.
Therefore, Dr. King, knowing the fellowship and way of the Heart, engaged in a four-step process of nonviolent campaigns. I cannot do this justice, so I will highlight the steps of collection of the facts, in this case of injustice, attempts at negotiation, self-purification — and this brought me to the concept of counting the cost because that is exactly what this step is about — and finally, direct action.
The facts of injustice had been collected in plain sight: “Birmingham is probably the most thoroughly segregated city in the United States…police brutality…unjust treatment…in the courts…unsolved bombings.” Make no mistake here, please. Many would not then and do not even now call this injustice. Know why? Their judging Ego that isolates from others to create barriers that are mistakenly believed to be safety would prompt them to say African Americans suffered because of their own choices and actions.
They could go to their white laws, to Supreme Court decisions like Plessy vs. Ferguson, and even Brown vs. Topeka Board of Education and say they had been given freedoms. However, the fact that the above practices — not exceptions — of injustice remained show that Ego reigned. Legislation cannot change Ego-perceptions to Heart, nor can it even create morality. It can and should, though, protect from Ego actions that contradict the rights Jefferson and others outlined in founding documents — no matter how different minority cultures appear to be. Only Ego takes differences as threats, and I would add, Ego on the part of minorities perpetuates such perceptions. Heart actions, though, work toward resolution and true soul peace.
Dr. King’s policy and practice of nonviolent direct action catalyzed Heart-energized souls to be able to claim and live in freedom to pursue happiness. His Heart led him to attend to the step of negotiation extensively, because he knew direct action would expose Ego-energies and mean even greater challenge for his people. He and other leaders decided on several occasions to postpone protests to see if white power players would keep their word. They didn’t.
Do you know the simple requests they negotiated for? To remove the “Whites Only” type signs. When I was young, I witnessed these for myself in rural southeast Missouri, and I remember my confusion and subsequent disgust at people who thought that way. I don’t think I’m disgusted by them now, such people, because I know what Ego is capable of, what I have felt at times. However, when faced with a clear Ego or Heart choice, no one wins if Ego is enacted and favored. And law and order should exist to open the way to overthrow Ego bullshit. Let me make something clear here, my opinion: law and order does not mean to force everyone to live up to the standards of a white, egoic power structure. Whites do not get to say how protests should occur — when, where, what actions are acceptable or not. And if you think I’m referring to 1963 only, I’m not; it happens today in St. Louis, Missouri.
To end this post, I bring back the idea of counting the cost of awakening to Heart, creating purpose, and living it in vision, mission, and daily goals. Dr. King did it, as well as hosts of others. If they hadn’t, segregation would still be more the norm than it is now. The step of self-purification meant that protestors of Dr. King’s time had to face the questions of “Are you able to accept blows without retaliating?” “Are you able to endure the ordeals of jail?” If they couldn’t, they were discouraged from being followers. If they were like those listening to Jesus in Luke 14, those who couldn’t face Ego challenges would be those who stopped short of all-in Heart work, those who counted the cost and wouldn’t finish the tower or wouldn’t enter battle in the face of bad odds. Stopping short is Ego-work. It’s not wrong; it’s just deficit in terms of personal happiness. In terms of society, Ego-rule is wrong and unjust.
Dr. King makes it clear “that we did not move irresponsibly into direct action.” However, many would say they were irresponsible because many judged via Ego instead of Heart. The results of the direct action? They are well-known in the big picture, but Dr. King had Heart-insight into the effects such work would have on society, and it is exciting to me, exciting enough to continue later.
In the meantime, counting the cost is an integral component of awakening to spiritual consciousness. The most powerful, moving, searching movement impacts us internally, and only then will we know the outworking of Heart purpose in love, light, and happiness. It’s an internal job, and the cost is greatest to Ego. That’s not an easy challenge, and it’s never finished. It always produces a creative tension to move onward and upward.
Blessings in that, my friend!
(Mike DePung — Feb. 5, 2018)
I’m thankful for Dr. Martin Luther King’s invitation to sit together at the table of brotherhood. As with any piece of writing in any genre, it’s incomplete until digested by the reader, until someone assigns meaning and relates personally to it. In a sense, it’s a risk, but not if done from Heart-energy and in faith. Therefore, I continue to read and fellowship with Dr. King over his “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail.”
