Martin Luther King Jr was a radical is the title of Cornel West’s article in the Guardian on the 50th anniversary of King’s assassination:
The major threat of Martin Luther King Jr to us is a spiritual and moral one.
Martin Luther King Jr turned away from popularity in his quest for spiritual and moral greatness – a greatness measured by what he was willing to give up and sacrifice due to his deep love of everyday people, especially vulnerable and precious black people. Neoliberal soul craft avoids risk and evades the cost of prophetic witness, even as it poses as “progressive”.
If King were alive today, his words and witness against drone strikes, invasions, occupations, police murders, caste in Asia, Roma oppression in Europe, as well as capitalist wealth inequality and poverty, would threaten most of those who now sing his praises.
Today, 50 years later the US imperial meltdown deepens. And King’s radical legacy remains primarily among the awakening youth and militant citizens who choose to be extremists of love, justice, courage and freedom, even if our chances to win are that of a snowball in hell! This kind of unstoppable King-like extremism is a threat to every status quo!
I’ve been thinking about the history and present condition of Quakers’ work regarding peace and justice. The main reason Friends have had an impact through history is because that work has been spiritually grounded, in the same manner King held steadfastly to a spiritual and moral compass.
When people rely on their intellect to guide them, they are limited to only being able to analyze and work within the constraints of what they have been taught, or experienced themselves. When confronted with difficulties in the struggle, they don’t have the spiritual resources that would continue to give them hope and the courage and strength to continue. And to find new, unexpected ways forward.
That also constrains the depth of their relationships with others, since they will not be open to the spiritual dimensions of a situation or the people involved.
It is difficult to describe our own experiences of being spirit led. We don’t have a good vocabulary. We speak of the Inner Light, or still small voice within, or spirit, or truth or God. “Be still, and know that I am God.” Psalm 46:10. But that doesn’t make sense to someone who has not experienced this.
I’ve written a number of times about my first meeting with the Kheprw Institute community in Indianapolis. Thanks to their persistent questions asking me to tell why I wanted to work with their community, I was in the end led to talk about Quakers believing there is that of God in everyone, which meant everyone in that room that evening. That understanding among us made it possible for us to then work together.
I am also thinking about my experiences with Native Americans as we worked together as water protectors. I felt immediately connected as various people spoke about protecting water and the Spirit. “Mni Wiconi, Water is life”. We had public prayers, burning sage and beating drums. A deep spiritual connection was made without words.
I sometimes wonder if some of us today avoid risk and evade the cost of prophetic witness. Or do we choose to be extremists of love, justice, courage and freedom, even if our chances to win appear hopeless? Do we strive to be radicals, as Martin Luther King was?