Martin Luther King's Other Dream

The forthcoming dedication of the national memorial monument honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., affords an opening for considering the complexity and meaning of his leadership. He was not the tamed and desiccated civil hero as often portrayed in the United States around the time of his birthday, celebrated as a national holiday. He was until the moment of his death raising issues that challenged the conventional wisdom on poverty and racism, but also concerning war and peace.

King was in St. Joseph's Infirmary, Atlanta, for exhaustion and a viral infection when it was reported that he would receive the 1964 Nobel Peace Prize. As Gary M. Pomerantz writes in Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn, this was the apparent cost exacted by intelligence surveillance efforts and the pressures of learning that Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy had formally approved wiretaps by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. His evolving strength as a leader is revealed in his remarks in Norway that December, which linked the nonviolent struggle of the U.S. civil rights movement to the entire planet's need for disarmament.

Tavis Smiley and Cornel West's 'Poverty Tour'

Broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornel West just wrapped up their 18-city "Poverty Tour." The aim of their trip, which traversed through Wisconsin, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and the Deep South was to "highlight the plight of the poor people of all races, colors, and creeds so they will not be forgotten, ignored, or rendered invisible." Although the trip has been met with a fair amount of criticism, the issue of poverty's invisibility in American media and politics is unmistakable. The community organizations working tirelessly to help America's poor deserve a great deal more attention than what is being given.

The main attack against the "Poverty Tour" is Smiley and West's criticism of Obama's weak efforts to tackle poverty. For me though, what I would have liked to see more is the collection of stories and experiences from the people West and Smiley met along their trip. The act of collective storytelling in and of itself can be an act of resistance.

Could the Riots in England Have Been Averted?

The rioting and rampages that spread across English cities last week have caused severe property destruction and raised public alarm. Writing in London's Guardian, community organizer Stafford Scott describes how he was among the group that on August 6 sought information from the police in Tottenham, a poorer section of London. They wanted an official statement on whether Mark Duggan had been killed by police bullets, as had been reported in the news.

All we really wanted was an explanation of what was going on. We needed to hear directly from the police. We waited for hours outside the station for a senior officer to speak with the family, in a demonstration led by young women. A woman-only delegation went into the station, as we wanted to ensure that this did not become confrontational. It was when the young women, many with children, decided to call it a day that the atmosphere changed, and guys in the crowd started to voice and then act out their frustrations.

This event is what most media accounts have identified as the spark that set England on fire, which has caught the world by surprise. Yet, says Scott, "If the rioting was a surprise, people weren't looking."

Deaths in Afghanistan: Robbing the World of Human Possibilities

I hate war. I do not hate it because people die. Death is inescapable. And believers believe that we will meet those we love again in heaven. I hate war with a perfect hatred because it causes suffering and robs the world of incalculable human possibilities. It pains the earth. It creates waste and the misallocation of resources.

Saturday, August 6, 30 Americans and eight Afghans were killed when Taliban insurgents shot down a Chinook transport helicopter. The New York Times called it: "the deadliest day for American forces in the nearly decade-long war in Afghanistan."

A Tribute to Mark O. Hatfield

1100808-markhatfieldMark O. Hatfield's political witness shaped a whole generation of students, teachers, pastors, and social activists in the evangelical community and beyond. The voice of Christians today who plead for social justice and peaceful alternatives to war would not have emerged with its strength and clarity in the 1970s without his leadership. His death underscores the vacuum of such spiritually rooted voices uncompromising in their commitments to peace and justice within the cacophony political rhetoric today.

One of my life's greatest privileges and joys was to work as an assistant to Senator Mark O. Hatfield for nearly a decade, from 1968 to 1977. I saw first-hand what courageous leadership, combined with unswerving compassion and civility, looked like within the political life of that turbulent and formative era. Those experiences are shared in my book, Unexpected Destinations (Eerdmans).

Palestinian Nonviolence: Muslims, Not Christians, Are the Leaders

100216_090527-1503-palestineWhenever I give talks on the effects of the Israeli occupation on Palestinian livelihood, the status of nonviolence as a means to resisting the occupation, and how I believe nonviolence is the only way to move forward to resolve the conflict and create a lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, one of the first and immediate questions I get from foreign visitors to my office in Bethlehem is, What you said is good, but what about the Muslims? Do they also believe in nonviolence? Do they understand it?" Even if I don't mention religion in my presentation -- and I rarely do -- this question always seems to make its way in our discussions.

Les Mis

I prefer my revolutions to be simple: A corrupt dictator/tyrant, an oppressed population, inspired reformers who risk their lives, calls for democracy, waves of marchers in the streets, background music from Les Misérables. The stories from Tunis and Cairo were epochal. The Arab spring was in full bloom as calls for participatory government could be heard from every corner of the Middle East.

Then there was Syria. The Assad government has been infamous in its intolerance to dissent. It is a military regime whose 30-year leadership under Hafez al-Assad (1930-2000) established it as one of the most severe in the region. In 2,000, after the death of Hafez, the world was intrigued to see his second son -- Bashar al-Assad -- ascend the throne. Bashar was an ophthalmologist who had studied in London, but because of his older brother's death in a car accident in 1994, he was called to follow his father. Bashar speaks English and French fluently and has been as critical of the U.S. as he has been of Israel.

Extremism, Terrorism, and the Attack in Norway

Similar to many of my Western counterparts, my first thoughts when I first heard about the attacks in Norway went to extreme Islamic terrorism. I had heard about the growing tensions in Scandinavia because of the increasing Muslim population and cultural shifts arising as a result. Thus, when I heard through a friend that a Norwegian school had been attacked, I assumed the attack to be a response from a Muslim terrorist group. I asked if it was al Qaeda or such other organization. My friend responded, "Probably." Thus, you can imagine my surprise when I saw the picture of the suspect who appeared very Scandinavian with fair skin and complexion.

According to the New York Times, the attacks in Oslo killed at least 92 people and the orchestrator left behind "a detailed manifesto outlining preparations and calling for Christian war to defend Europe against the threat of Muslim domination." If I had read that statement out of context, I would think one was talking about the Christian Crusades of the 12th century.

It's Time For Us to Grow Up and Sacrifice

The other day the mail brought an advertisement for something I desperately need (or so the ad suggested). If I ordered it right now, the ad said, I would save a hefty percentage off the usual price. In vain I searched the flyer for the price. None was listed -- not the total, not my monthly payment. I was apparently supposed to place my faith in the kindly marketers and order it anyway.

I guess I should be used to this sort of marketing. After all, that's how our federal government does business. Shall we a. fight a war in Iraq? b. add a war in Afghanistan? c. subsidize medical care for seniors and the poor? d. rescue failed financial institutions? e. subsidize growers of corn and soybeans? or f. fund interstate highways?