Let’s un-domesticate the MLK holiday

It wasn’t until the year 2000 that all 50 states officially observed MLK Day. Ronny Reagan went down as the President signing the idea into a law in 1983 (first observed in 1986) after half a million people marched on Washington – even though the first draft of the bill was submitted to Congress four days after his assassination in 1968. I think in some ways it’s still a bit ironic for the US (of all countries) to celebrate such a radical who might be best remembered for galvanizing and leading a movement fighting systemic injustice waged by the same, largely unmoved government. The cunning empire, of course, loves to embrace a sentimental and sanitized version – and why not throw an American flag in there, too? 

For many of you reading this, the years I already mentioned may seem like ancient history – or at least during a different world. It wasn’t for another dozen years after his speech at Riverside Church in NYC 365 days before his murder that King delivered the famous “Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence” speech (text and audio here). Among other profundities, he declared “Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin [applause], we must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

I didn’t know Martin and know very few people who ever even met him. For such a public figure, for a martyr, for a legacy – I think we need to keep learning and trying to finish the work King began. This year we should be celebrating his 86th birthday. Instead we are fighting to supply meaning to a holiday that the state would like us to believe is a marker of progress. I am psyched that a bunch of Circle of Hope leaders – particularly Sara and the rest of the Compassion Core –  are trying to make something special of it this year. Here are three ways to get into it.

Prayer

Don’t pretend for a second that the man and the Civil Rights Movement in the 60s were not soaking in prayer or centered on Jesus. We already have ten people signed up to keep it going for 24hrs on the holiday. Want to add to the growing list? Sign up here.

Solidarity

It’s easier to remember quotes from speeches than it is to march. There are already almost 1,000 FB users RSVP’d to get out to the MLK Day of Action, Resistance, and Empowerment March (press release for non FB users here). I think ending “stop & frisk,” a $15 minimum wage, and fully funded and democratically run school systems are all good enough reasons to shut down Broad St then Market streets for a few hours. Don’t you?

Imagining

We schedule 60min per month for the Leadership Team and others interested to stoke our collective fire at the Imaginarium. This time we’re finalizing Circle of Hope’s 2015 Map. Action, Resistance, and Empowerment must extend beyond one day. I think being part of the church is a great way to keep it going.

Three ways to turn up the Love during a violent week

On November 17, 1957 MLK was preaching in Montgomery [full text and lots of audio here] when he said “Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love.” It’s actually pretty simple. I have a lot of feelings – some of which might be approaching hate and I need to check my heart.

I’m heavy today for Iraq, Kurdistan, Syria, ISIS, and the United States. I am also feeling heavy about the situation around the violent conflict that put a gay couple in the hospital in Center City a two weeks ago. As I’ve been praying through (always wise) all the violence, I am trying to listen for God to direct me for how to respond rather than shoot from the hip all the time. Here are three things that I feel will turn up the love during a particularly violent week.

Turn up the good news, especially those that fly in the face of conventional hate.

One of my best friends leaves today on a Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation to Iraqi Kurdistan. You may want to read more about what Peggy Gish (working there now with CPT) had to say about it last week in her blog about a step to coming up with new strategies is halting the old, dysfunctional ones. I tend to think most things in the media [whether intentional or not] pull Americans away from the super military waging war for the windfall of profits for transnational corporations. Like so many other empires, if we have enough food to survive and something to keep us entertained we’ll tacitly go along with the bigger plan.

When ISIS cuts off heads on camera or gets headlines from Austrailia to Indonesia to Algeria, the US ramps up fear which increases our tacit approval of this horrible war. When we turn up the good news, God can use us to assuage fear that keeps the violence cycle going. Come out on October 7 to make some good news in the face of Drone Warfare if you want to be with a bunch of Philadelphians trying to do the same thing.

Before you put someone on blast, consider whether you are actually as confident as you are about to sound. It’s easy and often cheap to make blanket statements, stereotypes, and colorful remarks to get people to “like” your passionate status before we understand what we’re really talking about. As someone whose attempts to make space for more dialogue and often is dips into the rhetorical, I need to watch my mouth – and it’s hard.

I feel fortunate that it wasn’t too long after I read the “Meet the Three Worst People in Philadelphia” blog that I saw a beautiful statement by the victims. For some it’s tempting to dehumanize the victims by not listening to them as people by not taking their ask seriously.

Thank you to the  community for their help and support, as well as the Detectives who did a great job gathering details,” they wrote. “We are thankful the DA is working so hard to make sure this doesn’t happen again in Philadelphia. Finally, we ask you to keep your comments regarding the suspects respectful and non-hateful. Please show your support for legislation change protecting the LGBT community this Thursday in LOVE Park at 2 p.m.

For others it’s tempting to dehumanize the perps in all sorts of ways, by doing so alleviating our responsibility to make a more whole community. You may want to join the throngs of posts commenting on their parents, Twitter feed, zip codes, or work history – as if we know them, don’t think they can get better, and don’t think we are anything like them. I really appreciate people for zooming out even through the pain. Besides having an occasion to update PA’s lack of “hate crime” distinction for future violence prevention, some people are even taking a societal sense of responsibility in their anger. On a Raging Chicken Press post, Debra Leigh Scott pleads that the “reality is that Kathryn Knott [one of the suspects] is OUR child. She is the poster child of the kind of people born and raised in America. Fired in the kiln of inequality, elitism, prejudice, consumerism and fear, she is just what America’s schools, media and values create.”

We need to make more love. MLK was working with some Jesus in Matthew 26 when he was preaching above. Like him, I don’t want to go out as a person to die by the sword – whether it a physical or metaphorical weapon. Living by the sword is confusingLike when my cell was talking about how confusing violence in the Middle East is for us, Scott shared this little gem.

We need more lovers and we need them to outlove the haters and transform the bystanders. We need lovers who will demonstrate to others what it means to be a lover. We need love to dismantle systemic injustice. We need love to make our communities whole. What do you think we can do to turn up the Love this week?

As I finish the 2nd steeping of pu-erh (that was love-ly at least), I’m about to go hug my family and take them to celebrate the compassionate work in our community. Come on by if you want to be with some lovers tonight.