Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lessons on Generosity

Dr. King, whom Dorothee Soelle referenced in yesterday’s DM, is among those who gave generously of their all by offering an ultimate gift or sacrifice of their lives.  We call these people martyrs.

Poster commemorating Sister Dorothy Stang, one of more than 1700 defenders of the Amazon forest and its indigenous peoples who have been murdered since 2000. Poster by the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, article HERE.

These words from Dr. King that teach us about sacrifice and the price generosity is willing to pay.

If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth [or twenty-first?] century. Every day I meet young people whose disappointment with the church has turned into outright disgust.

King was writing over fifty years ago.  But what he is calling us too, to a generous or “sacrificial spirit,” has not grown old. 

It is more relevant than ever as we face today’s challenges of extinction and oppression and facing the truth of climate change, racism and the many ways that Evil operates in our midst. 

He speaks to what the young are observing and feeling when he says:

Altar by One Spirit Interfaith Seminary students at Occupy Wall Street. Photo by author and theology/spirituality professor Kwok Pui Lan, on her blog.

Young people, especially, yearn for what is authentic, and they are keenly discerning when society and its institutions fall short. When the church protects the status quo — becoming a “social club with no meaning” — then it ceases to provide “the sacrificial spirit of the early church.”

In talking about generosity the last few DM’s it might seem that we have taken a detour from our discussion about Evil. But really we have not.  As promised earlier, one cannot dwell directly on Evil for a long time—we need to balance such focus with dwelling on other realities. 

I remember when I wrote my book in 2011 on The Pope’s War which dealt with shadow goings on in the Vatican over a 34-year period. Those shadows included bringing back the Inquisition, teaming up with the CIA to destroy base communities and liberation theology movements in South America, killing theology by silencing of 108 theologians from around the world, elevating Opus Dei and other fascist organizations that are still flourishing among us….and more.

“Christ the Redeemer in Brazil” Photo by Robert Nyman on Unsplash

I knew halfway through writing the book that my spirit needed a break.  I told a friend that I felt like Oscar the Grouch from Sesame Street who lived in a garbage can.

That is when I took up an entirely new project, my book called Christian Mystics: 365 Meditations.  Being with the mystics so refreshed my soul that I was able to go back to The Pope’s War and finish that book.

I derived an important lesson from this experience: Do not dwell incessantly or too long on Evil.  Return to Source. Return to those who inspire us because they are close to Source. 

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics: 365 Readings and Meditations, p. 327. 

See also Matthew Fox, The Pope’s War: Why Ratzinger’s Secret Crusade Has Imperiled the Church and How It Can Be Saved

Banner image: W-E View of the site of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Lorraine Motel, part of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, TN. The wreath marks the approximate site. Photo by DavGreg on Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Is sacrifice part of generosity?  Think of parents, teachers, first responders and many others who sacrifice and who are generous and think about yourself the same way.

In what ways do young people today discover “the sacrificial spirit” in religion or other ways of service? Do you find that spirit more often outside or inside the church?

Recommended Reading

The 365 writings in Christian Mystics represent a wide-ranging sampling of these readings for modern-day seekers of all faiths — or no faith. The visionaries quoted range from Julian of Norwich to Martin Luther King, Jr., from Thomas Merton to Dorothee Soelle and Thomas Berry.


The Pope’s War offers a provocative look at three decades of corruption in the Catholic Church, focusing on Josef Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. The final section in the book focuses on birthing a truly catholic christianity. Matthew Fox presents insights from his 12-year, up-close-and-personal battle with Ratzinger, tracing the historical roots of degradation in the Church and offering a new way to understand why Benedict XVI is now mired in crisis as Pope. Fox then outlines his vision for a new Catholicism-one that is not Vatican-based but truly universal, celebrating critical thinking, diversity, and justice.

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3 thoughts on “Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Lessons on Generosity”

  1. Avatar

    I haven’t read “The Pope’s War” (yet) but I have to tell you that “Christian Mystics” is one of my favorites of your books. I reconnected with so many “old friends” and found many new ones as well. It really nourished my soul.

  2. Avatar

    I read “The Pope’s War” and it solidified all that had been bothering my spirit for a good 30 years. But I couldn’t bring it all together. But your book did it for me. I have recommended it to several people.

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