A Tough Mind and a Tender Heart

On MLK Day 2018, as our country recognizes this week the one-year anniversary of our latest administration in Washington, I’ve decided to honor not only King but the many people whose voices he amplified because of his life-giving work. Here is the first of a 3-part/3-day blog post from one of his many powerful sermons that the world has seldom heard, but needs to hear today more than ever:

“Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. Matthew 10:16

Jesus recognized the need for blending opposites. He knew that his disciples would face a difficult and hostile world, where they would confront the recalcitrance of political officials and the intransigence of the protectors of the old order. He knew that they would meet cold and arrogant men [sic] whose hearts had been hardened by the long winter of traditionalism.

So he said to them, ‘Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves.’ And he gave them a formula for action, ‘Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.’ It is pretty difficult to imagine a single person having, simultaneously, the characteristics of the serpent and the dove, but this is what Jesus expects. We must combine the toughness of the serpent and the softness of the dove, a tough mind and a tender heart.

Let us consider, first, the need for a tough mind, characterized by incisive thinking, realistic appraisal, and decisive judgment. The tough mind is sharp and penetrating, breaking through the crust of legends and myths and sifting the true from the false. The tough-minded individual is astute and discerning. He [sic] has a strong, austere quality that makes for firmness of purpose and solidness of commitment.

Who doubts that this toughness of mind is one of man’s [sic] needs? Rarely do we find men [sic] who willingly engage in hard, solid thinking. There is an almost universal quest for easy answers and half-baked solutions. Nothing pains some people more than having to think.

This prevalent tendency toward soft mindedness is found in man’s [sic] unbelievable gullibility…this undue gullibility is also seen in the tendency of many readers to accept the printed word of the press as final truth. Few people realize that even our authentic channels of information—the press, the platform, and in many instances the pulpit—do not give us objective and unbiased truth. Few people have the toughness of mind to judge critically and to discern the true from the false, the fact from the fiction. Our minds are constantly being invaded by legions of half-truths, prejudices, and false facts. One of the great needs of mankind [sic] is to be lifted above the morass of false propaganda.

The soft-minded man [sic] always fears change. He [sic] feels security in the status quo, and he [sic] has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him [sic], the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea. An elderly segregationist in the South is reported to have said, ‘ I have come to see now that desegregation is inevitable. But I pray God that it will not take place until after I die.’ The soft-minded person always wants to freeze the moment and hold life in the gripping yoke of sameness.

Soft-mindedeness often invades religion. This is why religion has sometimes rejected new truth with a dogmatic passion. Through edicts and bulls, inquisitions and excommunications, the church has attempted to prorogue truth and place an impenetrable stone wall in the path of the truth-seeker. The historical-philological criticism of the Bible is considered by the soft-minded as blasphemous, and reason is often looked upon as the exercise of a corrupt faculty. Soft-minded persons have revised the Beatitudes to read, ‘Blessed are the pure in ignorance: for they shall see God.’

…Too many politicians in the South recognize this disease of soft mindedness that engulfs their constituency. With insidious zeal they make inflammatory statements and disseminate distortions and half-truths that arouse abnormal fears and morbid antipathies within the minds of uneducated and underprivileged whites, leaving them so confused that they are led to acts of meanness and violence that no normal person commits.

There is little hope for us until we become tough minded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of soft-mindedness. A nation or a civilization that continues to produce soft-minded men [sic] purchases its own spiritual death on an installment plan.”

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Part II of Martin Luther King’s sermon will appear in a post tomorrow. The complete sermon, along with many others, is found in the book, Strength to Love, published by Fortress Press in 2010.

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