Thought for Contemplation:
“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence, but also internal violence of spirit.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Sermon Title: “Choosing Compassion”
by Rev. “Twinkle” Marie Porter-Manning
to be delivered January 2021
Unless otherwise noted, quotes are from MLK’s Six Principles and Six Steps of Nonviolence (King Institute Online) .
In honor of Martin Luther King, Jr Day this sermon presents themes of nonviolence and compassion.
Rev. King was a man of eloquent words,
esteemable actions, and immutable faith.
He was a visionary, yes,
yet still in many ways a man of his time.
His words, while prophetic,
reflected his place in that time,
and, pointedly, the personification of his faith.
The content and constructs
- some of which – can be jarring –
when not diluted or altered
to more palatable tones and textures
to soften the patriarchy, and religiosity,
Something I am hesitant to do
when quoting someone else’s words,
both for implications of appropriation,
as well as elements of disrespect
and erasure of source.
Yet I feel it vitally important
to momentarily call attention to
Rev. King the person
juxtaposed MLK Jr.
the iconic figure,
as there is a lesson within the lesson
of how to approach nonviolence.
And how to choose compassion.
If scrutinized too closely,
the immense value of Rev. King’s teachings,
and his place in history,
could well be discarded
in circles uncomfortable with the language of the day,
or distracted by the roots
and potential flaws
from which he drew his belief systems,
and the seeming contradictions
between his claimed convictions.
Yet in the spirit of transparency and acceptance,
it is ideal, and even a good spiritual practice,
to acknowledge the source’s background,
Rev. King’s background,
to qualify one’s triggers,
as there are apt to be some.
In doing so,
in creating an opening for
a laudable and legendary source
to have elements about his person,
and his personality,
that may not align with our own belief structures
to be made known,
while still lovingly allowing room
for us to embrace his thoughts and his teachings,
may well open our hearts and minds
to the thoughts and beliefs of others
for which whom we may not otherwise
align on all levels with.
This is an act of compassion,
and it is the foundation of nonviolence.
Nonviolence, in social and political terms,
as in nonviolent resistance
and nonviolent civil disobedience,
is the use of peaceful means,
to bring about desired change.
Nonviolence as a way of life
carries the use of peaceable means
into all aspects of our experiences
Many have come to identify this
as a compassionate lifestyle.
One that seeks to reach a fuller,
deeper understanding of others,
and of ourselves.
Nonviolence – what Rev. King is widely know for promoting.
Make no mistake,
while known for his justice work
and social activism,
Rev. King was first and foremost
a devout Christian minister
who espoused the belief that
it was not works, but faith,
that led to salvation.
His faith was in the God of the Christian Bible.
The salvation he sought
was that which was to be granted
by God and through God’s son Jesus Christ,
for the sins of mankind.
He was a Bible preacher
and at one time a gun owner.
Even after he himself
gave up his own guns:
He had armed guards (as weapons, if you will)
Rev. King believed humans were born in sin.
And lived lives of sin.
He believed in Christ’s humanity
- and in his divinity.
And he fully believed
that these beliefs
were not in paradox to each other.
He believed we were made in God’s image.
He believed in one true God.
Indeed, he believed in God’s sovereignty.
Yet perhaps most notably,
and what appears to have been
the cornerstone of his teachings,
and where many of us align with Rev. King,
is that he believed in God’s love.
That God’s love
was the most important aspect of God.
And that this quality,
was the one we were meant to emulate in God’s image.
Rev. King said,
“God is first and foremost
an all loving Father,
and any theology which fails to recognize this,
in an attempt to maintain the sovereignty of God,
is betraying everything
that is best in the Christian tradition.”
Many who honor Martin Luther King Jr. Day
for the spirit of his messages
do not align with the undertones of its origin.
Many do not hold the same beliefs in God
or in salvation,
or even in divinity,
that Rev. King cherished.
Many may even wonder how
a man of intelligence,
a man with such indisputable reasoning skills
could place any faith beyond this human existence
- so foreign are such concepts to many.
