Some less frequently quoted words from Reverend King

Because as powerful as the “I Have a Dream” speech is, many of Martin Luther King, Jr’s other words were powerful, too.

“A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, ‘This way of settling differences is not just.’ This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”
“Beyond Vietnam,” Riverside Church, New York

 “For here on either side of the wall are God’s children and no man-made barrier can obliterate that fact. Whether it be East or West, men and women search for meaning, hope for fulfillment, yearn for faith in something beyond themselves, and cry desperately for love and community to support them in this pilgrim journey.”
Sermon at St. Mary’s Church, East Berlin

“It’s possible that those men were afraid. You see, the Jericho Road is a dangerous road … And you know, it’s possible that the priest and the Levite looked over that man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around … And so the first question that the priest asked, the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”
“I’ve Been to the Mountaintop,” Bishop Charles Mason Temple, Memphis

“We should never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was ‘legal’ and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was ‘illegal.’ It was ‘illegal’ to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler’s Germany. Even so, I am sure that, had I lived in Germany at the time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers.”
“Letter from Birmingham Jail”

“But there was never a conflict between religion and science as such. There cannot be. Their respective worlds are different. Their methods are dissimilar and their immediate objectives are not the same. The method of science is observation, that of religion contemplation. Science investigates. Religion interprets. One seeks causes, the other ends. Science thinks in terms of history, religion in terms of teleology. One is a survey, the other an outlook.”
“Science and Religion”

“We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight.”
“Beyond Vietnam,” Riverside Church, New York

 “Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was ‘well timed’ in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation. For years now I have heard the word ‘Wait!’ It rings in the ear of every Negro with piercing familiarity. This ‘Wait’ has almost always meant ‘Never.’ We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that ‘justice too long delayed is justice denied.’”
“Letter from Birmingham Jail”

“On some positions cowardice asks the question, ‘is it safe?’ Expediency asks the question, ‘is it politic?’ Vanity asks the question, ‘is it popular?’ But conscience asks the question, ‘is it right?’ And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but he must take it because conscience tells him it is right.”
“A Proper Sense of Priorities,” Washington, DC

The Rise of Skywalker: New hopes, old choices, and spoilers

I have a fondness for seeing worlds torn apart.

Fictional worlds, that is.

I’m not talking about post-apocalyptic fiction, though I enjoy the genre and have even written in it. I’m talking in the broader sense, when a fictional world is built on assumptions that the reader or viewer comes to accept, and then those assumptions get questioned, and one way or another it becomes clear they cannot hold.

When I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens, I loved it for affirming a science fantasy world that I’d loved since elementary school. But when I saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi, I loved it for questioning that world, for showing characters I loved as flawed, for giving us the sense that the Jedi, in their way, were as problematic as the Sith, or at the least, problematic enough that a something had to give, to change.

When Luke Skywalker said the Jedi had to end, he seemed to have a point. And at the very end of the movie, when we saw an unnamed young stable sweeper using the force, without training and without any apparent danger, I saw what seemed to be the first hints of a new world, a new way of looking at the force and its place in the world, and what it was for and who it belonged to.

After all, we’ve been hearing for ages about the need to bring balance to the force. Perhaps balance meant moving beyond the rigid dichotomy of Sith and Jedi, of black and white, of starkly clear-cut good and evil.

So I settled in to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker with hopes that I was about to see this universe that had for so long been a part of my life undergo a fundamental, mythic transformation.

Perhaps I should have known better.

But for much of the movie, it seemed the story was heading just that way. Time and again, Rey found third options, alternate solutions, instead of going with the standard attack or retreat, fight or flight responses I’d come to expect.  She got creative, thought outside the teachings of the first eight movies, and even, in the end, figured out that the force could be used for healing, not just for inflicting damage and teleporting small objects and convincing the occasional stormtrooper that you’re not worth bothering with. (I’ve long thought that magical healers and magical warriors must have, at the core, the same basic magic.)

And then there were Rey and Kylo, both closer to the middle than the edges of their respective orders, so close they could fight back to back, surely poised to set that fundamental change in motion.

But in the end, the final battle is literally a battle between all the Sith that ever existed and all the Jedi that ever existed. If the Jedi fought defensively, and with love rather than hate, in the end it was still their greater power that won the day.

A friend who writes tie-in novels for another fictional universe once told me that he had the freedom to do whatever he wanted, so long as he put everything back where it started by the last page.

I felt like this is what happened in The Rise of Skywalker, which is in retrospect unsurprising for a franchise with many more stories to tell.

I enjoyed the movie, which may not be clear from all I’ve said about it so far. At times I enjoyed it a lot. There are bits that I’m squeeeeeing about in various forums, even now. The importance of chosen family. The fact that the force can heal. Jedi master Leia Organa. Flying stormtroopers. C3POs sacrifice. A certain Wookiee, receiving his medal at last.

The importance of remembering we’re not alone, no matter what fear tries to tell us.

Yet in the final moments of The Rise of Skywalker, that unknown stablehand is forgotten. Rey buries Luke and Leia’s lightsabers, letting me think, for just a moment more, that maybe everything was going to change after all. Then Rey pulls out her own lightsaber, consciously chooses Team Skywalker over Team Palpatine, and the status quo—a dichotomous world with two choices and two sides, is affirmed.

