Liberal Arts Blog — Howard Thurman, Mentor to Martin Luther King
Liberal Arts Blog: Tuesday is the Joy of Literature, Language, Culture, and Religion Day
Today’s Topic: Howard Thurman (1899–1981) Mentor to Martin Luther King
My friend Peggy recently introduced me to the work of Howard Thurman, a spiritual mentor to a generation of civil rights activists. His most influential book was “Jesus and the Disinherited” (1948). A few quotes from Thurman have stood out for me. These are the first two thirds of today’s post. The third part consists of excerpts from an interview with the editor of Thurman’s papers — theologian Walter Earl Fluker. Biographical note: Thurman traveled to India to meet with Gandhi and was heavily influenced by him. Experts — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.
JESUS REJECTED HATRED (Thurman)
1. “Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to the spirit, and death to communion with his Father.”
2. “He affirmed life.”
3. “And hatred was the great denial.”
NB: “Young man, all social issues are temporary and brief. Go deep.”
DON’T ASK YOURSELF WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS (Thurman)
1. “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs.”
2. “Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that.”
3. “Because what the world need is people who have come alive.”
NB: Quoted by Oprah Winfrey in her Harvard commencement address of 2013. See the third link below for a short biographical film on Thurman.
WALTER EARL FLUKER, EDITOR OF HOWARD THURMAN’S PAPERS
1.”The major obstacle to overcoming violence in our culture, in our world, is that one must overcome fear. Fear, he felt, was one of the great hounds of hell.The other dimension was self-deception: How might I live a life of integrity that that I might act out of my own center?
2. “Our society is fast-paced. Thurman is very slow. And he thinks life is slow. In fact, he thinks change is slow. This is an incredibly hard lesson to learn, especially for people who have been historically oppressed. Thurman’s solution is not a solution that says we can change things overnight. In fact, he says that social liberation also has to consider social patience. Some stains, he believes, don’t come out without first soaking them. Therefore, he placed most of his emphasis on the individual and what the individual could do to make his or her life a kind of living sacrament to the presence of God in the world.”
3. “It’s one thing to go into the dragon’s cave and slay the dragon; it’s quite another to wake up the next morning and you’ve become the dragon. Thurman wanted to make sure that somehow we maintained purity of heart, will and conscience while we struggled to change a very, very dangerous and violent world.”
Interview with Walter Fluker on Howard Thurman:
Documentary on the life of Howard Thurman
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