Conjoining MLK & Inauguration Day: Relearning Heschel, Rebirthing King, Re-Inaugurating America, Jan. 14, 19, 20, 2009

(Rabbi Arthur Waskow for The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, & Sarah)

Relearning Heschel, Rebirthing King, Re-Inaugurating America:
Celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King Day
As a new government takes office,
January 19-20, 2009>

As Barack Obama becomes President and a new Congress takes office in January 2009, there is a remarkable opportunity to bring together large sections of American society to reflect on our history and our future. The opportunity is strengthened by the fact that the day before Inauguration day (Tuesday, January 20) is Martin Luther King's Birthday. And January 14 is the yohrzeit (death-anniversary) of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Dr. King's close friend and ally.

We propose to focus this period on renewing Dr. King's mature vision, as put forward in his Riverside Church speech of 4/4/67, exactly one year before his death. We invite religious and ethical communities to study that speech, leading up to nationwide observance of the confluence of MLK's Birthday and Inauguration Day, January 19-20, 2009, and we invite our citizenry to commit themselves to work toward bringing Dr. King’s vision to reality.

If you want to take part in this process, please write us at

1. The MLK/ Inauguration process will begin in the fall of 2008, preparing study/ action guides based on Dr. King’s Riverside Church speech of April 4, 1967. For the text of the speech, see

One such action is already under way. At All Souls Unitarian Church (16th St & Columbia Rd.) in Washington DC from 4:30 to 8:30 on January 19, the Olive Branch Interfaith Peace Partnership will hold a celebratory service and teaching at which Vincent Harding of Iliff School of Theology, one of Dr. King's closest advisers who drafted the Riverside Church speech; Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches; Dr. Sayyid Syeed, general secretary of the Islamic Society of North America; Sammie Moshenberg of the National Council of Jewish Women; Rabbi Michael Lerner of the Network of Spiritual Progressives; Celeste Zappala of Gold Star Families Speak Out; Mubarak Awad of Nonviolence International; Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, of the Chautauqua Institution; and Rev. William G. Sinkford of the Unitarian Universalist Association are already scheduled to speak.

Beyond this event in Washington, we are involving major denominations and other communities of faith and ethics in a nationwide observance of this time of transformation. Specifics of how to do this will be decided by each community; we especially hope that these efforts will include:

1. Leading up to this moment in January, focusing congregational study on Dr. King's speech at Riverside Church on April 4, 1967, exactly one year before his death, in which he called for the transformation of America's role in the world and an end to the three dangers haunting American society: militarism, racism, and materialism. See Dr. King's speech at --

2. Publicly affirming a pledge, in which citizens as part of their religious congregations and bodies make themselves personally responsible to work for Rebirthing America toward the vision of MLK. (See a draft of the Pledge below, taken almost entirely from the text of Dr. King's Riverside speech .)

3. Carrying out a candle-light Night Watch the night of January 19. – Candles might be lit in houses of worship and then carried into public space, perhaps with different churches/ synagogues/ mosques/ temples meeting and walking together to public parks.


On this rebirthing day , January 19, 2009, Martin Luther King's Birthday, on the eve of there coming into office a new government to represent the American people, I join in covenant with other Americans: --

I commit myself to give a new birth in America and in the world to the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, to call ourselves and every nation now to develop an overriding loyalty to humankind as a whole, in order to preserve the best in our individual societies;

I commit myself to work toward a world-wide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond any tribe, race, class, or nation; to call for an all-embracing and unconditional love for all humanity and for the web of life upon our planet;

I commit myself to fuse power with compassion, might with morality, and strength with sight; to choose nonviolent coexistence rather than violent co-annihilation; to speak for peace and justice throughout the world — within and beyond our doors and shores.

I commit myself to take the following specific actions:

[For example: "I will work for a peaceful settlement of the Iraq war and an end to US military presence there"; "I will use less gasoline"; I will read one of Martin Luther King’s speeches that I have not read"; "I will write my Senators about subsidizing railroads and solar/ wind energy instead of autos, coal and oil"; "I will work for the hospitality-for-the-homeless program in my church, synagogue, or mosque." ]

Fill in as follows: I will --

I do this in the knowledge that tomorrow is today, that we are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long, hard, and beautiful struggle for a new world.

(Signed) _________________________________
Name) _________________________________
Address ________________________________
Phone/s ________________________________
Email ________________________________

(Please mail one copy of this affirmation to The Tent, 6711 Lincoln Drive, Philadelphia PA 19119. If possible, please enclose a donation (tax-deductible) to move this work forward. Thank you!)


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