Thursday, May 30, 2013

Reflections on Past Influences: Martin Luther King ... Part I

The final lecture in the recent series I attended  was an informative and fascinating study of the American Civil Rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King. The lecture was given by Professor Hilary  Russell from John Moores University, Liverpool.

The Vicar began the evening by playing a clip from the movie ‘In the Heat of the Night”. The clip was very effective in explaining and depicting the relationship between the black man and his white counter-part in the American south in the early 60’s and possibly up to the present time in some places.

The Martin Luther King who arrived in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954 did not have civil rights activism on his agenda. Brought up in Atlanta, the son of the pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church, he had been educated at Boston University and was still working on his doctoral thesis in philosophical theology. The church he went to in Montgomery was proud of its access to the white establishment and, therefore, access to political power. The congregation may have hoped for an end to discrimination, but offered no challenge to the status quo.

Professor Russell picked three events to illustrate King’s spiritual journey and his evolving thinking.
Martin Luther King’s journey toward non-violent activism began with the arrest of Rosa Parks in December 1955 for refusing to sit in the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white man. The result of this refusal was a bus boycott by blacks. King became the President of the boycott group, the Montgomery Improvement Association. It was the first step toward becoming the leader of the Civil Rights Movement. The boycott continued for 382 days when King himself was arrested, abused and had his home bombed.

When King arrived in Montgomery he was not a pacifist; he believed the only solution would be armed revolt. However, during the bus boycott he had an intense spiritual experience in the midst of a period of great harassment and personal fear. While praying at his kitchen table, in the depths of despair, he experienced the presence of God as he never had before. His fears left him and he had new strength and resolve and he was now clearer about the real goal. Three days later he authorized his lawyer to challenge the segregation laws. “Segregation is evil and I cannot, as a minister, condone evil.” He was also determined to meet violence with non-violence and to resist pressure from others in the black community who were impatient for change.

The second experience came in 1963 from jail when King responded to a letter from white clergy in Birmingham, Alabama who took issue with King for being an ‘outsider’ causing trouble in the streets of Birmingham. In response, King wrote famously, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly... Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider...” When the clergy accused the civil rights movement of being extreme, King argued that Jesus and other heroes were extremists, “So the question is not whether we will be extremist, but what kind of extremists will we be. Will we be extremists for hate or love?”

In Part 2 I will discuss the “I have a dream” speech and my own personal reflections of that event.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Martin Buber -- "I and Thou"

In 1925 the Austrian philosopher, Martin Buber, published his best known work, I and thou which explored the way humanity relates to the world. Last Thursday I attended a lecture that was an absorbing look at the book as well as a study of the man who wrote it.

(Photo courtesy of wikipedia)
We began by looking at this photograph of Buber and many of us gave our impressions of the face that seemed to be looking back very directly at us. To some he seems to have a piercing even mesmerizing gaze. As those eyes interrogate you, they also engage with you and seem to invite you to come on a journey to a better understanding ... The discussion which followed was to discover something of what that understanding was and to clarify Buber’s philosophy by looking at the man. A man who believed that ­real life was about meeting and actual life was about encounter; that the mystical is in the here and now.

Vienna at the time Buber was growing up was a hub of culture and anti-Semitism. His father was a famous scholar and a member of the Zionist movement. By the age of 26, Buber was a student of Chassidic texts and greatly influenced by them. He would have believed that learning is about enlightenment, not about finding a job. He would have believed learning is religious. He also believed in “Tikkum Olam” which is a classical Hebrew doctrine, a pragmatic approach to repairing the world: What’s gone wrong we try to fix. One cannot understand Buber without understanding his emphatically Jewish perception of the world.

Martin Buber is difficult to read. He did not wish to be read quickly and so he tries to slow the reader down. Modern man always in a hurry often fails to read well. He was concerned that we recognize life’s meaning where we are addressed by God as ‘Thou’.

In I and Thou Buber talks about two kinds of relationships: ‘the I-it’ relationship where we use each other to get things done. For example, I want to learn about Martin Buber so I go to the Vicar’s lecture to learn about him!  The Vicar asks me to write about the lecture. Most of our relationships are ‘I-it’ relationships.

