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Graces We Have Received

11 Comments 18 January 2011

The significance of the MLK holiday is not lost on me.  I know up close, a small part of the world in which he lived and worked.  I live in Birmingham, Alabama.  I was born in Memphis, Tennessee, just three short months before Dr. King’s life came to a tragic end.  I was taught marginally about Dr. King and his legacy in the Mississippi public schools that he fought to desegregate.  However, it was his burden to right the wrong of injustice that changed my world and yours.  That kind of life is worth emulating and celebrating.

Dr. King spoke over 2,500 times during his leadership in the Civil Rights Movement.  Anyone who longs to see injustice eradicated from this world can find multiple opportunities to quote his beautiful rhetoric.  Yesterday, I was struck by his words in a more profound sense due to the convergence of several themes in my own life.

I am currently reading Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide which has begun a stirring in my soul. My friend Kate asked me to read it, knowing my desire to advocate for women in general and encourage women toward empowerment.  She knew full well that it would capture my heart and move me.  It has indeed, and with that moving has come a broader view of what that empowerment might look like.

In its pages I have come face to face with the gender inequality of sex trafficking, maternal mortality and honor killings.  These tragedies and abuses in the developing world go beyond anything we American women can even imagine when we think of inequality.  The stories of these women have taken my breath away and at the same time, given me hope.

I stopped writing in December, on the blog, because I felt that I needed a clearer direction.  I am not writing now because I have found that clear direction, but because I cannot but write about what I am learning about women around the world and their needs.  Nor do I believe I can find said direction without writing my way into it.  Having said that, I am compelled on multiple levels by all that I am learning in the book.  It both reminds me and exhorts me that with blessing comes a measure of responsibility.

There is a quote by Mother Teresa that is quite haunting for me, and quite frankly, should be for anyone born in the United States of America.  She says, “Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.”  For me, finding my voice and learning to navigate my world with a solid understanding of self is vital, however, if my personal enlightenment leads to nothing more than just that, ‘personal enlightenment,’ then of what value is it to the world at large?  And for that matter, of what value is it to me if what I learn does not embolden me to an enlarged life that promotes empathy and compassion and love?

I think that is what struck me yesterday about this passage from MLK’s Letter from Birmingham Jail…King writes in response to those who are critiquing him and the Civil Rights leadership for coming to stir-up trouble in Birmingham.  King writes in response:

“I am in Birmingham because injustice is here …I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states. I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider …”

I am compelled to consider my place in this world and the ‘graces’ I have received.  I live in a culture where living a ‘narrow’ life is very safe and being an ‘outside agitator’ is problematic.  This is true on so many levels that I could not begin to address them in this single post, but if there are times in one’s life when multiple flickers come together to ignite a flame, I am beginning to feel the warmth of such a flame.

I am moved on the deepest levels by the injustices that are perpetuated against women around the world, and in my backyard, and I know that King’s assessment that ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” is an accurate one.  Yet I am unsure as to the role that I am to play in addressing the injustice.

So I do not write this post to tell you of my new plan, but to tell you that I am intrigued and I am burdened by this knowledge.  I am begging for the strength to move in a direction that will have meaning and affect on my little corner of the world…and the world at large.  I am writing this post as a point of accountability of some sort, because to think these things and discuss them with those close to me is easy…to say that you want to act on the knowledge is quite a different thing.

Dr. King also said this, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”  I am not sure where any of this will lead, or the direction it will take, but I am certain that I can no longer be ‘silent about things that matter.’

So, I suppose the vacation from writing is over.

(Oh yeah, go download Patty Griffin’s Up To The Mountain which was inspired by the life of MLK!  It is amazing.)

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11 Comments so far

  1. Ginny says:

    Have you read Reading Lolita in Tehran? It’s backdrop is the Iranian Revolution/Iran-Iraq war and the author, who is also a a World Lit professor, talks about her shifting employment during the upheaval, her status as a female and intellectual in the repressive regime, and how her students, particularly the females, react to lit. by Nabokov, James, Fitzgerald, and Austen. It’s been a fascinating read.

    • Jorja says:

      ginny, no, i haven’t read it. i have several friends who read THE KITE RUNNER and THREE CUPS OF TEA. they want me to read those. it sounds like a very interesting book. thanks for letting me know about it. hope your 2011 is off to a good start!

  2. kate says:

    love that mother teresa quote.
    so beautiful.

    please continue sharing what you’re processing through half the sky!!

