April 3, 2011

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

[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.
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