Thursday, January 13, 2011

Until Justice Rolls Down Like Waters

We have been hearing about civil discourse.  Martin Luther King is the master to emulate.  On the eve of Dr. King's birthday I took another look at his powerful words.  Dr. King spoke with familiar and soaring phrases, drawing some of his most powerful rhetoric from words that were already known by heart.  In his great speeches he evoked the Declaration of Independence, the Emancipation Proclamation, the US Constitution and the Gettysburg Address.  He transcended differences he might have had with his audience with his unspoken message: here is my clarion call - you will recognize some of it - my dream echoes your familiar legacy; we share the same passion and therefore it is safe for you to share my dream.

Dr. King's great speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963 drew power from the Bible. From Amos 5:24, his words: "no, no we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a might stream".  And from Isaiah 40:4 he built his great dream: "I have a dream that every valley shall be exalted.  Here is Isaiah: Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill shall be made low.  Handel used these words in his Messiah - a piece heard in thousands of communities each holiday season.

In the last speech he gave before his assassination Dr. King directly quoted the Battle Hymn of the Republic: "Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord".  In another verse of this powerful hymn is this line which is perfectly appropriate to a celebration of Dr. King's life: He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat.

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