In the third paragraph beginning on p. 2, he makes a statement, which is a simple observation of a natural phenomenon, a fact: “I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states.” Any contact — positive, negative, or more often than not a sine wave between the two — constitutes interrelatedness. After awareness of the fact, Dr. King, as anyone should who is faced with fact, engages in self-awareness. How do we respond to things that are, that exist, that we relate to, connect to in any way?
His response is this: “I cannot sit idly by…” For him, his Heart-energized purposed, engaged him in the quest for justice. He explains why when he says, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He spent most of his adult life in pursuit of this purpose. He shares, here, his understanding, profound, universal. When Dr. King writes “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny,” this demands a response. He must do something with this reality that each human is not only made of the same cloth but also shrouded in one massive wrap.
His action begins with the statement “Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” This truth of his prompts his trip from Atlanta to Birmingham and his organization and involvement in the nonviolent protests. For this, he is accused of being an “outside agitator.” He acted, and his actions show he is living his Heart-truth. The white power base knew a decision was required on their part, a decision in response to the message and action of Dr. King and those who followed him. They could join in the fellowship of the Heart, or they could rebuke light, goodness, and love. They put him in jail; for them, Ego prevailed.
Whenever you read this, know that the fact is at our core, our essence, each of us is a Spirit-bearer; we each have Heart. We have Ego, too. The difference between outcomes from acting, feeling, sensing, making decisions, and any mind-soul-body function is whether the energy derives from Ego or Heart. Many times, I could not and would not care to distinguish the energy source of others; such matters belong to the individual. However, in some cases involving society, trends, government, culture, the discernment of the prevailing energy becomes clearer.
In issues such as racism, Ego would tell us basic differences exist, and it’s only “logical” we should maintain and reinforce those, isolating ourselves from those not like us. This can occur, based on Ego-charged yet ingenious minds, in a variety of ways. To those who exist in Ego, it is a truth, and they would not normally call bigotry, prejudice, and racism hatred. It is, and as such, in denial of core Self, their Ego-truth is plain, unvarnished lies against the Heart and Spirit.
The facts that we are “interrelated” and “caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny” demand a response, because we are human. And Dr. King’s sentiments, his truths, strike resonance in today’s world, because our interrelatedness has been technologically, economically, and irrevocably established. We either love in Heart or hate in Ego. The love or hate may be manifested in a spectrum of words and deeds, but it boils down to each one choosing to respond in Heart or Ego.
In that light, it’s not so difficult to understand protests or protestors, although each individual is either following Heart or Ego; however, the social movement in general is clear. How do we feel about those who are treated unjustly under the guise of law and order to protect a favored race’s status quo? We each choose, one way or another.
Approaching this second paragraph in Dr. King’s “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail,” I sense an honest, sincere love and respect — for all. To me, this is a love letter. Dr. King expresses his love for his fellow clergymen, for people of color, for society in general, and even for those who oppress. Some may stumble at that, but only love prompts some to shed light into the darkness of those oppressing them. Only love takes the time to arrange such an analysis of situations with the goals of love and peace and mutual happiness. Only love would carry someone through so many years of relentless work and even more relentless criticism, attacks, and hatred.
(Mike DePung — Feb. 1, 2018)
I intend to spend this month responding to Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from the Birmingham City Jail.” Why? One reason is it is Black History Month, but beyond that, I find the words of Dr. King contain his essence and energy, energy which allows me to feel that kindred Fellowship of the Heart.
Let me make this clear now, and I will not mention it again. I am a white male, definitely a privileged category of human being in America. I do not deserve it, nor do I believe anyone does. To this end, I will address Dr. King’s work and sit down at “the table of brotherhood” he refers to in his great “I Have a Dream” speech, which I listened to this morning. I will add that right now I can only encourage you to read Dr. King’s letter. I am inclined to write this and then record myself reading it and the letter. I would do this incrementally each day until I have moved through it. I’m sure if I do that, I will have extra things to say beyond what I write. Let me be honest here: I am pretty much dismayed by the thought of creating a video, leaving myself open to criticism, and possibly causing greater divisions, even in my limited sphere of influence. If I can only establish the mindset of Dr. King, though, I should be okay.
