I wanted to be sure to say the proper greeting to Muslims during Ramadan, so I looked it up. I didn’t want to say the ending prayer at the beginning of the month. I was reminded that most common is “Ramadan Mubarak” for “Happy Ramadan,” followed by “Ramadan Kareem” for “Have a generous Ramadan,” which is also very common.
Given the state of things, I am hesitant to blithely wish people a happy anything, as it just feels a little flippant to me right now. I do still wish people happiness though, and I say it sometimes too. I’m just feeling so much not-happiness that it isn’t quite mine to offer. I’m grateful that I can wish generosity for people to honor Ramadan and Allah. In wishing generosity on (for?) someone, I do it happy in the thought of them either being the generous one or them being the recipient of the generosity of another.
In that spirit, since my birthday is coming up (May 17), wish me “Birthday Kareem” instead of a happy birthday. Please see the the last item of this Missive for an invitation to celebrate with me that evening and support the people of Gaza at the same time. First though, a brief Mother’s Day greeting (including a way to help free Black mothers from prisons) and a relatively obscure Martin Luther King Jr. sermon in which he tells us not to be stupid.
Mother’s Day Kareem!
I’m not giving up on happiness, really. If I see a woman I don’t know, I promise simply to wish her a happy mother’s day and not get into this discussion. May you all have a happy–and generous–Mother’s Day, my mother, my sisters, Lacy, my friends and family.
In celebration of motherhood, here is what came to be known as the original Mother’s Day Proclamation, written by Julia Ward Howe in 1870 as the “Appeal to womanhood around the world”:
Appeal to womanhood around the world
by Julia Ward Howe
Again, in the sight of the Christian world, have the skill and power of two great nations exhausted themselves in mutual murder. Again have the sacred questions of international justice been committed to the fatal mediation of military weapons. In this day of progress, in this century of light, the ambition of rulers has been allowed to barter the dear interests of domestic life for the bloody exchanges of the battle field. Thus men have done. Thus men will do. But women need no longer be made a party to proceedings which fill the globe with grief and horror. Despite the assumptions of physical force, the mother has a sacred and commanding word to say to the sons who owe their life to her suffering. That word should now be heard, and answered to as never before.
Arise, then, Christian women of this day ! Arise, all women who have hearts, Whether your baptism be that of water or of tears ! Say firmly : We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies. Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country, to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs. From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says: Disarm, disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice. Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence vindicate possession. As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war, let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of council.
Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead. Let them then solemnly take council with each other as to the means whereby the great human family can live in peace, man as the brother of man, each bearing after his own kind the sacred impress, not of Caesar, but of God.
In the name of womanhood and of humanity, I earnestly ask that a general congress of women, without limit of nationality, may be appointed and held at some place deemed most convenient, and at the earliest period consistent with its objects, to promote the alliance of the different nationalities, the amicable settlement of international questions, the great and general interests of peace.— Julia Ward Howe
“Love and Forgiveness” by Martin Luther King Jr.
I finally transcribed a sermon by Martin Luther King Jr. I bought on audio cassette fifteen or so years ago. Couldn’t find this one on line anywhere, a transcript or even any mention of it. Finally, in the on-line King archives at Stanford, I found a footnote in the description of a draft of a chapter of a book from 1960 that mentioned a sermon that evolved from then until he delivered “Love and Forgiveness” on May 20, 1964. In a passage that varied from presentation to presentation over those years, they had the exact version from my recording with the date. As always, Martin Luther King Jr. prophetically speaks to us from beyond the grave.
The sermon involves two main lessons derived from the prayer that Jesus uttered from the Cross.
“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” These sublime words from the lips of our lord and master on the cross at Calvary represent love at its best. They represent a magnificent example of the courage to love. Now we cannot fully understand the great meaning of Jesus’s prayer from the cross until we notice the word with which the text opens. It is the word “then.” The verse immediately preceding reads thus: “And when they were come to the place which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him. Then said Jesus, “Father, forgive them.””
