A Lenten Paradox: Allowing vs. Engaging

As we continue to move through the weeks of Lent, there’s nothing like a bit of trivia to keep[…]

Unhoused Persons and Vulnerability: Theirs and Ours

When I lived in Louisville I was in a unique neighborhood.   It’s called Old Louisville and is comprised of[…]

We Are the Champions: Green Victories

I have a friend whose elderly father calls California the land of fruits and nuts. And he’s not talking[…]

Reflections

As is often the case with people who are known publicly, there is the side that we don’t know so much about.

Being a minister is a public job, and I have to chuckle when I think about the times I haven’t looked so ministerial and have bumped into a congregant.

Like the time in Louisville when I ran across a congregant Bob, who I initiated a friendly ‘Hey Bob!’ to.  He actually didn’t recognize me at first, and said, “I’m sorry, it’s just so out of context to see you here.”

Or the time at our new house when some of you generously came over to help with painting and cleaning and yard work.  And a couple of you sweetly said, “This is the realyou” (and I looked in the mirror and understood, given my messed up hair and paint-smeared clothes).

This, of course, is on a tiny scale of public verses more personal.

As we resume our exploration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, I would venture to say that it wasn’t so much that it was his private side as much as there were aspects of his vision that hadn’t yet risen to the public stratosphere.

During his lifetime he was known to repeatedly say,

“I am greatly saddened . . . that the inquirers have not really known me, my commitment, or my calling.”    

I wonder if he was referring to his grittier, edgier side.

Some who knew him well say that Martin’s legacy ended up being sanitized,

and sure enough, when most of us think of him, the image that comes to mind is him passionately reiterating these now-famous four words “I have a dream!”

While this speech is widely considered to be a manifestation of unwavering optimism, the original title of that speech wasn’t ‘I Have a Dream.   It was “Normalcy, Never Again.”

You hear the difference in the tenor of those two titles.

This same Martin said to his staff:

“There must be a better distribution of wealth, and maybe America should move toward a democratic socialism.”

We don’t hear much about his socialistic leanings, but they were there.

We also didn’t hear his last sermon because he was killed before he could deliver it.  On April 4, 1968, in Memphis—the last day of his life—Martin phoned his home church of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta with information about his upcoming Sunday sermon.

The title of that sermon was to be: “Why America May Go to Hell.”

Edgier than “I Have a Dream.”

King’s dream of a more free and democratic America and world had morphed into, in his words, “a nightmare.”

He referred to America a “sick society,” and days before his death said to his dear friend Harry Belafonte,

“Are we integrating into a burning house?”

Part of Martin’s concern was likely based on lack of support even among black people, which we also don’t hear a lot about.

Just prior to King’s death, polls showed where people stood on his efforts for peace and ending oppression.

It’s no surprise that 72% of whites disapproved.  But also 55% of blacks disapproved of his opposition to the Vietnam War and his efforts to eradicate poverty in America (poverty that existed mostly among people of color).

When much of the black leadership attacked or shunned him, King replied, “What you’resaying may get you a foundation grant but it won’t get you into the kingdom of truth.”

Often he was frustrated with other black leaders who would get caught up in the coat tails of white supremacy.

 In his eyes, too many of those leaders sacrificed the purity of truth for access to power and personal gain, and he considered it cowardly.

King would state to his staff, “I’d rather be dead than afraid.”

Sadly prophetic, this position was necessary in order for him to continue pushing theboulder of freedom-from-oppression up the mountain of American culture.

And, in his humanity, there were also occasional moments of spiritual sagging, when the weight of it all depleted him, as it does each of us from time to time.

There was a point when he cried out in despair,

“I have found out that all that                                                                         

I have been doing in trying to correct this system                                        

in America has been in vain.                                                                          

I am trying to get at the roots of it                                                                 

to see just what ought to be done.                                                            

The whole thing will have to be done away with.”

Does this resonate with you…feeling like all of your efforts have been in vain, rendering you ready to throw in the towel?

I had a conversation with a person this past week – a bright, insightful, articulate person – who is at the point of throwing in the towel, who said it feels like this country, and the world,

(especially after indications from the initial political primaries)are past the point of no return – that the influence of darkness has passed a threshold…that it’s too late.

I think we all feel like that at some points, as Martin obviously did.

In those moments it’s good for us to hear the message of a poem by David Whyte entitled “Everything Is Waiting for You.”

Everything Is Waiting for You

-David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama

as if you were alone.

To feel abandoned is to deny

the intimacy of your surroundings.

Then he mentions seemingly mundane things in our surroundings:

soap dishes which enable us, window latches.

He calls a stairway our mentor of things to come,

the doors that are there to frighten and invite us.

And then he ends the poem by saying:

 Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the

conversation.

Everything is waiting for you.

The world was waiting for Martin, thirsting for his message.

more than much of the world even knows to this day, 56 years after his death.

And the same world awaits us, thirsting for the same truth about the evils of oppression.

So when it feels like we’re backsliding, further and further away from our soulfully-held ideals, know that the world awaits us as it did Martin.

His marches in Washington and in Selma must go on, in Bloomington, IL and the other 19 Bloomingtons in our nation, from California to the New York Islands,
From the Redwood Forest to the Gulf Stream Waters.

We are now the bearers of the torch that Martin carried. Fueled by truth and grace from the light of our faith, we march on.

Our faith enlightens our journey, be it the faith of Progressive or Pagan, Bahai or Buddhist, Methodist or Muslim, or any other faith based in love…OUR faith, led by Jesus’s example, lights our way, as Martin’s faith enlightened his.

A couple of weeks ago we had the opportunity to raise that torch, to participate in the ongoing march for justice.  As many of you know, there was a resolution at the McLean County Board to prohibit any funds being allotted to assist incoming immigrants to the County.

Numerous NCC faithful tuned in or arrived in person at the meeting to voice our support of our refugee brothers and sisters, and a couple of us had the privilege of speaking before the Board.

Suzie’s son Caleb, along with David Hirst, offered commentary. Mark Wyman and I also did. A congregant asked that the Community hear first-hand our words, and so Mark and I will now share our comments from that evening.

Tags:

Comments are closed