Unity in Diversity – The Legacy of Howard Thurman

The following quote by Howard Thurman, an African American theologian, preacher, and quiet activist, came up on the Church of the Savior Inward/Outward e-mail today.  It interested me first because of its vision for authentic unity between people  and secondly because  Andre Daley of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance recently encouraged me to use some of Thurman’s books in our discipleship curriculum.  Here’s the quote:

 There is a profound ground of unity that is more pertinent and authentic than all the unilateral dimensions of our lives. This a man discovers when he is able to keep open the door of his heart. This is one’s ultimate responsiblity, and it is not dependent upon whether the heart of another is kept open for him. Here is a mystery: If sweeping through the door of my heart there moves continually a genuine love for you, it by-passes all your hate and all your indifference and gets through to you at your center. You are powerless to do anything about it. You may keep alive in devious ways the fires of your bitter heart, but they cannot get through to me. Underneath the surface of all the tension, something else is at work. It is utterly impossible for you to keep another from loving you.  From The Inward  Journey.

I was so moved by the quote that I did some research on Howard Thurman.  The following is an excerpt from an article Who Was Howard Thurman?  by Rich Blair published in BU TODAY, a Boston University Publication.  For the entire article go to  www.bu.ed/today2011/who-was-howard-thurman/

  “A century ago, an African American seventh grader from segregated Daytona, Fla., prepared to board a train for Jacksonville and high school. His family dropped him at the train station with the fare, but neglected to give him enough money to ship his luggage. A boy like other boys, without an adult’s self-sufficiency, he did what any stranded child might do—he sat down and cried. Then a black man, a stranger, covered the bill for him. Years later, when the boy became a man and wrote his life story, With Head and Heart: The Autobiography of Howard Thurman, he dedicated it to the stranger who “restored my broken dream.”

Howard who?

With the 30th anniversary of his death this Sunday, Thurman (1899–1981) remains unknown  .  . . . His life bridged eras: born the grandson of a former slave in horse-and-buggy days, he died the year the IBM personal computer debuted. Death took Thurman (Hon.’67) long enough ago to fog the history he made. He preached a philosophy of Common Ground, which taught that humans need to seek an inner spiritual happiness that would lead them to share their experience in community with others. In 1944, Thurman cofounded San Francisco’s Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, the first integrated, interfaith religious congregation in the United States. In 1953, he became the dean of Marsh Chapel, the first black dean at a mostly white American university, mentoring, among many others, Martin Luther King, Jr. as he developed his philosophy of nonviolence.

Yet Thurman didn’t live the dramatic public activism of King or suffer a similar martyrdom. In fact, critics called him a backbencher in the civil rights movement, more preoccupied with mystical meanderings than front-line protesting. Thurman countered that the first order of social change was changing one’s individual, internal spirit. “He rather gently and powerfully moved through the world in a spirit of grace, dignity, and humility,” says Walter Fluker, who published Thurman’s papers. . . .”

Thurman’s legacy of changing the world by changing human hearts is one that Apprentices of Jesus are poised to embody.

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