Until that Day: Remarks at the Berkeley City
Martin Luther King Jr. Breakfast 2016
© Rabbi Menachem Creditor
We are here as a city united for a moment. This beautiful morning is a brief episode of togetherness inspired by your servant, Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We thank you for the food before us and the fellowship surrounding us.
But we know You know, God, that the Beloved Community Dr. King called us to build is hardly here. Those who labored to bring us together deserve our praise, and we offer them at least that. But we know, we know, God… We are barely at the foot of that mountain.
We know this because the clinking silverware bringing abundant food to our mouths is only for those who can pay to come. We know this because this lovely room we share for this sacred occasion has locks on the door.
More than that, God, more than that.
We know this morning isn’t enough because citizens of Flint, Michigan have poison water in their very homes and Americans have the poison of hatred in our ears. We know this because we still haven’t learned how to love each other, black and white, gay and straight, rightly and well. Our silence in the face of these things, as Dr. King taught us, is nothing less than betrayal.
The world You’ve call us to build leaves no one hungry. The Beloved Community needs no locks. The America our teacher, Dr. King, died loving is supposed to be a safe home for those seeking safety and refuge. This Nation is not yet what it is supposed to be, and so we turn to You.
Your servant Dr. Martin 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 County 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, willfully-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 middle-class or upper-class working-poor, or impoverished-class, but the defining American dream which lifts up those who are bowed down: the abiding American dream of liberty and justice - for all.
There is a love deep within us, Dear God, a deep, flowing love, a love Martin Luther King Jr described as an “overflowing love which is purely spontaneous, unmotivated, groundless, and creative… a love in which the individual seeks not his own good, but the good of his neighbor. [it does] not begin by discriminating between worthy and unworthy people, or any qualities people possess. It begins by loving others for their sakes.”
And so we stand before You, Dear God, because we must learn that Love. It is well within our reach, tucked into our very souls. We know it is. We place our hands on our own hearts and feel an overwhelming Love, God. We know that’s You, the gentle presence of our own beating, aching hearts.
But it can be hard to feel so fiercely so often. We can become pressed down by a world too much with us, a world where the racism, poverty and militarism Dr. King railed against are so very present.
We have some glimmers of hope, here and there, for which we offer tears of gratitude, but we stand before You today because there are also crucial truths that should be self-evident and are not so evident in our country.
We turn to you to breathe ever more of Your Spirit into us because some of us find we cannot breathe, the arms of power constricting our ability to call out for justice, and we know well that human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere.
We turn to you, Dear God, in the hopes that our elected officials, public servants, and engaged citizens can together rebuild a trust eroded by a surplus of the weaponry of war on our city streets and a prison system and a drug war and sentencing laws that casually - and we pray, thoughtlessly - perpetuate a racism that systematically ignores your Divine Image in black and brown Americans. We turn to you because Dr. King’s dream has yet to be fulfilled.
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.
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.
We have miles and miles to go before a celebratory breakfast is truly deserved.
Until the day when our love overflows in the streets instead of our blood;
Until the day our bruised hands are raised up in gratitude for the work we’ve done together and not in fear of each other;
Until the day every one of Your Images, God, can lay down and not be afraid,
Until the day, Dear God, we see You in each other’s eyes and take risks to to create an ascending spiral Love and Compassion in our Beloved Community,
Until that day, God, we will pray and we will march and we will see You in other’s eyes, expanding our circles of belonging until we remember we all belong to You.
And so, friends, let us pray that we do something worthy tomorrow, not just say amen to lovely words today.