To begin, I would recommend you read the letter from the following website, because it is a photocopy of the actual one. There’s something about seeing it the way he typed it. I love it: http://okra.stanford.edu/transcription/document_images/undecided/630416-019.pdf . This letter is as relevant today as in 1963, not to mention that it holds the same transformative possibilities.
In the heading, Dr. King addresses seven white clergymen. I looked up short histories of each, but I’m not presenting a history lesson here. What I will say is at one point in my life, my name could have been lumped with theirs. For a couple years, I did serve in a more formal pastoral capacity, and informally for many more. Even then, I cared about justice and inequality, but it was in a narrow, conservative, and constrictive way, a way that benefitted me. I wonder how many people realize their definition of justice, law, and appropriate civil and social behavior have been dictated to them by the holders of power and assumers of superiority. I didn’t always; that’s certain.
Why did these seven clergymen write an open letter that urged whites and African Americans in their congregations and the public at large to disassociate themselves from King as president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and his efforts in nonviolent, public demonstrations? They had reasons that sounded rational, but they were only rationales of Ego: “We appeal to both our white and Negro citizenry to observe the principles of law and order and common sense” (http://www.massresistance.org/docs/gen/09a/mlk_day/statement.html) . Why is that Ego? Because their definition of “law and order” was based on rules intended to keep others enslaved, imprisoned, and inconsequential so that the protests, the demonstrations, would not develop into reform or revolution, which may threaten or shake their undisturbed, unmolested positions of superiority. “Our way is the best way. It makes sense when you look at it from our point of view. We don’t want those not like us to have the same privileges and advantages.” Such possible words represent the underlying Ego tones of superiority and desire to isolate and elevate themselves.
In later years, a number of these seven clergymen did, indeed, take bolder stands against racial prejudice and injustice. In fact, Bishop C.C.J. Carpenter would not give his approval to start a new school unless it was integrated, and that was nine years before Birmingham. Why would he sign such a letter as he did in 1963? He still wanted to define, along with the others, their power base and to ensure it would remain intact; they wanted to control by being the benevolent rulers of justice. They, and many, many people today, do not understand that at a subconscious, Ego level, they would be okay if they dictated the terms of law, order, and justice and then could judge if others’ behaviors were acceptable or not. Their “common sense” was only sense for the white power base, never for minorities, in general.
In any case, Dr. King addresses them as “My dear Fellow Clergymen.” He radiates respect and sincerity in showing he considers them as one with himself. Then, as he launches into the body of his letter, he acknowledges he is under constant criticism every day. Why was that so, and is that so today for those seeking civil and social justice? People criticize when they feel threatened, and when that’s the case, rational-sounding assaults — think about the arguments a large faction is currently spouting about immigrants — can alleviate their fears by tearing others down. Why are folks so afraid and hateful in response to their own Ego fears?
Dr. King, though, recognizes this and attempts to set their fears at ease by using the words from their own letter to analyze, logically and lovingly. His laser-sharp focus in the face of fear and pressure, from those who should have been sympathetic, keeps him from distraction or caving in to Ego demands. In fact, he takes the time to show them that he isn’t only going to present his arguments, but he is considering their emotional state: “But since I feel that you are men of genuine goodwill and your criticisms are sincerely set forth, I would like to answer your statement in patient and reasonable terms.” His loving patience reveals his Heart-energy and drives him on in exposing darkness by shedding light; he shows he values them enough to do so.
Certainly, this principle would be effective in today’s climate in America where questions of equality, justice, and civil rights continue to demonstrate that the underlying Ego-drive continues, and the only safeguard to the rights of people to live Heart-truth resides in Heart-driven legislation, administration, and justice in all branches of the government. This comes first, before jobs, economy, being the greatest, or any other foolish priorities over the freedom and justice due all.
Questions to consider:
How many times have you asked yourself or simply thought about the following questions?
Who am I, really?
What is my truth?
How do my actions reveal what I really feel and believe?
What would I do with my life if I could do anything?
What is my passion?
Why am I here?
How can I discover answers to any of these questions?
If you have considered any of these questions, I hope that my experiences and writing will give you some guidance. Please read my blog and comment and share your thoughts. I would love to hear from you!