“What more in the name of Love?”

by John N. Avis


“The length of life . . . is the inward concern for one’s own welfare. The breadth of life is the outward concern for the welfare of others. The height of life is the upward reach for God. So these are the three dimensions. On one hand, we find the individual person; on the other hand, we find other persons; at the top we find the supreme infinite person. These three must work together; they must be concatenated in an individual life if that life is to be complete, for the complete life is the three-dimensional life.”


from “The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” Martin Luther King, Jr. (1960)


The evening of April 4, 1968, found me sacking groceries at Giant Foods in Whitehaven when reports broke the news that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been shot in downtown Memphis, “a southern backwater, decaying Mississippi river town,” according to Time magazine (04.12.68). The store announced its closing, and I ran home several blocks away. I remember sitting in my bedroom listening to news reports over the radio – no 24-hour television news stations in those days. One thing I distinctly remember was the anxiousness and uncertainty, the uncertainty of what lay ahead that night, that week, and the months that would follow. That year had already seen great turmoil, punctuated by Dr. King’s assassination and later Bobby Kennedy’s.  And now, fifty years later, we reflect on that moment, that man, and his legacy in a time of lingering uncertainty and continued anxiousness.


In December 2017 Second Baptist hosted a community forum that featured the noted columnist Michael Gerson who asked the essential question, “How can we promote and cultivate compassion in our civil discourse?”  Gerson called for a commitment of faith – all human beings are created in God’s image, and quoted G.K. Chesterton reminding listeners that “the Bible tells us to love our neighbors and also to love our enemies, probably because generally they are the same people.” Gerson went on to note that the centerpiece of our worldview is how we view humankind, human dignity, and human worth. We serve our beliefs and our principles best when we value people better than our principles; in short, empathy for one another is needed: “. . . we ought to be working at creating a world in which people are treated with compassion and respect.”*


(*David Livingstone Smith in Less than Human: Why We Demean, Enslave, and Exterminate Others)


Such an emphasis on compassion and respect and the call for empathy brought Gerson to recall the words of Abraham Lincoln:

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”


from “The First Inaugural Address,” A. Lincoln (1861)


Martin Luther King Jr.’s call that “love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend” builds upon the act of Christ washing the disciples’ feet just before the Last Supper: “So if I, the Master and Teacher, washed your feet, you must now wash each other’s feet. I’ve laid down a pattern for you. What I’ve done, you do. I’m only pointing out the obvious . . . Let me give you a new command: love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other. (John 13: 14-15, 34-35 The Message)

Both the command and the example are obvious: the cornerstone of the complete life – the length, breadth, and height of life – is love.

In 1984, U2 released the album The Unforgettable Fire with the single “Pride (In the Name of Love),” a song about Martin Luther King, asking the question of what is required of us, what more are we called to do, and what more can we do in the name of love?

Pride (In the Name of Love)


One man come in the name of love
One man come and go . . .


In the name of love
What more in the name of love?
In the name of love
What more in the name of love?


Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride


In the name of love
What more in the name of love?



Twenty years later in 2004 Bono reframed these questions in his commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania: “What’s the big idea? What’s your big idea? What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your cash, your sweat equity in pursuing . . .  ?”


What is the big idea? What are we pursuing? Where do we find worth? If our chief end is to glorify God, if we are created to become more like Christ, if we are shaped to serve God, than the driving force of our lives must be love.


What more in the name of love?

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