Death of Martin Luther King, April 4, 1968

On this date, April 4, 1968, pastor and civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King was killed in Memphis, Tennessee.  His last days were spent raising awareness of a sanitation workers strike.  The day before, April 3, 1968, he had delivered a passionate speech which later became titled, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop”. 

 

Much celebration is given to Dr. King’s birthday (January 15, 1929) but it seems appropriate to spend time reflecting upon his final moments and the loss that the world experienced in the blink of an eye.  Below is King historian, Taylor Branch’s account of King’s final moments on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel which are taken from Branch’s extensive book, “At Canaan’s Edge: American in the King Years 1965-68”, pages 765-766:

 

King walked ahead of Rev. Billy Kyles to look over the handrail outside, down on a bustling scene in the parking lot. Police undercover agent Marrell McCullough parked almost directly below, returning with James Orange and James Bevel from a shopping trip to buy overalls. Orange unfolded his massive frame from McCullough’s little blue Volkswagen, tussling with Bevel, and Andrew Young stepped up to rescue Bevel by shadow-boxing at a distance. King called down benignly from the floor above to be careful with preachers half his size. McCullough and Orange walked back to talk with two female college students who pulled in just behind them. Jesse Jackson emerged from the rehearsal room, which reminded King to extend his rapprochement. “Jesse, I want you to come to dinner with me,” he said.

Kyles, overhearing on his way down the balcony stairs, told King not to worry because Jackson already secured his invitation. Jackson does not try to bring his whole Breadbasket band, while Chauncey Eskridge was telling Jackson he should upgrade from turtleneck to necktie for dinner.  Jackson called up to King: “Doc, you remember Ben Branch?”. He said Breadbasket’s lead saxophonist and song leader was native to Memphis.

“Oh yes, he’s my man,” said King. “How are you, Ben?” Branch waved.  King recalled his signature number from Chicago. “Ben, make sure you play ‘Precious Lord, Take My Hand,’ in the meeting tonight,” he called down. “Play it real pretty.”

“Okay, Doc, I will.”

Solomon Jones, the volunteer chauffeur, called up to bring coats for a chilly night. There was no reply. Time on the balcony had turned lethal, which left hanging the last words fixed in a gospel song of refuge. King stood still for once, and his sojourn in earth went black.

 

If you are interested in having a copy of his speech, it is free from iTunes (just search for “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop).  Please take time today to reflect on the life of Dr. King and how each of us can continue to work towards harmony with one another.  “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” is a powerful speech where King’s cadence and inspiration stir the soul in hopefulness.  

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Prayer for hospitality in Jordan

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the people of Jordan who offer hospitality to their neighbors. Thank you that Jordanians see the Syrians as brothers and sisters in need and open their homes to keep them.

It seems like many people are refugees in our time. Please continue to open the hearts like those in this story to welcome strangers, feed the hungry and shelter the homeless. Your Son reminds us that those who practice hospitality are actually feeding and giving shelter to Himself.

Amen.

For Fleeing Syrians, Jordan Offers Bare-Bones Refuge
By Kelly McEvers, March 15, 2012.

If you’re trying to escape the turmoil in Syria for the calm in Jordan, you have two choices.

You can go the legal way. Just get in a car and try to drive across the border. But that’s not very easy these days. The Syrian government isn’t letting many people out.

Or you can try the illegal way. Wait until nightfall, climb through a barbed-wire fence. It sounds dodgy, but if you make it over, you’ll actually be welcomed by the Jordanian army. Troops will take your name, give you a drink of water, let you rest.

After that, though, you’re on your own. You might end up in an apartment building that’s become a kind of holding pen for hundreds of Syrians near the border.

About 20 men are staying in one room of the run-down building. They all came from the same village in southern Syria. They don’t want the name revealed, because they are afraid the Syrian government might find out they’ve escaped and punish their families back home.

A Familiar Story

Their story is similar to those of many others who have fled the troubled country. About a month ago, a group of soldiers from their village defected from the Syrian army, refusing to fight for the government. They came back home and started defending their village against security forces, who were, according to these men, arresting and torturing anyone suspected of opposing the government.

One man who wanted to be identified only as Abu Ammar says defectors managed to take control of the village for about 15 days. Then the army stormed it with tanks and mortars, and some of the men fled to Jordan.

The only assistance the men can get right now is at a private Islamic charity. Recent arrivals crowd around the bearded director of the charity. He tells the men he has no cash to help with the rent, but he can provide bags of food.

This is the problem for refugees in Jordan. On the one hand, Jordan is more open to new arrivals than any other country that borders Syria. Yet the government doesn’t have much to offer.