Yet, credence is given to his writings
Because in-spite of the differences in beliefs,
common ground can be found
when we listen for it.
And, when we are open to it.
Would that we exercise
this kind of listening
to all of those we disagree with in tender things
that are dear to our hearts.
Would that we demonstrate curiosity
and a desire
to understand each other
more broadly and more intimately,
than to cast judgements dismissively,
which only ever lead to disharmony.
Our Thought for Contemplation today
are the words of Rev. King:
“Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence,
but also internal violence of spirit.”
These internal violences of spirit
begin with small seeds planted
and carried in our hearts and minds.
Seeds of opinions,
and of beliefs.
And of judgements.
About the world,
and about people in the world.
In his 1960 keynote address in Atlanta, GA entitled The Philosophy of Nonviolence, Rev. King stated that,
“First and foremost in the philosophy of non-violence
is the affirmation that
means must be as pure as the end.”
Means must be as pure as the end.
In the language of his faith, he noted that, “non-violence seeks to achieve moral ends through moral means.”
He went on to say,
“A second basic fact in this philosophy
is the consistent refusal to inflict injury upon another.”
That is to say,
if we are participants
in any system or movement
that proclaims that
the end justifies the means,
we are not engaged in nonviolence.
For the end and the means must be interchangeable,
not separate from,
rather united with.
there is no justification for violent means
- for violent preparations, resources and actions.
At the core of nonviolence
is the tenant to achieve peaceful ends
through peaceful means.
Here, this refusal to inflict injury upon another,
is where our Thought for Contemplation comes in
as Rev. King spoke of
both external and internal aspects.
In large and small, seen and unseen,
aspects of our lives.
Externally, he said,
“This means that you don’t use aggressive
or retaliatory violence.”
And the internal he said is, “
The way you talk.”
Think and Feel.
Be it to or about someone,
or in a written communication.
Rev. King says, “The highest expression of non-injury is love.”
He points out the necessity of distinctions,
again in the language of his faith,
“The non-violent resister separates
the evil from the evildoer.”
and he says the nonviolent person,
“seeks to eliminate antagonisms
rather than antagonists.”
To eliminate antagonisms without harming the antagonists.
The destructive forces waging war against our happiness,
against equality and freedom.
The systems and structures we seek to transform.
Distinct from Antagonisms.
The antagonists are the people who believe differently than we do.
The people we disagree with.
Sometimes fundamentally, frustratingly and infuriatingly so.
they are people, nonetheless.
And people we are called to love.
the highest form of nonviolence.
Rev. King implores us that,
“There must be no dual code of ethics
for individual and group conduct.”
We cannot hold “them”:
the people we disagree with,
even the people we disagree with
are behaving in not-so-nonviolent ways
(verbally, physically, energetically violent ways),
we cannot hold “them”
to one set of standards,
while holding the people
we agree with
If we are choosing to be
from a place of nonviolence,
we cannot condemn the actions
of those whose philosophies
and truths we disagree with
while at the same time
seek to excuse the actions
of those whose philosophies
and truths we agree with.
There is no justification of violence in nonviolence.
The path of peace is the way of peace.
And the way of peace is that of compassion.
Compassion towards those
we agree with,
and also to those we disagree with.
As Rev King says,
“Nonviolence seeks to defeat injustice, not people.”
“Nonviolence seeks to win friendship and understanding.”
“Nonviolence chooses love instead of hate.”
But what if the situation is critical? What if lives and livelihoods are at stake?
Rev. King had a response to that too.
He said, “Nonviolence accepts suffering without retaliation.”
“The ultimate measure of a man
is not where he stands in moments
of convenience and comfort,
but where he stands at times of
challenge and controversy.” (Strength to Love, 1963.)
“A Man Is What He Proves To be in A Crisis.” (Sermon Ideas, 1950-1954)
So many times people justify
acts of violence as somehow
right or righteous.