One main lesson was about the importance of walking our talk. The other lesson was to say that it is a moral imperative to be more than compassionate and conscientious, but also not to be stupid or ignorant. To the first point, I always smile at how he marveled at our unsettling proclivity to do that which goes against our better nature, against what we know to be right:
There is something within all of us that causes us at times to cry out with St. Augustine in his confession, “Lord make me pure, but not yet.” There is something that causes us to cry out with the Apostle Paul, “The good that I would, I do not. And the evil that I would not that I do.” This strange dichotomy, this agonizing tension within human nature is one of the tragic themes of man’s earthly pilgrimage. But in the life of Jesus, the gulf was bridged. And there has never been a greater example, a greater demonstration of one being able to keep his deeds and his words in harmony.
…and King continued:
A second lesson comes to us through Jesus’ prayer on the Cross. It is an expression of man’s intellectual and spiritual blindness. “They know not what they do.” Blindness was their trouble. Enlightenment was their need. We must never forget that Jesus was nailed to the cross not merely because of human badness but because of human blindness. The men who cried “crucify him” were not bad men; they were blind men. The men who nailed him to the Cross were misguided men. They knew not what they did.
Over the next several minutes, King showed how ignorance as much as evil perpetuates war, economic misery and racism. He didn’t yet refer to them as the “Three Evils of Society” as he would in 1967, but he was already speaking directly against the stupidity and immorality of war as well as racism and poverty.
Thank god we are beginning now to shake the lethargy from our souls, and we are coming to see more and more if we are to be witnesses for Jesus Christ we must take a positive concrete stand against this evil system. And we must support those efforts whether they are working through the courts and legislative channels or whether they are working through direct action and demonstrations. All are necessary in order to solve this critical problem facing our nation. As we solve it, we must face this tragic fact, that many people who keep it going, are individuals who know not what they do. Many Negroes today are being crucified on nameless crosses by individuals who know not what they do.
All I’m saying is simply this: that sincerity and conscientiousness in themselves are not enough. Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity. There is nothing more dangerous in all the world than goodness and sincerity placed in a small, closed mind. [emphasis added]
So we as church men have a responsibility to tell men to be good; to tell them to be kindhearted; tell them to be sincere and conscientious. But all of the moral voices in the world must say this, but beyond this they must go on to say that we have a moral responsibility to be intelligent.
My birthday is May 17, and this is what I want:
Join my friend Elliot’s “Gather for Gaza” virtual dinner party that night from 6 to 8 pm to support the desperately necessary United Nations Relief Works Administration (UNRWA). Please use this evite link and the donate button there so you can also be included in the festivities. Presentations include wisdom and entertainment from Hatem Bazian, Lynn Gottlieb, Lamees Dahbour, Laila Mokhiber and Sharif Zakout. If you are close to Oakland/Berkeley/San Francisco, we are coordinating food orders and deliveries through Mama Lamees Cuisine at the Emeryville Public Market. If you make a donation through the evite link, you will receive a zoom link to join the party from 6 to 8, and also ordering information for the food which will be delivered safely to your door.
If you prefer a domestic cause, then be as generous as possible to the Black Mama’s Bailout. Some friends set up a fundraising challenge through the National Bail Out (#FreeBlackMamas). NBO works in collaboration with state based organizations to free Black mothers and caregivers around the country. Here’s the link to donate: bit.ly/covid19-bailouts My friends are trying to track donations so they know when they surpass their $20,000 goal. Please let me know by text or email how much you are able to donate so I can let them know. To start it off, one couple gave their stimulus checks of $2400. I just gave $40. Anything helps.
Happy Mother’s Day, indeed!
Seeing Eamon (and Lacy) smile certainly helps me feel better! I don’t know when it will feel safe to visit them again. They are as well as can be. That’s enough for me. I have seen my mom twice since mid-March. We sat on opposite ends of a bench in front of where she lives and shmoozed not smooched. And last weekend we dealt with her car’s dead battery and went safely to Costco. I also was thrilled to see briefly a few of my friends (and exercise students) there who just happened to be outside as well.