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Blog Post: Creating Tension - MLK Day

January 18, 2022

By Pastor Jeff Fox-Kline

One of the last things I did before the world shifted was to take a family vacation to Atlanta. In this trip I had the honor of visiting the childhood home of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. I visited the King Center and Dr. King’s tomb. I spent time in Ebenezer Baptist Church, where he served as pastor, taking the reins from his father. I prayed in the pews, imagined his words echoing off the walls.

It was all very striking, but none more so than the reflecting pool at the King Center, in the center of which he and his wife Coretta are interred.

Cascading down the pool is a reference to Amos 5:24: "But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream."

Reflecting Pool,

The waters roll down the pool and coalesce around the grave.

Justice and righteousness. They pool around the body of a man who is likely the single most important American to the cause of elevating the oppressed. He pursued justice, it rolled down from him to the people he loved, the people he sought to lift.

We continue to seek that. Justice that rolls, not trickles. Righteousness that is as an ever-flowing stream. An unending outpouring of God’s vision for the world.

We seek that justice, though we do so imperfectly. We look for righteousness, but we continually stumble.

And we’ll continue to stumble if we remain intentionally ignorant of the things that we need to change in order to do so.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was unequivocal, challenging, and offensive. He said things that were unkind.

The Letter from a Birmingham Jail is my favorite piece of his writing because of this fact. I bring this up as often as I have occasion to. I will keep bringing this up until it becomes untrue.

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action"; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a "more convenient season." Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

I will keep bringing this up not because I think it applies to you but because I know it applies to me. And possibly you, and probably many people you know. I will fall into this trap all the time. Because ‘an absence of tension’ is not risky to me, but working for a ‘positive peace’ could make things difficult. And it’s because of this that I share that passage. I want to be held accountable for the times when I slip. I want there to be a risk in maintaining the ‘absence of tension’, because it is far more costly than whatever else may happen. I want to get swept up in the waters of justice and righteousness. And I want you to come with me.


Jeff Fox-Kline

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