MLK: Live blog-ish, part 1.

For an explanation of this odd project, please read here.

Preface – Dr. King opens Strength to Love with a sketch of the world in which he was writing, reminding his readers of the urgency of the moment:

In these turbulent days of uncertainty the evils of war and of economic and racial injustice threaten the very survival of the human race. Indeed, we live in a day of grave crisis. The sermons in this volume have the present crisis as their background; and they have been selected for this volume because, in one way or another, they deal with the personal and collective problems that the crisis presents.

The immediacy of these opening words was like a kick to my head. This is his voice, writing about his own work, telling people why he was doing what he was doing — and the recollection: Oh yes, that’s right. From the late 1950s through to the early 1980s, Americans (and Soviets) lived in varying degrees of fear that we were all about to annihilate each other.

And then this:

I have been rather reluctant to have a volume of sermons printed. My misgivings have grown out of the fact that a sermon is not an essay to be read but a discourse to be heard. It should be a convincing appeal to a listening congregation. Therefore, a sermon is directed toward the listening ear rather than the reading eye.

This is something that feels very close to me. The mechanics of writing, the shape and the structure and the music, differ depending on audience and medium, and certainly on method of transmission. As a writer, it thrills me to read his hesitation, to hear King all but mutter under his breath: “this is not a good idea!”

While I have tried to rewrite these sermons for the eye, I am convinced that this venture could never be entirely successful. So even as this volume goes to press I have not altogether overcome my misgivings.

When I read the words of King’s speeches, I hear his cadances — “I have a DREAM to-day. I have a dream that ONE day, DOOWWN in Alabama…” — so it was interesting for me to see that the further into the book I read, the less I hear of those tones, the more I see the balance of this phrase with that, the weight of this word over the other, the framework of an opening, followed by three sections, telescoping out into each other and leading to a conclusion. For all his concerns, King’s written words almost build themselves before your eyes.

And oh my, the elegance of it! “In these turbulent days of uncertainty the evils of war and of economic and racial injustice threaten the very survival of the human race.… I am not convinced that this venture could ever be entirely successful….” The word geek in me sits up a little straighter, and looks askance at my tendency to replicate the patterns of casual speech. Not to mention all the cursing.

I have a feeling Dr. King would not approve of my cursing.

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1 Comment

  1. While Doctor King was right in one sense, I believe he was wrong in another. While a sermon, or any piece of writing, really, is meant for the eye, to read it aloud allows us to evoke the feelings and emotions in the words. It also allows us to put our own imprint on them, to make them our own. This is important, if we are to change people’s minds with regards to war, poverty, famine, disease, climate change, and the other ills of the world and human society. Dr. King’s words are still stirring, but they must live beyond the man, in our hearts. We must absorb them, understand them; he was the gardener who planted the seed, and we are gardeners who must tend it and make it grow.

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