Our Unfinished Society: A Prayer
Recited at the Berkeley City Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration, 2015
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor
Your servant Dr. Martin Luther King might not have been happy to see us sitting here this morning having this very nice breakfast. He might have led us outside this fine establishment, back into Your fragile world, O God, marching our feet to the rhythmic beat of the deep rumblings of discontent (“Loving Your Enemies”, 1957), back into our streets. And so we pray this very morning to not enjoy so much of the wonderful bounty before us that we forsake the hungry, that we forget our own calamity, just yards away, and miles away, and counties and states away. But really, we know they’re right here in this room. We haven’t set them down, not even for a moment, Lord. We know, as Dr. King taught us, that “our lives begin to end when we become silent about things that matter.”
Dr. King would have called us to know the number of children
going hungry in Alameda this very minute. To know their names and seek their welfare. He would have called us to know the number of dead, thanks to guided missiles and misguided people, woefully-ignored gun violence, and woefully-unequal systems of legislation and enforcement and incarceration in our country. He would have pointed to the immorality of unequal sentencing and the widespread use of solitary confinement. He would have had a thing or two to say about that.
Dr. King, your servant, would speak truth about the astounding costs
of financial corruption, of ongoing institutionalized inequality; he would have forced us to see the costs of "free trade": 27 million people today still cursed to live in slavery.
He would have seen beyond the numbers, to the faces of people.
He would be preaching with the “urgency of now”
a determined, measured, poetic, prophetic outrage.
He would be teaching by example
our civic duty of compassion,
the obligations of citizenship,
the nobility of non-violent protest,
the grave danger of cynicism.
When he gave his life for peoplesʼ rights
of speech, and assembly, and the vote,
it was for people who had no money to pay for speech.
They knew speech as an unalienable right,
and their wealth of spirit sufficed.
Dr. King had faith in a few great things:
one was our essential American dream.
Not a middle-class American dream,
or an upper-class, a working-poor,
or an impoverished-class American dream.
But the defining American dream
which lifts up those who are bowed down.
The abiding American dream
of liberty and justice for all.
Dr. King asked of God in 1964:
... grant that we will always reach out
for that which is high,
realizing that we are made for the stars,
created for the everlasting,
born for eternity.
And he taught us in 1967:
…Power at its best is love
implementing the demands of justice,
and justice at its best is power
that stands against love.
Dr. King's story is not to be appropriated as a tool for easy comfort and self-satisfaction by the established, by the well-off, by those who worry life will be inconvenienced by pointing out that Black lives seem to still matter less in our unfinished society. His words were honed sharp by the depth of righteous rage at society's inequalities. And those dreams he dreamed are, and forever will be, dreams worth dreaming. We lost our teacher so many years ago, at the tender age of 39. But we have not lost his challenge to not search for consensus but to mold consensus by the power of our convictions.
We gather this morning to remind each other how to dream and how to act in Dr. King's spirit. For as he taught us, the way to uproot the persistent inequalities from within our society
"…is to [act] on the principle of love. …this is the only way as our eyes look to the future.” Dr. King called to us, so many years ago, to “look out across the years and across the generations, let us develop and move right here. We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we discover that we will be able to make of this old world a new world. We will be able to make [people] better…" (“Loving Your Enemies”, 1957)
Dear God, we know we have to do much better than we’re doing, that we have to be so much better to each other, better to our world if we are to share our prophet’s vision of a beloved community. We've got so much to do, and the good news is that we’ve got Your love waiting to pour out of us and into the world. We promise, Dear Lord – that, in memory of your prophet Dr. King, we’re going to rediscover Love, this greatest of all powers. Armed with this Divine Love, we know we are stronger than the accursed weapons on our streets. We know that the beauty we channel as Your children can defeat the rampant cynicism in our country. We know that within this sacred gathering there is more than enough power with which to see this great task done.
And so we pray:
- May we learn, Dear God, to reach again for that which is high.
- May we be blessed to pursue justice for all, to see when pieties and niceties fall short and protest is truly called for.
- May we remember, as Dr. King taught us, that “life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘what are you doing for others?’”
- May we remember the power of our convictions to change the world.
- May we pause to recognize the divine image in every human being, deeper than our uniforms, deeper than our skins, as deep as deep gets.
- May we be blessed to stand together - now and for eternity - with overflowing, unconditional light and love, for as Dr. King taught us: "Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that." (“I’ve been to the mountaintop, 1968)
- May we be worthy of the work ahead, and dare to see ourselves as carriers of this sacred prophetic work.