In September 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. stood before the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama and directly and firmly addressed the strong emotions welling up within the members of his congregation. Pointing to the tensions of that moment in history, he reminded them of the words that the slaves had sung, “I’m so glad that troubles don’t last always.”
Dr. King didn’t soft-sell the struggles, when he said,
There can be no gainsaying of the fact that modern life is characterized by endless tensions. On all levels of life, men are experiencing disruption and conflict, self destruction and meaninglessness. And if we turn our eyes around our nation, we discover that the psychopathic wards of our hospitals are filled today. Fear and anxiety have risen to the throne of modern life and very few persons escape the influence of their powerful domination. It is probably true to say that we live today in one of the most, if not the most, frustrated generations of all human history. Now what accounts for this tension, this anxiety, this confusion so characteristic of modern life? What is the causal basis for all of the tensions of our modern world? I will say that if we are to find the cause we must look for more than one cause and it’s a plurality of causes that have all conjoined to make for the tensions of our generation.
Now, almost 6 decades later, fear and anxiety still reigns — and, as Dr. King suggested, it’s complicated. This “plurality of causes” is a stew of toxic poisons, constantly twisting and combining to form even weightier problems. Racial tensions, religious tensions, economic tensions, political tensions. Each folds in, one on top of the other.
Ironically, while each of these tensions is easily seen and readily defined by the conflict that springs up around them, those of us who are in a position to do something about relieving the pressure often do so only by singing those old words, “. . . the troubles don’t last always.”
Always careful to promote non-violent protest and action, Dr. King revisited this phrase in encouragement and in anticipation of what would come. Indeed, things are better now than they were. However, many of these complex tensions should be mere shadows in our history. We are well beyond that lasting point.
We still experience the “confusion of modern life” that Dr. King spoke about. Looking inwardly, far too many of us disclaim the sins of racism and intolerance by refusing to see the defective weave of our social and, perhaps, our spiritual fabric. We have built systems that empower those who are already rich and already wield power. Technically, many of these systems appear fair and just. Practically, they perpetuate discrimination.
If that last paragraph caused you some discomfort, I would encourage you to pause and look around. This isn’t about taking something from you. This is about you opening your hand to others. It’s not a hand-out. It’s a sharing of the freedoms and opportunities that every man, woman, and child should have — regardless of race, ethnicity, social position or political affiliation.
Troubles don’t last always. There comes a day when they should end. To those of you who continue to experience these troubles, thanks for helping the rest of us see more clearly. For those of us who are privileged to avoid these troubles, do what you can to end them . . . today. Open your hand.