by Associate Minister Rev. Laura Horton-Ludwig.

Friends, yesterday would have been Martin Luther King, Jr.’s, 88th birthday. He was taken from us too soon – nearly 50 years ago now. It breaks my heart to think of what might have been, the leadership he might have offered us even today, had things been different. But still, his message echoes.

Each year on this day, I observe MLK Day by re-reading his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” It echoes in my mind and heart, this powerful call to white people of faith to throw off their passivity and complacency and join in the struggle for racial justice. As with so many great texts, each time I read it, it speaks in new ways to my spirit. Here is the passage that leapt out at me this year:

[T]hough I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter, I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you.” Was not Amos an extremist for justice: “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream.”… And John Bunyan: “I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.” And Abraham Lincoln: “This nation cannot survive half slave and half free.” … So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?

Will we?

In this moment, when violent extremism is on the rise in our world – when it is all too easy to find extremists for hate and injustice – who will we be?

Will we be extremists for love?

Will we love our enemies? Will we bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, pray for those who “despitefully use us and persecute us,” without exception? Can we be extremists for love and for justice, at the very same time?

A dear relative of mine with different political views has encouraged and challenged me to pray for the incoming administration.

Or, in other words, to be an extremist for love.

Could we do that, at the very same time that we are extremists for the extension of justice?

Even as we march and witness and protest, could we pray for those who, in moments of bitterness, we may be sorely tempted to label our enemies? Could we recall our common humanity? Could we hold fast to our first UU principle, so simple and so endlessly challenging, to honor the inherent worth and dignity of every person, without exception? Not to agree or submit to that which goes against our values, not to be silent in the face of oppression – for that would do violence to ourselves, and to our neighbors, and to the truth that has been given to us to see – but to love without exception. To be clear and loving. To infuse our words of witness and our acts of protest with compassion at all times, in all ways. To pray for those we call our enemies, even as we witness and act for justice.

Will we be extremists for love?