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MLK: The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life

Stanford University / Bob Fitch

To be full and complete, life must include concern for oneself, humanity, and the spiritual.

On April 19, 1959, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered this sermon to the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama, before the Chicago Sunday Evening Club. In this wide-ranging exploration of the Book of Revelation, King enlists philosophers John Donne and Plato, prominent sociologist Pitirim Sorokin, and science-fiction pioneer H.G. Wells to illustrate the three dimensions of life that King finds in Revelations. Putting aside Revelations as a historical document and looking at the metaphor beneath it, King argues that a full life must include concern for oneself, humanity and the spiritual. He applies his reading to the struggle for human rights in America and India, which King had recently visited, arguing that the health and happiness of all people is necessary to ensure the health and happiness of any people. He also talks at some length about the parable of the "Good Samaritan," an idea that will return in future speeches.

Concern for Oneself

... if it falls to your lot to be a street-sweeper, sweep streets like Raphael painted pictures, sweep streets like Michelangelo carved marble, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like 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-sweep who swept his job well.

Concern for Humanity

... the destiny of America is tied up with the destiny of India. So long as India or any other nation is insecure, America can never be totally secure.

... all life is interrelated. So no nation or individual is independent. We are interdependent. We are involved in a single process. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality.

Concern for the Spiritual

You look up at the beautiful stars as they bedeck the heavens like swinging lanterns of eternity, and maybe you think you see all. Oh no. You can never see the law of gravitation that holds them there. You look at beautiful buildings and beautiful architectural structures standing in impressive proportions, and you think you see all. Oh no. You can never see the mind of the architect who drew the blueprint. You can never see the love and the faith and the hope of the individuals who made it so.

Read the full transcription from the radio broadcast at The King Center