The second kind of relationship is ‘I-thou’­. This kind of relationship cannot be engineered or organized. Buber wrote with surprising sensuality and intimacy about I-thou relationships in describing the mystical translated through the ‘every day’. He said “The Sabbath is every day, several times a day.”

Our relationship with God is an ‘I-thou’ relationship. God is the “Eternal Thou”. The ‘sacred’ is here and now and the only God worth keeping is a God which cannot be kept and cannot be seen, but can be listened to in the present. Jews do not visualize God, though they do ‘personalize’ Him. God is to be ‘heard’ or ‘listened to’. God as a person is indispensible. If we can have an ‘I-Thou’ relationship, it cannot be less than personal. God cannot be an object. This is why most Christians do not understand the Jewish objection to the incarnation. God penetrates events in our lives. Event upon event calls upon the human person to endure to be open to the demand of the Divine because “where there is a need there is an obligation.”

The complex and absorbing meeting ended with the moral demand of Tikkun Olam: the duty of repairing the world, little bit by little bit.

Since the lecture last week, I have found some additional and intriguing quotes from the work of Martin Buber, which I think are worth contemplation.

The world is not divine sport, it is divine destiny. There is divine meaning in the life of the world, of man, of human persons, of you and of me.

Creation happens to us, burns itself into us, recasts us in burning — we tremble and are faint, we submit. We take part in creation, meet the Creator, reach out to Him, helpers and companions.

Through the Thou a person becomes I

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Eye'll" Be Seeing You!

Way back on the 27th of November I wrote about my eyes and that I was in the pipeline to have my cataracts removed. It was not too long after that appointment that I received a letter from the NHS to report to the Cataract Clinic for an assessment. This appointment was at the end of January. It's been an interesting NHS experience.

The Eye surgeon that I saw on this appointment agreed that it was time to have the cataracts removed. He then asked me where I wanted to have the surgery done. I was rather flummoxed by this question because I had not idea that I had a choice about 'where' nor did I have any idea where the 'where's' were, let alone which one to choose. So I asked, didn't they do the surgery. Oh, yes, they did and he named a hospital about 10 miles away where this surgery was done. I said I would have it done there.

After speaking to him, I was then seen by a nurse who went through details of the procedure and said I would be hearing from them with an appointment for the first operation. The second eye would be done about 6 weeks after the first. Throughout February and most of March I heard nothing. I hadn't expected the wait to be so long...

Because of the impending operations, I had told many people that I would not be able to promise to do this or that in case the hospital wanted me for the 'laser'! One day after church, a friend approached me and said she understood I was not available to work on the Art Exhibition this year. I explained to her that I couldn't make a definite commitment, but that if I could be there I would be. My friend was a former head-mistress. She looked at me sternly and said,

"Where are you having the operation?"

I told her.

A pained look crossed over her face. "You don't want to have it done there... I had mine done at Drayton House. They are wonderful." She then proceeded to parade me around the parish centre meeting all the people in the congregation that had had their eyes done at Drayton House! They all agree that the named hospital was a terrible place to go!

Not only was the hospital several miles away, but Drayton House was walking distance from where I live. So I had a good excuse when I called the Clinic to explain that I wanted them to refer me to Drayton House instead. I was astonished to learn that there were several other places where I could have this work done -- all private clinics/hospitals -- all paid by the NHS! I asked to be referred to Drayton house. This was on the 2nd of April. On the 16th of April I had an appointment at Drayton House for Monday 13th May.

I went for my appointment this past Monday and by the time I left had an appointment for my first operation on the 10th of June! The second operation should be done about two weeks later instead of the usual 6 weeks because one eye will have near perfect vision and the discrepancy  would make it very difficult with me to balance my eyes out.

There has been a lot in the news of late about the NHS farming out work to the private sector. The pros and cons of this have caused quite a debate. I don't quite understand all the ins and outs of this debate. I expect it has to do with money and with whether or not the doctors are NHS doctors getting paid as private doctors. It would seem that the private clinics around here have a much better reputation that the NHS hospital. I never got a date from the NHS when I was on their list --  over two months. Within two months of being referred to Drayton house I will have had my surgery.

As for the Art Exhibition -- I'll be working on that from the 7th-9th of June!