Monday, January 16, 2012

Can I take MLK's legacy seriously?

Today is Martin Luther King, Jr. day--the day every year when millions of American do laundry and take down Christmas cards.  Seriously, why isn't this day more important to me?  Every year I resolve to organize something around it and every year it just becomes a badly needed Monday off from school and work.

I was shocked to read in the paper that there are marches all over town and that the Occupy movement is a big part of it.  Shocked not because it's happening, that makes sense, but because I didn't know anything about it until today.  Honestly, how can I live in a liberal, activist enclave and work for whom I work and not know that the largest march in a while is expected to take place today in my city on MLK day?

In many ways, King exemplifies the ministry that I want.  Not in the sense that I need to be a famous national leader who ends up being assassinated and now people do laundry on his birthday, but in the sense that I want to be a minister who is serious about social justice, whose faith is connected to the real world and calls for and creates and fosters change.  

This year people are reporting more on King's last speech and march at Riverside Church than on the "I have a Dream" speech.  At the end of his life, King set his focus on the gap between rich and poor and ending the Vietnam War.  A week after his famous speech on that subject at Riverside Church, he was killed.  Now, almost 5 decades later due to the Occupy Wall Street/99% Movement there is a groundswell of attention to the fact that 20% of Americans live in poverty and the size of the gap between rich and poor is almost insurmountable.

The movement and its language is so pervasive that in one year it has vastly changed public opinion about taxes.  For the first time in decades, Americans are ready for some good old-fashioned class warfare.

And so the backlash has begun:  yesterday saw a front-page story in the New York Times (reprinted on front page of Sacramento Bee and lord knows where else) about how difficult it is to be in the 1% these days.  The article showed that rich people are people too, and they have feelings and can feel hurt by all the chanting and the demonizing.  The minister in me wants to say, you know, that's true.  We separate ourselves from rich people when we say, "we are the 99%"  why not chant, "we are the 100%"?  But the activist realist in me says, "hallelujah, we are finally talking about what's important."  (I actually think it's possible that both are true, by the way.)

On the same Sunday, on the front page of the NYT business section was an article about a woman who has the tough job of rehabilitating Bank of America's reputation--ministers everywhere take heed: we all need to have more compassion for Bank of America and its public relations consultants.

So it's on.  In my ministerial school recently, there's been talk that if my ministry doesn't scare me, it's not big enough.  Other than standing where I am, trying to articulate the presence of love in the state capitol every day I don't know what my ministry is right now.  But it's scary enough to work full-time, study for ministry and raise a family.

As King himself said, "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

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