Jordan is already a country of refugees. It has hosted Palestinian refugees for decades. And hundreds of thousands of Iraqis came here after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Jordan calls them guests and allows them to go to government schools and hospitals for free.

But its resources are limited.

Calls For Help

Andrew Harper, who heads the Jordan office for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, says the U.S. and other countries should provide assistance.

“Jordan can only do so much. Jordan suffers from a lack of infrastructure, it has a very young population, it doesn’t have very much water,” he says. “I spoke to some Jordanians who basically had their own family, and they also had two other families there. And they’re saying, ‘We’re doing what we need to do, because we should do this.’ But there’s only so long they can do this.”

Jordanian analyst Yasar Qatarneh says regardless of whether it gets international assistance, Jordan has to walk a fine line with its stance on Syria.

No one is sure what will happen in Syria. Will Bashar Assad’s government survive or fall? And even if it does fall, Qatarneh says, Jordan’s rulers don’t want to see their neighbor ruled by Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood.

“We cannot remain silent to what our brothers in Syria are facing under the Assad regime, yet at the same time we don’t want to replace Assad’s regime to have a puppet regime in the hands of the Muslim Brothers,” Qatarneh said.

Jordan has its own outspoken branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, though they have not engaged in violence. While the Syrian opposition is not currently dominated by Islamist parties, Qatarneh says Jordan, like all countries with interests in what happens in Syria, is planning for all possibilities.

Rima Marrouch and Sean Carberry contributed to this story.

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Prayer

Prayer
by Marie Howe

Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention—the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage

I need to buy for the trip.
Even now I can hardly sit here

among the falling piles of paper and clothing, the garbage trucks outside
already screeching and banging.

The mystics say you are as close as my own breath.
Why do I flee from you?

My days and nights pour through me like complaints
and become a story I forgot to tell.

Help me. Even as I write these words I am planning
to rise from the chair as soon as I finish this sentence.

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An extremist for love in the Middle East

Heavenly Father,

Teach us to be extremists for the Gospel. Teach us to mirror heroes of the faith like the Apostle Paul who did whatever it took to communicate your message to his audience.

Remove from us division an hostility. Teach us to understand before being understood. Remove from us bitterness and hatred of our enemies.

The Middle East and the world are in dire need of creative and peaceful extremists. Please show us how to be this.

Amen.

“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 Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”

“Perhaps the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we be. We we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremist for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment.”

Martin Luther King in Letter From a Birmingham Jail”.

In Gaza, Calls for Change Put Hamas at a Crossroad.
By Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, March 14, 2012.

The Islamist movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, is a house divided. Its leaders say there are divisions among the ranks as they try to grapple with where to push the movement: toward moderation or a continued commitment to armed resistance against Israel.

Omar Shaban, a Gaza-based political analyst, wonders where Hamas is headed in the next two to three years. He says the changes in the region after the Arab Spring not only shook the world, but they also forced groups like Hamas to reassess where they stand, in terms of old alliances and future direction.

“Hamas is living in the Middle East; they don’t live in a vacuum,” Shaban says. “Hamas has to cope with or respond to these new challenges. This has created a lot of debate within [the] Hamas movement itself.”

Debate And Disagreements

Hamas is filled with contradictions.

On the one hand, it is a Sunni Muslim group that was supported by Shiite Iran; until recently it had its base in Alawite-controlled Syria. It is viewed as a terrorist organization by the West and Israel, responsible for suicide bombings and rocket attacks. But it is also a government, administrating the lives of 1.6 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

If you were to visit Hamas leader Ahmed Yousef in Gaza, you’ll hear of a Hamas that is now willing to turn away from armed resistance.

“Because of the situation now because of the Arab revolution … we shouldn’t give the Israelis any excuse to continue their incursion or aggression against us,” Yousef says. “That’s why we resort to this nonviolent approach or the popular peaceful resistance; we hope the world community will respond positively to what we are doing.”

But go to see Mahmoud Zahar, one of Hamas’ founders, and the message is very different.

“Hamas is still committed to its principles as a liberating movement [and] freedom fighters,” Zahar says.

These fault lines also extend to where Hamas will get its support.

Last month in Cairo, the group publicly broke with its erstwhile benefactor Syria, saying it supported the right of the people there to get rid of the Assad regime. That angered Iran, one of Syria’s biggest backers, and up until recently the country that provided the most money to Hamas.