The universe I’ve long loved was still there, intact.

Unchanging and unchanged.

Overheard

One person walks up to another in a local coffeeshop.

“Are you ———?”
”Yes, I am.”
”I’m ———. Twenty years ago you saved my life.”
”Well. I’m glad you’re still here.”

The first person proceeds to share photos of his daughter, who is now starting college, with the second.

I know no more than that.

Well, no more except that the world is a strange and wondrous place.

And also that the things we do matter.

But seriously, muskoxen are awesome

Puzzled by the president’s recent interest in purchasing Greenland? Yeah, me too. Fortunately, the internet is a veritable treasure trove of inaccurate unreliable poorly-sourced easy-to-find information, and it was but the work of a few minutes and one too many blue raspberry Eegees to track down the top reasons Donald Trump wants to buy Greenland.

  1. It’s the largest country on the map in the Situation Room.
  2. Not enough muskoxen at Mar-a-Lago.
  3. If he doesn’t act now, those damn liberals might amend the Constitution to prohibit buying and selling people.
  4. Sea ice futures. They’re a thing.
  5. The Flores settlement only applies to holding families in detention, not to abandoning them on Arctic islands.
  6. Obama never tried to buy an autonomous Danish territory, now, did he?
  7. No one on the moon will return the president’s calls.
  8. He called dibs, so there.

“… a torch whose flame is the imprisoned lightning”

In 1903 Emma Lazarus famously wrote “The New Colossus,” a poem the Statue of Liberty that concludes

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

In 2019–specifically, earlier this week—Ken Cuccinelli infamously edited that poem to say

Give me your tired and your poor
who can stand on their own two feet
and who will not become a public charge

In addition to being offensive, ignorant of history, and—coming from the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services—outright dangerous, Cuccinelli’s words are, well, terrible poetry.

Which got me wondering: What would happen if other classic poems were revised from a similar perspective?

Possibly something like this.


This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast

if you really
wanted them
you should have come here legally

(Original: “This is Just to Say,” by William Carlos Williams)


And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, don’t despair,
We can raise taxes on the poor until
This monument stands forever in the
Sand, beside the casino and housing
Development that also bear my name.’

(Original: “Ozymandias,” by Percy Bysshe Shelley)


Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer,
But it isn’t my fault that freeloading falcon
Didn’t work harder and buy health insurance that 
covered better hearing aids.

(Original: “The Second Coming,” by W B Yeats)


I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood and I—
I fracked and mined and dug a pipeline beneath the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

(Original: “The Road Not Taken,” by Robert Frost)


It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?

The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin—’
‘First show me your papers, ‘ the Mariner said,
‘Then maybe I’ll let you in.’

(Original: “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge)


And of course, music is poetry too.

This land is my land this land is my land
This land is my land this land is my land
This land is my land this land is my land
This land was made for me just me

(Original: “This Land is Your Land,” by Woody Guthrie)


Have any other updates to suggest? Share them in comments.

“The world is a narrow bridge / but the main thing is not to fear”

I first learned about the 1980s Sanctuary movement from Tucson’s Rabbi Joe Weizenbaum. He said he remembered being asked, from time to time, why he was a part of a largely church-led movement. His response, which I can no longer remember word for word, was to the effect that Sanctuary wasn’t just a Christian business—that we Jews belonged there too.

I thought about Rabbi Joe’s words after watching yesterday’s nationwide #JewsAgainstIce protests against the internment and abuse of immigrants and asylum-seekers in ICE detention camps, held on Tisha b’Av, a Jewish day of deep mourning.

And I especially thought about them after hearing the protesters singing.

I’d gotten so used to songs of protest being either Christian or secular. I knew that the songs I grew up singing in synagogue—the songs that I still sing there, and at home as well—had things to say about survival and justice and healing the world, but those weren’t the songs that I sang while holding signs at rallies and marches and in front of my representatives’ offices.

So hearing protestors singing Oseh Shalom, or Gesher Tzar Me’od, or Hinei Ma Tov—it broke me open a little, in a good way. It said to me not just that Jews belong here, but that we’re needed, that we’re here for a reason, that have our own unique and critical role to play, a part of the larger picture where so many people are playing unique and critical roles to heal this country and this world.

I’m sharing some clips of that music—so that I can come back to them when I need to, so that I can share them, so that you can hear them too.


Inside the ICE detention center in Seattle yesterday. Hinei Ma Tov … “How good it is when all of us dwell together.”
At the Amazon store in New York yesterday (Amazon has contracts to provide technology to ICE). Gesher Tsar Me’Od … “The world is a narrow bridge, but the main thing is not to fear.”
Outside ICE headquarters in Washington, DC last month.Oseh Shalom … “May the one who makes peace in the heavens make peace for us and for all the world.”
And back in Seattle again, not a song, but the Mourner’s Kaddish.

Moving Day

My website has a new host and a new look. Come on by! I’ve ported over all my previous Desert Dispatches blog posts, whose urls should be unchanged.

  The design still needs some tweaks, but my first priority was on making sure all the content—which I still believe is the most important part of the web—made it over.

The site should be easier to update on the run now, so I look forward to updating that content, including this blog, more often.

And of course: if anything doesn’t work, or there’s something you can’t find, let me know!