Especially given particularly dire
or oppressive circumstances.
When coming from a place of fear
we can fall prey
to considering the ends justifying the means.
This is not to minimize
real experiences of sorrow, grief,
and feelings of desperation
when we hit rock bottom,
or when we see our greatest fear approaching.
And, it is not to discount
the desire to adamantly
seek to protect those who are experiencing injustices.
Out of vexation and anger
we can easily default to
violent thoughts, words and deeds
have become all too normalized.
Violence begets violence.
Violent means never reach Peaceable ends.
They are simply not aligned.
Whether your finger is on the nuclear button
in the President’s satchel,
or you are about to press the send button
on a snarky Facebook post,
internal violence cultivated
and expressed externally,
yields more violence.
How can we equip ourselves
to more readily choose nonviolence?
To choose compassion?
We can cultivate such practices
from the inside out (and outside in).
First by setting a course for nonviolence.
Instilling in our hearts and minds
that we want to be
a peaceable person,
a Peaceable People.
Gathering into our storehouses
affirmations in the ways
that most resonate with us
– poems, prayers, mottos, credos.
A mantra affirming:
I am a person of peace.
I will be peace.
I will choose compassion.
All ways and Always.
I will choose compassion.
And we do so
by what we expose ourselves to.
The places we source our information
and about other people.
The groups we choose to be part of
…in-person and online…
Groups that focus on uplifting
and beautiful things,
on what we envision for the world,
peace and unity.
Rev. King’s vision of
how to achieve peace
was as simple
and as complicated
“If we are to have peace on earth,
our loyalties must become
ecumenical rather than sectional.
Our loyalties must transcend
and our nation; and this means
we must develop a world perspective.” (Christmas sermon, Atlanta, Georgia, 1967).
his language was that of a Christian pastor.
Representing a number of Christian Churches.
Reconciling formerly divided congregations
together in unity.
While that specificity
may not be embraced by everyone
outside of Christianity, the sentiment of it can.
Transcending our loyalties.
Beyond race and tribe and class
And doing so in ways
that align with
that which we’ve declared we want to create.
And in ways that
do not impose dual codes of ethics
or perpetuate unhealthy power dynamics.
In ways that do not segregate
or make anyone “separate from.”
Rather than segregating each other
off to myriad intersections,
let us gather each other together in love,
and with compassion.
And for the highest good of all.
Rev. King offered 6 steps of nonviolence.
The first three most of us
have become incredibly skilled at:
Yes, I can confidently say
we’ve invested abundant time
in these first three steps.
Yet the next 2 steps of nonviolence
can fall by the wayside, and quickly,
if we have not sured up
to be a People of Peace.
The steps are:
Take Action Peacefully
These are congruent with each other.
Reliant upon each other.
To be applied in grace
and not with an expiration on them.
None of the steps of nonviolence
have an “until” or “unless” after them.
And the final step – the goal of nonviolence – is to:
Too often it does not even make it onto the list.
is that the goal of peace
is not meant to be
with a view of win/lose
Many are so focused
on their antagonists being wrong,
they forget that they are people.
People we want to live in peace with.
A peace we wish
In the infallible words
of the fallible Rev. King,
“We must come to see
that the end we seek
is a society at peace with itself,
a society that can live with its conscience.”(Montgomery, Alabama, March 25, 1965.)
“The purpose of nonviolence
is the creation of the Beloved Community.”
If we act with nonviolence,
if we Choose Compassion,
are in alignment
with our ends.
then peace can truly exist.
I invite, request
and beseech you
to Choose Compassion.
and strive for peace.
Even amid feelings
of heavy emotions.
Rather than react impulsively
may you choose
Be gentle with yourself.
Be gentle with each other.
Be gentle with your neighbors,
especially if you disagree with them.
May your actions and words
demonstrate and promote peace.
Gift each other with peaceableness,
and with love.
May it be so. Amen.
Suggested reading to accompany this sermon: Judy Chicago’s Merger Poem