But after the revolutions in the Middle East, Hamas is not looking to Tehran anymore but to Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas was founded as an offshoot of the brotherhood, and its leaders are looking to strengthen that relationship. Hamas now says it won’t intervene in any conflict between Iran and Israel over Tehran’s suspected nuclear weapons program.

Promoting Change

The man leading the charge toward change is Khaled Meshaal, Hamas’ long-exiled political leader. He’s been pushing reconciliation with the rival Fatah movement, which holds sway in the West Bank.

Yousef, the Hamas leader, sees Meshaal as a positive force in Hamas.

“I think what Khaled Meshaal has done is something great and he should be respected for that,” he says.

But Zahar, the group’s founder, is unhappy at many of Meshaal’s recent decisions and says he is happy the political leader is stepping down.

“He spent more than 17 years as chairman of Hamas movement,” Zahar says. “I think it is good for him to leave now.”

Whatever the divisions, though, most Hamas members agree the Arab Spring has been good for the movement. Political Islam is on the rise throughout the region and Hamas leaders have traveled extensively.

Analyst Talal Okal in Gaza predicts the closer Hamas gets to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the more moderate it will become.

“The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has moderate politics … so [what] they want from Hamas [is] to moderate its political program to have reconciliation,” Okal says. “They are not encouraging violence against Israel.”

But Okal warns the upheaval in the region is far from over, and Hamas is still deciding its future.

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A prayer for hospitality in Turkey

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for the kindness that many of the Turkish people have shown to the strangers in their land. It seems that all over your world, strangers are in need and hospitality is needed. Not only in Turkey, grant patience to those who are giving food and shelter to the wandering.

Here in America, help us provide for the needs of the displaced and those that are seeking sanctuary. Who knows why people are outcast or leave their homes but give us resources that we can help provide for their concerns. In doing so, we know that we are actually giving food and shelter to you.

Amen.

Syrian Refugees May Be Wearing Out Turks’ Welcome.
By Sean Carberry, March 11, 2012

It could be a scene from almost any school in the world: rows of young kids reciting their lessons, the girls dressed in shades of pink and sporting Hello Kitty backpacks, the boys in dark clothing, looking a little restless.

But this makeshift school is in a concrete farmhouse on the outskirts of Antakya, in southern Turkey’s Hatay province near the border with Syria. And the 156 students — aged 6 to 13 — are all refugees from cities and towns across Syria.

The school has been in this house only for two weeks. Before that, students attended classes in a public park because the Turkish government kicked them out of a previous building.

Mustafa Shakir is a school administrator and imam from the Syrian city of Latakia. He’s cofounder of this school, which started out four months ago with 15 students in his apartment in Antakya.

“When we started thinking about the school, we felt that our kids shouldn’t be out in the streets or watching the news,” Shakir says. “And we feel this is part of the revolution, our duty now is to make schools and educate the children.”

Shakir says that Syrian President Bashar Assad is trying to break his country’s people, and educating the children will make the revolution stronger.

Expanding Services For Refugees

Nearly 12,000 Syrians are living in camps in Hatay province, with several thousand more outside the camps. The school in Antakya city, for example, serves the nearly 250 Syrian families living there. Syrians are getting other services, too, including health care, and are setting up more schools and clinics of their own.

But all of this has led their Turkish hosts to start questioning how long they want their guests around.

Wael Kurdy, a 24-year-old Syrian who arrived in Turkey last year, is one of a small group of young doctors and medical students looking after wounded Syrians. During the day, he visits Syrian patients in Turkish hospitals. Kurdy often spends evenings in a cafe across the street from the city’s public hospital.

On a recent night, the young doctor flips through a stack of receipts and patient records. He says few of the Syrians are getting appropriate medical care.

His phone rings. It’s a Syrian woman who says her medication has run out and wants his help getting more.

“We decided to make a public clinic for the refugees outside the camps. This came from our own experience here,” says Kurdy, who fled Syria last July after being arrested for protesting the Assad regime. “My mother was sick and I didn’t know where to take her.”

The small clinic is located in a bottom-floor apartment in a residential neighborhood where cats and chickens roam the dirt streets.

Abu Baha, one of the doctors there, says there are many Syrian patients in the hospitals, but the clinic has only six beds. “We intend to rent a bigger building,” he says.

Turks’ Frustration Growing

Some Turks in Hatay province are starting to lose patience with the refugees. While many say they don’t mind or even notice the Syrians, a recent feature in a local paper quoted business owners who said they are fed up. They are losing money because unrest on the border has dampened tourism in the province. And some locals are starting to feel they are being taken advantage of by the refugees.

Yasar Altunay runs a small grocery a few blocks from the clinic.

