Review of MLK’s Sermon: “Three Dimensions of a Complete Life”

“For the leghth and the breadth and the height were equal.” – Rev. 21:16

Dr. King takes this verse to mean “that life at its best and as it shoild be is complete on all sides”. The length refers to the achievement of personal ends, the breadth to concern for others, and the height to the reach for God. He says, “These three must meet in every individual life if that life is to be complete.” 

This reminds me of Erich Fromm’s statement that a healthy self-love and a healthy others love are interrelated. This also reminds me of Chris Guillebeau’s A Brief Guide to World Domination, and his two most important questions: “What do you really want to get out of life?” and “What can you offer the world that no one else can?”

Starting with the length, King identifies this as identification of inner powers and pursuit of personal goals and ambitions. He observes, “If one is not concerned about himself he cannot be concerned about other selves.” He continues, “So every individual has a responsibility to be concerned about himself enough to discover what he is made for.  After he discovers his calling he should set out to do it with all the strength and power in his being.  He should do it as if God Almighty called him at this particular moment in history to do it.  He should seek to do his job so well that the living, the dead, or the unborn could not do it better.” and then arrives at the denoument of this section: “To carry this to one extreme, if it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets as Raphael painted pictures, sweep streets as Michelangelo carved marble, sweep streets as Beethoven composed music, sweep streets as Shakespeare wrote poetry.  Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of Heaven and Earth will have to pause and say, ‘Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.’ “

For me the main goal is to discover myself, in the words of the song by Amaral, “Encontrar mi sitio”, meaning, “Find My Place”: El universo sobre mi

Thrive (Switchfoot)

I actually plan on going to school, largely as a means of focusing and gaining direction, and learninf how to integrate my interests, passions, talents, values, abilities, and experiences. 

MLK then moves on to the breadth of life: concern for others. He says, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Another quote: ” So often racial groups are concerned about the length of life, their economic privileged position, their social status.  So often nations of the world are concerned about the length of life, perpetuating their nationalistic concerns, and their economic ends.  May it not be that the problem in the world today is that individuals as well as nations have been overly concerned with the length of life, devoid of the breadth?” Also, “As long as there is poverty in the world i can never be truly rich, even if i have a billion dollars”, and quotes John Donne, “No man is an island entire to itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

Some of the rabbis mention this as well, saying that the famous commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”(Lev. 19:18) means that we are tied to our neighbors, in that we love ourselves by loving our neighbors. Since it also says, “You shall love the stranger as yourself”(Lev. 19:34), we learn this principle isn’t limited by our tribes. Thus, everyone wins when justice prevails. White people also win when black people and other people of color have full racial justice; men win when women and other gender identifications have the same opportunities. Americans win when all the other countries; that it’s in everyone’s interest to be concerned about people have way around the world. (For readers outside USA, adjust this to your own country.)

Concerning these things, Erich Fromm mentions group narcissism, in addition to individual narcissism. In America,individual narcissism is taboo (as is evidenced by its being a popular whipping stick for Millenials [sorry, no selfies here!:)]), but group narcissism is expected. In fact, if someone wants to move beyond their bubble, or extend their concern beyond their tribe, there are people who make accusations of selfishness. Evidently “It’s not about you” too often means “It’s about us, but not about them!” It’s this group narcissism that is at the heart of vices such as racism, xenophobia, jingoism, and religious fanaticism; these sentiments are exploited by demagogues in their power plays.

Thus, in addition to my personally being interested in other countries, I see it as a moral pursuit, as group isolation breeds inaccurate views which can lead to oppression. I mentioned above that I’m looking to find my place; well, I also am lookinf how my skills can be used to help others. (I guess, as I said in my post Why I’m Here (Updated), my blog is an  at this.)

Then King mentions the height of life: the need to reach up and discover God. He characterizes a life without God as efforts to ashes and sunrises to darkest nights, as a meaningless drama with missing scenes; with Him, “we rise from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope…from the midnight of desperation to the daybreak of joy.”

I have read atheists claim that they have found meaningful lives. But,, being a Christian, I can’t speal for them. I will only say, that meaning does exist. I say so due to the longing for meaning. We have food for hunger, drink for thirst, and sex for horniness. (All longings and something to satisfy them.) Thus, there must be something to satisfy the longing for meaning. If God is necessary for meaning, then this is a good argument for theism.

However, it is possible for a religious person to not have meaning. I lived that way for years. I just saw nothing, but was potentially trapped by things being the Will of God(TM). I now see God as more than these things, and the buried dreams are returning. I see religion as abusive and destructive at times, but also healing and restorative. I find inspiration in the Bible. I am actually grateful to MLK for giving me an understanding of Christianity much better than my upbringing.

King sums it up like this: love yourself, love your neighbor  and the greatest commandment is “Love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, mind, and strength”(Mark 12:30), and “when you do this, you live the complete life.”


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Christian, freethinker, believer, skeptic, seeker.

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