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MLK, Jr.: Beyond the Sound Bites

Monday, January 16 | 9am-5pm

by Mike Kinman, Rector of All Saints Church

Like most Americans, I grew up knowing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King by the sound bites.

“I have a dream.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that.”

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

About 15 years ago, a friend gave me “A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches of Martin Luther King, Jr.” It sat on a shelf for a while, and then, on King’s birthday, I pulled it down and decided I would spend an hour or so reading it.

I opened the book … and didn’t put it down for hours.

A whole new King was opened up to me. One whose love was radical, whose love allowed for anger and even rage. One who railed against capitalism and poverty, Viet Nam and white moderates. A King who was so different from the whitewashed, kum ba yah King that had been sold to me for most of my life.

And so I began a personal tradition, every year on MLK Day, of pulling out that book and spending the day immersing myself in all of his words – not just the sound bites.

When I started at Christ Church Cathedral eight years ago, I learned that our pulpit was one of four places in St. Louis where Dr. King had preached. One day, I was mentioning to someone how meaningful it had become to me to spend King’s birthday reading his writings, and out of that conversation came the idea of a daylong, community reading of Dr. King’s speeches, sermons and writings from the very place where he had preached.

“Let Freedom Ring” was born. We used A Testament of Hope and the extensive collection of the King Papers Project at Stanford, contacted the King Center for permission for a public reading, and set up a simple structure. A large book of readings would be at the front of the church – first at the lectern and eventually in the pulpit from where King preached. People would sign up for half-hour shifts to read … but at any time, someone could walk up indicate they want to take over reading, and just take over. We’d ask people to read for no more than 5 minutes if someone was waiting, and if there was a gap, the shift leader would be there to make sure the reading continued.

We advertised it as a complement of reflection to the King National Day of Service activities taking place in the community. And people came.

They came for a half hour, for two hours, for the entire day. They read and they listened. School groups came after doing service projects and then had conversations about how what they had done and what they heard were related.

The idea of getting “celebrity readers” to draw more people in was floated and quickly dismissed. This was about the people. When Senator Claire McCaskill showed up to read, she waited her turn like everyone else.

Attendance grew every year, and it became one of the signature events of the year at Christ Church Cathedral … and other churches around the country began to pick it up.

And this year, we’re bringing it to All Saints. On Monday, January 16, from 9 am – 5 pm, we will be hosting “Let Freedom Ring.” A sheet will be available in the sign-up center in the Sundays leading up for people to sign up to be shift leaders, and anyone throughout the day can come to read, or listen or both. Thanks to the translating skills of Antonio Gallardo, we’ll have the option of reading in Spanish as well as English … and for those who can’t make it down to the church, the whole day will be streamed live online.

I hope you will join me in spreading the word about this event … and coming down for an hour, or two, or even eight and letting the words of this great man wash over you. Hear more than just the sound bites, and let your life be set on fire.

Need more information? Call 626.796.1172
All Saints Church is located at 132 North Euclid Avenue, Pasadena 91101

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