If I could pray to Saint Martin…Saturday Petition


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St. Martin,

Patron Saint of earth-shattering justice, peace, and love what do you think about all those monuments, streets, boulevards, parades, and highways named in your honor? How would you like to be honored?

I offer this petition to you while reflecting on one of the seven woes given by Jesus to the Pharisees in the way they venerated the prophets of Israel’s past:

Matthew 23:29-32:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!

St. Martin I can not help but possess a bitter/sweetness in the way our society venerates you as a Civil Rights leader and prophet. It is sweet in that venerating you is a sort of invasion of the pantheon and panopticon whiteness that continues to pervade our culture. I see the foisting of your name, some of your words, some of your ideas, and symbols as an interruption of our regularly scheduled cultural broadcast. Your entering into the pantheon of American heros is an apocalyptic event that uncovers that powerful performance called race. The recognition of your presence by many seems to suggest that the ‘other’ is beginning to break through the tyrannical same-ness of Euro-centrism and white supremacy.  It also says that a level of goodness has progressed in our society.

But it is bitter as well. In the gospel story I mentioned earlier the prophets were venerated post-mortem by those interested in maintaining the status-quo. Jesus suggests that the prophets would have been killed by those same prophet-venerating Pharisees  had they  lived in their time. I see the way we honor you in this same light. There is a certain image of you that has been created by those at the center of things that has become quite comfortable. It is the Dreaming King they love. But what of the King that wanted to turn over the moneychanger’s tables of American political-economy? The King that mourned our cultural habits of thingification and crass materialism? The King that railed against a nation, in madness, in its use of violence towards others? The King that opposed the war in Vietnam and making the connections between imperialism, poverty, and racism? That King. Have we honored you faithfully?

(St. Martin responds)

Brother Anthony I can see that you have zeal for social justice. I too shared that zeal. It would culminate in my message about that Beloved Community. It would get me killed at a young age whereby I would miss out on the raising and growing up of my children and growing old with my precious wife. I know this zeal more than you know. It is like that old prophet once said, “its like fire shutup in my bones.” It is the drunkeness that comes from having tasted the goodness, mercy, and justice of God. That community that is but not yet. What Jesus referred to as the kingdom of God.

As I recall I never claimed myself to be a prophet. I just did the work of one. If you were to do a brief survey of the Hebrew prophets it was the ‘dabar’ of God (word of the Lord) of the prophet that made one a prophet. The prophet is a messenger sent by God to deliver a ‘word’. So the question is never really about are we honoring the prophet. The question is this: are we honoring the ‘word’ the prophet proclaimed before God and the people. I don’t really care if people honor ‘me’ perse. I care about whether or not people honor the ‘word’ that cost me my life.  A word that played a part in bringing about the liberation of millions of people. A ‘word’ that would inspire other movements of social change in my day.

My question to you brother Anthony and those listening in on your prayer session is this:

When they build those monuments, those street signs, special News reports, when McDonalds has a special meal deal in my honor, when the Postal Service creates a special stamp in honor of me….are they honoring the ‘word’ I was sent to deliver? If not, then I’d have to say that to the extent that they do not honor the word of the Lord I proclaimed then they do not honor me. For my life was given as a love offering to the world because of that ‘word’.

(me)

But Martin. What was that word of the Lord that was like fire shutup in your bones? What was the word that would cause you to proclaim in your last sermon, “I am not fearing any man…I am here to do God’s will.” What is that word of the Lord that may be partially honored today in our culture?  If we are not honoring the total word you preached, then what are we honoring when we say we honor you?

(Martin Responds)

I think we need to pray more on this brother Anthony. For the hour is late and you have a family to attend to. We’ll continue this prayer session tomorrow.  However, I will give you a brief answer to reflect on before our next session. Forgive me for answering a question with a question:  have mountains been made low and valleys raised?  To extent that we do not incarnate that word is the extent to which I am not honored nor the word of the Lord that I was sent to proclaim.  We’ll continue tomorrow. Shalom

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2 thoughts on “If I could pray to Saint Martin…Saturday Petition

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  1. I prayed to St. James (Baldwin), and he responded….

    “…I speak, now, as the grandson of a slave, a direct descendant of a born-again Christian. My conversion, as Countee Cullen puts it, came high-priced/I belong to Jesus Christ. I am also speaking as an ex-minister of the Gospel, and, therefore, as one of the born again. I was instructed to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and visit those in prison. I am indeed far from my youth, and from my father’s house, but I have not forgotten these instructions, and I pray upon my soul that I never will. The people who call themselves “born again” today have simply become members of the richest, most exclusive private club in the world, a club that the man from Galilee could not possibly hope – or wish – to enter.

    “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

    “That is a hard saying. It is hard to live with that. It is a merciless description of our responsibility for one another. It is that hard light under which one makes the moral choice. That the Western world has forgotten that such a thing as the moral choice exists, my history, my flesh, and my soul bear witness….”

    –from “Open Letter to the Born Again,” The Nation, September 29, 1979

    “….[Martin Luther] King’s responsibility, and ours, is to that future which is already sending before it so many striking signs and portents. The possibility of liberation which is always real is also always painful, since it involves such an overhauling of all that gave us our identity. The Negro who will emerge out of the present struggle-whoever, indeed, this dark stranger may prove to be-will not be dependent, in any way at all, on any of the many props and crutches which help form our identity now. And neither will the white man. We will need every ounce of moral stamina we can find. For everything is changing, from our notion of politics to our notion of ourselves, and we are certain, as we begin history’s strangest metamorphosis, to undergo the torment of being forced to surrender far more than we ever realized we had accepted.”

    –from “The Dangerous Road Before Martin Luther King, Harper’s, February 1961

  2. Thanks Phil for posting this excerpt from Baldwin. I’ve never read this essay before.

    Ant, this is some beautiful, soul-stirring prose man!

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