“We’ve done all this to help them in any way we can, but it’s like they expect it,” he says.

He says he and other locals have cosigned leases, provided phone and Internet service to the refugees, and given them food. He has rented out his properties to a number of Syrian activists.

“They can take a house and turn it into a barn in the matter of a month,” he says. “My hope is that things go back to some sense of normalcy in Syria and they can go back, and it will be better for Turkey and our economy.”

But it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen anytime soon. For now, the kids at the makeshift school seem perfectly happy just being kids, running around the little playground. And the teachers hope the Turkish government will let them keep the school running as long as needed.

[Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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A prayer for restorative justice for teenagers

Heavenly Father,

Please help us to see our biases. Help us to realize what we are doing if and when we treat our children differently and unfairly. Father, I do not fear that we will overlook wrongdoing but I fear that we will overreact to wrongdoing.

Our homes and neighborhoods are not all conducive to raising healthy children. I wonder how many children that are punished in the systems described below are more products if their environment than individuals who act under their own free will.

May we find creative ways to bring up children that love you. May we find ways to better respond to destructive behaviors without further damaging our souls and community. May we find ways of restorative justice which can bring back offenders into the community.

Report: Minority Students Receive Harsher Punishments
by Eyder Peralta

A new report from the Education Department finds that minority students receive much harsher punishment than their white counterparts. The report finds that more than 70 percent of cases referred to police in school-related issues involved black or Hispanic students.

The AP reports:

“Black students are more than three times as likely as their white peers to be suspended or expelled, according to an early snapshot of the report released to reporters. The findings come from a national collection of civil rights data from 2009-10 of more than 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of the nation.

“‘The sad fact is that minority students across America face much harsher discipline than non-minorities, even within the same school,’ Education Secretary Arne Duncan told reporters.

“Duncan said some school officials might not have been aware of inconsistencies in how they handle discipline, and he hoped the report would be an eye-opener.”

The report also found that fully 35 percent of students arrested were black and 37 were Hispanic. “Black students made up 18% of the students in the sample, but they were 35% of students suspended once and 39% of students expelled, the report said,” the AP adds.

The New York Times drills down into the statistics and finds that black males especially face tough punishment. The Times reports:

“One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.

“And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies.

“‘Education is the civil rights of our generation,’ said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. ‘The undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.'”

That number — the one of expulsions under zero-tolerance policies — are important, because one would expect them to be somewhat proportional to the student population.

The American Civil Liberties Union told the Times they find those numbers especially troubling because they “show that students of color and students with disabilities are increasingly being pushed out of schools, oftentimes into the criminal justice system.”

Duncan will deliver remarks about the report later today. The full report is expected to be released then.

[Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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Coffee d’Vine- A Sanctuary

Before the meeting room inside of Coffee d’Vine was built, the large wooden table by the mirror sat in the room’s footprint. Bookshelves and tables filled the remaining half of room by the fireplace. The other half of the room was more tables, chairs and the comfy furniture. The Beatles, Deliriou5, David Wilcox or classical music created an audible spine for the room. Several poster boards with senior pictures and newborn babies pictures were on the wall near the ramp.

The first owners of Coffee d’Vine, Bob and Cristi Sloan, were pastor-shepherds. They talked about Jesus, music, books, ministry and movies and wanted teenagers to loiter outside and didn’t mind them smoking in the parking lot. “I’d rather have them here than somewhere else,” one of them would say.

Their hearts were warm.

They were leading a movement.

They created a sanctuary for all sorts of people.

Rising early and reading has been my pattern since college, but in the fall of 2003, I developed an additional habit: morning coffee. At the large table, in the same seat with the same view, I sat and warmed my spirit for the coming day with Northern Lights. On difficult mornings, an extra shot darkened the coffee.

The other usuals eventually arrived for sanctuary and conversation: Robert with the newspaper, the tall man with the refillable mug, the man who sat on the leather couch, the dental assistants, the drive-thrus and the men who talked politics.

Other than my home, Coffee d’Vine was the holiest retreat in Huntington — a place where I met and talked with God through the Journal Gazette, Merton’s wanderings, Earnest Gaines’ old men, Wangerin’s mice and hens, Dostoyevsky’s Alyosha, Bonhoeffer’s grace, Buechner’s peculiar treasures, John Lewis’ walk over the Edmund Pettus Bridge and reading after reading of John’s Gospel.

I and others are indebted to Bob and Cristi for creating a sanctuary. For the many friends and strangers, we thank you for caring about Huntington. We thank you for creating a place to meet with one another, meet with ourselves and meet with the Father.

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