The Common Good

Inspiration Is Nice, But We Need Action

We’ve spent the last few days recalling the anniversary of the March on Washington and listening again to the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., talk so powerfully about his dream of a land that is full of love and free of hatred. Stirring words. Inspiring words. Spirit-infused words. We’re also reminded that they’re only words until they produce action. 

By Yoichi R. Okamoto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
President Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. By Yoichi R. Okamoto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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It’s one thing to be inspired when we hear something, another thing to respond to the inspiration and to do something.

Powerful words play a big role in our lives, challenging us and leading us. God is love. Love one another. Be compassionate. Love your enemies. Whatsoever you do to the least. Your brother‘s keeper. An instrument of your peace. Give to all. The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. Blessed are the poor. All men are created equal. The common good. Government of, by and for the people. I have a dream. Be the change. Make justice a reality for all God‘s children.

Those and so many other words inspire us to raise our lives and our world to new heights. But they remain words until we commit ourselves to live them. Then they acquire real power.

Change starts with the moment we invite the Spirit that inspires and infuses those powerful words to get inside of us.

The civil rights leaders had a lot of experience with this. They encountered many people who liked the words, but weren’t willing to act upon them or sacrifice for them. The words produced a temporary, good feeling, but left no lasting mark.

When the Rev. King was in a jail in Birmingham, Ala., he wrote about this reluctance to live the words. He hoped that white churches would join the movement to ensure that every person is treated as an equal child of God. Instead, many of them resisted. And, as he put it, “all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows.”

They wouldn’t let the words reach their souls.

The Rev. King greatly admired Gandhi and emulated his way of nonviolent protest. During his campaign in India, Gandhi told a gathering of students that they had “reached almost the end of our resources in speech-making, and it is not enough that our ears are feasted, but it is necessary that our hearts have got to be touched and … our hands and feet have got to be moved.”

Inspiration is wonderful. Action is what‘s needed.

Which brings each of us back to that moment of decision. When we hear the powerful words, do we nod and feel inspired for a moment, only to go back to doing what we’ve done all along? Or do we let the words get inside of us and change us so that we can bring change to the world?

Do we empower those powerful words? 

Joe Kay is a professional writer living in the Midwest.

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