    • Jorja says:

      kate, you have started something here. not sure what, but it is good to think about such things and i hope to act on them as well! so, so, so love you!

  3. Cynthia says:

    Glad to see you are writing! I have missed it. Your comments remind me of an organization that you and others who want to help empower women worldwide might be interested in. It started there in Birmingham! It is called Global Women and offers educational opportunities as well as trips for women who want to go and help their sisters in other places. One part of their mission statement is :to investigate the needs of women, involve ourselves and our communities in meeting these needs, and influence leaders to cultivate cultures that value women.
    Check it out! I look forward to hearing more from you Jorja 🙂

  4. Judy Helfand says:

    How I have missed you and all that you are. Reading your post yesterday…I just had to stop and think about a lot of what you said.

    This past two weeks have been so troubling here in Tucson. I know you know, but …my god what has happened to us. I can think back to Martin Luther King, following his work and living in San Francisco when he was shot to death. My young adult life was influenced by political assassinations. The impact has carried through the remainder of my life.

    On Monday evening last, Lawrence O’Donnell interviewed Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Princeton Professor Melissa Harris-Perry. You simply must watch this interview, as Professor Harris-Perry so eloquently discusses Martin Luther King’s goal. Justice was the goal, civility was a means to the goal! Here is a link, if you missed it. ttp://

    Yesterday Sarget Shriver passed away. Another giant from my past. I worked diligently for the McGovern-Shriver 1972 Campaign. Oh, what might have been.

    Jorja, I leave you today with one thought, perhaps it is a question. I understand the gravity of what goes on in the developing world. Atrocities…but I fear if we don’t heal and better ourselves, the sick and dying, the abused in our own country we will not have the strength to help others. I don’t think we have to sail the seas to find injustice. Just yesterday, I am understanding that the new governor of Alabama renounced those who are non-christian. King has been dead almost 43 years and we still have leaders who will decide who will be saved.

    Thank you. Be well and be strong.

    • Judy Helfand says:

      I realize my link above is missing an H

      Let me know what you think of the video.

    • Jorja says:

      judy, i must admit that i was so looking forward to you responding to my post. i have so missed you too! i have thought about you so often in the last couple of weeks. there are so many issues that have been thrust into the spotlight with the tragedy in tucson. i can only imagine what it must be like to deal with them up close. so glad you were able to attend the memorial. i do hear your question and agree that injustice is next door as well as around the world. i think living in the south and being raised in a “church culture” has given me far too many examples of injustice and they are all the more painful when the perpetrator is an institution that you look to for justice. i also think though that we in america have become completely self-absorbed and need to be reminded, constantly, that we are a part of a bigger world. a world where women endure unimaginable horrors every day of their lives. i believe that MLK’s comments about the ‘mutuality’ that we share is real and should move us. i am very concerned about the injustices in my own backyard as well, but my concern has been heightened and i hope enlarged as i have learned of other injustices around the world. as for our current governor, it is tragic that he choose to make the statement that he made. we live in a very different culture over here judy. politics and faith have become so enmeshed that i don’t think people know how to see the forest for the trees. it grieves me and it does nothing good for our government and certainly nothing good for the faith of people like me. i will watch your clip today. thank you for coming back my dear friend. i so appreciate our discourse.

  5. Ahhhh. So glad you are writing again… Your words inspire me and challenge me to think beyond what’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner and what station Sesame street is on. I will have to check out Half the Sky. I just finished the Blue Notebook. I don’t know what the Lord is doing, but something deep in my heart is beginning to awaken to the horrid acts my “sisters” endure all around the world and in particular sexual crimes/human trafficing. I’m looking to see what you are going to do with all of “this”. I respect you so much and miss seeing you. Keep writing! Love you

    • Jorja says:

      heather, thank you. miss you too, sincerely! it was fun to see your sweet jeremiah on the news. i too am wondering what i will do with all of ‘this’! love you

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“I am a frayed and nibbled survivor in a fallen world, and I am getting along. I am aging and eaten and have done my share of eating too. I am not washed and beautiful, in control of a shining world in which everything fits, but instead am wondering awed about on a splintered wreck I've come to care for, whose gnawed trees breathe a delicate air, whose bloodied and scarred creatures are my dearest companions, and whose beauty bats and shines not in its imperfections but overwhelmingly in spite of them...” Annie Dillard

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