Yesterday I received an act of unexpected kindness which made me think of one of the kindest men I ever knew. He is in the picture at the right, Dr. Walter Muelder, Professor of Social Ethics and the former dean of the Boston University School of Theology. That’s me (in red) with my son, Keith, in the middle. Keith is now 38 years old and the father of two girls and a boy, so this was quite a while ago. Dr. Muelder was my professor of social ethics which was one of my three majors for my seminary degree. He was also Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s professor of social ethics, and he is the man that Dr. King says started him on the path of non-violence in his book, “Stride Toward Freedom.” I was not only honored to have him as a professor, but also as a friend, and the picture at the right was taken just after he had placed the hood over my head (the sign of honors graduation) in Marsh Chapel. He was, at the time, dying of pancreatic cancer.
There were many times when we just sat and talked, and, almost always, I did little of the talking and most of the listening (hard for me to do). He was a wise, kind, and gentle man who was and is still famous at that school and elsewhere. He is one of the main reasons I still stick it out here regardless of the physical obstacles I not only have to overcome but also with which I have to live every day. I once asked Dr. Muelder if he was afraid of dying. “Afraid of death? Of course not, no authentic Christian is ever afraid of death, but I am afraid of the process.” He went on to admit that the cancer gave him many embarrassing moments and made daily life very difficult. “But you’ve never missed a class,” I protested. He thought for a minute and said that God had called him to teach and didn’t say anything about how much pain or how much embarrassment he would have to suffer in the process. He continued to teach until the cancer finally claimed him.
He was not only gentle, kind, and wise—he was also very brave, although he wouldn’t have said so. He would have said he was simply following God’s call to impress upon as many others as he could that violence was never something a Christian should endorse or use. He taught me that taking the Bible literally was one thing, but that taking it seriously, especially Christ’s teachings, was quite another. I have never struck another person since then although I have had many provocations. What is even more important, is that he taught me not to hate others, no matter how evil they seemed to be. Dr. Muelder reminded me of a quote from his former student, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Let no man pull you so low as to hate him.” It was said another way centuries earlier by an Italian writer who wrote that "once you have adopted the tactics of your enemy—he has won.” You cannot be kind and hate. You cannot be kind and use violence to advance your cause, yet you must be kind and let gentleness rule your heart. You must be meek but not in today’s understanding of that word, when Jesus used it, it meant (and many dictionaries today still include this definition) “to be able to withstand persecution without resentment.” Indeed, the Bible tells us that Moses was “meek above all men.”
We must love, be kind, and show the world, the people we love the most, and total strangers, that kindness and compassion define who we are. If we can, if enough of us can, we will change the world.