The Prophet’s Word

I’m grateful for the annual day marked off to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Racial reconciliation and justice is something always bubbling just beneath my consciousness, and MLK day forces it to the surface. It forces me to reflect specifically on the man’s legacy, but also on my own engagement with his cause.

This year, I was glad to participate in our small town’s March in memory of Dr. King. It was surreal and powerful, walking with my children, surrounded by a slice of our community.

I also try to spend some time reading some of Dr. King’s work, and this year I sat down with his Letter From a Birmingham Jail. It’s an amazing piece of work, and its power to convict holds today. The challenging letter calls out the White church for their silence in the face of the struggle for civil rights, and every paragraph burns. The letter is inspiring, instructive, and stinging throughout, and if it’s been a while since you’ve read it, it’s worth sitting down with for a half hour. Word for word, it’s one of the most important things the church produced in the last century.

I also spent a little time trying to reflect poetically on what it means for me, living more than 50 years later, to try and pick up the echo of Dr. King’s message. What came out was the little poem below, which I shared at the ceremony on Monday.

There’s much work to be done, my friends. May the Lord be with us.

The Prophet’s Word

Dreamer, Seer,
Prophet, Preacher,

Sent to us, the Nineveh next door,
He willingly went,

From you, with you
To us, at us,

With just the word we needed,
a word we could not hear.

We could only see it,
See its drama enacted,
While it called out the violence within us.

We could not hear the word,
but we could see it,
and be seen by it.

We could not hear it, but the word would not depart.

Its echo rumbles through the canyon still,
While the unseen water rushes on below,
like a mighty stream.


Most people don’t feel good. Most people aren’t happy, and aren’t satisfied. For me, being a preacher starts with that gloomy fact, with that realization that most of the people I see walking around the world are terribly unhappy. And, it’s not without reason, either. A lot of people fight to keep depressing realities out of the forefront of their mind. Their families are crazy, and their friendships are shallow. Their jobs are unfulfilling, don’t provide what they really want financially, or are at risk of being taken away. Their life is slowly draining away, minute by minute, and it becomes increasingly obvious that they don’t really have much to show for it. And on top of that, most nights there isn’t even anything good on TV.

I suppose in the back of my mind, a major part of what I’m doing in life is that simple—I’m trying to help people feel good. Sometimes that means ministry is about helping them get right with God, because when you’re out of line with God, it jacks up everything else. Sometimes it means helping people find something to do with themselves besides just turning the page on the calendar. Ministry means helping them see that there can be more to their life than chasing paychecks, boys, girls, and what passes for glory these days. Sometimes it means helping people pick up the pieces when they lose something like their job or their family. Sometimes it is full of the really hard work of helping people figure out what the next step is for them to take responsibility for their life, whether that means fixing or abandoning some old relationships or trying to figure out how they’re going to pay off the credit card. Lots of times ministry is about giving people a place where they feel like they belong.

Sometimes, and maybe most of the time, ministry for me means just trying to help people believe that somebody else in the universe cares what happens to them. I guess I believe that if people think I care about them, it’ll help them believe that God cares about them. That seems to me like an important thing to do.

I got into this business because I had a chance, early in life, to feel what it was like to help somebody get right, to help them untangle stuff in their mind just a little bit, and feel loved. I wanted to help everybody feel like that.  I suppose that’s what I’ll try to do again tomorrow.