I was first assigned to read "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" in my sophomore year of high school, 40 years after Martin Luther King Jr. scribbled it down on the margins of a spare newspaper in his jail cell.
I rolled my eyes and sighed an angsty, teenaged sigh when I clicked "print' and 13 dense pages spit out-- but minutes later, I was eating up every word through tear-blurred eyes. His courageous passion is incredibly contagious:
Though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label.
Was not Jesus an extremist for love: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.'
...Was not Martin Luther an extremist: 'Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God.'
And John Bunyan: 'I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.'
And Abraham Lincoln: 'This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.'
And Thomas Jefferson: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...'
So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?
...Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be coworkers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.
We can all think of ways to implement these words into our life; I won't flatter myself by following King's words with an opinionated priority list of today's global injustices. If we all exhibit an ounce of this man's bravery, by listening to our conscience instead of the social and legal status quo, there is no way the world won't become a more just and peaceful place.
Read the whole letter at http://www.mlkonline.net/jail.html
(Photo from here.)