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Faith of A Mustard Seed

by Barbara Woods-Washington

Barbara A. Woods Washington, M. Div.

I do a ‘Children’s Sermon’ on Martin Luther King, Jr. which calls to their thinking one of the most overlooked facts about this great man— ‘he went to school’!  Simple, in fact. Point— blank!  I use a child to count the number of years spent in study from the time you enter Kindergarten through Elementary School.  Another to count and add Jr./Middle School;  another to count and add High School.  We add his years at Morehouse College for the undergraduate degree; his years at Crozer Seminary and his years at Boston University for the graduate degrees.  I stress the importance of ‘needing another Martin’ from one of them, but, “you gotta go to school!”

In ‘HIS OWN WORDS’— from ‘The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr.’: “I studied philosophy and theology at Boston University under Edgar S. Brightman and L. Harold DeWolf.  I did most of my work under Dr. DeWolf, who is a very dear friend of mine, and, of course, I was greatly influenced by him and by Dr. Brightman, whom I had the privilege to study with before he passed on.  It was mainly under these teachers that I studied Personalistic philosophy—the theory that the clue to the meaning of ultimate reality is found in personality.  This personal idealism remains today my basic philosophical position.  Personalism̓s insistence that only personality—finite and infinite—is ultimately real strengthened me in two convictions: it gave me metaphysical and philosophical grounding for the idea of a personal God, and it gave me a metaphysical basis for the dignity and worth of all human personality.

Just before Dr. Brightman̓s death, I began studying the philosophy of Hegel with him.  This course proved to be both rewarding and stimulating.  Although the course was mainly a study of Hegel̓s monumental work, Phenomenology of Mind, I spent my spare time reading his Philosophy of History and Philosophy of Right.  There were points in Hegel̓s philosophy that I strongly disagreed with.  For instance, his absolute idealism was rationally unsound to me because it tended to swallow up the many in the one.  But there were other aspects of his thinking that I found stimulating.  His contention that “truth is the whole” led me to a philosophical method of rational coherence.  His analysis of the dialectical process, in spite of its shortcomings, helped me to see that growth comes through struggle.

My work at Boston University progressed very well.  Both Dr. DeWolf and Dr. Brightman were quite impressed.  I completed my residence work and began the process of writing my dissertation.  My dissertation title was “A Comparison of the Conception of God in the Thinking of Paul Tillich and Henry Nelson Wieman.”  The concept of God was chosen because of the central place which it occupies in any religion and because of the ever-present need to interpret and clarify the God concept.  Tillich and Wieman were chosen because they represent different types of theology and because each of them had an increasing influence upon theological and philosophical thought.

In 1954 I ended my formal training with divergent intellectual forces converging into a positive social philosophy.  One of the main tenets of this philosophy was the conviction that nonviolent resistance was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their quest for social justice.  Interestingly enough, at this time I had merely an intellectual understanding and appreciation of the position, with no firm determination to organize it in a socially effective situation.”

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