For the last several years during January, I make it my business to re-read Strength to Love. This is my very small way of acknowledging the enormous impact Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made on me and the collective consciousness of the American public.
Of the eight books written by Dr. King, this one, for me, is the most compelling. His erudition, eloquence, rhetorical power and Christian witness inspire at every turn of phrase. Each page is saturated with prophetic power.
I feel challenged to identify what the most powerful part of this book is but, for this time in our nation’s history, the first chapter-sermon seems to speak more loudly than the others.
“Tough minds and tender hearts” is a simply gorgeous sermon. In it, Dr. King weaves his own reflections and urgings with poetry and philosophy to show that opposites can attract and, in the end, opposites can become blended for a higher good.
We know now, as Jesus knew then, that good people would face a difficult and hostile world where there would be a confrontation of the “recalcitrance of political officials and the intransigence of the protectors of the old order.”
Jesus knew that we, like his disciples, would meet cold and arrogant people whose hearts would be hardened by the “long winter of traditionalism.” But the lesson is if the followers of Jesus have tough minds, victory is assured.
Tough minds are those characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal and decisive judgment. Tough minds are those that do not look for easy answers and half-baked solutions.
There are many situations which call for tough-mindedness: health-care, the economy, religious and social values, the environment and, certainly, the war in Iraq.
But then there is the need for the tender heart. Christian scriptures teach that the heart that loves is honest, humble, diligent, helpful, open and compassionate. The tender heart is not afraid to experience the joy of true friendship or too self-centered to share another’s joy and sorrow. The tender heart learns to love without qualification of class, culture, condition or color.
King’s words demonstrate what happens when one person is guided by his knowledge of God's enormous love and a righteous anger.
This world, this country, our community would be so much better socially, economically and spiritually if we adopted King’s suggestion to develop tough minds and tender hearts.
For when we have the strength to love and our minds are toughened and our hearts made tender, social burdens become lighter to bear, physical differences become insignificant, friendships become stronger, words become sweeter, relationships become meaningful, all lives are richer, hopes get brighter, dreams become realities, conflicts are reduced, bad attitudes get altered for the better, good deeds become more plenteous and commitments run deeper.
Thank you, Dr. King, for reminding us that we all have the capacity to love — but need more strength to love.