Great man, Great speech, and now… Spirituality-“lite.”

Via Roger Wolsey
on Apr 3, 2011
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[This blog was written on April 3, 2011, the anniversary of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s last speech – given the night before he was assassinated. Moving beyond confronting racism, King had expanded his work to speak out against the war in VietNam and to address issues of economic injustice. In a crowded church in Memphis, TN, he spoke about his intention to march in solidarity with that City’s sanitation workers (black & white) who were on strike to protest low pay and poor working conditions.]

On this night in 1968, MLK delivered his last speech.  He was shot and killed the next day.

These are words that haunt, inspire, challenge, and motivate me. I see signs of this kind of radical Christianity, this kind of critical patriotism, and this kind of unabashed spiritual boldness in various places around the world, but not so much in the country I call home. What happened?

(The clip above is the final minute/climax of the speech. Here’s a clip of the full speech – 43 minutes).
Are we afraid to speak truth to power? Have we become domesticated?
Has our spirituality become merely a selfish practice? Do we just like to sing rockin’ praise songs, hear some reminders that God loves us and wants us to thrive and prosper, and then somehow not give a flip about the plight of others?  Discuss.
…Long delay.
…. “Nothing?”
More awkward silence.
Eventually, one Facebook reader says, “Mostly yes to all.  You hit the nail on the head.”
I respond:
I was afraid of that.  Okay, so did King’s death scare us? Did it burst our bubbles? Did it cause us to become disillusioned? did it cause us to fear and submit to the powers that be? Was it like Jesus Christ had been crucified again? Did we collectively think, “Bummer. Oh well, guess the Worldly powers won. Let’s just all try to go along with the flow without making waves in life?”   — to just accept the status quo and then go to “Shiny-Happy-People-Church,” and/or, do some “spiritual practices” as a form of narcissistic self-medication to help us not confront the big hole in our collective souls and address the rampant tearing of our social fabric?

…sounds of crickets chirping…

After several minutes, I respond again:
Never mind.  Perhaps I think too much. 
Perhaps I really am my pants.
Guess maybe I should just stick with the program, get back to watching Friends/Lost/Seinfeld/Grey’s Anatomy/Trading Spaces.…, buy some of the stuff they advertise, lose myself in some Angry Birds or Farmville, go to some mega-church and sing a bunch of praise songs and hear a feel-good sermon, go to some Americanized “yoga-as-exercise” classes, and otherwise

                           …assume the position.


** Update 1/12/12: here’s a great new blog by a kindred spirit, David Henson, who conveys this essential point in a less sarcastic, but equally challenging, way.
     Since last April, the Occupy Wall Street protest movement has arisen, and a Facebook page called The Christian Left has jumped from a few thousand fans to over 52,000, but aside from those things taking place… I haven’t seen much in the way of a reclamation of Rev. King’s prophetic, justice-oriented, spiritual intensity. Have you?Again, “Discuss.”
Perhaps we could embrace a quote by one of King’s mentors, Gandhi, and we can “Be the change you want to see.”
Wolsey is an ordained United Methodist minister and the author of Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity. He blogs for Elephant Journal, Huffington Post, and Patheos.


About Roger Wolsey

Roger Wolsey is a free-spirited GenX-er who thinks and feels a lot about God and Jesus. He’s a progressive Christian who identifies with people who consider themselves as being “spiritual but not religious.” He came of age during the “Minneapolis sound” era and enjoyed seeing The Replacements, The Jayhawks, Husker Du, The Wallets, Trip Shakespeare, Prince, and Soul Asylum in concert—leading to strong musical influences to his theology. He earned his Masters of Divinity degree at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. Roger is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church and he currently serves as the director of the Wesley Foundation campus ministry at C.U. in Boulder, CO. He was married for ten years, divorced in 2005 and now co-parents a delightful 10-year old son. Roger loves live music, hosting house concerts, rock-climbing, yoga, centering prayer, trail-running with his dog Kingdom, dancing, camping, riding his motorcycle, blogging, and playing his trumpet in ska bands and music projects. He's recently written a book Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity


7 Responses to “Great man, Great speech, and now… Spirituality-“lite.””

  1. Roger Wolsey says:

    for those that didn't catch it, the "Perhaps I really am my pants" remark is a reference to a line in the movie Fight Club.

  2. A year or two ago I was listening to a radio show for kids–which I generally think of as pretty intelligent and progressive–on MLK day. The host said something like "Martin Luther King had a dream. What are your dreams?" and asked kids to call in…which they did, with inspiring messages like "I dream of making a million dollars some day." Could Dr. King's message possibly get any more watered down?

  3. Roger Wolsey says:

    ack. or misconstrued, twisted, distorted, derailed. sigh.

  4. Roger Wolsey says:

    U2's song Pride, dedicated to this man and his sacrifice in the name of love:

  5. jiminboulder says:

    Hi Roger,
    We just re-watched the PBS "Eyes on the Prize" series. I was so moved to see Christ lived out on a community-wide scale by ordinary people with Jesus in their lives. The majority of born-again Christians in this world don't look (or act) like the stereotype at all, do they?

  6. CynthiaBeard says:

    Roger, earlier this afternoon I was reading the transcript of MLK's final speech–one that I know really resonates with you–and this passage stood out: "‎Who is it that is supposed to articulate the longings and aspirations of the people more than the preacher? Somehow the preacher must have a kind of fire shut up in his bones. And whenever injustice is around he tell it."

    You honor him well, every day of the year.

  7. Just reposted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

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    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
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