Monday, January 20, 2014

My Speech at Martin Luther King Rally

I was asked to be one of the speakers at our community's Martin Luther King Rally today.  Here is my speech, which I was asked to keep to three to five minutes:

First giving honor to God, who is the head of my life.  It is my honor to participate in this celebration of the life and work of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr.  I have always lived in a world partially shaped by Dr. King.  I was in kindergarten when he was assassinated.  So everything he ever did, every speech he ever gave, all that happened before I had any awareness of Dr. King or of the Civil Rights Movement.  It was all "history" to me.

It was not until I graduated from Union College, went to seminary, and became the pastor of an African-American congregation that I began to understand the import of King’s life and work.  I became good friends with a member of this congregation.  He was (and still is) seven or eight years older than me.  One day he and I were watching the Reds, and he was telling me about playing baseball in school.  He mentioned the name of a school and said, “Of course, we never could play against them.”  Mystified, I asked why.  He said, “Rev, when I started Little League, I went to a black school.  We weren't allowed to play against the white schools.”  This friend of mine, just seven or eight years older than me had experienced segregation firsthand.  My perspective of the world whirled a little in my head that day.

This congregation taught me how to preach.  After I'd been there a few months, the Pastor/Parish Relations Committee sent Brian (my baseball friend) to talk to me about my sermons.  He said they liked what I had to say, but they wished I'd just preach it like I believed it. Seminary may have taught me how to write a sermon, but this congregation taught me how to deliver it.  The people there also taught me how to be a pastor out in the community, being a voice for people who may not have much of a voice in the community.  I learned so much about the privilege I have, benefits I didn't earn but which are simply given to me because of the color of my skin.

When I graduated from seminary and it was time for me to move to another church, as we were packing my belongings into a horse trailer -- yes, the church I was going to moved us in a horse trailer -- people from the congregation we were leaving came and saw us off, family by family, person by person.  They hugged our necks and wished us well.  As I drove off to my new church, I sang spirituals and cried the entire way.  This congregation taught me not just how to be a pastor but to be more fully a human being.  As I was preparing these remarks, I said I just had to honor Ebenezer United Methodist Church in Cynthiana, Kentucky, even if I didn't mention them by name.  Of course, I just had to mention them by name.

A provocative blog post making the rounds this week, but actually written three years ago, is entitled “Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did.”  In it author Hamden Rice says that Dr. King did more than march and give speeches.  He says, “Dr. King ended the terror of living . . . as a black person, especially in the south.”  How did he do it?  Rice says King “crisscrossed the south organizing people, helping them not be afraid, and encouraging them, like Gandhi did in India, to take the beating that they had been trying to avoid all their lives.  Once the beating was over, we were free.  It wasn't the Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act that freed us.  It was taking the beating and thereafter not being afraid.”

Rice doesn't go into King’s philosophical or religious background that gave him the tools to organize people in this way, but I think this is the core of King’s work.  He trained people to prepare themselves spiritually before a nonviolent direct action, to purge themselves of hatred and to prepare themselves to accept suffering without retaliation.  I don't know how they did this or if I could ever do it myself.

We gather today at this courthouse under no threat of police dogs, no threat of fire hoses, no threat of billy clubs, no threat of vigilantes meeting us with guns.  King and others like him taught people how to meet those threats and those realities, how to accept them, and how not to retaliate against them.  Because the triple evils of poverty, racism, and militarism are still strong, we could do worse than to engage King’s dream through our own spiritual preparation for nonviolent direct action in order to confront these triple evils and in so doing to bring about the Beloved Community that King described as one “where justice prevails and persons attain their full human potential.”

Thank God for what Martin Luther King has done in the past, and thank God for what others are doing now and will do in the future for the sake of God’s vision for the world.  With Dr. King we invoke the prophet Amos and beseech God, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.”


Sunday, January 19, 2014

My Personal Calling Statement

The theme of this evening's episode of Darkwood Brew is that of Calling.  I made a few comments about a Personal Calling Statement I wrote for myself in 1999, which I have used (as updated when needed) as a road map ever since.  Here is the statement, for those who might be interested:

My Personal Calling
is to accept love, to grow, and to love others into growing.

My mission in life is to accept myself as I am while striving to become a person of complete and mature love and to accept others as they are while simultaneously helping them to grow in love as they move toward their own life destinies.  I feel that I am most fully engaged in this while enjoying life with my loved ones and while engaged in the pursuit of integrating the life of the mind and the life of the spirit.  My spiritual roots are Christian, and for many years I have been nourished and nurtured by inclusive Protestantism.  I honor these roots by walking the way of love taught, practiced, and lived by Jesus, even as this love impels me beyond the bounds of Christian tradition as I seek goodness, truth, and beauty in every person and in the world’s wisdom as expressed in religion, literature, history, music, art, philosophy, and science.  I see these expressions of wisdom as gifts of the divine that liberate people from whatever binds them and that help people grow into their own life destinies.  Wherever it is found, I will study this wisdom appreciatively, critically, and with a postcritical naivete; I will teach it in ways that are appropriate to the development of those around me; and I will practice it in ways that are integral to who I am now and to who I hope to become.

My life is guided by these values:
  • Unconditional love:  My life is rooted in the lives of those who have loved me no matter what: my God, my wife Grace and son Keith, my best friends, and my mentors.  They empower me to share that love with more and more people.
  • Relationships:  As I seek proactively to establish new relationships, I will strengthen existing ones by returning people’s love and acceptance and by being there for them.
  • Growth:  As I grow, I pledge my love to others during their own life discoveries, their successes and their failures, by encouraging them to grow into their own life destinies, without pressuring them to be what I want them to be.
  • Justice:  My heart aches at systems that keep people from actualizing their God-given potential.
  • Joy (and Joy’s little brother Fun): I have come to experience God more fully when I lose myself by experiencing play, beauty, ecstasy, imagination, and wonder.

My vision is to become . . .
·        a whole soul, whom love has liberated and healed.
·        a loving person, who touches more and more people.
·        a spiritual teacher and leader, with both a large heart and skillful “hands” engaged in organizing and communicating ideas, creating processes, casting vision, inspiring passion, and mentoring leaders.

so that . . .
·        I
o   let God’s light shine in my life by actively seeking to see that light in others.
o   engage in spiritual practices, alone and with others, that penetrate to the depths of who we are so that we can be liberated from what binds us and lifted up to become the persons we were created to become.
o   have finished my dissertation.
·        my family and friends are strong and joyful, finding Spirit in the flow of love,
o   in particular, so that my son Keith, who has become an adult with an array of competencies for living, based on love, acceptance, and continued growth into his own destiny, will develop such a mutual relationship with his new wife Auburn,
o   and that my wife Grace and I are more in love than ever.
·        those around me experience the love and acceptance that gives strength to find and take their next steps of development toward fulfilling their own unique life calling,
o   particularly that my students learn spiritual wisdom and experience love, rooting them in their own faith traditions and exposing them to other life-giving traditions,
o   and particularly that Union College will have specific, functioning systems for helping students, faculty, and staff engage in the spiritual quest by walking the way of love in all its
§  breadth—intentional practices of love, hospitality, welcome, and inclusion so that people know that, no matter who they are, they are loved and welcome at Spiritual Life activities.
§  depth—practices of love that go all the way to the core of who we are, digging down deep in our spirituality, learning who we are by studying the Bible and other spiritual writings, by praying and worshiping together, and by serving others together.

§  height—practices of love that lift us up to become persons characterized by love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).